03/01/2015 9:44AM

Watchmaker: What a weird day at Gulfstream


The cancellation of Saturday’s racing here at Gulfstream after the fifth race was one of the weirdest cancellations I have ever seen. And I grew up in New England and have been involved in northeast winter racing almost all of my life, so I have seen more than my share of cancellations.

That isn’t to say the decision to cancel wasn’t right. It was absolutely the right call as conditions, no matter what side of the track you were on, were awful. But what made it so weird was the combination of what happened, and when it happened.

If you come to South Florida in July or August, you can expect heavy deluges on a frequent basis. But in this area in February, you just are not supposed to see the sort of severe weather we saw Saturday. That’s what made the day so freaky. The official rain total for the area Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. was 8.25 inches. That’s an incredible non-hurricane rain total in an 11-hour period. I checked in on the local radar often during midday and it seemed like a giant storm cell set up over the area, and just did not move for hours.

That’s one thing about the track, no matter how long you have been around, on any day you still have a good chance of seeing something that you haven’t seen before.

The rain did let up some not long after the cancellation was announced, but the damage was done. Even past the time Daredevil was supposed to be making his 3-year-old debut in the Swale Stakes, the road exiting the track to Hallandale Beach Boulevard was completely flooded, and there were partial closures due to flooding on at least two roads adjacent to the track.

As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, this was the second straight wacky Saturday at Gulfstream. Last week, a tremendous stakes-packed card was overshadowed by three controversial stewards’ decisions. And Saturday’s terrific betting card was undermined by Mother Nature. I feel a little bad for Gulfstream, as both occurrences were out of the track’s control.

Next Saturday becomes even bigger

The postponement of the Swale to next Saturday enhances what already promised to be a fantastic day of racing, and specifically, an important day of Triple Crown prep races. The big event of the day will be the Santa Anita Handicap, headed by Shared Belief. But in regard to Derby preps, in addition to the seasonal bow of Daredevil in the Swale, we will have the 3-year-old debuts of Carpe Diem in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Ocho Ocho Ocho in the San Felipe (which also marks the stakes bow for Prospect Park). And we have the Gotham, headed by Ocean Knight and El Kabeir. Big day.

An unfortunate casualty of Gulfstream’s cancellation was the Raise Your Game handicapping tournament. Gulfstream went all out for this contest, with several seminars on Friday, and a terrific setup in the Ten Palms Restaurant for the one-day contest Saturday. The contest required a minimum of eight plays on the 12-race Gulfstream card. So when the races were canceled after the fifth, it meant that not even half the card had been completed, and, in theory, some contestants might have made only one play.

So, the decision was made to refund the contestants’ entry fees and pay off on what they accumulated with their betting capital through the five races. There simply weren’t enough races completed to call it an official tournament, or to award those very valuable seats to the National Handicapping Championship.

Before the contest was called, it should be known that a few salvage ideas were considered. One was to switch the contest races to Santa Anita. But no one handicapped Santa Anita in a contest context, and it would have been terribly unfair to decide a tournament such as this by who handicaps best on the fly. Another was to carry the contest over to Sunday’s card at Gulfstream, which would have been great if every contestant was staying through Sunday. But several contestants had flights home Saturday night or early Sunday, and the Sunday plan would have been unfair to them.

Yes, it is true that many contestants wound up eating travel expenses, which is very unfortunate. It is also true that those who were atop the leader board at the time of the cancellation found a new way to lose, although, we all recognize that being a leader in a handicapping contest after five races doesn’t guarantee you will be anywhere close to the lead after 12 races. The vast, vast majority of players thought the decision that was made was the fairest one.

As for the isolated outliers who wondered why there wasn’t a back-up track designated beforehand, really, that is the absolute worst of second guesses. If you schedule a handicapping contest for Aqueduct in January, or Gulfstream in July, you have to have a back-up track or two because a cancellation would not be out of the realm of possibility. But no one could have ever predicted that we could encounter the historic circumstances we did Saturday. This was believed to be the first time a major handicapping contest like this had to be canceled in this manner.

Despite the fact that the chart callers reported him as having bled, The Great War is, at least at this stage of his career, but more likely beyond, a one-turn horse. As noted in this space after he won the 96Rock, there had to be a reason why The Great War never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs in his seven starts for Aidan O’Brien.

It remains to be seen how good this year’s 3-year-old male crop really is, but they are an interesting bunch, and there does seem to be some real talent there. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be as enthusiastic right now about this year’s group of 3-year-old fillies. It says a lot, not much of it good, that you have to find some hope for the division Saturday at Santa Anita in the return of Luminance, and the Santa Ysabel win by Stellar Wind.

I hope both turn out to be good fillies. But Luminance, who looked good winning her only start last year and who did have a bit of a trip Saturday, was still life and death to win as the favorite in very mediocre time. And Stellar Wind, who scored decisively despite being pace-compromised, had only just recorded a nondescript maiden win at Laurel.

A word about Masochistic, who was an impressive winner on Saturday’s undercard at Santa Anita, and who is, of course, the gelding who crushed maidens by 14 lengths on Derby Day at Churchill Downs last year after his no-try debut at Santa Anita:

There is an argument floating around that there couldn’t have been a betting coup made on Masochistic on Derby Day 2014 because the mere fact he shipped from California for a maiden race was a huge broadcast of stable confidence, and, after all, he went off at only 2-1. So what kind of score could have been made?

What that argument overlooks is, Masochistic was hammered down to 2-1 on a day that has some of the biggest betting pools of the entire year. I’m not saying the following was the way it went down, but the pools on that maiden race on Derby Day were almost certainly large enough to support big enough bets to turn a higher profit on Masochistic at 2-1 than what would have been able to be achieved at, say, 15-1 in a much smaller weekday pool at a track of your choosing.