07/14/2008 12:23PM

Weekend in Review


Man o' War:It's extremely rare for a champion dirt horse to be as dominant on the turf, and Curlin was no exception in his grass debut. There was certainly no disgrace in finishing second in a Grade 1 race in his first turf attempt, sandwiched between a pair of Breeders' Cup Turf winners, but the world's best dirt horse would be 20-1 or higher if his next start were the Arc de Triomphe, the race his handlers were considering as a fall target. Red Rocks was 14-1 and 98-1 in his two previous world-class tests, the Coronation Cup and the Hong Kong Vase, and was well beaten in both.

Curlin was simply second best, with no excuses. He was at Red Rocks's flank at the top of the stretch and beaten two lengths at the wire.

Like most dirt horses, he is essentially one-paced and doesn't have the quickening burst of speed that wins international grass classics. He could improve in a second start on grass, but just seems unlikely to get to the Arc-winning level.

That doesn't mean he can't be competitive in the Breeders' Cup Turf, given his handlers' understandable wariness of trying yet another new surface, Santa Anita's Cushion Track, in the BC Classic, or that he can't still have an interesting fall on real dirt, targetting races from a list including the Woodward, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Clark and Japan Cup Dirt.

If he takes the latter route, the grass experiment was still a noble one, and his second in the Man o'War is a worthy and appealing addition to his resume as he heads for stud, but he's no true worldbeater on grass.

I'm not ready to agree with the notion that Curlin's upper limit in 10 furlongs on the basis of his second-place finishes in his two longer starts. One of those was a photo-finish second to a champion filly before he had fully flowered and the other was on a surface where he's not at his best. Does anyone really doubt he still would have won the JC Gold Cup or BC Classic had those races been a furlong or two farther?

Summit of Speed: Indyanne (G3 Azalea), Golden Spikes (G3 Carry Back), Mistical Plan (G1 Princess Rooney) and Benny the Bull (G2 Smile) all ran well in victory in consecutive six-furlong races where the relative final times are difficult to reconcile with one another:

Indyanne: 1:10.82
Golden Spikes: 1:11.20
Mistical Plan: 1:10.76
Benny the Bull: 1:11.41

Beyer Speed Figures of 108 were awarded to the 4-for-4 Indyanne and Mistical Plan, and a 102 was assigned to Golden Spikes, using the same variant for those races. Benny the Bull's race was upgraded from what would have been a 99 to a 105 on the highly plausible theory that the track slowed down for his race and the two that followed it -- a 2-year-old stakes run in 1:13.61 and a 2-year-old filly MSW run in 1:14.43.

Even a 105 is not a true indication of Benny the Bull's ability, as he took a very wide overland route, and he rallied from far behind into a contested but less-than sizzling opening half-mile of 45.64.

There was some wild betting in these races, only some of it successful. In the Carry Back, Golden Spikes took a ton of late money to go off as the 1.30-to-1 favorite after Lantana Mob (3rd at 2.00-1) had been favored throughout most of the betting. And in the Smile, Benny the Bull was odds-on most of the way until massive late betting on Indian Chant (5th at 2.70-1) inflated the winner's price to $4.60.

The all-stakes pick-four turned out to be a spectacular overlay: The $3.20/$4.60/$18.20/$4.60 sequence came back $441.40 for $2, nearly triple the $154 parlay.

Arlington Million Preview Day: Stream of Gold(G3 Arlington Handicap), Communique (G3 Modesty) and Tizdejavu (G2 American Derby) all scored authoritative victories in respective preps for the G1 races at Arlington Aug. 9 -- the Million, Beverly D and Secretariat.

Stream of Gold, making his first start since October and his first since being transferred from Patrick Biancone to Rusty Arnold, may have run himself into the Million picture after running down a loose Cosmonaut, who had won the last two editions of the race, earning a gaudy 105 Beyer for his 10 furlongs on a soft course in 2:04.83. Communique got a 99 for her 3 3/4-length score over Kiss With a Twist and Ciao winning the Modesty in 1:58.89 but has never faced stronger than G3 competition.

Tizdejavu has now reeled off three straight graded victories in 3-year-old turf stakes but the American Derby was his least impressive effort. He got away with murder on the lead (25.93, 51.93, 1:16.83) and still was under a drive to score by a diminishing 2 1/4 lengths over 37-1 Sr. Henry, a four-time loser at the N1x level on turf with only a maiden-claiming victory in 15 career starts. No one else in the race lifted a hoof.

Tijdejavu's final time of 1:59.88 for 9.5f was nearly a full second slower than Communique's 1:58.89 in the Modesty, but the pace of the latter was much faster (1:13.86 vs. 1:16.83).

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Arlington, where I hadn't been for two years. The facility remains absolutely gorgeous, seems crisply run, and whatever they're doing with their Polytrack makes it seem to play more like dirt than the Polytrack surfaces at Del Mar and Keeneland. The racing seems to be off the national high-rollers' radar and, coupled with the unusually high proportion of casual attendees, appears to offer some real parimutuel opportunities. The early double of winners who returned $6.60 and $12.20 paid $79.40. The last race on the card Saturday was a tricky affair involving statebred juvenile fillies, but somehow a 1-2-3-4 finish by four of the five favorites -- at 5-1, 6-1, 3-1 and 4-1 -- produced a $2 superfecta that paid a whopping $4,297.60.

Speaking of being off the national radar, the betting on the Delaware Oaks card was anemic on a crowded afternoon. Compare the handles for the pick-4's involving the graded stakes at the five tracks that ran such races Saturday:

Hollywood (Swaps): $581,188
Belmont (Man o' War) $400, 776
Calder (Four SOS stakes): $200,130
Arlington (Modesty/Am. Derby): $87,838
Delaware (RG Dick/Del. Oaks): $12,721

Poker: Kip DeVille was as sharp as ever in in his first start since April, conceding 9 to 11 pounds to his four opponents and earning a 108 Beyer winning by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:32.94. He beat a subpar field winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last year but could still be a handful defending his title even against better European competition this year.

It was surprising to look at his lifetime past performances and see that the Poker was his first race in New York in 23 career starts, and it could be his last since the New York racing calendar is so weak when it comes to grass miles for older males. There are two Grade 1's for that division in California (the Kilroe at Santa Anita and the Shoemaker at Hollywood, both worth $300k) and two at Keeneland (the $300k Maker's Mark at the spring meet and the $600k Shadwell Turf Mile in the fall) but only the G3 $100k Poker and G2 $250k Kelso in New York. With no Grade 1's in the division on the national calendar between the Shoemaker May 26 and the Shadwell Oct. 4, it might be worth trying to enrich and upgrade the Poker as a summer destination.