02/02/2014 4:08PM

Withers, and Other Thoughts


No one knows for sure if Samraat and Uncle Sigh will go on to be important players on the Kentucky Derby trail. But for just a moment, let’s not concern ourselves with such things.

Why? Because the throw down Samraat and Uncle Sigh staged in Saturday’s Withers Stakes at Aqueduct was, from a pure entertainment standpoint, one of the best pieces of racing theater we’ve seen in a while. So let’s take a second and enjoy it for what it was.

This Withers connected on all levels because the potential beforehand was completely fulfilled on the track, which unfortunately doesn’t happen as often as we would like. Samraat and Uncle Sigh were in leagues of their own winning their two-turn debuts in their last starts by ridiculously large margins, and that combined with similar speed running styles made for an immensely appealing matchup on paper. How strong was their paper? In their first venture outside New York bred ranks into graded stakes company, Samraat and Uncle Sigh were both sent off at even money. But most importantly, these two colts delivered on the pre-Withers promise of something beyond the ordinary during the running with superb performances.

Everyone expected Uncle Sigh and Samraat to go at each other from the outset, and they did, through a pace that was strong when compared to the other routes on the card. What I found striking was the way these two separated themselves from the rest of the Withers field at every call. At first, they were 3 1-2 lengths ahead of their closest pursuer, then it was five, then seven, then 10. And finally, as Samraat took the measure of Uncle Sigh by one length at the wire (an accurate margin, but the battle between these two just felt much closer than that), there was a 10 1-4-length chasm back to the third finisher.

Two horses, both with big potential, both at the top of their games, and both running their races. This Withers really was a treat to watch.

Okay, time’s up. Now let’s try to get some perspective here. I’m not a fan of comparative handicapping, because it ignores far too many critical extenuating circumstances for my liking. But it would be disservice to not point out the form line of the Withers as taken through Classic Giacnroll.

Classic Giacnroll was beaten two lengths by Noble Moon when second in last month’s Jerome. Noble Moon, in his start before the Jerome, was beaten three lengths finishing third in the Nashua Stakes to Cairo Prince, who was so impressive winning last week’s Holy Bull. On Saturday, Classic Giacnroll finished 13 lengths behind Uncle Sigh.

Maybe you think that Classic Giacnroll didn’t show up Saturday, for whatever reason. You might be right. It happens, and that’s another reason why you can’t really rely on comparative handicapping. Then take your Withers form line through Scotland instead. Scotland finished third in the Jerome, beaten 4 1-2 lengths by Noble Moon. He finished a little more than 10 lengths behind Uncle Sigh Saturday.

As shaky as comparative handicapping is, it does suggest in this instance there is at least some reason to think Samraat and Uncle Sigh are in the ballpark with Cairo Prince right now. So do Beyer Speed Figures, as all three are operating in the mid-90 range at the moment. And this is good news for Samraat and Uncle Sigh, because Cairo Prince currently has to be near the top of anyone’s Kentucky Derby contenders list.

The Withers was an artistic success. Saturday’s Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, not so much.

If, on the far turn of the Davis, you were given a choice of two horses you didn’t want your money on, it would have been Vinceremos and Harpoon. They were the two horses in the first flight who were going backwards, giving every indication that their afternoons were done. The fact that Vinceremos and Harpoon wound up finishing one-two, just a nose apart, is an indication that the Davis was a race that fell completely apart (a notion supported by a breakdown of the internal fractions), and brings into serious question the strength of competition.

But if forced to take a horse out of the Davis going forward, it would have to be Harpoon. As Vinceremos re-rallied (so to speak) though an opening on the rail big enough to drive two tractor-trailers through, Harpoon swung seven or eight wide in upper stretch to launch his late run. Maybe Harpoon didn’t like being down on the inside, which is where he was until he finally angled sharply out. And he did seem to switch gears late after appearing to have all the momentum, suggesting he might be a bit camera shy. But at least Harpoon showed signs of life in the stretch.

Moving on to Santa Anita, I know Hollywood Starlet winner Streaming had a three-wide stalking trip in Saturday’s Las Virgenes against an opponent who was loose on what seemed to be a fairly comfortable lead. And I know that loose front-runner, Fashion Plate, recorded a lengthy maiden win in her prior start in her first start on dirt. But I was still disappointed that Streaming didn’t get the job done. And I will be very interested to see what Arethusa, a gaining third in the Las Virgenes, does in her next start. Arethusa, whose prior form is best described as moderate, galloped out strongly past the wire Saturday. Either she is much improved, or the Las Virgenes wasn’t a particularly strong race.

On the other hand, I’ll echo the praise Winning Prize received for his victory in Saturday’s Arcadia. You had to like how Winning Prize kept his cool when Regally Ready ran off in the middle stages, something that was not a given, and he was a more decisive winner than his 1 1-2 length win margin would suggest.

Update, Monday morning - Sunday's Palos Verdes at Santa Anita was also a terrific event, with Wild Dude following up on his much-improved recent form and prevailing from off-the-pace to emerge as a significant player in the sprint division.

But Wild Dude also had a perfect set up Sunday, and I was equally, if not more impressed with Secret Circle's effort in narrow defeat. Secret Circle, who was making his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint three months ago, was under severe pace pressure every step of the way, and just failed to hold on after taking over in the late stages.

I'm also forgiving when it comes to Sahara Sky. Sahara Sky, to no one's surprise, fell back to last of five early in the Palos Verdes, and never did pass a horse. But Sahara Sky was making his first start since winning the Met Mile last Memorial Day, and the six furlong distance was simply not far enough for him. Sunday's outing should serve its purpose and knock the rust off, and I expect Sahara Sky to be formidable going forward in the seven and eight furlong races he prefers.

Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Not sure the outcome of the Withers had it been for Scotland getting pinched at the gate and rearing up on his back legs reminiscent of the Lone Ranger yelling "HI HO SILVER...AWAY!" By the time he got all 4 hooves on the track the rest of the field was at the clubhouse turn.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
CORRECTION: "Cairo Prince, who was so impressive winning last week’s Fountain of Youth"... I think you meant to say "Holy Bull".
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
That is what I meant to say. Corrected. Thanks!
Terri Zeitz More than 1 year ago
Thanks for a terrific article. However, there is one correction: Cairo Prince won convincingly in the grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. And what's really cool about his take down of a talented field of horses is that he is the maternal grandson of The Bull. He won big for grand pa. He looks like he could be grand pop's boy.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
"I’m not a fan of comparative handicapping, because it ignores far too many critical extenuating circumstances for my liking. " Isn't this also true of speed figures if you don't look at the pace, trips, bias etc...
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Absolutely true. Using speed figures without consideration as to how they are earned (pace, trips, bias, etc., as you said) is not advisable. One exception I can think of, however, is if a horse over a meaningful number of races has earned speed figures consistently and significantly lower than the horses he or she faces today, then I believe you can safely conclude aside from other factors that that horse is simply too slow to win.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
Hey Mike, I don't think there's anything wrong with comparative handicapping. You could make the same argument against using just speed figures and having to deal with the occasional accuracy and other errors. As long as you are diligent enough to look at the trips, pace, bias etc... comparative handicapping or speed handicapping works just fine - especially among higher quality horses that are more consistent .
Ann More than 1 year ago
Actually, I have come up with the Derby winners the last two years using comparative handicapping . First two tries, too.- didn't bet the first time because of the post, silly me. Who beat whom by how much. Need plenty of data to do it, though. Not enough yet for it. Wait until May.
jttf More than 1 year ago
how come hollendorfer cant develop multiple grade 1 winners?? he buys talented youngsters like jessie jackson or ieah and then takes the credit. he is more successful with the girls. his best work was with tuscan evening and heatseeker. both of these started their careers over in europe for debourg. thats means no lasix at two. look at the long 10 month layoff early in wild dude's career. a no lasix blessing in disguise. now he is improving big time.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Get a clue . Have you ever heard of Blind Luck ? He bought her for about 32,000. He has a horse right now that's won about 5 stakes that he bought after it won a mdn 12,500. Tuscan Evening & Heatseeker couldn't carry King Glorious's water bucket.
jttf More than 1 year ago
he didnt claim the horses, he bought them outright. blind luck, shared belief, curlin, big brown and rachel were all bought after huge margin victories. tuscan evening won six straight graded stakes while being the highweight in each race. show me a hollendorfer horse that came close to doing that. heatseeker lost twice to well armed by narrow margins, but did carry more weight than well armed. well armed won the dubai world cup by 14 lengths. it is only the richest rae in the world. in heatseeker's last three races, he won two out of three against tiago. compare heatseeker's beyer numbers in his last two races to zenyatta whoran on the same days at the same track. heatseeker ran much higher numbers in these races that were even longer. people dont understand that the mosses and sherriffs trained and owned both tiago and zenyatta. these two horses ran very similar schedules. tiago would take on the men and zenyatta the women. tiago usually ran higher beyers than zenyatta.
Bryan Horn More than 1 year ago
Of the four horses who finished 1-2 respectively in the Withers and the Davis; Harpoon is the one who interests me most. He reminds me a bit of Conquest Titan from this year and Golden Soul from last year. If the pace breaks down in the Derby (and even though it's early; you can see, there will be a lot of early pace in the race), horses like Harpoon and Titan always figure in the money.
Neil More than 1 year ago
Mike, I don't like the horse for the Derby but I have to disagree with your analysis of Vinceremos' (V) run in the Sam Davis. Towards the end of the back stretch the jock doesn't ask his horse to go with the others outside, as if to know he's going to get the rail run. Towards the turn all the riders outside of him are asking their horses and riding aggressively and he still hasn't moved a muscle. When he hits the top of the stretch he asks the horse and it looks like he takes off between the 3/16 pole and 1/8 pole and has a length lead but then he looks like he hits a wall or waits on something. Once the other horses come to him he takes off again. The horse seems to have some mental problems or may just be green but I think he might be best horse to watch in the future races if he can figure out his quirks. I haven't watched any of his previous races but know he won his maiden by a head after leading in the stretch. Maybe this is a common thing for him. Take a look at the replay though and see if you see what I'm talking about with the jocks movement and horses issues.
Robynrokn More than 1 year ago
There was no speed on the form for that Davis race and Edgar Prado knew it and kept the V horse up front. You're right though, Edgar knew to win you stay inside towards the rail or 2-3 lane at Tampa. Pletcher said the V horse was green and not sure what he will, can or would do. I'd call Harpoon ok but still a disappointment. Pletcher pulled that V horse out of Gulfstream's race because that race did have a lot of speed types. Don't mess with Prado on a live one.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
It's fun to see Hollendorfer really go after Baffert, both strategically for the meet's training title, and tactically in races like Sunday's Palos Verdes. Baffert's usually the one double and even triple teaming a rival horse, but today it was Hollendorfer plaing some team racing. Hollendorfer had Moonshine Bay to lap on Secret Circle, had Wild Dude ready to pounce on Secret Circle given the likelihood of MB fading, and he had Sahara Sky to pick up the pieces. And it worked. The only surprise was that it was Wild Dude and not Sahara Sky that was on the spot to tag Secret Circle. To his credit, SC almost overcame the team tactics. He's a real pro, and has never been worse than 2nd in 10 starts. As for Wild Dude, this is a horse that is upwardly mobile, getting better and faster. The best sprinters out West the last 3 years, Amazombie, Points Offthebench, and Sahara Sky, were horses that were not stakes level types as juveniles or 3 year olds, and only worked up to stakes through some heavy lifting running through their conditions. Maybe Wild Dude will be the 2014 version?
AJ More than 1 year ago
Mike, mike, mike, mike, mike . . . First, I like the top two here as well, but if we're to take the Jerome as a key race, let's not look at what Noble Moon did in the Nashua. Let's look out at how the 4-7 horses ran next out. They were all within 2 1/2 lengths of Scotland (Matuszak a dead heat) in the Jerome. Not one of them finished within six lengths of the winner in their next race. Scotland is still a maiden, although losing to a decent horse in Surfing USA. GC at least has a couple of wins, and an ungraded stakes placing. But his wins are a nose and a head over a maiden winner and one who's not yet graduated at Parx. The conclusion here is that maybe The Jerome told us more about Noble Moon.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
Yea, I have to agree with this analysis. The Jerome looked kind of weak going into it and based on how the horses are running coming out of it it was almost certainly weak.