08/12/2007 11:00PM

Day's turf results tough to decipher

Email

NEW YORK - The American racing public has always had a special affinity for closers. Stretch-runners like Stymie, Silky Sullivan, and Forego, to name just a few, enjoy a place in racing lore in part because of their ability to bring fans to their feet with their whirlwind finishes.

That said, racing fans at simulcast arenas from one side of the country to the other could have been up and down like yo-yos during Saturday's four Grade 1 turf stakes races, as all were won with furious, closing finishes. And those fans probably would have been on their feet if only the winners of these four races - the Arlington Million, the Beverly D., and the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington, and the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga - weren't so darn difficult to come up with.

This isn't to say bettors couldn't have smoked out one of these winners. But the results quickly went from playable (Shamdinan at $11.60 in the Secretariat) to downright perplexing (Grand Couturier in the Sword Dancer at $33.20). And it is hard to envision there was a man alive smart enough to have had not only Shamdinan, and Grand Couturier, but also Royal Highness in the Beverly D. at $20.40, and Jambalaya at $17.20 in the Arlington Million. The win parlay on these four races calculates to $16,891 and change, which only hints at how difficult nailing all four winners really was.

A big reason why Saturday's stakes results were so tough, and why closers did so well, was the footing that prevailed on Arlington's turf course. The final times in each of Arlington's Grade 1's were far off the course records by anywhere from three to six full seconds. Given the level of horseflesh in these races, that is a strong indication that the going was far more demanding than the official course-condition designation of "good" would suggest.

This obviously worked in the favor of Shamdinan, who as recently as two months ago was beaten by fewer than two lengths when he finished third in the French Derby, meaning he was more than capable of victimizing a group of 3-year-old turf males that this year lacks a compelling figure on the order of a Kitten's Joy. But the footing at Arlington clearly caused some highly respected American turf performers to spin their wheels in other races.

In terms of depth, the Beverly D. might have been the best race of the day. But favored Citronnade seemed out of her element away from the pool-table-like turf courses on which she won four straight graded stakes in Southern California, as well as under rating tactics forced by the presence of the speedy Jennie R., and she wound up a soundly beaten fourth. Second choice Honey Ryder, coming off a terrific second against males in the United Nations, might want more distance than she got Saturday. But she did not run even one step. Lady of Venice, the third choice in the betting, had run well on off courses in this country before. But though she finished third, she could not solve Saturday's going, as she lacked her customary late kick. Royal Highness, whose best performances in this country involved trading decisions with Safari Queen, a decided second-stringer behind Honey Ryder in Todd Pletcher's barn, did manage to get over the ground. Still, it was hard not to view Irridescence as the moral winner of the Beverly D., as she just failed to hold on after being the only one involved in the Beverly D. pace that you didn't have to send out a search party for at the wire.

Along the same lines, you couldn't help but feel bad for The Tin Man, who narrowly succumbed to Jambalaya in the Arlington Million, a race that lost quite a bit when potential favorite After Market was scratched because of the course conditions. Although it is hard to do, forget for a moment The Tin Man's advanced age of 9. On a type of course The Tin Man has rarely encountered in his Southern California-based career, he prompted Sunriver's pace and fought hard all the way down the lane. And despite racing on going that compromised his style, The Tin Man gave in only to Jambalaya, who enjoyed a perfect trip, and who might be only the second best turf performer in his native Canada behind Sky Conqueror.

As for Grand Couturier's Sword Dancer, the issues were distance and pace rather than footing. Even though he won a profoundly weak renewal of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic going 1 1/2 miles last fall, heavily favored English Channel is probably most effective going distances slightly shorter than the 12 furlongs of the Sword Dancer. On top of that, the pace in the Sword Dancer was very fast, meaning that English Channel had to operate from farther off the early lead than he is accustomed to. These are the reasons why English Channel, at 3-5, didn't fire the way he usually does, and why the Sword Dancer was won by a deep closer. But when it comes to isolating Grand Couturier - who at no point in his career looked like a true Gradeo1 performer, either in this country or Europe - as being that deep closer, well, that's a tough one for most of us to explain.

When it comes to the long-term implications of Saturday's big turf races, there are two ways to go: You could say that circumstances rendered the outcomes of these races inconclusive, leaving it to future major turf events to clarify divisional rankings and Breeders' Cup positioning more accurately. Or, you could say that Saturday illustrated how ripe for plunder the fall's major turf events are for quality European invaders.

We'll find out soon enough.