08/14/2011 1:27PM

Saturday Stakes Review


If there is a better turf horse to have raced in North America this year than Cape Blanco, I’d really like to know who it could possibly be.

This is no great scoop. Cape Blanco shot to the top of the male turf division last month, immediately after his U.S. debut, when he was a much-the-best winner of the Man o’ War. But Cape Blanco certainly tightened his grip on his division with his convincing score in Saturday’s Arlington Million.

When Cape Blanco won the Man o’ War, he did so despite blowing a shoe and drifting out considerably through the stretch run. Yet his score Saturday was a better performance, even if it lacked all that drama. The thing that was just so impressive about it was the way Cape Blanco ended all the suspense with his quick move to the lead in upper stretch, in the process making the concerns I had about his back and forth travel schedule between his home base in Ireland and this country seem downright silly. The Arlington Million is a great, international race, and as such, it’s not supposed to be so easily won. But with his move on the far turn into the stretch, Cape Blanco settled this Million quickly and easily.

Gio Ponti, who finished second to Cape Blanco in the Million just as he did in the Man o’ War, deserves a compliment for his good try. Compromised for having to come from farther off than slow pace than Cape Blanco did, and bottled up behind horses on the inside when he wanted to go, Gio Ponti nevertheless finished gamely, all on the sort of yielding footing his connections have tried to avoid with him. I still believe that at this stage of his career, Gio Ponti is most effective as a miler. But he beat everyone else he was lined up against Saturday, so I suppose he could still get the job done at a middle distance, if the situation is right.

Speaking of pace, the Million’s pace was so different than the pace in the Secretariat Stakes run at the same 10 furlong distance an hour earlier that it makes a direct comparison of the final times of the two races (the Million’s final time was 2:05.39, the Secretariat, restricted to 3-year-olds, went in 2:03.91) virtually impossible. The first two fractions of these races were comparable enough; the Million’s opening quarter and half went in 24.81 and 50.26 as compared to 25.43 and 50.09 for the Secretariat. But while the Secretariat’s pace continued on at a relatively steady clip with six furlongs in 1:14.64 and a mile in 1:39.92, the Million slowed down substantially through the third quarter, with its six furlongs going in 1:16.04.

The Million’s third quarter in 25.78 as compared to the Secretariat’s third quarter in 24.55 meant that there was no way the Million runners could run fast enough late to match the final time of the Secretariat. Sure enough, even though the Million’s mile fraction was 1:41.50, the Million’s fourth quarter was actually comparable to the Secretariat’s, 25.46 to 25.28. And the Million’s fifth and final quarter mile was actually slightly faster than the Secretariat’s, 23.89 to 23.99.

What all this tells me, beyond the fact that it’s not a good idea to make direct comparisons between the final times of the Million and Secretariat, is this: I suspect that Mission Approved, who gave way after setting that easy Million pace on his adored off footing, might have finally had his bubble burst. And Treasure Beach and Ziyarid, who ran one-two in the Secretariat after running two-one around the track, ran better races than people are liable to give them credit for.

As for Saturday’s other big race at Arlington, the Beverly D., Stacelita was a decisive winner, as expected. Stacelita’s victory Saturday combined with her excellent third against males last month in the United Nations in her U. S. debut makes her one of, if not the leading female turf horse to have raced on these shores so far this year. But as much as I would like to gush about Stacelita, and as much as she might deserve it, I can’t. And that is because her rail run from close range in the Beverly D. was one of the easiest trips you will ever see a horse have.

Finally, a word about Saturday’s controversial Sword Dancer at Saratoga. There was certainly no controversy about who the best horse in the Sword Dancer was. Winchester regained his Grade 1-level form of last year in his second start this season, and overwhelmed his field with a big late run to score a lot more convincingly that his three-quarters of a length win margin would suggest.

The controversy has to do with the way Winchester came in during the course of his big stretch run and bothered third-place finisher Al Khali. These are the questions I asked myself right after the horses flashed under the wire in the Sword Dancer:

Was Winchester the best horse? Absolutely. No question about it.

Would Winchester have won if he kept a straight course? Absolutely. No doubt about it.

Did Winchester bothering Al Khali cost Al Khali a bigger piece of the purse?

This is the key question. I don’t care if Winchester was 10 miles the best in the Sword Dancer. If Winchester coming over and bothering Al Khali cost Al Khali a larger share of the purse, in this case, second money – second money of $100,000 in the Sword Dancer was twice as much as the third place share of the pot – then Winchester should have been disqualified. To me, this – whether a horse does something during the running of a race that costs another horse a larger piece of the purse – is the fairest and best way to adjudicate potential disqualifications. In this instance, I am confident that whatever Winchester did to Al Khali, it did not cost Al Khali a larger share of the purse, and that the stewards made the right decision in letting the result stand as is.

And it could easily be 10 years before you see me agree with another stewards decision.

Sam Ludu More than 1 year ago
I read this morning that Cornelio Velasquez is appealing his seven-day suspension for his ride aboard Winchester in the Sword Dancer. If true, that's a seeming contradiction to me since Alan Garcia's claim of foul against Winchester/Velasquez was not allowed. Velasquez was careless enough to warrant a week's suspension but not careless enough to change the official results? That seems to be a backdoor admission of a foul.
Adam Wachtel More than 1 year ago
Mike, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with your statements regarding the Sword Dancer. Clearly, Winchester interfered with Al Khali costing him at a minimum second place. He should have been taken down. Winchester came in, took Al Khali's path away causing him to check abruptly losing all momentum. At the same time, Winchester was in top gear and the incident never cost him to stop his own momentum in any way. Yet, Al Khali then was able to re-rally to close to be beaten only 3/4 of a length for 2nd. But for the interference and his losing all of his momentum would Al Khali have been 2nd? I think the answer is clearly yes. Was Winchester the best horse as you contend? I don't know how one can conclude this. He beat Al Khali by only 1 1/2 lengths. If Al Khali had not been checked would he have been able to catch Winchester? It's certainly a possibility. When the 2 squared off in the Bowling Green last year, Al Khali ran right past Winchester as if he were standing still. As one of the owners of Al Khali, you might say I'm biased. But, all I know is that on Saturday my horse was cut off and his chance to win the Sword Dancer was taken away. Winchester should have been placed 3rd resulting in Rahy's Attorney being moved up for the win. In my view, this would have resulted in a horse who did not appear to be the best on that day being made the winner. But, that would have been the just result. A foul is a foul. I was told today that Winchester's rider was given days for the incident. If this is true, isn't it interesting that the stewards would punish the rider for his riding error yet not change the order of finish? It's not as if they are required to conclude under the rules that but for the interference the order of finish would have been different. They could have disqualified Winchester simply because he interfered with or impeded or intimidated Al Khali (rule 4035.2). OR, they could have DQ'd Winchester's foul altered the likely result of the race. I think the former is clear and gave the stewards the right and obligation to DQ Winchester. You can debate the 2nd part of the test, but I maintain that Winchester's foul did alter the likely result of the race. Regardless, the first part of the rule was met and there should have been a change.
George C More than 1 year ago
First of all, if the turf was firm Gio Ponti would have won. Second, this is for Secret Triple, Gio ran 2nd on the rubber track, not dirt. If people in our own business, which I think you may be, quite talking about the rubber tracks as dirt, we will never get rid of the crap that makes handicapping almost impossible.
jrzingg More than 1 year ago
Yes, I think there is a better grass horse, and he ran about an hour before! You can say what you want about the pace in the 2 races, but Treasure Beach ran faster, on the same track, on the same day, at a mile and a quarter. That makes him the best turf horse to have run in this country this year. And for Al Khali, how do you or the stewards know how much Al Khali was effected by Winchester. How does anyone know if Al Khali would have won, or finished second? The jock on Winchester could have pervented it, but would have cost him his momentun, and maybe the win.If you bother another horse you should be DQed. I've seen horses win races I thought they didn't have a chance, and you have too, so how can you say Winchester shouldn't be DQed????
Marcus Hersh More than 1 year ago
Mike - I believe the late-middle pace of the Million turned so much slower than the Secretariat's at least in great part because of course conditions. Riders said the lane being used for Saturday's three Grade 1s deteriorated significantly between the Sec., the first of the trio, and the Million. -Marcus H. (MW - Marcus, thanks for the excellent insight. This is a perfectly plausible explanation. The one issue I have with it, however, is that the first, second, fourth and fifth quarter miles in the two races were comparable. The big difference was that incredibly slow third quarter in the Million.)
Rick Shanley More than 1 year ago
2 year old filly---Saw the new top ten??? Millonreasonswhy derserves 2nd off that effort but keeping a maiden in the top 4?? Good I guess to have SAN fly under the radar.
Brad More than 1 year ago
SAN FLY? Is this the horse you're talking about? The spelling is correct? I love horse racing as a sport. I've worked at a race track for 12 years now, and I just love all the divisions. Most of my attention is in the HIGH QUALITY races. I would love to know if that is the YOUNG FILLIES name. Sarasota, Fl Racing Fan
Aaron W More than 1 year ago
Mike, I understand in the States dirt races take precedent over turf races, but I was just wondering why Winter Memories is listed as the 2nd best female turf horse, but is not listed on your top 3 yo filly list.
Secret Triple More than 1 year ago
Until we ( American Breeders ) get " speed " out of our heads, we won't win the Classic distances of 1M 1/4 T ( Secretariat, Million ), or 1M 1/2 T ( BC Turf ) !! If you look at the breeding of both winners, Treasure Beach & Cape Blanco, you see why. Stamina, stamina, stamina. And of course the ultimate . . Sadlers Wells, who just happens too be the sire of Galileo, sire of both winners. Dosage of both are heavy on the stamina wing, Treasure Beach 3-1-9-4-1 = 18DP, 0.89 DI, 0.06 CD, Cape Blanco 3-1-8-7-1 = 20DP, 0.67 DI, -0.10 CD . As for Gio Ponti, I think he's great, too run second too the Queen in the BC Classic ( ON DIRT ), and too still be running, is a testiment too his heart, he is small. To prove my stamina point, it only takes 1 point in that wing, like Gio ... 9-2-14-0-1 = 26DP, 2.25 DI, 0.69 CD Good luck everyone, don't knock anything about our Industry, we get enough about that from people that don't know anything about it. Hope this new idea the JC is planning works. We need MORE coverage, not more betting channels, GO TOO THE TRACK NEAR YOU, and enjoy the beauty of them all !!
Sam Ludu More than 1 year ago
Mike: There was another interesting stewards' decision on Saturday, in the 7th race involving the eventual gate-to-wire winner Tiz Sardonic Joe, breaking on the rail, and Liquidity Trap, who broke next to him, and finished out of the money. The head-on shot clearly showed that Tiz Sardonic Joe crashed into Liquidity Trap at the start, seriously compromising that horse's chances. Obviously, we'll never know how Liquidity Trap might have otherwise done in the race. Certainly by setting very slow fractions in the race (25 and change for the opening quarter mile, for instance) Tiz Sardonic Joe had it all his own way. Maybe that factored into the stewards' decision to let the results stand. But it was nonetheless jarring, as they kept showing the head-on shot to the crowd. (Later, when the inquiry sign was posted for the Sword Dancer, I heard more than one bettor say that there was no way they were going to take Winchester down, given the decisions the stewards have been making. On a related matter: I often wonder if the Belmont stewards would have taken down Real Quiet in the Belmont Stakes if he'd nosed out Quality Gallop. Gary Stevens said he would've raised a jockey objection. And Real Quiet clearly got in Victory Gallop's way near the wire. (Wow: Losing a Triple Crown on a DQ. Or not.) (MW - I talked to one of the then Belmont stewards a couple of days after that Victory Gallop-Real Quiet Belmont Stakes, and he told me they would have no choice but to take Real Quiet down had he finished first. I laughed, because I believed then, and still believe, that there was no way in the world Real Quiet would have been dq'd from a sweep of the Triple Crown.)
craftyplayer More than 1 year ago
arlington million......take a look at race again and watch #9 haley turner gave this horse a brutal ride she would have been much closer at the end with a better trip she got stuck behind a wall of horses will be on my watch mail list for sure and she will be booted off for better jock next race name of horse is wigmore hall i believe gl may the horse be with yall