07/20/2008 11:00PM

Music Note building resume of champ


NEW YORK - It is usually poor policy to draw big conclusions from the results of five-horse races that going in looked like mismatches on paper. But Saturday's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park was one of those instances that begs exception to the rule. And by virtue of her sensational victory in it, you would have to work mighty hard to dispute Music Note now being the top 3-year-old filly in the nation.

Sure, there wasn't a lot behind Music Note on Saturday. Her main opposition by a long way was her entrymate Little Belle, who did upset the previous leader of this division, Proud Spell, in the Grade 1 Ashland in April. But Little Belle had not raced since finishing a soundly beaten second to Proud Spell in the Kentucky Oaks 2 1/2 months ago, and there was a prevailing sense that she was not ready for a peak performance.

Instead, this was about how Music Note won the CCA Oaks. After loping along behind a deliberate early pace, Music Note left her field in another ZIP code in upper stretch with an awesome turn of foot. Music Note's kick was so strong that she was able to run her last half-mile a shade faster than her opening half-mile, which is no small feat in a 1 1/4-mile race on dirt.

Music Note's CCA Oaks put a fresh perspective on her 3 1/2-length upset of Proud Spell last month in the Grade 1 Mother Goose. At the time, the Mother Goose result was inconclusive and somewhat unsatisfactory because of the horrible trip Proud Spell had. But since then, Proud Spell had to work surprisingly hard to best a modest field in the Delaware Oaks, while Music Note has now, with the CCA Oaks, made it four blowout wins from as many starts going a mile or more. Music Note is an absolute terror going a distance - what else would you expect from a daughter of A.P. Indy and a Sadler's Wells mare? - and it's hard envisioning anyone stopping her in next month's 1 1/4-mile Alabama at Saratoga. And if Music Note does win that race, a resume of the Alabama, the CCA Oaks, and the Mother Goose - events that have a long history of fashioning champions - will be hard to top come Eclipse Award voting time.

Del Mar Poly playing fair

Given the uncertainty over the future plans for Curlin, and with the big void left by the retirement of Heatseeker due to a career-ending injury, Well Armed's victory in the San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar was a positive development for the male handicap division. While Well Armed's score wasn't quite on the same level as Curlin's romp in the Grade 1 Foster Handicap in his first start after winning the Dubai World Cup, Well Armed showed substance with his ability to win in his first start since finishing third to Curlin in Dubai. And remember, Well Armed was good enough to have edged Heatseeker - easily this country's second best older male at the time of his retirement - early this year in the San Antonio.

But as much of a needed boost as Well Armed's San Diego win was to his division, his front-running victory might have been even more important in underscoring how Del Mar's Polytrack surface has evolved in its second year.

Much has been made of how much faster times are on Del Mar's Polytrack this year compared to last year, its first year of use. But much more important than fast times are speed horses having a fair chance of winning. Last year at Del Mar, a horse like Well Armed would have gotten swallowed up no matter how slow he went early. Not so this year. Well Armed was the fifth front-running winner and one of 11 speed winners from 23 Polytrack races run through the first four days of the Del Mar meet. (I define speed horses as those running either first or second, or within two lengths of the lead, in the first call of the result charts.)

Kudos to Del Mar for making its Polytrack a much more fair surface than it was last year. Here's hoping it stays that way.

Too many statebreds, too much turf

Opening day at Saratoga on Wednesday is one of the biggest days of the year for an East Coast racing fan. But it is understandable if those looking forward to opening day at Saratoga for a fix of premier racing feel a bit let down with the opening-day card.

Four of Wednesday's 10 races are for New York-breds. This is a disappointing continuation of a trend on NYRA's biggest days, as four of the 13 races on Belmont Stakes Day were for New York-breds, as were three of the nine races on opening day of the Belmont spring meet, and four of the 11 races on Wood Memorial Day. We all understand the importance of New York-breds and how NYRA wouldn't be able to race five days a week without them. But is it really necessary to have so many races restricted to New York-breds on truly special racing days?

Half of Wednesday's races are carded for the turf, which normally would be just fine, if you hadn't already overdosed on turf races the last month at Belmont. From July 2 through the final day Saturday, and excluding the card of July 5, the one day rain had an impact, there were 56 races run on dirt at Belmont and 65 on turf. I like turf racing as much as anyone. But this is a disproportionate amount of turf races for a major American track.