05/28/2013 10:15AM

Thoughts on Memorial Day's Four Grade 1 Events

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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.

Jo-anne Dobkin More than 1 year ago
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.
Jo-anne Dobkin More than 1 year ago
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.
Two400 More than 1 year ago
It's Tiz Miz Sue, not Tiz Miss Sue. I worked as a copy editor so I tend to notice these things.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Can you see the irony in your post? You "worked" as a copy editor. News outlets can't afford copy editors anymore.
Tim More than 1 year ago
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.
Dave More than 1 year ago
Who can say really? Maybe he'd have outfinished Sahara Sky but it's impossible to know for sure. Swagger Jack was in an impossible spot too down inside. Maybe Ortiz didn't think the inside was a bad place to be? The race went in 1:34.17, Midnight Lucky went in 1:35:11, so it's hard to see how Flat Out would have "won for fun."
Steve More than 1 year ago
Flat out wins, not easily, but his kick is better than Sahara sky's
Black More than 1 year ago
Flat out is a joke.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
I agree. Flat Out was really rolling when he was stopped cold. He would have been right there had that not occurred.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
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.
Salvatore Marsalese More than 1 year ago
Met Mile - after beating sahara sky in previous race why was swagger jet at 14-1 and sahara sky at 9-2??
Jim M More than 1 year ago
This happens all the time. Orb will have lower odds if he runs in the Belmont than Oxbow.
B More than 1 year ago
Odds are not based on one's previous race alone. Orb will be favored over Oxbow and he should be. He has done more this year on the racetrack than Oxbow. Actually, he's done more on the racetrack this year than any other three year old male. He'll not only be shorter odds than Oxbox, who might end up third choice behind Revolutionary, he will probably be the favorite.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
The odds will depend on how the pace looks to set up, which, of course, isn't how the pace will necessarily turn out. If it looks like Oxbow will have company on the lead, Orb will be favored over him by more. If it looks like Oxbow will have the lead to himself, the odds will be closer.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
swagger jack usually does not put two good races together...it one good one bad...hes the type of horse that bounces of a good race and when he beat sahara sky that was his best race ever so it was probable he was going to feel the effects of that even more....besides he got a perfect set up in that race and sahara sky had to face some adversity and did not get the best ride....it says a lot about the public that they were able to figure out which of the two had a better shot and bet accordingly.and yes they were right .
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
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.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Can we now stop hearing about what a great horse Mark Valeski is? From certain HRTV presenters especially. He couldn't keep up with the pace and couldn't hold on when the real running started.
Bryan E More than 1 year ago
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.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
People can disagree about track biases because biases are so subjective. But your comment about where on the track the winners raced is largely incorrect. Regarding just Monday's main track winners, Eastwood was 4 to 5 wide, Tiz Miss Sue did save ground early but made her winning run outside, Midnight Lucky was 3 wide throughout, and Sahara Sky was 3 wide on the turn, and five wide into the stretch. More to the point, the only horse who won racing inside all the way in the 21 main track races on Saturday, Sunday and Monday was This Hard Land. As for the horses on the front end not being good enough, it's easy to say that after the fact. But consider this: On Sunday and Monday alone, Joyful Victory, Cross Traffic, Clearly Confused, and Sister Slate were all early front runners who lost, and all were either first or second choices in the betting. Whether you liked any of them or not is immaterial. Before their races were run, they were deemed good enough to win by the betting public.
Bryan E More than 1 year ago
agree to disagree I suppose. but yes, it is more subjective than i realized.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Tiz Miz Sue is a throwback, with her 32 starts, 8 wins, 10 places and 4 shows. She was placed in several grade 1 races, prior to getting her own Grade 1 in the Phipps. We need to celebrate horses like this "iron lady". Let the pundits be the critics, but I personally think if we had more like her, fans would be increasing and be more excited about the sport. She shows up every time. Hip, hip, hooray for Tiz Miz Sue!
Nicolas Avilez More than 1 year ago
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?
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
I just watched the Race in question and their is no way this horse should have been taken down. An investigation should be launched. People bet money across state lines. Someone of YOUR STATURE MIKE; should ask why. I did not bet this race.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
I just watched the replay and the head on shot (several times), and while there was crowding behind Rightous Party as that one was moving to the lead, it also looked like he was well clear and going away from that group when the crowding occurred. Personally, I don't agree with that disqualification. At all. And I can easily understand your anger.