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Thoughts on Memorial Day's Four Grade 1 Events
Without taking anything away from Sahara Sky, I, like everyone else, feel badly for Cross Traffic, the colt Sahara Sky nosed in Monday’s Met Mile at Belmont. And that is because Cross Traffic simply ran too well to lose.
There are a couple of obvious reasons to think this. Cross Traffic missed his break in the Met, coming out last of nine from his inside post. He outrushed his field to make the top, which is where he figured to be. But the price Cross Traffic paid was having to run a half mile in 44.88, which had to be demanding on a Belmont main track that was not especially glib even if its condition was fast.
And then there was the heart Cross Traffic demonstrated. After a perfect off-the-pace trip, Mark Valeski looked like he had Cross Traffic’s number in upper stretch. But Cross Traffic didn’t merely rebuff Mark Valeski. He beat him back to fourth, five lengths behind.
There were also a couple of not so obvious reasons why you had to be taken by Cross Traffic on Memorial Day. First, in attempting to win in front-running fashion, Cross Traffic was trying to do something that wasn’t easy to do on Belmont’s main track over the weekend. After heavy rain late last Friday into the first part of Saturday, a total of 21 races were run on the main track at Belmont on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Only one of those 21 races was won by a front-runner (This Hard Land in Monday’s second race, and This Hard Land isn’t even a confirmed front runner). It also seemed that for much of the weekend, the inside, where Cross Traffic was, was the deeper part of the drying out track.
Another thing to consider was the way Cross Traffic followed up on his head loss to Flat Out in last month’s Westchester, which earned a winning Beyer of 115, the highest in any race so far this year up to a mile. You would think that if any horse would regress after a bitter battle in such a fast Westchester, it would have been Cross Traffic, and not Flat Out. After all, Cross Traffic was making only his third career start in the Westchester, while Flat Out was making his 23rd start, and had a far deeper foundation to withstand that grueling test. Instead, it was Flat Out who seemed to regress on Monday. Yes, Flat Out was stopped late on the far turn (so was Swagger Jack), but it wasn’t enough to suggest he would have finished any better than a closer third. The point is, Cross Traffic being able to hold his form when you think about the circumstances speaks very highly of him.
But as noted, you can’t take anything away from Sahara Sky, even if his deep outside close fit the way the track might have been playing. The fact that Sahara Sky was successful shipping all the way from Hollywood has to count for something significant.
In fact, all three of Belmont’s Grade 1 races on Monday were won by shippers. Midnight Lucky, California-based by way of (at the moment) Churchill Downs, thoroughly dominated the Acorn, showing what all the fuss was about prior to her unsuccessful outing in the Kentucky Oaks. One would think all options are open for Midnight Lucky right now. She could go the route of the Test Stakes at Saratoga and be perfectly at home staying at one turn. But there is also little reason to think Midnight Lucky couldn’t successfully stretch out again and target races like the Mother Goose and CCA Oaks. That either course would be a fit shows just how good she is.
Tiz Miss Sue, the Oaklawn flash who is currently also based at Churchill, finally got her Grade 1 at age 6 in the Ogden Phipps Handicap. I don’t want to take anything away from Tiz Miss Sue, either, but I’m inclined to reserve judgment on the Phipps for the time being. Although trying to win on the lead near the inside couldn’t have helped, I wasn’t surprised when Joyful Victory failed as the Phipps favorite. Joyful Victory came into the Phipps off the two best performances of her life, but the layoff lines before, during, and after, were, for me, cause for pause. But when Joyful Victory lost by almost a dozen lengths, and second choice Disposablepleasure lost as badly, and Believe You Can lost by an additional nine lengths, it’s reason enough to take the Phipps result as inconclusive for right now.
A close second to the Met Mile for the most exciting race of Memorial Day was the Gamely at Hollywood. In fact, the Gamely was possibly the best race so far this year in the female turf division, with, like the Met Mile, enough glory for the first two finishers.
Marketing Mix, in her first start since her sharp second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, had to make first outside run in the Gamely and was also caught in the unenviable spot of being three-deep with four across the track late on the far turn. Tiz Flirtatious had the edge in recency and, with the way the race unfolded, making the later run was also an edge. But Tiz Flirtatious had to go outside of Marketing Mix, and thus lost a bit more ground. Marketing Mix got the decision by a head after a stretch duel that pulled both her and Tiz Flirtatious well clear of the rest of the field. Just terrific performances by both.
Mike the best part of Belmont was getting to see you,I too liked Cross Traffic and my pick 4 was alive to Cross Traffic and Mark V,I told my husband the one fear was Sahara sky I left off my ticket and that fear happened.The day was bad for my husband and our life depended on my pick 4,my daughter who never cheers was out there cheering.Heartbreaking and devastating is an understatement finally getting a chance to show my daughter I have what it takes to be nosed out. Ordinarily it would be declared a dead heat but with big checks G1 owners don't want to share.I wish you would have stayed longer, we don't bite I just get excited when Im around greatness.I still feel shocked and saved the ticket as a reminder,I give up with all these heartbreaks,hanging up my handicapping for good,the disappointment on my daughters face isn't worth it.I have come so close too many times . I spend hours handicapping and evaluating every detail but my kids remind me Mom its not a real job,Mike for you its a real job and I admire you for it, people respect you and all you have to say,I can go out happy I sat near greatness,at least I have that memory.I still think Cross Traffic was in a dead heat.
Mike why did you leave us at Belmont the most exciting part of the day to sit near a celeb? I have been a female handicapper and had a live pick 4 ticket,all up to cross traffic and Mark V,i told my husband I only feared Sahara sky and it happened,nosed out by what I feared.I was devastated would be an understatement,my ticket was supposed to save the family since my husband lost all day,stay next time I don't bite and we do have something in common,we liked cross traffic.J.Dobkin hanging up my horseracing since it should have been declared a dead heat,I guess someone wanted a bigger check.
It's Tiz Miz Sue, not Tiz Miss Sue. I worked as a copy editor so I tend to notice these things.
Cross Traffic and Sahara Sky were awesome, but I have to differ on Watchmaker's assessment of Flat Out. If he gets through at the turn instead of being stopped, he wins for fun. That must have cost him at least half a dozen lengths, maybe more.
I played SAHARA SKY and posted 2 days before the race how I thought it would play out...in the flat out piece.....but I have to admit CROSS TRAFFIC ran a great race. He looked to me like he was just setting those fractions as effortlessly as can be under no urging at all. He then put away an overmatched MARK VALESKY and was unlucky to loose right on the wire...this horse will be tough to beat in sprints..as for SAHARA SKY you have to love his tenacity and toughness it cant be easy to fly back and forth from California and perform as well as he does i would start thinking breeders cup sprint and Dubai if I owned him.
Met Mile - after beating sahara sky in previous race why was swagger jet at 14-1 and sahara sky at 9-2??
Mike, my wife always feels bad for the horse that just loses out as well. I tell her it's called horse racing. I don't see what's so unusual about a front running speed, setting fast fractions. getting reeled in. Up to Johnny V to relax him a little. Yes, the response to Mark Valeski was impressive. So was Rosario's read to stay away from the other horses. Hotter jockey made the difference.
I agree that the pace was rough on Cross Traffic because he had constant pressure but otherwise, I completely disagree about the track condition and think it is misleading to say the rail was dead all weekend. Frontrunners may not have won races but most of the horses on the front were not good enough to win. The only winner on either Sunday or Monday that was farther out than the 2 path most of the race was in the6th race Monday where two longshots forced everyone wide. A questionable frontrunner wont he 2nd on the lead Monday. Tiz Miss Sue had the rail behind the leaders until the stretch. Sahara Sky also saved ground until he swung wide for the stretch run. Midnight Luck stalked in the 2 path. And every winner on Sunday either saved ground behind the leaders until the stretch or stalked the speed from the 2 path. I'm sure that's why Alvarado blew any chance Flat Out had by trying to stay inside and getting caught in traffic.
Mike...I understand the case you make abt the Phipps, but it seems to me that no matter what Tiz Mis Sue does,,,,someone wants to discount her effort...that horse runs every race, ducks no one and takes her act the road. Steve Hobby sends out live ones and TMS is no exception. Brutus
Mike, can you please review and comment on the DQ on CD's 11th race of last Saturday May 25th? I have 35 years watching and playing horses and I have never seen such a bad call. The winning horse (#11) cleared the field after the start by +2 lengths, moved to the rail with lots of room, and was DQ'ed by that. Stewards only showed the head-on view of the replay during the inquiry but where short-sighted to do not have the correct perspective by watching the regular replay. It's hard enough to have a big score to allow incompetent stewards make you lose!!! How come we can expect growth on this business having such terrible situations?