05/09/2013 3:14PM

Byron King: Wishing Gate's last was a horror show worth watching

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Benoit & Associates
Wishing Gate (right) gets beaten by Flashy Ways (center) in the Surfer Girl Stakes.

An analysis of trips, like so many aspects of handicapping, is subjective.

One person sees a horse saving ground only to get out in midstretch as a horse who had trouble, while another horseplayer – perhaps followers of the Ragozin Sheets or Thoro-Graph – sees that animal as ground-saving beneficiary. Other horseplayers can debate whether a horse like Normandy Invasion would have fared better or worse than his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby had he not moved earlier in the race than in his preceding starts.

That noted, I doubt anyone would argue after watching the last race of Wishing Gate at Keeneland April 21 that it was simply “brutal!” – as my colleague Marty McGee is so fond of announcing at the top of his lungs when such circumstances arise. It was a race Wishing Gate could never have won the way it unfolded.

Coming back off that troubled trip, she looms an excellent wager in Saturday’s fourth race at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance in which she is the 7-2 third choice on the morning line.

Back to that trip. Here’s what happened: Wishing Gate (program number 14), breaking from the outside post, came away last and ducked toward the outside, costing her about two lengths to begin.

Thereafter, her troubles continued on the backstretch when she was racing in eighth place in the field of 12. With the field bunching up in front of her and some horses fanned out wide, jockey Gary Stevens made the decision to be patient and sit tight in the two path, hoping a hole would open in timely fashion.

It did not. Stuck behind a tiring runner and boxed in as the tempo quickened, she lost ground, falling back to last coming into the stretch.

In midstretch she had about four seconds worth of clear running room, only to have her path closed yet again in front of her. A little room did appear late, but all hope was lost by that point, and she came under just mild pressure under Stevens to be eighth, beaten 7  1/4 lengths.

Would she have won with a clean run? Probably not. But by my estimation she was at least capable of finishing five lengths better than where she ended up.

The good news – aside from the publicity she is getting from this column (sorry about that) – is that her running-line comment in her past performances only states “angled in, steadied,” which, suffice to say, doesn’t tell the whole story.

In examining the field for the fourth race on Saturday, the makeup of the race is favorable for Wishing Gate. The 1 1/8-mile distance on the turf seems a good fit for her, and if Churchill sticks to its usual practice of running weekend races on the hedge, that is typically good for a closer such as her.

Magnificent Shirl and Flashy Gal, her chief opponents, are solid 3-year-old fillies, but they do not stand out by any means, and Wishing Gate, stakes-placed as a juvenile, should be fitter for this race after returning from a six-month layoff in her latest.

Wishing Gate warrants win play and exotics use with Flashy Gal and Magnificent Shirl, and to a lesser extent with Cat’s Holiday, another filly coming off some troubled efforts.

Peter Pan: Abraham can rebound

Another horse who didn’t have things go his way in his last start was Abraham, my selection for Saturday’s Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.

Racing in the April 20 Illinois Derby, the speedy Abraham stumbled slightly out of the gate and then was immediately shut off by Show Some Magic, the horse to his outside. Shuffled back, he then carried his head high, taking dirt in his face for the first time in his life.

Angled to the outside, he made a long, sustained run to nearly pull even with the leaders, only to finish evenly late and run fourth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by the Preakness-bound Departing. (Abraham also had to be steadied slightly in midstretch, though that didn’t appear to alter his finish position.)

Aside from the 97 Beyer Speed Figure fellow Peter Pan starter Declan’s Warrior posted last out in winning the Bay Shore, the 86 Beyer that Abraham ran in the Illinois Derby is competitive with the other leading Peter Pan contenders. And if he is able to grab a more forward position early with a clean start, he ought to run faster Saturday.