03/30/2011 4:59PM

Dubai, Aqueduct and Uncoupled Entries


"The Dubai World Cup used to rank up with the Arc and the Breeders' Cup Classic as a race almost guaranteed to throw up a superstar, but the world's richest race has lost some of its shine..."

"Saturday saw the second running of the Dubai World Cup on a synthetic surface and, just like last year, the form was well below championship standard....[T]he 2010 and 2011 World Cups have the distinction of being the lowest-rated in the history of the event."

That's not me being crabby about synthetic racing surfaces again: Those words come from Sam Walker of The Racing Post, the British racing newspaper that gave last Saturday's World Cup an international Racing Post Rating of just 120, not even among the top 15 performances of the first three months of the year.

Just like last year, this World Cup unfolded as a ridiculously slow-paced farce, with the entire field virtually walking to the top of the stretch and then sprinting home with little change of position. Only Mirco Demuro, on the victorious Victoire Pisa, seemed to understand that the race was going at a crawl and made an early last-to-second surge that put him in position to run down the 40-1 pacesetter Transcend.

The whole notion of the world's richest race being run on a Tapeta track remains a contradiction. This is no knock on the surface itself, but there are so few important races worldwide run on synthetic surfaces that there is no appropriate population of world-class synthetic-surface specialists to support the race or justify its outlandish purse. The only other synthetic Grade 1 unrestricted races at classic distances are the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. Richard's Kid, who won the last two Pacific Classics, ran 12th at 23-1.  

It should be clear by now that the best American dirt runners are not going to contest the World Cup on the new surface. If they're not going to return to dirt racing, the Maktoums should perhaps consider running all three of their big races -- the $5 milllion Duty Free, the $5 million Sheema and the $10 million World Cup -- on grass, or drop one of them and offer a pair of $10 million grass races.

Another unintended consequence of the premature move to a synthetic surface for the Cup has been to rob those grass races of major competitors. Grass horses who would never have run in a dirt World Cup (e.g., Twice Over, Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti, the three World Cup favorites) are now taking a shot because of the doubled purse instead of running where they excel -- on grass. So instead of having two important grass races and one for the world's best dirt horses, there are now two watered-down grass races and an unappealing hybrid of a World Cup.


--Spring unofficially returned to New York racing today with the shift from the inner to the main track for the last 18 cards at Aqueduct until November. (It should be 20, but state legislators still lack the moxie to rescind the antiquated bans on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday racing, a restriction not extended to the state's lotteries and casinos.) 

There wasn't a dramatic change in the fare -- the day's first three races offered a total of 14 betting interests, and winning mutuels of $3.00, $2.80 and $6.10 -- but at least the caliber of the stakes racing will improve sharply: There were only four graded stakes during the first three months of the year, all Grade 3's, but the April main-track meet has seven including the G1 Wood and Carter and the G2 Distaff and Jerome:



--The California Horse Racing Board is expected to approve the uncoupling of all entries at its April 28 meeting, mirroring a national trend prompted by short fields amid a declining horse population. While reading through the proposed amendments to California racing statutes (yes, I really do need to get out more), I came across some oddities.

All rules governing exactas are in a section titled "Special Quinella" and pick-x bets are addressed in one called "Unlimited Sweepstakes." I asked four Californians with a combined 150 years of racing and wagering experience if they had ever heard of a Special Quinella or Unlimited Sweepstakes; none had. I suppose there's no harm in leaving bizarre and obsolete terminology in the statues, but then why did someone bother to include in the amendments an incorrect change of the spelling of every mention of "parimutuel" to the improperly-hyphenated "pari-mutuel"?

Here's part of the proposed amendment that, if approved, will give trackgoers a daily, splitting headache: There's language requiring that every time there are 2+ horses in a race from the same owner and/or trainer, the public must be informed including "announcing the circumstances over the public address system." I'm not aware of such a requirement anywhere else where entries are uncoupled. One notice at the beginning of the day sounds like more than enough.