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Graded Stakes 11/23/07
3:48 pm EST: Aqueduct race 8, G2 $150k Top Flight H., 3+F, 1m
Pool Land, winner of the '06 G1 Ruffian, has to spot 5 to 8 pounds to her seven rivals, none of whom has won a graded stakes, and should be up to the task, probably at less than her generous 5-2 ML. She made a winning return off an 11-month layoff in October, can dictate the pace and is simply a notch better than these. Golden Velvet is the wild card. The 4-year-old Seeking the Gold-Caress filly made eight grass starts abroad before winning her dirt debut with 6 1/2 lengths with a huge move, but that was a N1x allowance and she meets much better here.
4:00 pm EST: Churchill race 10, G3 $200k River City H., 3+, 1 1/8-Turf
Cosmonaut, beaten just two lengths when third in the BC Mile last time out, is the 6-5 ML favorite conceding 4 to 11 pounds to 10 mostly overmatched opponents but is no cinch. Cosmonaut is the soul of consistency, having fired a Beyer of between 100 and 104 in 12 of his last 13 starts, but he'll be overbet off his placing in one of the worst BC Miles ever, probably won't get the easy lead he did that day, and is still a horse with only a 6-for-27 lifetime record. The alternatives include Ascertain, Gun Salute and especially Big Prairie, whose closing style fits the likely pace scneario and whose second to Shakis in the Baruch two back is good enough to win this.
4:29 pm EST: Churchill race 11, G2 $500k Clark H., 3+, 1 1/8m
It's hard to separate the three favorites or to make a case for anyone else in the eight-horse Clark, the day's richest race. Diamond Stripes and Magna Graduate (both 3-1) have finished inches apart twice before, most recently when they ran 1-2 in the Meadowlands Cup and over this track when they were 2-3 in the Stephen Foster. Istan (5-2) comes off a monstrous score against lesser in the Ack Ack over the track and is in career-best form. If the crowd overbets Istan off that race, the other two might offer some value in the 3-1/7-2 range, but I can't do anything more creative than use all three in multirace bets and find prices elsewhere in the sequence.
5:35 pm EST: Hollywood race 5, G3 $100k Generous S., 2yo, 1m-Turf
The winning-Beyer history of this grass race for 2-year-ols shows that it took a BSF or 89 or higher to win it for 13 straight years beginning in 1993, then a severe dropoff to winning figs of 76 and 81 in 2005-6. This is relevant because the two favorites in here. The Leopard(9-5) and Yes It's a Cat (3-1), appear unlikely to crack the previous standard. They earned their top figures of 86 and 80 respectively under optimal conditions, setting slow and uncontested paces, and seem less likely to improve than some pricier entrants. I'm most interested in Robscarvic, a Statue of Liberty gelding who rallied into Yes It's a Cat's slow fractions off a three-month layoff last time out, and his fellow Irish-breds Spinning Sound and Meer Kat, both eligible to show quick improvement while making their stateside debuts.
7:37 pm EST: Hollywood race 9, G1 $400k Citation H., 3+, 1 1/16m-Turf
This nine-horse Citation Handicap is an entertaining and wide-open betting race but a pretty poor excuse for a Grade 1 race. The field has a combined career record of 0-for-17 in its previous American G1 attempts, and a combined record of 0-for-18 in graded grass races of any kind this year. At his 6-1 ML odds, there are wose stabs than Silent Name. He's made 9 of his last 10 starts in G1 races, won the G2 Commonwealth on Poly in the other and should improve second time off a layoff and in his second start since being switched from Gary Mandella to Frankel.
How many more times are you going to recycle the "I Hate Handicaps" column ("Time has passed for weights in stakes," Nov. 25)? Your readers have been subjected to this topic more than I care to remember, and every time you present talking points that are every bit as anachronistic as the system you allege weighting and handicaps to be. Please stop insulting our intelligence by saying other sports do not employ mechanisms to achieve parity, or change rules or conditions to curb the dominance of an individual player or team. Everyone knows about the salary cap in the NFL. That it doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory (as is the case with handicaps) is beside the point. It exists. I hear few cries of foul when Augusta National and other courses make endless modifications to prevent Tiger Woods-like blowouts. I also recall at one time a "no dunking" rule instituted to curb the Lew Alcindors of the college basketball world. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point that sports, because of their uniqueness, have their unique ways in which they try to level the playing field. One can agree or disagree whether it is necessary to do so, but the sport of racing long ago found the only way to go about it is through the assigning of weights. Let me theorize that one reason why the process of eliminating handicaps has been so slow is that because horseman are scared to death of their horses actually having to carry scale weights. They have it made with the broken system now, and would probably go off the deep end if your weight-for-age fantasy comes true. Since we force BC Classic and Triple Crown candidates to carry scale weights, then all major stakes would have to use the same scale. That means Met Mile runners age 4 and up carrying 127 with 3-year-olds getting 113. All older male BC Sprint starters would have to carry 130 pounds. (Two important points: first, don’t kill your argument by saying that we can revise the scale downward while maintaining the spreads for age and sex. If you really believe in this shifting away from handicaps, you have to actually mean implementing the actual Jockey Club Scale of Weights for the top races. Secondly, in previous columns you’ve stated that all Grade 1 races should be weight-for-age, though you allow some wiggle room for Grade 2 and Grade 3 races. Hey pal, this is an all or nothing proposition. Even Jim Quinn, as big a fan of the American Graded Stakes Committee as you are, has said most Grade 1 and Grade 2 races are interchangeable, and many champions throughout the year show up at all three levels. You either have to endorse that every graded stakes accept this policy, or just drop the whole thing.) To show I’m not a stickler for tradition, perhaps you could bring up this idea to your buddies at the American Graded Stakes Committee (who you seem to worship for their wonderful work). In order for handicap stakes to retain their grade, and for handicaps to become "meaningful", weights should not be assigned based on who is nominated but instead on who is actually entered to run. This may require the race to be drawn a day or two ahead of every other race on the program. Once the field is drawn, the best horse in the race automatically gets a minimum of 126 pounds, and the rest of the field will be weighted down from there. Not only does this remove the ridiculousness of some of our top horses carrying a feathery 119 pounds or so, but it would also help jockeys who would normally feel the need to take extreme measures to make the weight. I’ll close by saying that this years-long tirade against handicap racing has absorbed precious column space that could have been devoted to more pressing concerns. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you address the serious problem of saturation of racing dates, particularly in the part of the country where you live. What single thing over the past three decades has contributed to the decline of interest in racing, gave rise to the phenomena of short fields, been used as a justification to introduce numerous (and questionable) race-day medications, and been the impetus for dreamers the world over to breed ultimately unwanted horses with questionable pedigree and little inherent talent? I gather from your recent comments concerning the possibility of a shutdown at Aqueduct on Jan. 1 that it would be a sin against mankind for Thoroughbreds not to be running at Aqueduct in sub-freezing temperatures in the middle of January for the first time since the Nixon administration. Let’s get our priorities straight.
Mr. Reed, you wrote regarding a defunct NYRA (temporarily or permanently) on January 1st: "And the majority of the people who will be hurt will be the inert, the semi-comatose, & the human racing robots who have been going through the motions for decades." Really? Does that include all the people who depend on racing for their livelihood? The grooms, hotwalkers, concession attendants, mutuel clerks? Pardon my sarcasm, but lost in too many of these conversations are the people who at this point have no idea whether they will be employed in five weeks' time. I hope that Spitzer and Bruno enjoyed their Thanksgiving, while others wondered how long they'll be getting a paycheck.
I'm on Patrick B's side of the weight debate. For the life of me, I can't understand why a handicapper would want to remove conditions (which weights essentially are) from the handicapping game. It's kind of like the Commissioner of Baseball advocating the elimination of the curveball. But then, as a general rule I hate comparing Racing to other sports or other games. One soon gets lost in the, "Is a mule a donkey or a horse?" argument. Racing is a hybrid of game and sport; that uniqueness is what makes it special. And if the paradigm creates an endeavor where no race is run to prove who the best horse in the race, but rather who the best horse under the conditions of the race, well, that same paradigm is what makes racing a bettable enterprise. I'm not even going to go into how abandoning the tradition of demanding top horses carry greater and greater weight to prove their greatness, has gutted the game--if, for breeding purposes, you don't have to keep a horse on the track till he's five years old to do something only older horses can be expected to do, why not retire them early--but I will say that the less you ask horses to do, the fewer conditions you ask them to overcome, the less chance you will see greatness, or indeed, even pretty goodness, on the track. One last thing: the people dismissive of the importance of weight can't have it both ways. If weight is not important than it doesn't matter how much discrepancy exists in the weights horses are carrying in any particular race. So why not leave the traditions of weight intact? The argument that weight allowances need to be changed then, actually an argument for the importance of weight assignments. Which returns us to this question, if weight assignments are so important to the outcome of a race why would any handicapper want to eliminate a variable whose understanding can sometimes give him a significant edge?
Wow, 5 of 6 at Hollywood paid $61k for the pick 6 on friday. Steve, why is the Pick6 so much more popular on the west coast than the east? I would think with the larger fielsds you would have better payoffs and more demand in the east.
I was with you on the analysis of the River City & the Clark (although I also liked Going Ballistic), and I loved Silent Name. Thus, I too felt like I was shot by an AP Arrow while singing a Thorn Song in the middle of a lonely Lang Field.
Sorry not to address the above handicapping, but the impending closing of NYRA has my attention. I regret to have to say that of all of the articles written in the past decade about NYRA automatically being granted an extension - Whoops! Sorry, that was 1999 - about the faint possibility of NYRA not being extended - Egad! That's 2002 - I meant to say, about the 50%-50% chance that NYRA will go out of bus- Darn it, that's 2005... All of the articles about NYRA written in the last sixty days, in one respect, have overlooked the obvious. NYRA being defunct (temporally or permanently) on January 1st, 2008, will usher in some very positive opportunities for the adept, the alert, the able, and the awake. And the majority of the people who will be hurt will be the inert, the semi-comatose, & the human racing robots who have been going through the motions for decades. And let's focus on the "deal" currently being offered by the Spitzer administration. The racetrack real estate would be given to NY State. In return, NYRA would be awarded a 30-year racing franchise. In other words, NYRA would be exchanging an asset with permanent financial value (worth upwards of @ $500 million) for a business that loses money every year. And at the end of 30 years, the franchise would be worth what it was worth at the beginning - nothing. Sign me up for two tours!