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How fast too fast?
Square Eddie is a good horse, and trainer Doug O’Neill was right. Despite not having started Square Eddie in more than one year, O’Neill said “He’s ready to win.”
He was more than ready, it turns out.
Square Eddie on Friday obliterated the Santa Anita track record for six and one-half furlongs, a record set more than 12 years ago by Son of a Pistol.
Square Eddie smashed it. He raced virtually gate to wire in 1:13.11, three-fifths off the old mark. He did it while geared down the final yards.
Records that are set by good horses can be a cause for celebration, and Square Eddie is a good horse. But he was racing in a second-level allowance race, not a graded stake.
And the way records are falling this winter at Santa Anita, celebration might give way to concern.
The Factor, a 2-year-old, set the new mark for six furlongs when he went in 1:06.98 on Dec. 26.
Twirling Candy, a good horse but not yet great, set the new mark for seven furlongs, 1:19.70 on Dec. 26.
That prompted one longtime Santa Anita employee to make this cynical remark: “It’s about time we got that bum Spectacular Bid out of the record book.”
Twirling Candy bruised a foot and has not raced since. Neither has The Factor.
Then the news broke Friday about Sidney’s Candy. He had raced a mile in 1:33.70, also on Dec. 26.
Sidney's Candy is “off” and scratched from the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Saturday. Preliminary indications are the setback was not serious.
Horses get hurt everywhere. No one is blaming the Santa Anita track.
But three track records the first 13 days of racing does seem strange.
Square Eddie, a Grade 1 winner in fall 2008, is a good horse.
Let’s hope he is good enough to run fast, and then run again.
Because when horses run as fast as they have been running this winter at Santa Anita, one has to ask again – at what expense?
I feel there is another reason why the track times are playing too fast these days. I will admit that they are ridiculously fast, but please consider this possibility: For over three years, horses were training over synthetic tracks and built up tremendous stamina (and different reflexes) for the "closing style" finishes that made polytrack races so similar. At the end of any polytrack meet, all these West coast horses ended up being tremendously fit to run on any surface. From my point of view, I see that many of these horses are still tremendously fit and can carry early speed a whole lot longer than horses who don't train on polytrack. If you look at things objectively, maintaining six- and seven-furlong works on Polytrack will keep these horses really fit ... until they run so fast that they will hurt their legs, hocks, hoofs ... whatever anatomical areas are affected by the physics increase explained in a previous post. Do you remember just last year when West Coast trainers would ship horses back East and they would run lights out? That is all that is happening now, just on a daily basis at Santa Anita.
Last race on Sunday (1/23/11) again looked outlandishly fast; (21.34 - 43.52 - 55.52 fractions) - and a 108.11 final time 6 furlongs for 25k claiming. The 2-1 favorite Dave's Pacemaker was beaten nearly 20 lengths and looked very poor on the gallop out. If the horse can run back it may very well be for 8 or 10k. If Hollendorfer does ship out Blind Luck and Dakota Phone because they cannot win on the ultra-biased surface and other owners and trainers follow suit and ship out their closers, then even the hard core fans will go elsewhere with their wagering dollar. Let's raise the takeout further, go to three-day race weeks and let's just rename the track Warren's Santa Anita.
One hundred times more important than the conveyor-belt racetrack in Arcadia to me is the CHRB meeting (Thursday) ... ... armed with shocking declines in business (little Tampa Bay Downs defeated Santa Anita head-to-head one Wednesday $4.5 million to $4.0 million in handle), I am curious to see if the (CHRB) members realize how angry horseplayers are at them and the horsemen for the money grab (the 10 to 15 percent takeout hike) at the expense of their best customers. Will they show the leadership necessary to rescind this failed policy? Also, will they address an ever bigger business killer, declining field size, which is absolutely awful and getting worse? With Santa Anita scheduled to race five days a week in March and April without a prayer of filing the races, it looks like California's lunacy will be Florida's gain for this fan!
It looks like some of the surface squabblers are eating dirt. You guys used to complain that synthetics ruined your handicapping. That's a good thing! If all surfaces were exactly the same every day then "x amount" of front-runners would win and "x amount" of closers would win. It would be the same and nobody would have a chance of beating the 20 percent takeout. Then somebody came out with the cold, hard facts that synthetic tracks are safer for the horses than dirt. That was mostly ignored by the dirt lovers, winning money is more important than the horses' life. To be fair here, not all dirt tracks are unsafe. Many on the East Coast have been slowed down and breakdowns have slowed down too. As far as Santa Anita is concerned, they just can't get it right. I don't mind a dirt track in Southern California as long as it's safe. I'm boycotting California racing anyway, but if I wasn't I would because I don't like seeing horses racing on a freeway. Goodbye, Blind Luck and Dakota Phone. Hollendorfer is sending them elsewhere and good for him. If a high-profile horse breaks down, Santa Anita might as well close up shop and finish the meet at that "safe" track accross town, Hollywood Park.
... the SA main track is going to be dug up to six inches and the sand component of the base track material is going to be added after training on Jan. 18. That does sound like good news, indeed. Ask yourself this question: after a maiden 2-year old runs six furlongs in 1:06.98 and the second-place horse runs (approximately) 108.40 and loses, why would it take 22 days to come to the conclusion that the track is ludicrously fast?
After watching and wagering on the races at Santa Anita this weekend I am disgusted with the track. No wonder guys like Baffert and Headley wanted the dirt back. They have speed type horses. It is not handicapping with this track. Just look for the speed horses, cause you can't pass. I have been betting horses for over 30 years and have never seen a more biased track. I could care less about the times, but when you go head and head going a mile and a sixteenth reeling off fractions of 45 and change and 108 and change and the leaders keep going, then there is a problem. Why did the trainers have such a big say in the return to dirt, and the owners didn't? Who pays the bills, anyway? Without owners, there is no game. I have talked to many gamblers since the start of the meet, and there has been a consensus, if something doesn't change soon Santa Anita will lose many players. Here's hoping that Del Mar gets more dates.
Back in August 2010 it was announced that SA was going to install a new dirt surface at a cost of five to six million dollars. There has now been three weeks plus of an obviously too-fast surface. There is no remedy to slow the track down even just a bit? Horses who run these super fast times, generally speaking, are not able to run back without a long spell of rest. If you are already struggling with a shortage of horses able to run, how much sense does this make?
Some observations on physics and the new Santa Anita dirt track: Physics says force increases as an exponential (actually the square) of velocity [ i.e., f = mass*(velocity squared) ]. The faster times we're seeing at Santa Anita now, mean more multiples of more force (see physics summary below). Could this possibly mean it will lead to more injuries? The new seven-furlong record the other day at Santa Anita was 1:19 and change. According to the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac, Spectacular Bid's record was 1:20, and the fastest time in 2007 on the new synthetic was 1:20.37. The fastest seven-furlong time on the old dirt track that year was 1:21.11 by Latent Heat. The average force already on a Thoroughbred racehorse leg at 12 secs per furlong (55 ft per sec) is roughly describable by force = mass (1,000 lbs) times velocity (55 ft/sec) squared. (See Nat'l Science Foundation racetrack force plate studies by Kingsbury in Journal of Biomechanics.) [note -- the foreleg retracts - goes backwards, before hitting the ground so the leg velocity is less at impact than the main inertial mass velocity. On the other hand, the faster they go, the more extended they are, and the less foreleg retraction before impact. The rear legs really don't have that sort of retraction.] Changing from about 1:22 for seven furlongs to 1:19 is a change of 3 seconds overall, or probably at least 1 sec per furlong of velocity somewhere in the race. Go 1 second per furlong faster and the overall velocity is about 5 ft/sec faster. So, for example, if you go 1 sec per furlong faster, instead of a velocity of 55 ft/sec, you'd have 60 ft per second. Put that into the force equation above. 55 squared is 3,025 times the mass = force. 60 squared is 3,600 times the mass = force. That is 575 times more units of force possible. Yes, Santa Anita's new track could conceivably now be improved in some ways in that it may be "softer," or springier, or match the spring constant of a horse's leg better than expected, and have fewer inconsistencies in depth and composition and drainage (future drop hammer tests and ground penetrating radar studies from the Jockey Club's track safety initiative will help determine these things). A "tuned" track for human athletes can be safer and faster if done right. Furthermore, good equine athletes there may compensate in the velocity of their foreleg retraction somewhat, But, still, more potential force in mega units, is still just that.
Santa Anita is my home track and my favorite track despite Stronach, so it saddens and worries me that they can't get the surface right. I have to agree with the people who say "you got what you wanted." Everyone whined about "slow," "anti-speed" synthetics. Now we have the freeway and horses get hurt on it. I don't think this was the track superintendent's intent, but I also am tired of the "it doesn't normally rain this much in SoCal" excuse. Hmm, if it doesn't, why have I heard this excuse for the track multiple times over the last few years? It does rain hard in the winter in Arcadia on most, if not all, years, so build a track that can handle it. The surface also makes handicapping difficult, not just because of the speed bias, but the form reversals - there are always some at the start of a meet, but now it seems really unpredictable, even with horses who have won on dirt before.
One comment, two questions. Vince's points are spot on. How fast would Spectacular Bid have gone on that track? Is digging the track a little deeper and adding whatever component is a larger particle to avoid such a packed tight surface that difficult?