03/09/2009 3:16PM

He Wanted Dirt



However you look at it, I Want Revenge was dazzling winning the G3 Gotham Saturday by 8 1/2 lengths, an effort that may have been even better than Quality Road's Fountain of Youth a week earlier. Both races earned extraordinary Beyer Speed Figures of 113, but I Want Revenge's came around two turns and in a race half a furlong farther.

There's nothing fishy about the figure, which fit perfectly with the G3 sprint stakes that preceded it and the claiming route that followed it:

Nevertheless, the figure is being viewed with skepticism by some who find it impossible to believe that I Want Revenge improved around 20 points off his most recent California efforts. The figures must be broken, they argue, and either I Want Revenge isn't anything special, or the rest of the Californians with whom he's been in blanket finishes on synthetic tracks are all going to start running 113's when they head east and hit the dirt.

I wouldn't bet on it. I Want Revenge instead strikes me as a good example of Bob Baffert's accurate pronouncement that synthetic tracks can "make good horses look mediocre and mediocre horses look good." There's simply no way to torture the figures to conclude that I Want Revenge ran no better in the Gotham than he had in California. Even before the race, his connections were saying that he was "spinning his wheels" on synthetic tracks. Jockey Joe Talamo said he thought he was going to win the R.B. Lewis by open lengths at the quarter pole and that the horse virtually stopped running. That's why he was sent to New York and became Jeff Mullins's first starter here since the 2005 Breeders' Cup.

Rather than trying to reconcile his previous figures with the Gotham, handicappers would be better served by acknowledging that this horse wanted dirt and his quality was being camouflaged by the California tracks.

I Want Revenge is not the only Gotham runner worth following. Imperial Council's distant second was better than it looks on paper. It was his first try beyond seven furlongs, and he fell far back behind moderate fractions before storming past six horses through the stretch. He earned a respectable 98 Beyer in defeat and should only improve with distance and experience.

--The three Grade 1's at Santa Anita Saturday were all won by very nice horses with very different career arcs: the improving 4-year-old Gio Ponti, the steady 7-year-old Einstein and the stalled 3-year-old Stardom Bound.

Einstein, who became the nominal leader of the handicap division winning the Santa Anita Handicap, is the flip side of an I Want Revenge -- he runs about the same race every time regardless of whether it's dirt, turf or synth. He's no match for a true world-class champion on any surface, but he's a very admirable and consistent performer at the Grade 1 level and it's easy to root for him.

Gio Ponti, who nosed out the the excellent mare Ventura to win the Kilroe, may have found his niche as a turf miler. He was one of the nation's top middle-distance grass 3-year-olds last year but might be at his best at a mile and seems to have taken a step forward as a 4-year-old.

Stardom Bound, however, seems not to have improved at all from her 2-year-old to 3-year-old seasons. It might seem untoward to criticize a champion who has won five straight Grade 1 races, but her desperate nose victory in the Santa Anita Oaks was a disappointment -- not just to hypercritical turf writers but to her own connections, who have dialed back the talk about trying her against colts in Kentucky.

Stardom Bound didn't have a perfect set-up Saturday. She trailed early behind moderate fractions and forced to go at least seven paths wide on the stretch turn. But she caught up to her mediocre opponents by mistretch and then just couldn't put them away, winning a four-way photo by a whisker. She ran a better race against a better field on the same track over four months ago in the BC Juvenile Fillies, and is going to have to step up her game in the months ahead to maintain her dominance of the division.

--There's the first Magna 5 carryover of the year up for grabs next Saturday after no one came up with the sequence of Saarlight ($5.60), Sweet August Moon ($20.40), Discreet Treasure ($14.20), Judy Patootie ($22.00) and Apoplectic ($27.60) last Saturday. The pool was a season-low $374,692 and the carry is $218.895.

The Magna 5 was outhandled by the Aqueduct late pick-4 (the pool was $418,226), which offered outstanding value: a $4,257-for-$2 payoff on winners who paid $8.80 (Banker's Buy), $16.80 (Ah Day), $8.30 (I Want Revenge) and $14.60 (Friendly Pocket) -- nearly double the $2 parlay of $2,239.

I didn't even notice there was a $117k pick-six carry into Sunday's card at Gulfstream and neither did many horseplayers -- the Sunday pool was only $188,013, an unusual case of a six-figure carryover attracting so little fresh money. The largely chalky sequence paid $18,260. 

bochalls More than 1 year ago
Great card at FG this Saturday! The New Orleans Hcp is a fantastic betting affair (no clue yet) and the La Derby will be interesting as well...not to mention the Muniz Mem on the turf at 9f... Papa Clem will be an underlay in the La Derby as a result of the hoopla over I Want Revenge's move in the Gotham. He has kept great company out west (w Pioneer Of The Nile out there also) but one horses' good move on real dirt does not necessarily equate to anothers'....I will take a look at Flying Pegasus and Terrain. The former improved his BSF ten points in his first try against winners while going 5w on the first turn (death at FG as it is a tight turning track) off a few months layoff..and still got 2nd. Terrain is strictly a trainer angle, although he is working great. Al Stall has sent the last two runner ups in the La Derby (both at huge prices)...they were My Pal Charlie at 60-1 in 2008 and Ketchikan at around 32-1 in 2007.
Evan Gewirtz More than 1 year ago
Steve, Yesterday I complained about the DRF customer service. In fairness, I must report that today I received a call from the DRF and the person was very helpful and informative.
John Grady More than 1 year ago
Steve- I haven't posted in quite a while,but the recent comments from the self-appointed grammar police have been quite a hoot to read and re-read. The most recent one criticizes you for using the verb "handle"-as a verb!{I will handle this problem.}The fact that racetracks have chosen to take this verb and utilize it as a noun to measure money bet does not change its derivation or definition. Anyone who knows anything about grammar,idioms,punctuation,spelling{typos aside], proofreading,or making money at the racetrack would be appalled by most of the comments on this blog.It's laughable that anyone would take issue with any posting here without first editing his/her own. (For those interested in learning rather than typing,please note the correct usage above of "its" and "it's". The rest of you can scour this entry seeking some sort of mistake. Good luck.}
Buffalo Joe More than 1 year ago
Some intresting 3yr old races this weekend, just got a quick look at at PP's for the LA. Derby. Wondering out loud if Papa Clem can duplicate I Want Revenge's dramatic Beyer improvement going synethetic to dirt. Or maybe Giant Oak in second start over a Fairgounds that proved to be troublesome last time. I think I'll try those 2 on top with Flying Pegasus another who could improve 2nd over the track, in an attempt to get a little value in the tri and super plays.
92LNeck More than 1 year ago
Steven: I hope this hasn't been asked in the past, but I have 2 questions about the Magna 5: a) Why does it take until mid-day Friday for the Magna past performances to be posted? Don't they know which races are going to comprise the sequence on Monday? I'm guessing that I could put forward a more confident, substantial wager if I had more time to handicap the doggone thing. Usually I have to make a choice between the Magna 5 and the GP Late P4 instead of having the time during the week to HCP the Magna and then get GP Late P4 on Thur and Fri. b) Why does the posting (by xpressbet.com) of the Magna 5 past performances look like a crooked, blurry, photo copy every week? That is truly ridiculous. I'm guessing that the good folks at drf.com probably have zero control over xpressbet, but it's small, zero-cost stuff like this that could help improve the game for young guys like me that have grown up using computers and enjoy using technology like the Formulator and therefore find items like (a) and (b) above to be sloppy and inexcusable.
dan c More than 1 year ago
Bellamy rd and Afleet had the beyer numbers that yr. Bellamy rd got Hurt that day, who knows what happens if he dont. He was laying in perfect position on the backside when the injury took place. He was off for several mo after so I would hardly discount beyer numbers cause a horse got hurt. I only said you need a 105 in most yrs leading up to the derby to win. Read the footnotes lost to Smarty jones but they both had the numbers, you still have to read the form. Most yrs there are 3 or 4 horse with a 105 and you can pick from there. Barbaro had a 103 but won from the concession stand in the Fla derby so I moved him up. Numbers only take you so far you still have to read the form. Last yrs crop was soo bad BB won by default. That was the worst crop in 50 yrs. I will just be happy when our dirt title race is run on dirt once again. Could you imagine the Daytona 500 on dirt. Or the Indy 500 on grass? Maybe the World Series with no fences, or the super bowl played on cement. And we wonder why our game is in deep deep trouble.
Silver Charm More than 1 year ago
A 113 Beyer now every week for a 3YO. March Madness Marches on
Mike P More than 1 year ago
Just so everyone is clear here, this 3YO ran a figure in early March that would put him in the winners circle or in the money for some G1 handicaps later in the year and someone would believe that why???, if this is true and he duplicates it in the Derby we are going to see some dominating performance, get ready for some of this "he must have bounced off the huge effort", "he didn't like the track", or "he had an ideal pace scenario in the Gotham", all convenient excuses as to why the number was so high when in reality it makes absolutely no sense that a March 3YO would be running a number that would win or come close in the Whitney, JC Gold Cup, Woodward etc...
matt More than 1 year ago
I hope the IMP can run 1st or 2nd in the Wood Memorial in order to get the graded earnings for the Derby. This horse is a nut in my eyes. Hopefully Prado will be back in the saddle April 4th.
Walt More than 1 year ago
Bob: The main track at Aqueduct opens April 1. Steve can probably better say why NYRA stays on the inner much later than they used to, but I would suspect it is the cost of getting the main track ready (likely having skyrocketed in recent years) coupled with much bigger safety concerns than in the past (not that safety wasn't a concern in the past, there just seems to be a greater emphasis on it now than there was 10-15 years ago), coupled with the problems the main track seems to have in severe weather, coupled with NYRA likely wanting to make every effort possible to make sure the main track is in shape for the Wood Memorial since there are I believe still some older horsemen who have a stigma about running over the inner track since that strip did not exist prior to the start of winter racing in the '70s. Personally, I don't know why NYRA doesn't ditch the current main track and simply move what has been the inner dirt track surface over to the main strip. Given most feel the inner track is a safer surface, it may make more sense to move that surface to the main strip, run on that over the main strip the entire time at Aqueduct and convert the current inner track back to a turf course. On another front, the racino problems NYRA is now facing with Delaware North pulling out are no surprise. Given all of the credit problems in general, it doesn't surprise me in the least since there have been so many major projects even in Vegas that now have simply been abandoned because of the current crisis. On top of that, the politicians in New York State have seemed to find ways to be more concerned about themselves at times than with what is needed in general, and this is just one example. Pennsylvania has it right with the way they did slots. There is a reason the purses at Philadelphia Park are just a shade below what NYRA's are for non-claiming races and above what NYRA offers in many cases for claimers. Those purses will only go up once two stand-alone casinos in Philadelphia are built and open as the law here has 12% of all net revenue from slots in PA going equally between all of the state's racetracks. As for the part of Belmont Park with slots, whether Gov. Patterson said it or not I think personally slots at Belmont Park were going to happen at some point anyway, regardless of any politician saying they wanted slots there. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize what a racino would do at Belmont Park, especially if in the process there are improved transportation facilities there (including a vastly improved LIRR station that is badly underutilized and even perhaps an extension of the E/J/Z subway lines that would go as far as Belmont Park).