02/03/2008 8:35PM

Feast or Famine



This was a racing weekend where it felt like there was too much going on Saturday and not enough on Sunday -- a passel of interesting stakes races and multirace bets one day, another Santa Anita cancellation and some awfully watery black type the next.

Saturday also saw the first two Grade 1 races of 2008, and both featured inexplicably dismal off-the-board performances by legitimate odds-on favorites. First in the Donn, Daaher crumbled when confronted with tag-team early pressure through fast fractions. Spring at Last pushed him through an opening quarter of 22.95, then wisely was wrestled back, and 46-1 Kiss the Kid was at the favorite's throat through a half in 46.26 and six furlongs in 1:09.72. Daaher cracked first and was finished at the top of the stretch, then Spring at Last easily went past Kiss the Kid and held off A.P. Arrow through a tiring final furlong of 13.50 to win by half a length in 1:48.35.

The outcome may have sent the winner and favorite into different races in Dubai March 29 than had initially been planned. Daaher, if he checks out okay in the wake of his early surrender, may try the Godolphin Mile instead of the 10-furlong Dubai World Cup while Spring at Last, the '07 Mile winner, may now stretch out in the main event.

It's way too soon to write off Daaher after one race. His Jerome and Cigar Mile were legitimately fast races and he still has the right to rebound and the potential to improve with age. Still, when he regroups he'll have to prove he can handle early pressure and negotiate two turns against top company.

The Donn got a Beyer Speed Figure of 107, as did the G2 Strubt at Santa Anita later in the afternoon, where Montyerey Jazz speed-popped the field and cruised to a 4 1/2-length victory over the perpetually overbet Tiago. Given that the final time of the Strub was three seconds faster than the Donn, and how quickly Santa Anita's damaged Cushion Track is playing, Monterey Jazz actually got away with pretty moderate fractions -- 22.76, 45.89 and 1:08.10. He was 7 in front at that point, and came home in 37.55 for (another) track-record clocking of 1:45.65.

While there may have been some reasons to oppose Daaher on grounds of pace and distance, the result of the afternoon's other Grade 1 was utterly baffling. When Pussycat Doll was scratched from the Santa Monica Saturday morning with a foot abcess, Hystericalady appeared to tower over four outclassed rivals and was understandably pounded to 3-10. But she barely ran a step and faded to fourth behind the improbable 26-1 Intangaroo, who had taken five tries to win her N1x condition with a Beyer of 86, 9 to 22 points lower than any of the favorite's last seven efforts. The stunned winning connections said afterwards they were just hoping to clunk up for third in a short G1 field, but congratulations to them and to you if you found a reason to like her.

The afternoon's two Grade 2 stakes races for potential Derby candidates came up a bit on the slow side. At Santa Anita, third-time starter Crown of Thorns (by Repent) got only a 93 Beyer winning the five-horse Robert Lewis with a perfect rail trip in 1:40.76 for a mile and a sixteenth. At Gulfstream, Eaton's Gift (by Johannesburg) also got a 93 for his 3 1/2-length victory in the Swale, where he went 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.63. A marginally better figure was awarded to Barrier Reef (by Mizzen Mast), who got a 94 winning the ungraded Whirlaway at Aqueduct on a tricky, windy afternoon where the routes seemed to be playing faster than the sprints.

One of those sprints is the clubhouse leader for Most Dismal Race of the Winter in New York: The sixth, a six-furlong race for $25k statebred maiden claimers. was won by ReturntoKarakorum in 1:15.20 -- good for a winning Beyer of 37.

That race knocked me out in the first leg of the Aqueduct late pick four, so I reloaded and played the late pick three, getting alive to four horses, including 62-1 Fast Iz a Turtle, who has been good to me in the past and who I thought might just be poised for improvement second time back off a long layoff. Turned out he was but, alas, a hoped-for speed duel failed to materialize and 8-1 Strummer wired the field. F.I.A.T., however, flew home for second and my insanity-insurance exacta backwheel paid $859 for $2, neutralizing a multitude if not an entirety of parimutuel failures the rest of the day, including a dreadful 2-for-5 performance in the Magna 5.

That wager, which paid only $382 in its seasonal debut last week amid the Sunshine Millions chalkfest, failed to attract its $500,000 guaranteed pool, coming up light by about $50,000. So the $16,956.40 payoff was about 10 percent higher than it should have been, with Magna making up the shortfall. There has to be a compelling multirace wager for Magna to construct in the winter, but this isn't it. If Magna feels obliged to start the wager each week with a race from Laurel, which hubs the bet, it at least should complete the sequence with two races each from Gulfstream and Santa Anita instead of adding Golden Gate to the mix.

The bet, which also might attract a much larger pool of players with a $1 instead of $2 minimum, has not captured the public imagination and now it's not even hitting its guaranteed minimums.

Traci More than 1 year ago
I'm actually a huge fan of Intangaroo. I was not surprised at all when she won! But then, I'm really a 'hopeless romantic' kind of horse racing fan...I like a good story. I was upset that I was too ill to be at the track and bet on her and they don't allow on-line betting in Texas. Grrr. Maybe one day, they'll catch up with the rest of the world and realize it's my money to spend as I see fit! At least I got to watch it live on CalRacing.com. They're a life-saver.
AndyScoggin More than 1 year ago
Steve, How do you feel about the Ky. Derby Futures betting??? Do you ever make any plays??
george quinn More than 1 year ago
Your a class act jeff to step up. rfb0318 forget about pat valenzuela I would not let him walk my golden retreiver. George in Lexington Ky.
Wayne80 More than 1 year ago
One thing Magna has done right is resist installing "all weather" surfaces unless mandated. The installed brand new dirt tracks at LRL and GULF that are working out just fine.
otbtony More than 1 year ago
Steve, Is Barrier Reef legit? His maiden win, though slow, awed me. Can't believe he was 5-1. A taste?
EJXD2 More than 1 year ago
I admire Steve's candor on the Magna 5 considering Magna spends a lot of money advertising the bet in Daily Racing Form. How are we judging that this is a failure? Because it hasn't reached the guarantee its first two weeks? It's still handling $400k+, which is a lot compared to other pools. People who keep saying Laurel should card high level allowance races or a stakes for the Magna 5 lose credibility because the sequence nearly always (including both times this year) starts with a stakes race from Laurel. Admittedly, the race from Golden Gate is harder to explain. The folks at Magna want to see this generate some carryovers, which it would never do at the $1 base. Having said that, there have been so few carryovers of the bet, it might be better to attract more players with a $1 min.
hrhjlambert More than 1 year ago
Hey Crist, If you really want people to take your prognostication seriously, you are going to need to attempt to explain the real racing anomolies. The biggest one recently is the putrid performance by the Hystericalady team at Santa Anita. Any theories?
kevroc More than 1 year ago
Santa Anita's pick six carryover is gonna be fun this weekend (Friday or Saturday, to be determined). I think it'll be more fun if it's on Saturday with the two Grade I's and one Grade II. Also, we're prolly gonna see full fields the rest of the way out there what with the horsemen looking to give their charges some work already... $181k, let's go get it! (whenever they decide to run again...)
Phil J. More than 1 year ago
Steve, I am one player that would invest in the Magna 5 with more regularity if it were a $1 bet. I bet it the first week and managed to hit it, however, this weeks sequence was just too hard for my middle of the road bankroll to handle. So instead of getting my money I pass, it doesn't seem smart?
C More than 1 year ago
"on the laughably named 'Cushion Track'" Steve Davidowitz, Bravo. I posted a nearly identical comment on Dan Illman's blog last week. Get ready to defend yourself.