09/23/2012 10:38AM

My Miss Aurelia, Questing, and the Pa. Derby

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Again, because it bears repeating even if I mentioned it in this space just last week, never underestimate a champion, especially an undefeated one.

We got another vivid example why we shouldn’t in Saturday’s Cotillion at Parx Racing. On paper, the matchup between Questing and My Miss Aurelia shouldn’t have been close. Questing had become the ranking 3-year-old filly in the nation on the strength of brilliant recent victories in the CCA Oaks and Alabama. My Miss Aurelia, meanwhile, had only just returned from a long layoff with a less-than-pretty overnight sprint stakes win, and was going to have to go two turns in the Cotillion for the first time in almost 11 months.

In the Alabama, Questing earned a 106 Beyer Figure, her second triple-digit Beyer from her last three starts. My Miss Aurelia had never come close to approaching that Beyer level.

And on top of it all, Questing figured to have complete control of the Cotillion pace.

Although Questing beat many of the best 3-year-old fillies around in her recent stakes scores, it is also true that not one of them was a champion, let alone the sort of overwhelming champion My Miss Aurelia was in her division last year. And as true champions often have a knack of doing, My Miss Aurelia rose to the occasion, overcame all the disadvantages, and though the difference at the wire was only a head because Questing is still a tremendous filly. My Miss Aurelia beat her. And beat her on the square.

That’s right. On the square. There have been reports that the main track at Parx Saturday was loose, and maybe not to Questing’s liking. Maybe so. But even if the track was loose, it was still capable of yielding fast times. Very average 3-year-old stakes sprinters posted fractions of 21.41 seconds and 43.95 in the Gallant Bob Stakes one race before the Cotillion, so Questing had an enormous tactical advantage when she got loose through fractions of 25.19 and 50.04. Yet My Miss Aurelia, after prompting, still came and hooked Questing, and outfinished her after a thrilling stretch-long battle.

Folks are also pointing out that under the allowance conditions of the Cotillion, Questing had to concede seven points to My Miss Aurelia. This is indeed a fact. But I don’t at all buy the implication that this was the reason for the outcome of the photo. Seven pounds to an 1,100 pound horse is the equivalent to 1.3 pounds to a 200 pound human. Do you think for one second that a footrace between two NFL strong safeties would be decided because one had a buzz cut and the other had Troy Polamalu-type hair? The notion is ridiculous.

As satisfying as the Cotillion was as an event, the Pennsylvania Derby was about equally unsatisfying. And that’s saying something because with a paucity of mobile 3-year-olds left this season, no reasonable person could have had high expectations for this race. But even tempered Pennsylvania Derby expectations were not met when Handsome Mike, whose previous claims to fame in seven straight unsuccessful graded stakes starts were a second in the Generous on turf last fall and a third in the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic over the winter, drew off to score as the longest short in the seven-horse field.

The big disappointment in the Pennsylvania Derby was Alpha, who finished next-to-last as the 3-5 favorite. Now, I’m not making any excuses for Alpha because he was bad on Saturday, but he was rank early, and he did race near the inside most of the way. And that leads to the big problem with the main track at Parx Racing. If Parx Racing races 200 days a year, then the rail there is absolute death about 198 of those days. It’s a constant factor obvious to anyone who watches races from there. But as horseplayers, it is up to us to make chicken salad out of it, and I picked up a couple of horses who ran there Saturday. Il Villano raced near the rail every step of the Gallant Bob and was just nailed for third. Stephanoatsee ran on the rail every step of the Pennsylvania Derby, and yet was beaten less than a length for second. I’ll be betting both back, providing, of course, they are in suitable spots.

Tony Regalbuto More than 1 year ago
Isn't the rule of thumb pertaining to weight, that every (two to three pounds) slows a horse by a length at eight to ten furlongs, and every (pound) cost the horse a length at 10 furlongs or more? That said, there also has to be circumstances where the horse doesn't lose any lengths. The pace factor would be one of those circumstances. Questing had it relatively easy the early part of the race. She wasn't used till the quarter pole; therefore, I think the added weight should've had no effect on the outcome. I really believe at equal weights, Questing and MMA would put on quite a show, but I still think the outcome would be the same as it was in the Cotillion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fact is MMA should not have won this race for a variety of reason two of them are conditioning and pace. Fact is she won anyway. This is a very special filly.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Sir, I must disagree with your analysis regarding Questing v. MMA. The first prong is weight. Through the years it was considered 3lbs and some claim 5 lbs is equivalent to one length over a mile. Your comparison of horses to human beings is to use your own word, "ridiculous." Sixth grade physics can show even the casual observer that aerodynamically designed tight fitting silks are superior to the old silks which turned into a drag inducing kite.Swimmers like Michael Phelps shave down and wear drag reducing suits for similar reasons. The same elementary logic applies to the weight being carried, not over 20 yards but over a mile and a sixteenth. The cumulative effects are clear(to just about everyone but you!!). I disagree with your weight assessment as well. MMA is a big filly and may indeed weigh 1,100 pounds. Questing is smaller and lighter made and I would carnival guess her at about 950 pounds. Prong two. Your article also ignores the Charlie Whittingham quote, "Never trust a man who wears a size five hat." Jockey Ortiz totally blunted Questing main weapon, her natural speed and the ability to carry it a distance by waltzing through fractions that enabled MMA to easily keep up with her and turned the race into a 400 yard sprint for the wire. De riguer in Europe; less so in American racing. Even very inexperienced Abigail Fuller knew what to do with Mom's Command. Put her on the lead vigorously whether the distance was a mile or a mile and a half and run the competition off their feet. I sincerely hope for the horse's sake Mr. Ortiz is replaced by a rider who can read the Racing Form. Despite these comments I do enjoy your Saturday feature race analysis even if I don't always agree with it. Disagreements make the racing world go round but I find your articles well written and enthusiastic whether I agree with your conclusions or not. Keep up the good work!
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the kind words at the very, very, very end! Lol! Obviously we disagree on the weight thing, which I believe is absurdly overblown as a handicapping factor regardless of how many years people have attached disproportionate importance to it. Fitness, distance, surface, pace, final time figures, to mention just a few factors, all dwarf weight as a consideration. In my opinion.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
A lot of times with weight it's the circumstances. I saw Mt. Livermore who was as compact and heavily muscled as a Lukas sprinter in those days could be haul 139 or 140 6F in 1:10 flat I believe in one of my favorite old races The Fall Highweight Handicap, now more accurate the Fall Average Weight Handicap. Once he got going he was so powerful I don't think he would have gone any faster carrying 126. Forego lugging his high imposts took awhile to get going and then was forced to go wide because if he got stopped it would take Shoemaker too long to get going again. I'm a big Questing fan so some of my "opinions" are sour grapes. Thank you for reponding to my post. All the compliments were genuine if tardy. LOL!
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
The points you make are of course true, but assuming you consider two horses equal in that regard, I think weight has to be considered. Would be interested in your opinion why a trainer doesn't have an issue with a young 3yo carrying 126 I the Derby, but a year later would balk at it carrying 131 in a handicap if the others are in at 126.
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
Uh mike, a pound to a human runner does make a difference. . Why do you think runners wear racing flats and as lightweight clothing as possible.
john deksnis More than 1 year ago
I'll never understand why so many horse players resort to absolutes when discussing racing. As in Questing will never beat this horse or that horse, or have no shot in, say, the BC Classic. Or Ladies' Classic, for that matter. Bottom line in The Cotillion: Great race; two outstanding fillies. But who wins next time? Well, who knows? In any case -- even though I'm a Questing/Hard Spun fan -- I loved watching The Cotillion. It was a treat. Oh... almost forgot weight. Here's what I think: With some horses, giving 7 lbs to an equal rival might be their undoing. With others, it might not. Did it cause Questing to lose The Cotillion, though? Well, I certainly don't know. And neither does anyone else.
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
http://downthestretchs.wordpress.com/2012-gi-cotillion-stakes-results-and-replay/ Hand ride. Watch the race. "shook" the reins ONCE. Questing will never see the day she finishes in front of this horse.
Robert More than 1 year ago
This is Blind Luck and HDG all over again. Lets hope they keep it up and face each other 5 more times before they are done. Based on 2012 race results Questing deserved to be be giving weight. She was carrying 124 lbs it not like she was carrying 131 or something, 7 lbs is nothing to these animals. If they meet again at BC it will be equal weight.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
My opinion on the importance of weight is just that, my opinion. I do think something like a 15 pound weight spread means something. A seven pound spread, not so much. However, there is one thing I would like to mention to the people who point to the 200-year-old tradition of attaching great importance to weight as proof that it is a crucial factor in determining the outcome of races: For centuries, people also believed the earth was flat.
John Howland More than 1 year ago
Greek mathematicians knew the Earth was round in 300B.C.That's many,many centuries.I wonder what thet thought about weight?
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
No way of telling. Th Earth is propertedly hollow by some accounts............. Oh, were you still talking horses?
AZ Wildcat More than 1 year ago
Nakatani took young Mr. Ortiz to school, big time.
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
Yup
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
What edition of the DRF do they send you Mike? Questing final 1/8's in his races were slow compared to MMA's race. Going with each other around the track (as it looked so in my DRF) one had to figure Questing to give way late and she did.