10/11/2007 1:19PM

Q&A 10/11/07


brian_d says: Any thoughts on Daaher? Might be an interesting prospect in one of the BC races if he goes. . .

Daaher on Thursday was declared out of the BC Dirt Mile and is being pointed for the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Nov. 24. Daaher's impressive Jerome victory earned a 110 Beyer, confirming the 107 he ran at Saratoga winning by nearly 14 lengths, and stamped him a huge force in the handicap division next year.

Among the horses reportedly being considered for the Dirt Mile, or at least mentioned as possibilities, are Bwana Bull, Cobalt Blue, Commentator, Corinthian, Desert Code, Diamond Stripes, Flashstorm, Forefathers, Gottcha Gold, High Finance, Istan, Jonesboro, King of the Roxy, Magna Graduate, Sam P., Slew's Tizzy, Surf Cat, Xchanger and Zanjero.

The most intriguing possible entrant is Discreet Cat, who would probably be the favorite. I'm a huge fan of Discreet Cat and his raw ability, but I seem to have seen his comeback race in the Vosburgh differently from a lot of other handicappers, who have pronounced him a cinch in the Dirt Mile if he goes. I realize a six-furlong race off a seven-month break wasn't an ideal spot for him but I thought he showed absolutely nothing at any point in the race. If he goes, I'll be skeptical.

mr_b52 says: What, you don't like seeing the mph of the top four runners in a race and trying to calculate the speed your horse might be running along at while in eighth place down the backstretch? The guy who came up with this should get a raise. Pump up the volume boys and girls, there's math in the house! Seriously though, do you think this is just a way for the producers to avoid displaying changing odds during nationally televised races? Do you think the NTRA is happier having Steven Crist say they suck or would they prefer having every paranoid horseplayer out there looking for a guy with a laptop past posting on the grassy knoll?

Your conspiracy theory would work better if the dopey mph graphic were substituting for the changing odds, but when ESPN used that display last Saturday from Keeneland, they were alternating the mph readouts with the odds during the race.

The mph stats are simply ridiculous -- completely uninformative, probably inaccurate (they change by 1 or 2 mph in the space of a single stride) and counterproductive if the goal is to intrigue a NASCAR audience. Are there speed freaks out there going "Wow! Those horses can run 20 percent as fast as a racecar!"? The shame of it is that the Trakus system supplying these stats actually has much more useful stuff that could be used, like listing the entire running order in a big field and/or the bottom-of-screen chiclet display.

As for changing odds, sorry to sound like a broken record but I'll say it again: Until this industry can get up to speed technologically and assimilate bets into the pools more quickly, I simply don't understand why they don't close the pools earlier. If every track would buy into this and just do it, there would be one week of inconvenience where a lot of people would get shut out once, followed by a behavioral shift that would make this a non-issue forever.

andyscoggin says: Why is Dylan Thomas going to break the ARC/BC turf jinx? He has never won on a firm turf and all you guys have been harping on how hard the turf is going to be at MTH!!

I assume you mean "harping" in the sense of celestial beings playing divine melodies on stringed instruments, not horseplayers beating a point into the ground.

Whether or not to lean on Dylan Thomas is going to be the central question for multirace players on BC Day. He's almost certain to be the heaviest favorite on the card and the most frequent "single" on small and medium pick-4 and pick-6 tickets.

The positives: He's considered the top 1 1/2-mile grass horse in Europe and probably the world, and that usually puts a horse 3 to 5 lengths in front of the top American turf routers unless we've got something really extraordinary over here. If our best is English Channel, who has twice failed against Europeans in the BC Turf, then Dylan Thomas towers. The negatives: As Alan Shuback points out, Arc winners are 0-4 going from that race to the BC Turf, and an additional 0-for-4 trying it a year later. That's a small and possibly misleading sample, but plenty to give one pause before putting all of one's BC Day eggs in that basket.

As for his "going" preferences, I keep hearing he likes it firm and his pp's suggest that's the case. Here are his career stats by turf-course condition:

Fm 1: 1-0-0
Gf 2: 1-0-1
Gd 8: 5-3-0
Yl 2: 2-0-0
Gs 1: 0-0-0
Sf 2: 1-1-0
Hy 1: 0-0-0

mike says: Steve -- Do you have any memories or stories from covering John Henry at the Times that you might be able to share with us?

I don't have much to the add to the copious rhapsodizing that's already deservedly appeared about John Henry, one of the coolest racehorses we've ever seen and an an admirably willful, cranky and domineering figure in retirement. Two small points I would add to the mix:

His owners, Sam and Dorothy Rubin, were almost as much fun as the horse and a kind of owner we don't have enough of in the game any more. Sam, a retired bicycle importer, was an avid horseplayer who thought it would be fun to have some runners of his own, not an investor looking for a tax shelter or an aggressive ROI.

I also think John Henry played a huge role in legitimizing and elevating grass racing to the championship level in this country. Other than Fort Marcy in 1970, the handful of previous Horses of the Year who were also grass champions in the same season were primarily dirt runners: Round Table made only 3 of his 22 (yes, 22!) starts in 1957 on dirt; Dr. Fager in 1968 and Secretariat in 1973 tried the turf just once or twice. No horse has ever routinely excelled at the Grade 1 level, back and forth between dirt and turf, the way John Henry did.

david says: Does anyone have a way of judging a trainer's true success? ... Is it possible to derive a stat that shows how much a trainer has under or over-performed? The baseball sabermetricians have a stat called VORP - Value Over Replacement Player which (theoretically) tells us how much better Player X is compared with a replacement player that would step into their position during a lockout or strike. Can we derive a similar VORT statistic (Value Over Replacement Trainer) for Pletcher, Asmussen etc...?

A great question to which I have no good answer, but invite others to weigh in. I think it's a lot harder to calculate this in racing than in baseball, and harder with a once-removed participant like a trainer than for an actual player like a shortstop. Let's use the example of Pletcher and his 2-year-olds this year. You could opine that if you somehow added up their purchase prices and pedigrees, he should have won more maiden races at Saratoga. You could also say it appears it clearly wasn't as strong or deep a group as he's had in other years and that he did a great job getting as much as he did out of them.

I also think it's a lot more useful to focus on situation-specific trainer performance -- layoffs, firsters, equipment changes, class drops -- than to try to come up with a one-number overall rating.

And finally, I'm going to pose a question to myself:

steven_crist says: When you said you were going to continue the Saratoga blog at Belmont, I expected the same kind of daily race recaps you did from up there. Instead, you seem to focus only on the weekend cards. I see no one's really complaining, but why do you think it worked out that way?

I've been wondering the same thing myself. I began the Belmont meet noting the similarities to Saratoga -- 30+ days, a dozen or so Grade 1's etc. -- but pretty quickly saw it just doesn't have the same feeling. Part of it is that it's hard not to experience a letdown of intensity after Saratoga, but part of it is that the weekday cards just aren't as compelling as they are upstate. The absence of the Kentucky horses and the other shippers bring the interest factor down a notch. There's just not the same feeling that, on any given Thursday, you're going to see the debut of the Next Big Two-Year-Old.

The biggest difference, though, is simply locale and its effect. At Saratoga, you live in a racing bubble for five or six weeks, forgetting about the so-called "real world" and focussing entirely on the game. It's a shared adventure, like we're all going off to summer camp together.

On the other hand, there's more travel (beyond the State Fair), and writing about it, during the rest of the year. The Toronto/Boston run was fun last month, and this Saturday I'll be at Hawthorne doing a free handicapping seminar from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the third floor of the grandstand.