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Different Routes, Same Neighborhood
The Beyers were similar for the Apple Blossom (95), Arkansas Derby (98) and Blue Grass (94), but the circumstances that produced them could hardly have been more different. The Apple Blossom was a slow-paced paid workout for a champion who was neither required nor asked to run her best race; the Arkansas Derby was a fast-paced race over a quicker track where a front-runner grimly and improbably held on; as for the Blue Grass, good luck making much sense of it.
The figures for all three cards (Friday and Saturday at Oaklawn, and Saturday at Keeneland) were straightforward and unambiguous -- no weather issues, split variants and sprint/route discrepancies; all evidence pointed to a consistent variant that worked for the entire card.
Let's start with the Apple Blossom. Zenyatta's raw time of 1:50.71 can't be compared to previous runnings (which were at a mile and a sixteenth), but her figure of 95 was the lowest in 21 years of recorded Beyers for the race and far below what other past and future Hall of Famers such as Bayakoa (119), Paseana (114) and Azeri (112) earned in victory. Zenyatta herself earned a 104 winning the 2008 edition of the race.
The 6th race was the only other route on the card, but falls right into line with the day's other races, and it's simply impossible to give the Apple Blossom a stroonger final-time figure. The runner-up, 35-1 Taptam, gets an 88 for the race, consistent with her career tops of 88, 87 and 85 in three of her last five starts.
Obviously Zenyatta is capable of running faster (her previous 11 Beyers were all bigger, including two 108's and a 112 in the BC Classic.) As a deep closer who is ridden positionally (i.e. drop back to last regardless of the fractions), she is going to run weak final-time figures sometimes, especially when the pace is slow and the competition can be disdainfully dispatched with a single furlong of top effort. Both of those things happened in the Apple Blossom, which looked and felt like morning exercise against overmatched workmates.
The Oaklawn track was quicker for Saturday's traditionally route-heavy card, where the Arkansas Derby was the fourth of six consecutive two-turn races:
Note how much quicker the fractions were in the Arkansas Derby than in the other routes, which makes it surprising that the top three finishers ran 1-2-3 around the track. I can't make a case for a speed-biased surface -- the half-mile running positions of the eventual top-three finishers in the five surrounding routes were 8-7-3, 3-9-2, 2-3-8, 3-6-5, 1-6-3 (the latter a front-running victory by a 7-10 shot in the slowest-paced race of the day.) While it seems like a stretch to get Line of David to wire what's going to be a much stronger field going an extra furlong in the Derby, his was a sharp and gritty effort.
The Blue Grass is quickly becoming more of an annual Polytrack mish-mosh than a true Grade 1 prep for the Derby, and this year's edition was especially wacky. In a nine-horse field, seven horses were between 3.0-1 and 5.70-1, with the other two at 30-1 and 40-1. Odysseus, the only dirt stakes-winner in the field, tired badly and came out of the race with an injury. Pleasant Prince, the Florida Derby runner-up, barely ran a step. The accomplished grass horses in the field ran only in spots. And alone at the finish, 4 1/4 lengths clear, was 40-1 Stately Victor, who had been off the board in four straight N1x allowance races on both dirt and grass.
There were only two other Polytrack routes on the card:
I'd like to be more excited about the winner, who's from Ghostzapper's first crop and from a Dynaformer mare. Three-year-olds can suddenly put it all together and get dangerously good out of nowhere, and Stately Victor showed enough raw spark in his first two career starts in New York that he always had the chance to turn into a good horse. But a 94 doesn't make him competitive with the Derby favorites, and I can't get a handle on what really happened in the Blue Grass -- did he really run a breakout race or did no one else fire a representative shot?
Steve: Thank you for the column and the insight. I think it may be between 12 months and 18 months ago or so that DRF came out with a rather significant revision in the speed figures for synthetics... Given the different synthetics, changes even during the day some times due to temperature --- isn't this a tough science?
The article on the NY OTB is dead on. As painful as it may be to tell the story of its decline, the NYOTB has simply outlived its usefulness. If real managers were responsible for real profitability, it would have been scuttled for a more acceptable and fiscally responsible model.
Correcting something from the last blog: When I mentioned the idea of Zenyatta in the Foster, I was not aware that NBC was planning to show Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday, June 13. With that in mind, if I'm at Churchill, I push the Foster card back to that Sunday (6/13) and work a deal with NBC that would either have the Foster between the second and third periods of Game 5 (with another race between the first two periods) OR if the finals end in a four-game sweep, the Foster and one other race in a one-hour special on NBC that Sunday night from 7:00-8:00 PM ET/4:00-5:00 PM PT (Game 5 is tentatively scheduled on Sunday 6/13 for a 6:00 PM ET faceoff so the game concludes before NBA Finals Game 5 airs on ABC), with post time for the Foster (whether it's between periods 2-3 of Game 5 or a standalone telecast) between 7:30-7:40 PM ET in all likelihood. This would be a perfect opportunity for Churchill to showcase it's "other" big race regardless of whether Zenyatta is running in it or not, as NBC probably would like the idea because it likely brings in additional viewers to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals (assuming the Finals don't end in a sweep) and protects NBC in the event the Finals do end in a sweep since the Foster would then be part of a separate telecast that night, in either event before the NBA Finals game airs that night on ABC.
Another reason NYRA is having trouble filling races: Atlantic City Race Course is running a six-day meet starting today (Sunday 4/18) that has six races daily, all on the turf and ALL of them under allowance or starter conditions, including the rare starter maiden races. Trainers obviously love being able to run in these and not risk being claimed.
"That pick-six carryover is now $450,000+ and is being carried over to May 1 because Beulah is now in the 7-and-7 with River Downs (Derby day is the next day Beulah races on its own). The Pick-Six MUST be paid out that day no matter how many people hit it." You can get that carryover several times a year in California or New York (Saratoga). The difference is, at Beulah, you better hope you're the only winner. It's a silly wager that is practically rigged against monster payouts. The higher the pool climbs, the more people play it, increasing the possibility that the winner will not be alone. To score a gigantic payout, you have to hit it AND be the only one... or you could just wait and try to hit a nice carryover pool in SoCal or NY and not worry so much about whether anyone else is alive. After the Apple Blossom got zero TV coverage, I'm surprised you still think NBC is going to televise the Stephen Foster, or any race outside the TC and Cup.
I am with blogger Jim. Keeneland meet full of short fields. Where have all the horses gone? Poly one thing, 6 horses fields, that's another. Got a crazy feeling all sources handle on the Keeneland meet will be WAY down. Just a feeling. George in Tampa P.S. See you all at Churchill opening week. Dirt racing ahhhhhhhhhhh
Hey Steve, I see Ken Ramsey is going to run Pleasant Prince in the Derby Trial. I would bet money if he wins, Mr. Ramsey would wheel him back in a week at a mile and a quarter. Delusional or Derby fever? Or are they the same thing. George in Tampa
Steve, Someone mentioned this but did keenland turn into a california track overnight or what? 6 horse fields?
Anyone looking into the possibilities of an Eskendereya-Eyjafjallajokull Derby exacta?
C: That pick-six carryover is now $450,000+ and is being carried over to May 1 because Beulah is now in the 7-and-7 with River Downs (Derby day is the next day Beulah races on its own). The Pick-Six MUST be paid out that day no matter how many people hit it. Anyone think a couple of million minimum comes off the Derby Day handle at Churchill and goes on the pick-six at Beulah? As for Bayakoa, she is the reason I would NEVER have run Go For Wand in the 1990 Distaff, opting to have her face the boys in the Classic over facing Bayakoa. To this day, there are horsemen I know from that time who felt it was the stress of running against Bayakoa that caused Go For Wand to break down because had Go For Wand not tried to chase Bayakoa, Bayakoa would have easily wired that Distaff. In the Classic, Go For Wand would likely have run a completely different race: Instead of chasing Bayakoa, Go For Wand would likely have been well off a :45 4/5 four-way duel to the half, with her and Unbridled likely moving on the turn together and battling it out in the stretch. Go For Wand would have likely been no worse than second in the 1990 Classic, also more than likely not breaking down like she did in the Distaff. This is an opinion I have never wavered on in the 20 years since that Breeders' Cup day, one of the worst days in memory for the sport.