03/06/2011 11:57AM

Stay Thirsty, and the Wacky Big Cap


Stay Thirsty ran well winning Saturday’s Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. The Gotham was far from the strongest Kentucky Derby prep run so far this year, and with a preliminary Beyer Figure of 89, it was also far from the fastest. But Stay Thirsty deserves credit for winning as decisively as he did around two turns in his first start in four months off of only five published workouts.

Now, Stay Thirsty is primed for a step forward in what will be his final Kentucky Derby prep, which initial comments from his connections indicate will come in either the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park or the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Stay Thirsty’s two prep schedule for the Kentucky Derby is the same his champion stablemate Uncle Mo is in line for. Uncle Mo, the undefeated winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is to make his 3-year-old debut Saturday, most likely in the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream. He will then have his final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, which is why Stay Thirsty won’t complete the New York road to the Derby.

Todd Pletcher, who trains both Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, has become one of the leading practitioners of the two-prep route to the Kentucky Derby. Obviously, Pletcher knows what he’s doing, and the “fresher is better” approach does seem to be the one that many other horsemen feel fits best in today’s game. Nevertheless, it is still a bit of a surprise how horsemen seem so willing to embrace an approach like this when the margin of error that comes along with it is so much smaller.

Putting aside the graded stakes earnings implications that can be a major consideration for Derby aspirants opting for the fewer preps approach (Obviously, not in Uncle Mo’s case, however), consider the following scenario: What would happen if, for example, Stay Thirsty, in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, catches a muddy track that he refuses to extend himself over, or dumps his rider coming out of the gate? If something untoward like that happened, it would then put an extreme premium on Stay Thirsty’s subsequent workouts for the Derby to have him at his best, far more so than if he had one additional outing earlier this year that would have contributed significantly to his fitness foundation.

I am sure all of these considerations are carefully measured by horsemen who adopt the two-prep approach to the Derby. It’s just interesting how in a trade to keep their charges fresh, several high-powered barns seem willing to operate without a safety net.

I just wanted to throw in my two cents about Saturday’s highly controversial Santa Anita Handicap. The way I saw it, and this is just one man’s opinion, Game On Dude was the aggressor, and I think he actually started the whole chain of events when he drifted out a path turning for home. I think Game On Dude should have been disqualified, and I think he should have been placed behind Twirling Candy. I also think, and I sense I might be in the minority here, that Game On Dude and Twirling Candy took the worst of all the bumping, and not Setsuko. Setsuko was bumped hard, but he didn’t have his hind end knocked out from under him like Game On Dude and Twirling Candy did.

What should not be overlooked in all of this is, Twirling Candy was struggling at the time of the bumping in upper stretch, and was already beaten. He might have finished closer than fifth, but he wasn’t going to win. It should also not be overlooked that Game On Dude was nothing but game Saturday, attending the solid pace from the outset three to four wide and simply refusing to give in to Setsuko in the late stages. Finally, that the hard hitting but clearly limited Quindici Man should finish a fast closing third at 69-1, beaten a half-length for all the money, says that when it comes right down to it, this Big Cap wasn’t nearly as strong a race as it promised to be on paper.

Tom Galloway More than 1 year ago
Hello again Mike, We met at Churchill last May. You were on floor 6 on the roof broadcasting and we were Paddock watching between races-coming from The TwinSpires Room down the hall. I hope you will be there this year too as we are all set up again for that first May Saturday. It was really nice meeting & talking horses with you:):) Re: 12 minutes of sham and shame You have the same opinion as MOST people. You are not in the minority here. Ms. Sawyer has always been the "Honest/Unbiased Steward" at SA. Baffert politics does not change what she sees and she needs to be commended for still holding here view. Why Baffert was allowed to talk to the Stewards during the inquiry is beyond me. WOW!! Mr. Mandella is a true gentleman with the way he handled the decision. Baffert....well what can I say. I think Quindici Man got the most benefit as he was unscathed throughout the whole incident. Espinosa had it right when he said his horse (Setsuko) got HOSED. Setsuko was 1/2 length ahead on the outside and running a HUGE and got blind-sided from the back left. An unexpected hit that knocked the wind out of him is worse than seeing a bump coming and expecting it. Game on Dude and Twirling Candy needed to be both be DQd and put behind Setsuko and I think Game on Dude has to go behind Twirling Candy. This has to be the only fair result of the inquiry. A 12 minute "No Decision" is absolutely an injustice. Being a race horse owner in CA, I can not believe the special treatment Baffert gets. No wonder why our horse industry is moving out of CA. No wonder why we are loosing our bettors. Did you see the reaction of the 23,000 people on site that could not hold back their emotions. VERY WORST DECISION IN RECENT MEMORY and Ms. Sawyer's "un-named commrads" just go on like "OH WELL". Kudos to Sawyer!--- Mr. Mandella got the short end of the stick in last year's SA Derby with Setsuko too. I guess by now you can see I have always been a Setsuko Fan!!! I bet on him last year and this year and I am always impressed with his heart. I hope he will be OK and run again against the Baffert Barn and gets the rewards he is due. Thanks for your love of racing and your excellent "Watchmaker Take" on horse racing. See you 5/7 and I will show you my Tri ticket--down the drain with the CA horse racing integrity. I did have a big EX 6/1-5 as my first bet. The Tri was just in case I got split. I knew Setsuko was the winner at 1 1/4 mile and figured Soul Candy as the other big closer, but I forgot the politics that play into CA racing. Don't forget this blog and I'll show you my ticket...You won't believe me unless you see it. Can't Wait....Til Big Saturday....It Will Be Better Than The Big Cap Because It Is Kentucky And Not CA. Tom Galloway, Spokane P.S. 2 hours later I lost my Ford Island to a claim at Los Al - The place money on Setsuko helped a little in what turned out to be a really bad day.
Dave More than 1 year ago
GunBow: Thanks for confirming what I've been saying ever since reading Andy Beyer's books - the speed figs are useful but not gospel. There is so much subjectivity in all of this projection and conjecture that a fig just can't be trusted as being a truly accurate measure of the horse's speed in a given race. And they are hardly as interchangeable from track to track as we would be led to believe. Don't get me wrong - your analysis was throrough and impressive. If you're not already working for the Form as a BSF guru, you should be. But at the end of the day...a 101, a 104, a 109, they all mean the same thing - that is, this is a quality horse that ran in a nice race. That's about as much weight as I'll give any individual figure. The horse could run the exact same speed at the exact same track under the exact same conditions and if the race was a claimer instead of a graded stakes, the fig would be lower. Personally, I look for patterns.
Dennis Casino More than 1 year ago
Absolutely the worst call by the stewards since Stardust Mel pummeled Out of the East in the 1975 Big Cap. I have an owners' license at present, I worked on the backside at one time, I have many friends and acquaintances in racing. I had breakfast with a former jock the other day. He hadn't seen the race. After he viewed it he was amazed the numbers were not changed. Unbelievable! At what are the stewards looking? This call really should be investigated by the CHRB and the stewards fined or suspended. Every person with whomI spoke (all race track savy )said it should have come down. I watched it frame by frame and could not believe the call. Game on Dude was just that, game. Sutherland rode a great race except for the almost tragic mistake. Espinoza is correct in his assesment. He and his mount were great and had it taken from them. Watching Baffert's body language prior to the decision told me it was coming down. The stewards are blind! Brutal!
meathead01 More than 1 year ago
Dennis Casino your assesment of the Big Cap is dead on IMO I agree totally that Game on Dude instigated the whole affair and should have been taken down I firmly believe there should be an investigation of the stewards decision. MH01
marc munyan More than 1 year ago
Well has a avid fan and handicapper I will like to say that Game On Dude should have been dq because in any race that is run down the lane a horse and rider must stay on his own path.Has i too saw that Chantal Sutherland was in two wide lane in coming up the top of the streach hitting left handed causing twirling candy to bear out on to Setsuko.My foresight of racing has seen california racing politics has cause more takeouts, track handle being down .smaller feilds and more importantly us has fans being taken has a joke.In the past few years top small racing stable base california trainers been put aside for top money earning trainers around the country.I do feel it was a choice of what would the trainer will bring on the table.I love the old style of trainers compare too the new style of trainers who only seek to have 60- 100 horses stable around all the big tracks across the country to just have added purse money winning credential of big races to inflate his or her horse in the breeding shed.To justify who in any given year will win the tc races look at this years prep races.Five years back the turf paradise derby was one of the key prep for the santa anita derby.But know its just a overnight handicap some of the old school preps of the past has been overshadowed to new style of racing. Just hope we all can remember the greats of the past
bobr More than 1 year ago
The Big Cap winner's jockey should be suspended. while the first-place horse ran nobly, his rider performed stupidly, even dangerously. whipping left-handed entering the stretch? is this the kind of thing the santa anita stewards want to condone? Thank God there wasn't a pileup right in front of the rest of the field. There sure as heck could have been.
Del More than 1 year ago
There really isn't any basis for arguing the Big Cap. The stewards were wrong. Look at the paved inner portion near the rail. Sutherland went out two lanes.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
Mike: I have some thoughts on the 99 Beyer for the Big Cap. I understand why a 99 seems logical. First, even a 99 represents career besst for the top 3 finishers. Any higher would seem to be a stretch of those horse's capabilities. However, I think a figure of 104, representing a significant jump for those 3, actually makes more sense. First, Game on Dude's previous high was a 91, earned in both the Lone Star Derby and Belmont. However, that was as a 3 year in May and June. In the Big Cap, Game on Dude was a newly turned 4 year old making his second start since that run in the Belmont. Significant improvement would not be that surprising, and a 104, representing about a 7 length improvement, makes sense to me. Baffert has said all along the horse would be at his best at a distance. How about Setsuko? Well, his previous best of 92 was earned last year in the Santa Anita Derby. Like Game on Dude, Setsuko is a newly turned 4 year old, and in the Big Cap he was making his 3rd start since April. With 7 and 9 furlong preps for the Big Cap, would it really be that shocking if Setsuko ran 7 lengths faster than he did last year? Then consider that he showed more speed in the Big Cap than he ever had and that he was running a 10 furlong distance that is probably his best distance. A 104, and 7 length improvement, seems perfectly rational for a horse with more growth and maturity from last year, running the longer distance he prefers, while employing a new style. Quindici Man is a tougher sell. Quindici Man is a 5 year old that has been running consistently for years straight. He's made 9 starts since Game on Dude's Belmont last June, so one wouldn't expect rapid improvement from him. With a career top of 96, and top dirt of 92, a 103 would seems hard to justify. Yet, on second look, a 103 doesn't appear so ridiculous. For one, Quindici Man had only made 9 of his 31 career starts going into the Big Cap on dirt; so, he hasn't had all that many chances to run fast on dirt. Also consider that while overall he was 19 for 31 in the money, on dirt he was 8 for 9(now 9 for 10), so clearly dirt is his best surface. Also recognize that he is a late runner that has been running in dirt races without alot of pace, including in the San Antonio when he was 4th behind a 1:13 and 2 pace. Finally, what if Qundici Man is simply a much better horse at 10 furlongs than he is at 9 or 8? What if 10 furlongs+ is what he has been crying out for all this time? Combine that with the solid pace he received in the Big Cap, and a 103 sounds plausible. For me, the keys in determining the Beyer for the Big Cap are First Dude and Tweebster. First Dude is anything if not consistent, and entered the Big Cap with two staright figs of 95 and hadn't run below a 93 in 7 races. Those 95s were earned in what many thought were his worst races, the BC Classic when we was enhaled on the turn, and the Sunshine Millions Classic when Kent D attempted to rate him. I have trouble believing First Dude ran worse in the Big Cap than he did in those 2 races. And in the Big Cap First Dude was 6th, beaten 6.5 lengths. If First Dude ran a 95 in the Big Cap, add about 10 points and the top 2 finishers ran 104-105. How about Tweebster? In his last start Tweebster ran a 94. Before than, he ran a 90, before that a 94. In the Big Cap, Tweebster finished a neck behind First Dude. That makes perfect sense if both ran back to their last starts, 95 and 94. In 8th, a further half length behind was Spurrier, a horse coming off figs of 98(3 back), 92(2 back), and 95. So, a 93 sounds about right. Going up from First Dude(94 or 95), that would give Twirling Candy a 96 or 97, and Soul Candy(101, 97, and 97 in his last 3) a 97. Thus, if we assume that Game on Dude and Setsuko ran vastly improved races, certainly not a stretch, and that their Beyers were 104, the figs for the rest of the horses just about perfectly match with their last starts. Again, Quindici Man is a little more of an outlier, but his improvement at 10 furlongs and with a legit pace makes some sense too. On top of everything, I dont' believe there had been a maintrack race beyond 9 furlongs, so comparisons with the Big Cap are difficult. And while the new dirt surface has been very quick, times haven't been nearly as ridiculous around 2 turns. Solid gr.2 horses have run 9 furlongs in 1:48. The Big Cap time of 1:59 and 2, with no quarter over 24 and 3, seems legit.
Michael Scott More than 1 year ago
How ironic that it takes someone 3,000 miles away to hit the nail on the head re the Santa Anita Handicap debacle. I mostly agree with your conclusion. However, even if you stipulate Twirling Candy initiated slight contact with Game On Dude (which I don't believe happened), the resulting hip check Game On Dude laid on Twirling Candy and then a second even harder bump after Twirling Candy richocheted off Setsuko made this a no-brainer. As close to 50-50 contact as possible is the gold standard used to let the result stand. In this case, IMO it looked like maybe 10 per cent Twirling Candy and 90 per cent Game On Dude. Game On Dude should have been disqualified and placed behind Twirling Candy. Granted Twirling Candy was not going to win, but the incident had to have cost him fourth money. Slight contact should never be construed as an excuse for a mauling.
Steve More than 1 year ago
Mike, sounds to me like an "east coast" opinion of the Big Cap!
Mike C More than 1 year ago
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the stewards. This is a no win proposition (pardon the pun). You have owners and trainers that are HUGE contributors to the sport overall and especially Santa Anita. You have this incident that is going to be dissected for years to come and you know it, RIGHT THEN. These stewards are professionals but, are we naïve enough to think that in this big of a race; emotion does not play a part? If it didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken 12 minutes to decide the outcome. Look at the replay, make a decision. Don’t make a call downstairs to get an opinion from the players. What do you think they are going to say? “Yes, my horse drifted in/out and we should be disqualified”. This is why the NFL doesn’t ask the wide receiver if he thought his feet were inbounds. They leave it to many angles, a panel of opinions in the booth, and do it in less than 2 minutes (hopefully). There are huge amounts of money involved. Throw in the fact that you have the Baffert consolation jockey involved in the decision. We all know the ‘’first time’’ gender and history to be made. You have Candy’s jockey trying to shoot a hole that may close quicker than it appeared to open; due to all the intangibles (including a tough trip for your horse). “Know your surroundings” You have odds on Candy that mean you know where most of the sentiment lies. Then, you watch two outsiders battle to the wire with the winner coming back on. Was he the best trained athlete TODAY? Personally, I had zero tickets on the three involved. My initial reaction was to put Dude third with the DQ. Then, I put myself in the steward’s shoes. I watched again, and with all the angles, I couldn’t decide if the entire incident changed the outcome. Did it come down to: “When in doubt”? Aside from a few left handed whacks coming off the turn (Is she the first?), I thought Chantal rode tough and smart. This will go on and on and be scrutinized as most all human decisions in sport. At least it was a panel of 3 instead of just one. Sorry for those of you that lost a bundle and happy for those that won.