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.

DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
I hear what you are saying about times, but I still get a thrill from seeing a fast time on the board and remember my first track record vividly - Darby Creek Road, 7f , Saratoga in 1978. One of the also fans was a little horse named John Henry. Fast times are like tape measure home runs, they get headlines.
TomN More than 1 year ago
Mike, can you verify[or dispell] the 3% winners I heard are for NY shippers to Santa Anita when the Breeers Cup is held there?
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
I filed a blog entry on 9/12 that spoke about NY horses being 2 for 83 in the last two SA Breeders' Cups. Those, of course, were synthetic main track Cups, which I noted. But I also noted that NY horses didn't do great on turf, either, even if that's where both their winners were.
Mike More than 1 year ago
As to why Royal Delta might not opt for the Classic, one good reason is that her current connections paid so much for her. They obviously figured to get most of that money back through her foals, but $8.5M is still a bunch of money. Getting the first prize money in the Ladies' Classic is much more of a sure thing. If she were still owned by her original owners, then it might be easier financially to take a shot.
Richard More than 1 year ago
You sure were right with Jersey Town(110) Beyer and Flat Out(109) Beyer on Saturday at Belmont. There sure are some great contenders for The Breeders Cup!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems the horses who benefitted from the Santa Anita speed bias Saturday would also benefit from the same bias Breeders Cup day. I mean, is it really a secret that Santa Anita favors speed?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everybody always disses Monarchos for running that Derby time on a super fast track. How fast would he have had to run that day to get some credit? Sub 1:59? Horses can only run so fast regardless of the track.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Who are you?
BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
I see Royal Delta as more Havre de Grace than Zenyatta. Not that there's anything wrong with being Havre de Grace.
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
There is something wrong with being Zenyatta. Never beat anyone good on dirt. ZERO FOR ONE and HOY!
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
I bet Nahrain, so was happy about the result. But, I disagree as to Dream Peace. She was the best horse in the race, and looked to stay just fine. Zagora was distanced-challenged and moved too soon while Dream Peace lost her footing & momentum when the chain reaction caused Nahrain to bump her.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Why is Love and Pride's Beyer for the Zenyatta listed as a 92? Shouldn't that be 102? She ran 7 lengths faster than Power Broker, who got a 90.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You have better luck than I did, Jordan. They wouldn't even let me post the question.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
To expand upon my earlier comments, what is really needed is a championship day for synthetic specialists. The event could be rotated among the major synthetic tracks {e.g., Arlington, Hollywood, DelMar,Woodbine} and additional Eclipse awards could be awarded to the best of each category {e.g., sprint, route, etc.} The truth is we are struggling to acknowledge these horses in some meaningful way and until we do so they will be deprived of opportunities to prove themselves in championship caliiber events. Trainers with horses like Richards Kid and Dullahan are really in a quandary trying to decide what to do. Those horses just happen to excel on synthetic tracks, but not dirt. They shouldn't be penalized because of this preference.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Have them run on the turf. We need LESS championship races, not more.