09/15/2013 10:14AM

Weekend Thoughts


If Dank made the statement last month in the Beverly D. Stakes, then Alterite backed it up in Saturday's Grade 1 Garden City Stakes at Belmont Park.

The statement Dank made in the Beverly D. was Europe's female performers, at the very least, are miles better than our female turf horses. Dank, a good-but-not-great Group 2-type horse overseas, was so much the best winning the Grade 1 Beverly D. over another far less accomplished European shipper in Gifted Girl that she probably should have been forced to spot the field a 10 length head start just to make it a fair fight. In the meantime, Marketing Mix, our best middle distance grass mare and, by our standards, anyway, a truly top-class performer, finished a soundly beaten fourth behind Dank, without excuse.

On Saturday, Alterite, who had come close in two Group 1 races in her nine-race career in her native France, but who had yet to actually win anything beyond a listed event, met a couple of very nice American Grade 1 winners in the Garden City in Emollient and Discreet Marq. And as was the case in the Beverly D., the home team was no match. Under nothing more than a moderate hand ride, and that for only a little more than a sixteenth of a mile, Alterite took the Garden City in far more decisive fashion than her 1 1-2 length win margin would suggest.

Beyond her sharp performance, what was also striking about Alterite is she won the way she did on firm going. The turf Saturday at Belmont wasn't firm firm, if you know what I mean, not after significant rain two days earlier. But it wasn't anywhere near the soft ground Alterite is said to prefer. And that's a pretty scary thought.

Alterite is the latest in a procession of quality turf females owner Martin Schwartz has transferred from Europe to trainer Chad Brown. This combination won last year's Garden City with Samitar, but the sense is Alterite is much better than her, and closer in quality to Zagora and Stacelita. All those two did was win the last two female turf Eclipse Awards for Schwartz and Brown.

The big mystery in the Garden City was the performance of Emollient. Emollient, one of only two multiple Grade 1 winning 3-year-old fillies in the U. S. so far this year (Princess of Sylmar and Beholder are the other two), had not raced since she won the American Oaks two months ago. But Emollient won the American Oaks off a two month layoff, and several who finished behind her in that event had come back to run very well. Yes, Emollient did not break sharply, but thanks to her inside draw, she had perfect early position in short order, racing in company with Alterite, only to come up completely empty in the stretch to finish eighth of 10.

But for those who put credence in such things, Emollient's non-effort might not have been a total surprise. Despite being the most accomplished member of the Garden City field, she was only third choice in the betting at an ice-cold 4-1.

I'll check back in tomorrow to weigh in on the big Sunday races at Woodbine. It will be interesting to see how the two European fillies do in the Canadian, and how European shipper Trade Storm fares against Wise Dan in the Woodbine Mile.

Update, Monday morning: The few Europeans who came over to compete in two of the Sunday stakes at Woodbine proved unsuccessful. Ladys First, somewhere between a Group 3 and Group 2 performer in her native England, finished fifth in the Canadian Stakes as the second choice in the betting after attending a pace that appeared to be much faster than anything she had likely seen before. And Trade Storm, a Group 2-type on his best day, could only manage a third in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile because, well, he ran into defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan.

Wise Dan was very, very good on Sunday, not because he beat anything special (runner up Za Approval is a nice gelding, but is not a major stakes horse by any stretch of the imagination), or because he overcame adversity (Wise Dan had an ideal trip stalking a pace disputed by two horses stretching out off sprints). Wise Dan was good on Sunday because he won with such ease, and because he ran fast doing it.

Wise Dan's final time of 1:31.75 might seem otherworldly at first glance. But when you remember the not-unimportant fact that Za Approval finished 3 1-2 lengths behind that final time, giving him a final time (using the more accurate formula of one length equaling 17 hundredths of a second) of 1:32.35, it puts things into proper perspective. It is clear that the final time of the Woodbine Mile had to be more a function of very fast footing than a super-equine performance, although the race was still fast enough to earn a preliminary Beyer Figure of 108.

And now, once again, the debate continues over Wise Dan's "greatness." Putting aside for a moment my belief that the term "great" is used far too liberally in our sport, greatness means different things to different people. So by definition, the debate over whether Wise Dan is a great horse can never end satisfactorily.

For me, Wise Dan's best case for greatness lies in the fact that he has been successful at a high level for an extended period of time, not unlike Zenyatta, or Cigar. Wise Dan has not attempted anything especially extraordinary; his campaigns have been conservative in nature, which is entirely the right of his connections. Because of that, however, Wise Dan, for all he has done, has beaten a legitimately special field only once, and that was in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile.

But where Wise Dan deserves every bit of the praise he receives is he has now won nine straight (six of them Grade 1 events, the other three Grade 2's), and is only a head away from winning his last 13 starts, dating back 23 months. It is no small feat for a horse to maintain that kind of form for that length of time, no matter what the level of competition.