08/22/2010 8:32AM

Saturday Stakes Thoughts


Saturday's Arlington Million was a fascinating example of how it is sometimes tricky business measuring one horse's trip against another. In this case, it's comparing the trips Million upsetter Debussy and Million runner-up Gio Ponti received.

Gio Ponti launched his bid from last around the far turn, but had to go around horses on the far turn and then six-wide into the stretch for an unencumbered run.

Debussy, meanwhile, sat a nice inside stalking trip in the early stages in the Million, never much more than two to three lengths off the lead. But he was shuffled back behind the tiring Quite a Handful on the far turn and was bottled up behind horses going nowhere into the stretch before finally getting clear so that he could make his successful late charge along the inside.

Ground loss of the sort Gio Ponti had in the Million is an obvious disadvantage that everyone sees. It's only helpful at rare times when the rail is dead, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that was the case on Arlington's turf course on Saturday. But some ground loss is less costly than others. For example, it hurts less to be four wide on the far turn when that turn is a sweeping turn like at Arlington (or at Belmont Park), as opposed to a tighter-turned turf course like, say Monmouth Park. It's less of a momentum stopper.

Neither Gio Ponti nor Debussy had ideal trips Saturday, but in this case, I would much prefer to have had the trip Gio Ponti had. To me it is far more preferable being able to make a continuous, unobstructed run even at the loss of a bit of ground, than being shuffled back to no man's land at a critical point in the race and then having to restart your engines with an eighth of a mile to go like Debussy had to do.

For that reason, I say Gio Ponti had absolutely no business losing this Arlington Million. He rallied to open a clear lead in deep stretch as the 4-5 favorite, and yet had no answer late for Debussy, an unheralded performer who had the tougher trip.

What this tells us is, this year's male turf division in the U.S. is even weaker than many of us feared. Last month, Chinchon came over from France with profoundly mediocre form and inhaled his field winning the Grade 1 United Nation Stakes at Monmouth. Now, the Arlington Million goes to Debussy, who at best is a Group 2 horse in Europe, and is more likely just an average Group 3 performer. It makes you wonder. If the likes of Chinchon and Debussy can come over and win two of our biggest turf races of the summer, what will happen when the Europeans bring over horses this fall who are actually good?

One other note about the Million. I'm not saying this because he was my pick in the Million, but what was jockey Richard Hills's hurry with third-place finisher Tazeez? Maybe Tazeez was a touch rank after a poor start. But opening up a four to five length lead on the far turn seemed a ridiculously premature expenditure of Tazeez's resources. In the end, Tazeez was beaten only 2 1-2 lengths for all the money, and it is easy to think he could have done a lot better with a more prudent ride. Especially so, when you consider that John Gosden, who trains both Tazeez and Debussy, said after the race that Tazeez regularly beats Debussy back home.

Earlier Saturday at Arlington, Paddy O'Prado notched his third straight turf stakes win with a decisive score in the Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds. Afterward, Paddy O'Prado's trainer Dale Romans, who seemed agitated that his colt isn't getting the recognition he thinks he deserves, favorably compared Paddy O'Prado to Kitten's Joy. Romans is in a position to make such comparisons. He also trained Kitten's Joy, who as a 3-year-old in 2004 was voted champion turf horse. But without taking anything away from Paddy O'Prado, let's hold on a second here.

By this point in the season in 2004, it was obvious that Kitten's Joy was a monster. He earned a 108 Beyer Figure winning the Virginia Derby, and a 113 Beyer in his domination of the Secretariat. Paddy O'Prado earned a 99 Beyer when he won the Virginia Derby, and a preliminary Beyer of 98 for the Secretariat. Let's see Paddy O'Prado go on and crush older horses in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and earn a Beyer of 114 like Kitten's Joy did after the Secretariat. As noted, the turf division is weak this year, so the opportunity will be there. Then we'll talk.

One point in defense of Paddy O'Prado. You can't take his time in the Secretariat of 2:04.71 and make a straight up comparison to the Arlington Million time of 2:03.01. The internal pace in the Secretariat was much slower than the Million (for example. the third quarter of the Secretariat went in 25.16, while the third quarter of the Million, thanks to Richard Hills's imprudence on Tazeez went in 23.65), and that was a serious drag on the final time of the Secretariat.

Finally, let's talk about Saturday's Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. While there remains a lot of very important racing this fall, it is hard to think anything could (or should) happen from here on out to deny Blind Luck the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award. With her victory in the Grade 1 Alabama, Blind Luck has now compiled an imposing record this year that also includes victories in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, the Grade 2 Fantasy, and the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks. Moreover, Blind Luck soundly defeated in the Alabama the filly who was by far her chief rival for a divisional championship, Devil May Care.

I admit, I liked Devil May Care in the Alabama because I anticipated the tactical race with the modest pace that we got. I thought Devil May Care's ability to get first run on Blind Luck would make all the difference. Well, Devil May Care did get first run on Blind Luck, but it turned out that she couldn't stay the 1 1-4 mile distance. It also turned out that pace or not, Blind Luck is still able to produce a powerful late kick.