08/14/2016 9:34AM

Watchmaker: It's true. Not all horses in blanket finish can be stars


You know how some old photos make you cringe? Like, what were we thinking wearing clothes like that? Well, some anachronistic handicapping tenets are cringe-worthy, too.

My favorite is, “Time only matters in jail.” Yeah. Right. It’s almost as if people who espoused this thinking just didn’t want to put the effort into understanding the meaning of time, specifically, adjusted time. But most of us know now that a horse who runs meaningfully faster adjusted times than another horse will beat that other horse every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

“Class tells” is another beauty. Tell that to all the former stakes horses of advancing age who can’t be found with a search warrant when they drop in for a tag, or to the claimers who suddenly become stakes horses after they move into the hands of a “super trainer.”

“Recency matters” is a good one, too. Remember how you were never supposed to bet on a horse who didn’t have a start in the last week or two? These days, fresher is better, and that goes for whether you’re dealing with a Chad Brown-trained runner coming off a five-month break, or a battle-scarred claimer who might well run his best race off the bench before his issues really start to bother him.

But there are a few old saws that still hold up, such as the one that says a bunch of horses involved in a blanket finish can’t all be stars.

It was Saturday’s Arlington Million at Arlington Park that got me thinking about this. Truth be told, this was not the most compelling renewal ever of the Million, which is not the race’s fault. There is currently a big gap between Flintshire and Ironicus in the North American male turf division, and a massive span between Ironicus and everyone else. So there wasn’t a deep pool of talent for this Million to draw on, and the European horses who shipped in were far from being top horses back home.

And frankly, I wasn’t crazy about the Million result. Let me stress, I have nothing against the victorious Mondialiste. But I think it says a lot about this year’s Million that a 6-year-old who has been a confirmed miler throughout his entire racing career prevailed in this 1 1/4-mile event. Yes, I know Mondialiste finished second in a 1 5/16-mile race at York last month. But that was a Group 2 race with only a five-horse field, and the local bettors showed what they thought of Mondialiste in that spot by sending him off at 10-1 against just four opponents.

Perhaps the biggest indication of the ordinary nature of this Million can be found in the result chart. The first-place and seventh-place finisher were separated by a grand total of only two lengths (a neck, neck, three quarters of a length, neck, head, and neck). That’s literally nothing. Only three lengths separated Mondialiste and the ninth-place finisher. Heck, there was less than five lengths between the winner and the last-place finisher.

Really, they can’t all be stars.

To be fair, Mondialiste has fashioned a very accomplished North American record. He has now made three starts on this continent, winning the Woodbine Mile and finishing second to champion Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last fall, and winning the Arlington Million. That merits respect. Nevertheless, you just can’t ignore the fact that Mondialiste is a marginal Group 2 horse in Europe, which means he can’t be beating that much here.

Quick Saturday notes:

**In contrast to our male turf division, our female turf division has terrific depth of real quality. Tepin is, of course, the clear divisional leader, but Miss Temple City, Dacita, Celestine, Catch a Glimpse, and even the turf sprinter Lady Shipman are all high class performers. And Sea Calisi, winner of Arlington’s Beverly D., is right up there with them, near the top.

Sea Calisi, a Group 1-level performer last year at 3 in her native France, was a very unlucky second in the New York Stakes in her most recent start, suffering traffic trouble in the stretch as barnmate Dacita, who came back to win the Diana, capitalized on a clear outside run. But no chances were taken with Sea Calisi in the Beverly D. Saving ground was traded for an unobstructed run and, after looping everyone on the far turn at a considerable loss of ground, Sea Calisi still proved best.

**Beach Patrol, arguably best when third in last month’s Belmont Derby, got the money in Arlington’s Secretariat Stakes, but had a much more difficult time than anticipated. Beach Patrol was hard-pressed to head Long Island Sound, who never ran a jump when sixth in the Belmont Derby.

**Final-time comparison of the 10-furlong Secretariat and the Million will show the Million was only narrowly faster – 2:01.87 to 2:01.95. But there’s more going on here. The Million’s pace was significantly slower than the Secretariat’s – 25.56 seconds, 49.74, and 1:14.14, versus 24.58, 48.31, and 1:12.76. The Million’s slower pace was an undeniable drag on the final time, meaning there was a bigger figurative difference in the final time of the Million compared to the Secretariat than it’s actual narrow one. I’ll leave it to you to conclude what that says about the Secretariat.

**It should be noted that Deauville, who won the Belmont Derby over Beach Patrol and Long Island Sound, finished third in the Million, beaten a neck and a neck. I think Deauville took a step forward Saturday, even in defeat.

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