09/24/2014 11:42AM

Jerardi: Parx surface was fast but not really unfair


As the races began last Saturday at Parx, it was clear that the surface was very fast, but interestingly, not all that much faster than it was on the previous Tuesday, the last racing day, and about the same as the surface on Pennsylvania Derby Day in 2011.

Midway through the card, it became accepted that it was a speed- and rail-biased track. I would agree with that, but the total evidence does not support that it was so biased that it was unfair. Yes, it was difficult to make up ground, and horses certainly were winning at or near the rail. But who were those horses exactly?

The wire-to-wire winners were 3-1, 3-1, 7-2, 7-2, and 6-5, not a single longshot in the group. No doubt, some of the prices came down later because players were betting the bias. Again, I am not saying the rail was not an advantage, but where were the 20-1 winners who went to the front on the rail and stayed there?

I grew up going to Pimlico in the 1970s, betting on 30-1 speed horses. I remember a day when I one-punched the early daily double with two 25-1 shots. It paid $500. That was an extreme bias and a day I will not soon forget. I was down to a few thousand dollars in life and not all that far from having to get a job. By day’s end, I was not looking for work. I was looking for my next loose-on-the-rail horse to pound.

The best evidence for a Parx bias came in the race where 9-2 and 15-1 shots went around the track 1-2. There was the 9-2 shot whom star Parx jockey Kendrick Carmouche brought up the rail. There were also 1-1 and 4-5 winners who closed up the rail.

The second race on the card was won by a 5-1 shot who was dueling outside. The 6-5 leader just to his inside (but still not on the rail) faded. The third race went to a 13-1 shot who was second speed to the outside. The horse beat a 26-1 shot who was on the rail for a time and then came outside later.

Three rail winners increased their speed figures significantly. The others did not.

In the Cotillion, Untapable was wide all the way. Sweet Reason was inside early and then outside. They ran the exact figures they had been running.

In the Pennsylvania Derby, Tapiture was always wide. Candy Boy was inside for a while and then outside. They ran the exact Beyer Speed Figures they got in the West Virginia Derby.

So, much evidence supports an inside/speed bias, but I am not quite sure how much the results would have changed on a different track. We can all check out the horses who went wide Saturday and see how they do next time. That will give us an indication of the true nature of the track.

It was definitely fast Saturday. The variant through 11 races was -28. It was -22 the previous Tuesday. It slowed down dramatically on the next racing day. Monday’s variant was -9.

The Derby Day variant for the final two races was -34, basically identical to the 2011 variant, when Royal Currier set the six-furlong track record of 1:07.51 in the Gallant Bob and To Honor and Serve won the Pennsylvania Derby in 1:47.34 for 1 1/8 miles.

In 2013, when Will Take Charge took the Pennsylvania Derby in 1:49.28, the variant was -17, or 1.8 seconds fast at the distance. This year, it was 3.7 seconds fast at nine furlongs. Will Take Charge got a 105 Beyer. Bayern got a 110, just five points higher, even though he broke a 40-year-old track record that was set just 22 days after the track opened in November 1974.

The most bizarre part of the day was how three jockeys rode the Pennsylvania Derby. That Bayern got such an easy lead after going in splits of 24.07 and 47.89 seconds should really have been impossible on that surface. After going so slowly for the first quarter-mile, Bayern basically had to run semi-hard for seven furlongs. He busted the race open with a 22.99-second third quarter-mile on the backstretch straightaway. There was no way he could lose.

C J’s Awesome had been in front at the first call in seven of his eight career races, including very fast fractions in his debut at seven furlongs. So, what does Edgar Prado do? He takes his horse’s best attribute away from him to make sure California Chrome stayed locked to the rail, ignoring Bayern, as if the Haskell Invitational and Woody Stephens winner had not shown what damage he could do when loose on the lead.

Protonico won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx on Labor Day by making the last move. So, what does Javier Castellano do? He moves his horse right along California Chrome before the first turn. Admittedly, that could have been because the pace was slow, and Protonico certainly had shown speed in his career. Whatever. Protonico faded badly.

I am not a Bayern hater, not at all. Any horse who can go 108, 110, and 110 surrounding the Travers debacle must be taken seriously. Do I think he can win without a clear lead? No. But if he gets it, I am not sure I see any distance limitations.

Victor Espinoza did not distinguish himself in the Belmont Stakes, not understanding the tactical advantage he had aboard the only horse with early speed. I gave him a pass because of California Chrome’s poor break and the cut on his right front foot.

I can’t give him a pass for the Pennsylvania Derby. California Chrome’s assistant starter did a great job keeping the horse calm. And just as he turned Chrome’s head straight, the starter hit the button. Chrome got a running start, and Espinoza immediately put him to sleep, practically begging to get trapped, rather than asking his mount for just enough speed to secure position.

I am not suggesting that he should have dueled with Bayern from the inside, but if the rail really was that good, perhaps that would not have been such a bad idea. At the least, the jockey should have used some of California Chrome’s considerable speed to make Bayern run a little faster and perhaps run himself into the clear at some point.

If you looked at replays of Chrome’s 2-year-old season, it was clear that he hated the inside trip behind horses. The Belmont and Pennsylvania Derby just confirmed that. Give Chrome a clear outside trip in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and I think you will see the same horse who had that six-race winning streak. Now, whether that will be good enough to beat Shared Belief and a potentially clear Bayern is another question.