06/09/2014 10:58AM

Bergman: Don't overemphasize importance of eliminations

New Image Media
JK Endofanera was likely the victim of a dawdling early pace.

We live during a time when “Instant” analysis is a must. In an era where everyone wants to be right, or better yet, be the first to dispense opinion or information, the results of races cause a shake-up in the ranks without much time for evaluation or assessment of the actions that occurred.

On Saturday night at Mohawk, there were a series of elimination races that will all lead to finals on June 14 and it may be wiser not to overemphasize their collective importance.

First, three races for three-year-old pacers, the North America Cup trials, produced some entertaining action, some upsets, but in the end no definitive standout. With all three favorites going down and one, Always B Miki, not advancing to the final, explanations are necessary but conclusions are not.

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JK Endofanera, at first blush, had no legitimate excuse for a failure to deliver on a 1-2 promise in the first division. Rated numero uno on the volatile “Road to the Meadowlands Pace” ranking, the Art Major-sired colt controlled the pace from the first turn and was overhauled in the stretch while bearing out badly.

What’s important about this race was not necessarily why JK Endofanera didn’t finish his mile as he did the week before, but the incredibly dawdling pace of the race. Fractions of :27 4/5, :56 3/5 and 1:24 are generally reserved for qualifying miles and less often for prelims to $1 million contests, but driver Brian Sears got away with the numbers. Yet while Sears cannot be faulted for trying to save something for next week, by going this slow he asked for trouble in the final sprint. A :26 1/5 final quarter gave the chasers a target with Lyonssomewhere emerging as the victor.

It’s important to point out that with fractions that soft horses coming from way back also have not been stressed. Horses with one big move in them may be more perfectly suited for this race-type than ones that can keep a fast pace for four straight quarters.

That Lyonssomewhere was able to pace a sub-:26 quarter is impressive, but what needs to be understood is that he’s never had to pace faster than 1:24 to the three quarters. All good horses should be able to sprint home after idling for the first three quarters.

Again, training speed versus racing speed.

The fractions were faster, but not excessively brisk in the other two North America Cup eliminations. To clarify that statement, yes Tellitlikeitis won in 1:48 4/5 with fractions nearly equal throughout (:27 1/5, :27 1/5, :27, 2/5, :27), but for these horses that’s “cruising” speed and not extreme speed. The top three-year-olds can leave and cut a first quarter of :25 and change and certainly can close in :25 and change.

It’s purposeful to note the pace of these races because it is likely to be radically different this Saturday night. As the racing game has changed over the years it is not rated miles that test the mettle of champions but those where horses are forced to do the unusual, or unnatural. How a horse performs when there is no time to relax during the race is critical to separating the champions from the contenders. Our standardbreds are definitely able to carry their inherent speed further, but the results change dramatically when they are stressed in the mile by going at “top speed” for a significant portion of the race.

What makes this year’s North America Cup final so compelling from a fan’s perspective is the fact that there is no clear division leader at this point. That means that the drivers will have a significantly more difficult challenge carving a path to victory before the race and changing that game plan during the race.

The “What If’s” are extraordinary when a driver must decide whether to park a horse or let him pass. The pressure of the moment with so much money riding and horses that to this point have not proven how much stress they can absorb within the mile lead to difficult decisions.

The pace for this year’s only seven-figure race is likely to be more like :26, :53 and 1:20 for the first three quarters. That kind of speed will most definitely suck the air out of horses that have previously never had to cope with such intensity in a competitive event in their racing lives.

Who will survive?

In last year’s Metro at Mohawk, Tellitlikeitis had the kind of accelerated pace trip we are speaking of for two-year-olds. He left and was in second through a :26 1/5 opening quarter (top speed) then tracked a 1:22 2/5 three quarter clocking before tiring in the late stages.

Was that an indication that under extreme speed stress Tellitlikeitis won’t hold up?

It certainly could be.

Yet let’s not disqualify Tellitlikeitis, or for that matter any of the other nine pacers in this race. We have yet to see any of the horses in this division stretch out to the extreme during the first three quarters. None have the edge going into Saturday but one or two could emerge from that race to indicate the course of this division going forward.

Veteran driver Rick Zeron probably got beaten with the best horse in the Fan Hanover elimination when Nat A Virgin was overtaken by Uffizi Hanover in the stretch. Again with the benefit of hindsight, Zeron simply went way too slowly from the quarter (clocked in :25 4/5) to the three quarters (1:25 3/5) giving the entire field a breather and losing the sprint in a 1:51 4/5 mile. A week earlier the three-year-old filly put in a crushing 1:50 3/5 mile over the same racetrack.

Sears again found himself saving something for next week with Somwherovrarainbow in the Roses Are Red eliminations. Fractions of :27 3/5, :56 3/5 and 1:24 are incredibly slow for this class (she paced three quarters in 1:20 in her previous outing). Again the race turned into a sprint and the favorite was bowled over by Yagonnakissmeornot through the :26 1/5 final quarter.

As a handicapper I put less credence on miles with excessively slow fractions than I do on races with extreme pace. I actually prefer horses that have struggled late after chasing extreme speed, to those who sprint a final quarter off a slow pace.

That may sound counterintuitive, but as a bettor you will find more overbet favorites from the first example and more live longshots from the second.

Take your pick.

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