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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.
For twenty years, I spent a fortune in time and money on speed and trip handicapping figures. What did I learn as a result of my mathematical adventures? 1. There is absolutely no viable substitute for visual information, which means "Forget the numbers and pay attention to everything else," like individual racehorse mentality and preferences; pre, during and post race body language; how good riders respond to their mounts as opposed to how they expect their mounts to respond to them; and most importantly, if I am at the track - "eye contact." 2. I won't dwell on all of the idiosyncrasies of eye contact between human and horse. Instead I'll give but one example: On a crisp October afternoon at Belmont, 11 maiden 2 y.o. colts, (most unraced) paraded past me on their way to the track. Strangely, one horse in particular stopped directly in front of me, cocked his head and for the briefest of moments, we connected. What I saw in his eyes was a combination of intellect and intensity - this horse KNEW he owned Belmont. Physically, he looked like a linebacker with a score to settle. But how could all of that be possible for an unraced 2 y.o? I checked my program for number 6 - the name was Soy Numero Uno. His generally dominant demeanor was even more pronounced as the horses approached the starting gate. His body language at that point was as close as a horse can get, I believe, to complete disdain for his competitors. In retrospect, I should have bet the mortgage on Soy Numero Uno, but I didn't trust what I was seeing. This was a 5 1/2 furlong sprint on dirt and Angel Cordero Jr. - normally a busy rider even when approaching the gate, sat impassively on the dark and muscular looking colt, who began to jiggle as he came closer to the gate. This kid wanted "in" - unusual with young horses that still fear the gate. Soy Numero Uno broke alertly and 1:02.1 seconds later stopped the teletimer 8 lenghths in front. Cordero never moved a muscle throughout the entire run but it was clearly evident at the 1/16 th pole that the horse knew where the finish was and had every intent to get there as fast as he could. 3. From that day forward, I used every tool at my disposal, including a pair of high magnification binoculars, video race replays, pre-race behavior and body language, eye contact, patterns in running style and preferences...the list is endless. 4. Speed and trip numbers are useless. Horses that appear to prefer outside trips compensate for lost ground with "comfort," horses that like to engage in fisticuffs run faster when allowed the opportunity to "bump hard and run," and horses that just might be sufficiently intelligent to know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line will throw a rider that attempts to prevent them from diving to the fence. As a rule, racehorses are surprisingly intelligent animals. Any attempt to predict their performance based on mathematical calculations is doomed to failure. Racehorses live and love to run, and it is "how they do it" that defines them as individuals, not quantum mathematics.
If you get a chance to watch video of Gio Ponti's past races take a look at the ones where Garrett Gomez rides and how he doesn't move too early, and even cuts it close moving late sometimes. Gio Ponti comes flying by Ventura as I remember at a mile on firm turf. There is a clear difference between Gomez and Ramon Dominguez in style/strategy to my eye. I think this horse has a 2 furlong burst that is world class and it shouldn't be fully engaged until there are about 2 furlongs to go in any race Gio Ponti runs in.
Gio Ponti lost more ground on the turn than the race was decided by. And I'd say his jock should of been more patient, that's multiple times he has gotten his horse beat near the wire
Mike, A few thoughts of my own. I am not a Gio Ponti fan by any means, but the ride by Ramon was awful in the million. The rail was definately the place to be all day at Arlington (and while I agree Debussy had a rough trip) being out in no mans land at that place was definately not the place to be. I also thought he moved too early and then wrapped up early thinking he had it won. When he finally saw the horse on the rail, it was way too late....watch the replay....he was in coast mode then all of a sudden starts hammering after the horse shoots by him 2 strides before the wire. Ramon rode horrible all day long. As far as Paddy O goes...its my opinion that he beat absolutely nothing. Workin for Hops and Dean's Kitten are at best Gr 3 horses and the 1 Euro in the race was 2nd rate at best. I will be firing against him with both fists next time. This horse isn't even close to Kittens Joy and I think the comparisons are ludicrous. I think the bigger story is the Bev D. winner. What exactly were the jockeys doing in this race??? They let them walk up front and the closers start their runs way too late so Mr. D can win his wifes race??? I could not come up with this horse for anything. Looked out classed on paper...but I guess a perfect trip makes up for a lot. priz