10/11/2007 2:19PM

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.

Kenny Mac More than 1 year ago
Steve, True, the Rock did lose. Only because his jock(overated Euro rider)elected to only let him run from the top of the stretch to the wire. For me, his run was the most awesome BC performance for a horse who didn't actually win.
steve More than 1 year ago
Before the Dylan Thomas blather goes too far--- remember the Rock. He couldn't lose either. I agree not much signed up to beat DT, but doubling up the ARC with the BC Turf is no walk in the park. Check the field size and the price. Even if you love him bet a small pick4 just in case he's more mortal than mortal lock.
Steven Crist More than 1 year ago
Pete: You really need to talk to your syndicate manager and get a breakdown of the charges. My impression is that $161 a day would be excessive as a pure day rate, but if that includes all vet work and medications, and if there's some kind of syndicate management fee or markup included, then it's not necessarily out of the ballpark. Others with more direct experience in these partnerships are invited to weigh in.
Christine R. More than 1 year ago
FOR EWRNSAR... ewrnsar says: i'm new to the racing game, so tell me what a " cribber " is... i have seen it a few times watching the 2yo being sold. any help would be appreciated. thanks Hey dude....it just takes a little research..but here ya go for "firsters" Cribbing - When the horse grabs a board or other surface with its teeth, arches its neck, and sucks in air. This can harm the teeth and may lead to colic. Basically it can be a real nasty habit -there are collars and remedies to try and prevent/break it - think of it as "internal belching". I have had horses that just overcame it on their own - outgrew it and others that it hampered for life....but MANY horsemen shy AWAY from it...why add an extra problem from the start is the common thought....good fortune to you....Christine
Mcfarren More than 1 year ago
Steve: I love the format of the blog and I find I keep coming back to it consistently. I find that during the Saratoga meet I have the racing form open every day, follow every race on OTB or at the track and find time to still get full work days in but they might just start a couple hours earlier or end late at night. Once labor day hits and the kids get caught back up in school then it is time to get back to normal. I would then generally pick up the Form for Breeders Cup and then wait until May. Your blog is what has kept me interested in each weekend, kept me buying the Forms on Sat. and Sun. I love the roadtrip descripitions and the recaps of how you played your Pick 4's and Pick 6's. Super job. Mcfarren
partisan More than 1 year ago
I know it has been a while since Student Council won the Pacific Classic but I'm new to this whole blog thing: Has anyone commented on the drop in his odds -- from 32/1 to 22/1 in the last flash before the bell?
AlHattab More than 1 year ago
Pat- Monmouth is configured similar to Santa Anita and in my view plays in similar fashion to the old SA dirt track. Stretch is 990 feet and there is about a 500 foot run-up to the first turn in the 1mi 70yd race. The turns on dirt are kind- larger radius than say Churchill Downs but of course not as sweeping as Belmont. Track biases are prevalent and it will pay dividends if you pay attention for potential biases. The turf course is fast after it was redone two years back, but in my view plays fairly when the rails are down as I suspect they will be on at least Fri and Sat of BC meet. Stretch is 985 feet, short by Euro standards and even by some US standards. Again I think SA is a good comparison. Posts will matter most in the typical BC races- Mile, Sprint and now the 1mi 70yd, F&M sprint and the Juv Turf, but the track doesn't confer an unusual advantage to any posts for its configuration unless there is a bias. May be counterintuitive but I will be looking to outside posts in the Mile, and as usual also in the Sprint races. Traffic will be an issue in the Mile given short stretch and 85 foot turf course widthand, like at SA, I look to outside posts to stay out of traffic figuring that is lesser of two evils. So watch Wednesday and Thursday for biases. Sometimes they are the most important handicapping factor there. Hopefully that won't be the case but we know it has been in the past and that was at racetracks that have more qualified maintenance people than we have at Monmouth.
todd More than 1 year ago
just a few more thoughts about english channel, and the US chances of winning the Turf: i was alive last year in the last pk 4 with all the US horses, and had invasor and bernardini in the final leg. suffice it to say, it did not go very well. if EC did not win last year, against a rag-tag group of euros, thrown together almost at the last minute, there is simply no way, no matter the price, that i can see betting on him this year? he is beating the same horses, for the most part, as last year, and the fact is that US turf specialists do not seem to be geared for 1.5 miles. i appreciate the fact that he is a nice horse, but this is a race that the euros own, and it is folly, i think, to bet it any other way. that said, the value may be in trying to bet another euro against DT, which i could sooner understand. finally, the field will be fairly small, and no matter the config at monmouth, DT will have his chance to make his run..and when he does, it will all be over
Pete from Brooklyn More than 1 year ago
I'm hoping that you can answer a somewhat off-topic question. I am "stuck" in a syndicate horse in which I feel that the fees that I'm being charged are quite excessive. When I apply my percentage to the quarterly bill the math tells me that the total syndicate is being charged $161 per day for this horse who is stabled in NY. Do you have enough knowledge in this area to determine if this fee is excessive?
AndyScoggin More than 1 year ago
Pat-- MTH is a one mile dirt track with the turf course inside. The dirt track has ALWAYS been speed favoring. My concern is whether they have been tinkering with the surface to make it a more "fair" track. It will be crucial to follow the results on Wed. and Thurs. prior to the BC.