05/10/2011 8:41PM

Beneath the Surface

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A horse winning a major race in their first try over a different surface tends to send Americans into a tizzy. We used to be a much more adventurous bunch. Look at what we've seen:

In her first start on the dirt, after winning races like the Diana Handicap, the Flower Bowl Handicap and the Prix de l'Opera in her native France, Waya defeated champion filly Pearl Necklace in the 1979 Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct.

In his first start on the dirt, after winning races like the Canadian International, the Coronation Cup and the Grand Prix de Paris, Exceller won the 1978 Arcadia Handicap going a mile and a quarter at Santa Anita Park, then four races later defeated Text, Vigors and J.O. Tobin in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

In his first start on the dirt, after 18 races on the grass, the French stakes winner Perrault defeated reigning Horse of the Year John Henry by a nose in the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap, although he was DQed for bearing out.

In his first start on the dirt, after six straight stakes victories in France, the 2-year-old Arazi won the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile by five lengths at Churchill Downs.

In his first start on the dirt, after an international turf career that included triumphs in the Japan Cup and the Canadian International, Singspiel won the 1997 Dubai World Cup at Nad al Sheba, defeating the American stakes stars Siphon and Sandpit.

In his first start on the dirt, after winning his first five starts in Ireland, England and France, the 2-year-old Johannesburg won the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a length and a quarter at Belmont Park.

There are more, and it works the other way as well. You just have to give it a try. Secretariat was already a Triple Crown winner when he won the Man o' War Stakes in his first try on the grass. Damascus had nailed down Horse of the Year honors by the time he showed up for the 1968 Washington, D.C. International in his first start on the grass and was beaten a nose by turf champ Fort Marcy. Dr. Fager had run 20 times, winning 14 stakes, before John Nerud put him on the grass for the first time to win the 1969 United Nations Handicap. Vanlandingham already had won the Suburban, the Stephen Foster and the Jockey Club Gold Cup when he won the 1985 Washington, D.C. International in his first start on the grass.

These are remarkable animals, champions all, and exceptions by nature to a lot of the rules that govern lesser beasts. But in this age of oppressive compartmentalization, when the slightest inclinations immediately get a race horse pigeon-holed as a sprinter, miler, synthetic, turf or dirt horse, isn't it great to be able to say...

In his first start on the dirt, after running four times on either grass or synthetics, Animal Kingdom won the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.

blackseabass More than 1 year ago
hialeah, you and I weren't surprised were we ? We've been trying to tell theses guys for a while that these surface switches don't matter that much and especially if the horse hasn't shown a dislike for a surface why would anyone want to ASSUME they don't like dirt ?
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
Jay: I’m guilty of having read many of your columns without afterwards, contributing (to which Steve Crist would chime in, “Jay, you lucky stiff!”). Today is the day to make amends. I hope your Preakness/Belmont Stakes 2011 pays off - & that your writing this year & in the coming years continues to afford us the same gratification that we’ve experienced in the past. And, relevant to nothing, if someday, you find yourself south of San Francisco, start along – driving west - on Route 84 in Redwood City. This is a road that, snaking up the mountain, will take you to the intersection of Routes 35 and 84 – at which point you will find a splendid place to have breakfast/lunch/dinner, “Alice’s Restaurant.” It is surrounded by redwoods that are hundreds of years old. We were there last week, and boy, what an eye-opener. The scenery is spectacular. Be well.
Tiger53 More than 1 year ago
All sports have become subdivided to the point of absurdity. Specialists for this or that. Your article was refreshing to say the least and a versatile horse like Animal Kingdom is perhaps a throwback to the great horses you featured if he can repeat performances like he has in the Spiral and the Derby. Maybe the most under rated talent of a horse is its athletic ability. Two decades ago I was frustrated that Alydar was beaten too often by Affirmed. A decade later it repeated itself as an Alydar son ( Easy Goer ) was too often beaten by Sunday Silence. I think the differentiator was Affirmed and Sunday Silence were more nimble horses who worked out better trips because they were very handy horses. I see similarities to Animal Kingdom - he's adapted to multiple surfaces, he was placed easily by Johnny V, and he moved when asked. That combination of athletic ability, useable speed, and versatility wins you a lot of races even if you don't run a 114 Beyer.
bill n More than 1 year ago
Jay, I doubt very many bettors were shocked that Animal Kingdom won. It was the kind of race that begged for a longshot winner. I know you have to write something but come on!
Mooch More than 1 year ago
Some say that Animal Kingdom's win was a fluke. Actually if there was to be a Triple Crown winner this year it would of had to come from one of the Turf/Synthetic horses that were able to transfer their form to dirt, and if none of them were able to then all you would have left would be a lot of common dirt horses that keep taking turns beating each other, and each leg of the Triple Crown would of probably had three different winners. In the Derby I decided that a live Double ticket going to Nero was enough action for me, but hindsight afterwords was telling me that a few Exacta tickets with Nero on the bottom of all the Turf/Synthetic horses would not only be a good saver but if Nero was to get beat it would probably be one of the Turf/Synthetic horses that would do it. Hopefully after the Preakness I won't need to confer with Mr. Hindsight as my foresight is telling me two things; 1. Animal Kingdom's win was no fluke. 2. Shackleford was the only Horse in the Derby that ran against the grain.
Teri Blaser More than 1 year ago
Just goes to show that a quality horse is a quality horse. If he wins the Preakness people will still be nit-picking about his abilities. If I remember correctly, they did the same with Secretariat when he won the Derby and the Preakness. I only saw it on TV but I remember the commentators not being to enthused with Secretariat in the Derby and then in the Preakness. I hope he wins the last two races, we need a Triple Crown Winner! Best of luck to Animal Kingdom!
ralph conte More than 1 year ago
what about CIGAR? when he moved to dirt?
Ray More than 1 year ago
I still don't think four races without dirt are a reason to even look at a horse in the derby. Three synth., one turf please respond to my comment. I would have never bet this guy in the derby. Fine, I got beat, but you make it sound like he should have been a fav. Not so, a longshot won. Don't red board.
Kip M More than 1 year ago
Jay, Great? Sorry to disagree, but not to me it isn't. The horses you mentioned had already established themselves as champions before switching surfaces and winning. Animal Kingdom was basically unheard of, and didn't even compete in any of the Derby preps, much less dominate them. His first three races were average at best. His fourth was better, but not great. Who did he beat? To me personally, I thought several other horses were more deserving to win, than was Animal Kingdom. Just my opinion but to me he was but a Johnny-come-lately spoiler. I doubt very much he will win another Grade 1 Stakes.
CAM More than 1 year ago
Wasn't Arcangues' big upset at 130-1 in the '93 BC Classic also his first start on dirt? I think many times horses get inaccurately labeled as "turf" runners when the only reason they end up on turf is because they want more distance, and it's hard to find many races on dirt any further than 6 furlongs or a mile.