08/05/2013 10:34AM

Cross Traffic, and Other Thoughts


Given how brutally unlucky he was to narrowly miss in two stakes at the Belmont Park spring/summer meet, especially in the Grade 1 Met Mile when, after breaking last of nine, he set a fast pace and yet still was beaten only a mere nose, it was indeed justice served that Cross Traffic snared his big one in Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

But more than that, Cross Traffic was a worthy Whitney winner. Yes, runner up Successful Dan took a spill on his way to the post parade, the effects of which are impossible to quantify. But even acknowledging that the incident couldn’t have helped, Successful Dan had a clear shot to catch Cross Traffic, and didn’t. Despite running particularly strong second and third quarter miles of 23.11 and 22.96 to maintain a one length lead, Cross Traffic dug deep late in his first venture in a race beyond one turn and held determinedly.

The best horse won, and that’s coming from someone who backed Successful Dan.

However, whether Cross Traffic will be the best horse when this crew gets together again is another matter. Right now, it looks like Cross Traffic, Successful Dan, perhaps Mucho Macho Man (who ran much better than I thought he would or could finishing third in the Whitney), and Fort Larned, who finished fifth in the Whitney as the 6-5 favorite, might all come back in Saratoga’s Woodward on Aug. 31. In this age of infrequent equine participation, it would be really cool if they all did. Add in the possibility of Paynter coming from Del Mar, and the Woodward could be a real treat. It could also be a very differently run race than the Whitney.

Cross Traffic’s opening quarter mile Saturday was 24.17. It’s important to remember that that opening quarter wasn’t as profoundly slow as it might first appear because it included the run around the first turn. But it was by no means a fast opening quarter, and that is because Fort Larned did not break sharply, and actually had four horses in front of him in the initial strides. Fort Larned did work his way up to third going into the first turn. But even though going head and head with Cross Traffic was likely never in the plans,  it wasn’t until the backstretch that Fort Larned applied the kind of pace presence pressure to Cross Traffic that he figured to from the outset.

Fort Larned is a far better horse than he showed in the Whitney. But the Whitney was also further proof that Fort Larned is much more effective when he’s allowed to run freely early than when he rates. It seems clear that Fort Larned will find it tough beating Cross Traffic when conceding him the lead. So Fort Larned’s best chance to win next time is to go after Cross Traffic early like he really means it, and let the chips fall where they may.

That would make the Woodward a much different race than the Whitney, one that would be fascinating to see. Let’s just hope the potential Woodward field holds together.

Two other quick notes:

The male sprint division is a jumble. Sunday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga could have provided some clarification. Instead, Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay dueled each other into defeat, and Justin Phillip came and picked up the pieces. I don’t want to knock Justin Phillip. He’s just the sort of hard hitter who doesn’t get the full appreciation he deserves. But it does say something that the Vanderbilt was Justin Phillip’s 29th career start, and his first Grade 1 victory.

I would like to own Departing. This gelding’s runaway win over admittedly suspect opposition in Saturday’s West Virginia Derby put him over the $1 million mark in earnings, and he hasn’t even seen turf yet, a surface the son of War Front would seem to be made for.

StockPicker More than 1 year ago
Mike, I am curious to know why you were surprised how well Mucho Macho Man ran. If you toss the last two which were on off tracks he was certainly playable. I just thought he was to close chasing 1:10 6F. I would have preferred him to be back a bit more. How do you think you comes out for his next time out? Thanks
Thomas Nicholson More than 1 year ago
It's all about TODD!!!!!!!!!!! Almost every horse he saddles wins. His 2 year olds win at the starting gate. As a better you ALWAYS try to find another horse to beat him, the reality is you seldom do. You always end up saying why didn't I bet him. It's like R. Dutrow but for different reasons, but leave him out at your own risk.
Holybull More than 1 year ago
Mike: Thanks for another great article. Most of us know you are the best handicapper around. I should have known better when I bet my trifecta and should have kept 'Dan in the tri, instead opting to put MMM, Crosstraffic and RTG in my tri.
Jay Van Horn More than 1 year ago
Mike, Do you think the Saratoga main track is currently speed biased? And did this bias contribute to Cross Traffic's victory. I'm not ready to put this horse on top of the handicap division until he displays that level of talent at the same distances for a few more races. Game On Dude, Graydar, Fort Larned, Cross Traffic, Oxbow, and Verrazano all headed to the Breeders Cup Classic. I'd say the closers should be drooling turning for home with all that speed lined up....
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Not where they're running it this year......
Bryan Langlois More than 1 year ago
Mike, What are your thoughts about the head on view of the stretch drive where it did appear Cross Traffic came over a good number of paths to "bother" both Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan? I am not saying that there should have been a disqualification, as not sure how much it really affected the outcome, but kind of surprising the stewards didn't at least look at it in an inquiry??
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
In my view, he was clear when he drifted, and he quickly corrected his course. And as you intimated, it had zero impact on the outcome in any pari-mutuel sense. I didn't think it was inquiry-worthy.
edb More than 1 year ago
Cross Traffic was wobbling down the stretch, but was clear. I was suprised he made the distance, but there was no real closer to run him down. Fort Larned did not run his race and SA speed bias will play to his wheelhouse in the Classic. I don't think any of 3 yr olds are up for the challenge this year, but Palace Malice shows the most upside. Hoping Orb gets back on the track ready to rumble to quiet the haters. He was the favorite in the derby and the masses got it right for a change. Still think Dude is king of the hill( running with the lead and not looking back).
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Why is every drf writer insistent on referring to the sprint divsion as a "jumble"? It seems simple enough to me that if you have a horse in Sahara Sky who has basically beaten everyone else, won graded stakes at 6, 7, and 8 furlongs, and has done it in Cali and New York, the division, with him on top, is fairly clear. After Sahara Sky, go with the talent of Fast Bullet and then for #3 put the hard-trying and now grade1 winning Justin Phillip. Simple, easy, and clear.
Gary Flynn More than 1 year ago
don't forget 40 tales. he probably ranks in top 3 or 4.
Steve Morehouse More than 1 year ago
No... only beating 3 Yr olds
RockaFelter21 More than 1 year ago
forty tales has zero shot at 6f at santa anita...
RockaFelter21 More than 1 year ago
but yet you don't mentioned 1 of the 2 bc sprint winners? obv it is a jumble
Jordan More than 1 year ago
It might be a jumble from 4 in the rankings down, or even 2nd and down, but there is a clear leader of the divsion based on accomplishments this year. That leader being Sahara Sky. By no means does Sahara Sky have the Eclipse wrapped up, but a horse should have to do more than simply win the BC Sprint(and that's basically it) to supplant Sahara Sky. As for the 2 Breeders Cup Sprint winners still in training, Amazombie is sidelined and the rest of his career is in question, and Trinniberg hasn't done much winning this year although his form does seem to be getting better. Last year, Trinni was able to collect a bunch of stakes wins against his fellow 3 year olds and then freaked and won the BC Sprint. Because he had those earlier age restricted stakes wins, he was the logical choice for the Eclipse once he won the BC Sprint. But he's not finding the same success this year facing unrestricted competition. Although, in the Smile he did display some fight, suggesting he could be a factor over the next 3 months.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
If all of these horses stay healthy and wind up in the BC Classic it appears that there will be an abundance of horses who want the front end. Can you imagine Game On Dude, Cross Traffic, Fort Larned and Paynter all vying for the lead? Probably not. This is the kind of setup that Orb took advantage of in the Derby. The question is whether Orb will be better in the fall and if so will it be good enough to threaten the above named suspects?? Or, is there another horse out there lying in the weeds?? Interesting.
jay More than 1 year ago
You can't be serious about Orb. He has to improve a LOT to even have an outside chance in the BC Classic.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Agree that he has to improve a whole lot and that's what I expect him to do. I also agree with Jordan's post about a pace meltdown. That appears pretty likely and if that happens horses like Drosselmeyer jump up and run down the tired leaders. Orb may never again like he got in the Derby and he many never be that good again, but if improves off the layoff who knows? I know one thing, what he showed us in the Preakness and Belmont was not the horse who won the Florida or Kentucky Derbies. He showed the ability to rate and fire off a moderate pace in the former. He showed nothing in the last two races. Who knows why?
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Of those, Paynter is the best candidate to be able to take back 2-4 lengths if needed. Paynter isn't one of those absolute need the lead Bafferts. In his debut, he was taken back to 4th and last before rallying to win. He was also taken back in the Santa Anita Derby as Baffert had Blueskiesnrainbows to dictate the pace. Since then, he's either set the pace or pressed it. And we know from last year's Belmont that Paynter has 10 furlong endurance, and his breeding suggests that as well. To me, he seemed perhaps a little too keen in the paddock and warming up for the San Diego. And that first quarter mile he seemed eager to keep up with Batti Man. But once on the backstretch he was able to settle more and drop a few lengths back. I feel that if all the turmoil from last year didn't stunt Paynter's development arc, he has the tactical speed, versatility, and endurance to be the best maintrack horse in North America. Fort Larned is starting to look like an absolute need the lead horse, and it's hard to envision Cross Traffic winning a 10 furlong race from anywhere but up near the lead. Game on Dude doesn't need the lead, but he needs to be up pressing and stalking the pace, and doesn't seem suited to making up more than a couple of lengths. Throw in possible starters like Graydar, Palace Malice, Oxbow, and Verrazano, and we could have an absolute pace meltdown. And in races that fall apart, the emphasis is often on trip more so than talent. So, while horses like Orb, and Ron the Greek don't appear brilliant enough to produce the 115+ fig that horses like Game on Dude, Cross Traffic, Fort Larned, and Verrazano get, if there's a pace meltdown these top horses will have a difficult time running a 115, and thus it may only take something in the 106-110 range to win the Classic.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
A pace meltdown does appear likely in the BC Classic if it were to be run today. I kind of like the Palace Malice is progressing right now. He could be very dangerous even though he may not be able to rate far enough what could be a really wicked pace. I still like him. I don't think Cross Traffic or Verrazano really want to go that far. But I'm thinking back to Drosselmeyer who took advantage of a fast pace and simply wore down the tired leaders.
matt More than 1 year ago
Based on past performances, Paynter does not look like a horse that could sit 2-4 lengths off and win. He won his debut from off the pace, but that was in a five and one-half furlong sprint and he was probably just a better animal. He lost the San Diego sitting off the pace, he didn't make the lead in the Santa Anita Derby and merely ran around the track. In the Haskell he was only a half length out after four furlongs, which is the position I think he wants to be in. He doesn't want to see any horse in front, he just wants to run faster than them all.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Game on Dude has learned to rate. Paynter is in the process of learning that as well. Fort Larned is the one not learning at this point. He quit when MMM looked him in the right eye at the top of the stretch.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
They have learned that Fort Larned needs to be sent and sent hard. You take your chances hoping nobody else wants the lead that badly. Lightning probably will not strike twice at SA for this horse.
RockaFelter21 More than 1 year ago
Orb is 1 horse I WONT make 1 bet on the rest of year and he was my derby pick and I feel I all of us whol iked him that day got extremely lucky! wet track suicidale pace...he hasn't been close in last 2 racesa nd Belmont you couldn't get a better setup for him and he cant even catch Oxbow who was pressing very fast pace
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
No, I don't think you were lucky. Based on what he had done so far leading up to the Derby he was the bet. He showed the ability to rate off a moderate pace in the Florida Derby and fire a quick last quarter. Granted he got everything he wanted in Kentucky and was good enough then to take advantage of it. I'm really curious as to where Orb is right now in his form cycle.
Greg Stevens More than 1 year ago
ORB has NEVER ran a fast final 1/4 in his life !!! That's why he isn't able to win in a decent timed race...he won a painfully slow Fla derby, and happened to catch a pace meltdown in the derby, coming home in a 26 second 1/4 mile...so wut race did he run a fast 1/4 mile in????? ORB will be another derby winner that can't win another race, without a huge class drop
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
He doesn't necessarily have to run a fast final quarter if he's entered in the BC Classic. All he has to do is finish faster than the rest if there's a pace meltdown {which is a distinct possibility}.
RockaFelter21 More than 1 year ago
Cross Traffic wil be in bc Mile
Jay Van Horn More than 1 year ago
Long list of horses who should run in the Dirt Mile instead of Classic: Cross Traffic, Paynter, Verrazano, Oxbow, Flat Out and Cigar Street to name a few. However, Sahara Sky will be tough in that race and keep an eye on Declan's Warrior if he makes the race...he'll be a huge price!
Ann More than 1 year ago
This is why the introduction of the dirt Mile diluted the Classic AND the Sprint. IHMO the Sprint should be 7f to give both sprinters and milers an equal shot. All too often the sprint and/or the sprint Eclipse have been won by milers - My Juliet, Plugged Nickle, Gulch, Cherokee Run, etc.