09/30/2012 10:05AM

Thoughts On Super Saturday


Judging from the first two days of the meet, the main track at Santa Anita is clearly different than what we are accustomed to. For one, it is decidedly slower. When Grade 1 horses in the Awesome Again and Zenyatta go 23 and 48 for opening fractions, and when those races are completed in times three and four seconds over the track record, you know the Santa Anita main track is very different.

That’s fine with me. A glib racing surface is not high up on my list of racing requirements. In fact, I always disliked the longstanding tradition of speeding up the track on big race days. For one, I was always offended that someone thought that I, and fellow fans and horseplayers, could be fooled into thinking that horses who produce fast times on juiced tracks were exceptional. Monarchos and his Kentucky Derby on one of the fastest tracks I have ever seen comes to mind. Here’s a (not exactly) news flash: Final time, whether it is fast or slow, means absolutely nothing unless it is viewed in the context of the relative speed of the surface that time was recorded over. So, a fast/fast surface, or a relatively slow/fast surface like the one at Santa Anita on Friday and Saturday … it doesn’t mean a thing to me because raw time without adjustment for the quickness of the surface means nothing.

But what does mean something to me is a track bias that colors the outcome of races. As a bettor, I like them for reasons that need no explanation. But as also a fan of the sport, I don’t like them, and I didn’t like the overt speed bias that prevailed on the main track at Santa Anita Saturday. Look, horses like Game On Dude and Executiveprivilege were probably going to win Saturday whether or not there was a bias, so I don’t think they should be penalized for riding the crest of the way the track was playing. I am less convinced about Love and Pride and Power Broker. But I do know that the way the track was playing, well bet closers such as Richard’s Kid, Include Me Out, Amani, and Capo Bastone had absolutely zero chance. And that’s not fair.

Here’s hoping Santa Anita fixes this problem tout suite. By Sunday’s races would be good (this is being written prior to Santa Anita’s Sunday card), but certainly before the Breeders’ Cup. They don’t have to address the relative speed of the surface, but they do have to even it out so that horses with all running styles have a fair chance. If they don’t, then this Breeders’ Cup will make news for the wrong reasons.

There was a bit of a bias on the main track at Belmont Saturday, too. The rail was the better part of the track, and I think it was a contributing factor to Stay Thirsty running as well as he did in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But it wasn’t such an overt bias that it precluded horses who didn’t run toward the inside from winning, if they were good enough.

I mean, I couldn’t have bet The Lumber Guy in the Vosburgh with counterfeit money and like everyone else, I got through the race because he was coupled with Sean Avery. But The Lumber Guy won the Vosburgh after pressing the pace three wide, and Vosburgh runner up Caixa Eletronica rallied from way back on the outside. But that they ran one-two could also mean that this was a weak Vosburgh, which looked like it could have been on paper beforehand.

And with that, a few other quick thoughts on Saturday:

Game On Dude is now the clear-cut favorite for the BC Classic off his easy Awesome Again win. In the other big Classic prep, I thought Flat Out (who raced inside much of the way) looked like a winner every step of the way and was surprised he had as tough a time getting by Stay Thirsty as he did. I think Fort Larned will improve on his third in the Gold Cup back on a track configured like Santa Anita, but I can’t find an excuse for Ron the Greek’s dull sixth.

I buy what trainer Shug McGaughey said about Point of Entry, that the yielding footing on which he won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was not his favorite, and that he will be much more effective on firm going in the BC Turf. That’s a scary proposition.

Marketing Mix was super impressive winning the Rodeo Drive, but the Flower Bowl wasn’t as pretty. Nahrain was struggling in mid stretch and looked like she was going to finish fourth behind some permutation of Zagora, Dream Peace, and I’m A Dreamer. I feel Nahrain got up only because the other three failed to stay, and believe they didn’t stay because of the off footing.

Finally, Royal Delta was the star of the day for me. After two, for her, sub-par efforts, Royal Delta was back with a vengeance in the Beldame, obliterating as fine a filly as It’s Tricky. (As an aside, if It’s Tricky were mine, I’d point her to the F&M Sprint. Yes, I know that facing Groupie Doll is no picnic, but I just think It’s Tricky is best going less than nine furlongs even if she won a nine furlong Grade 1 last year). Anyway, there is already clamor for Royal Delta to face males in the Classic. Why shouldn’t she? She already won the Ladies’ Classic last year, and on her day, she is good enough.