03/23/2010 6:26PM

Pace and a Boycott


Last Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream and Prima Donna at Oaklawn look like textbook cases of how pace can affect the final times and even the outcomes of races.

On final time alone, one might at first decide that Rule's tiring third-place finish at Gulfstream removes him from serious classic consideration, or that Hot Dixie Chick's winning return was a cut below her 2009 form, but it's worth considering whether their early exertions discolored their overall performances.

Both tracks had other high-quality events at the same distance as the featured races for 3-year-old, facilitating direct comparisons. Let's look first at Gulfstream, where the G2 Bonnie Miss for 3-year-old fillies and the G3 Rampart for older fillies were run at the same distance as the main event on the Florida Derby card:

[Note: I used the formula of 0.17 seconds = 1 length in computing each horse's individual fractions.]

Clearly, the early pace of the Florida Derby was significantly faster than in the other two 9f stakes. Rule, who dueled head and head for the lead with Pulsion for the first six furlongs, was the only one of the top three finishers in any of those races to run his opening half-mile in under 47 seconds, and he did it in 46.48. While he was just a head off the lead after that opening half, the horses who would end up surrounding him finishing 1st, 2nd and 4th were 11th, 9th and 10th at that point.

Whether Rule can rate comfortably, and whether he is going to get 10 furlongs on Derby Day, remain legitimate and open questions, but I think he may have run just as well if not better than the two horses who finished in front of him Saturday after benefitting from the hot pace in front of them.

Hot Dixie Chick was the quickest 2-year-old filly in the country last summer, and like stablemate Rachel Alexandra a week earlier was making her first start since Labor Day weekend. Sent off at 1-to-5 (off a preposterous 6-5 morning line), she won by 5 3/4 lengths against a weak field, all of which looked swell until you compared her final time to the two races preceding it:


A winning Beyer of just 84 for a filly who ran a 100 and a 103 as a 2-year-old -- while running six hundredths slower than a N1x allowance race half an hour earlier and 19 Beyer points below another ungraded stakes race -- might seem like an alarmingly weak comeback. Maybe it was. But Hot Dixie Chick's early fractions are so dramatically faster than the stakes race for older males that I'm not convinced she didn't just cook herself early. It also might pay to be skeptical of the top finishers in the Hot Springs -- who cruised through that slow opening half in a tight group with plenty left to sprint home -- and give some extra credit to the closers who trailed that tepid pace and couldn't gain late.

 --The political situation regarding racing in New York is so outrageous that it's hard to argue with anyone's frustrated reaction, but the horsemen's self-proclaimed "boycott" of Sunday's first race at Aqueduct was a peculiar piece of political theatre in that it seemed to have the wrong target.

We get the word "boycott" from Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott, a 19th Century English land agent whose ruthlessness evicting tenants in Ireland led to a campaign of ostracism against him by his own employees and local merchants. The idea of a boycott is to injure the wrongdoer. By failing to bring their horses to the detention barn Sunday morning, however, the protesting horsemen inconvenienced only the fans who had spent time and effort handicapping the race and Aqueduct, which lost its betting commissions on the race. The horsemen have no dispute with the fans or the track.

The whole thing was an uncomfortable charade. Track officials knew for several days of the anticipated action but couldn't say anything about it until it became official Sunday morning when the horses did not arrive at the detention barn. At that point Aqueduct put out a terse statement reporting that with no mention of the horsemen's action, leading at least one racing channel reporting the story as if a van had mysteriously gotten lost on the Belt Parkway.

There had to be better ways for the horsemen to publicize their rally in the Belmont Park parking lot later that day. Instead, they annoyed their customers and left the impression that Aqueduct was doing something worthy of protest. While virtually everyone agrees with their stance that the state has been shockingly neglectful of racing, it might be more effective in the future to make clear that it is the state, not the fans or the track, that is causing the problem.

J.C. More than 1 year ago
Quick question for Mr. Crist or anyone who reads the blog who has access to horse racing history stats. ... When was the last time a racetrack had back to back days with a winners of over 125-1? At Freehold Raceway yesterday, a small harness track about an hour or so south of Aqueduct, a horse won the last race and paid $252.40, there was a small carryover even in the pick 4 of $1,303.37, well again today a horse won in the second leg of the pick 4 and paid $257.80 resulting in a double pick 4 carryover at Freehold, a track usually known to be chalky with 8 horse field winners usually paying less $8 to win as well as a seemingly great amount of winners paying less than even money. So has any tracks had back to back winners that paid over $250, I sure can't remember any off the top of my head, seems extremely rare to find a horse that pays over $200 during the course of an entire meet.
beerbelly More than 1 year ago
The last two Derby winners who chased fast fractions & lost ground in the stretch in their Derby preps were FUNNY CIDE (2003) & SILVER CHARM (1997). Watch the Wood Memorial 2003 & Santa Anita Derby 1997 on Youtube. If ESKENDERYA regresses & ODDYSEUS does not improve RULE still has a shot. At appetizing odds.
mike laz More than 1 year ago
Love to see this mess going on in New York. Perfect timing for New Jersey and Monmouth Park to offer a million buck's a day in purses. Hopefully all of this great racing i hear about in NY will be done rite here in my backyard at MONMOUTH PARK this year and many more to come. All i want as a race fan is good racing and even better betting. Thank god someone in Trenton thought of this before another state beat us to it. NYRA'S loss is NEW JERSEY'S GAIN. Can't wait to see how this all works out at MONMOUTH this summer.
n thier More than 1 year ago
Perhaps the "boycotters" couldn't afford bus fare up to Albany where the protest should have bben held.They don't need a PR firm just a copy of "Bonfire of the Vanities"
mike More than 1 year ago
No doubt Albany is destroying racing in New York, probably unintentionally.The general lack of interest in what the everday player wants is alarming, even on the NYRA front. Too many minutia type issues being publicized by the "new" NYRA. I've asked about the following on more than one occasion.I'm a small whale but am close to many much larger ones and regular every day players, just for the sake of this conversation. 1.Updated info on track maintenance esp this relativley new back-raking procedure which has caused raw times to be slower by 10-15 lenghts on many days during the winter meet.Surely Tom Durkin/ Little Andy or someone could take 30 seconds extra each day to embellish on "the track is sealed" etc etc. How about having Asst track super Joe Petrucione on once in a while to talk track maintenance stuff? 2. The often embarrassing winter racing cards which are unplayable for anyone playing serious money.Racing in NY must cease for at least 4 weeks during early winter.C heap maiden claiming NY bred races are driving players away. Don't NYRA get it? 3.Whats the status of late odds drops(during the race) and whats be done to ensure we are not being past posted? 4. Why is it so difficult to publish a day or so later, where a large pick six ticket(s) was sold and what was it's cost.The info is there, whats the problem. Those of us who wish to know have our reasons. I could go on but the truth is that I doubt that anyone at NYRA would even undersstand why such things are important to many regular players, small and large. The single largest problem for Albany and NYRA is there overall lack of understanding that the wagering/gambling public is totally ignored, without a voice and heading elsewhere. I know,they don't care. Mike
Mike in Louisville More than 1 year ago
Something to ponder. Which of the 3 major circuits is the LEAST worst? 1. NY 2. KY 3. CA If it's not one issue, it's another: Surfaces, VLT's, meds, bankruptcies, takeout or some (fill-in-blank). Seems like a fan should just enjoy it while it lasts.
jim More than 1 year ago
Steve im in agreement with durkin fan. Hopefully we wont see someone on the track during the preakness undercard trying to punch out a horse.
hammer More than 1 year ago
I appreciate your disclosure the etiology of the term "boycott."
ml/nj More than 1 year ago
I think you left out one of the injured parties in last Sunday's boycott. That is the NY State Tax Collectors. We just get so much in return from them that it's really a shame to see them targeted in this manner.
johnr More than 1 year ago
With all due respect to Steve Zorn, the fans fund the show. If they make a substantial stand...a boycott...the policymakers would take note...at least at the point where revenue suffers. Now I'm not naive enough to believe they could ever organize such a stand. The lack of organization with the key players...the fans, trainers and owners always astounds me. These stakeholders allow themselves to be dictated to by a fiefdom of other self interested stakeholders. I'm a lobbyist - healthcare - but a fan who sees the need for a real coalition to take on folks who are not interested in the long term health of the game...but want to make the biggest buck today. I've actually drafted a white paper on reforms...but who is going to listen?