05/28/2013 11:15AM

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.