Sunday, May 11, 2014
For Racing, Derby Was a Pleasant Distraction
LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2014--Derby day has come and gone and despite the presence and previous day's success of Steve Asmussen, the subject of a widely anticipated interview with Bob Costas, racing still seems to be alive and solvent; even if still unreformed and unfriendly to bettors.
[Ed. Note] There was, however, no mention to Asmussen from Costas as to why thyroxine was used needlessly on all his horses.
Though I watched without wagering for the first time in many years, I still enjoyed what I saw of the broadcast; the running, the result--and not being split by longshot Commanding Curve who came from the clouds to finish second.
California Chrome proved himself the real deal; capable of carrying the high-speed with which he motored over the Autobahn at Santa Anita a furlong further over a slower surface at Churchill Downs.
Parenthetically, one need only remember the track maintenance performed in Louisville prior to Invasor's Breeders' Cup victory to rationalize the relatively slow fractional and final times recorded for the Derby following a rapidly run sprint several races earlier.
But those fractions may have been as much, if not more, a function of jockey tactics and a lifeless, waterless surface. Clearly, nobody wanted a repeat of last year's suicidal pace, anyway.
In its second year, the new Derby eligibility system produced a popular winning favorite whose vertical exotic payouts were leveraged considerably by the longshot runnerup.
Hopefully, Commander Curve's surprising placing is a preview of what is to come rather than a reprise of Golden Soul's and Ice Box's careers as one-hit wonders.
The ‘Commander’ will be waiting to get even in the Belmont Stakes rather than take on Chrome in Baltimore where the pace figures to get hotter than the Derby’s. The ultimate wisdom of that plan will have to wait until June.
It is worth noting that the Chrome would also have qualified for the Derby under the previous earnings-based system, as well as the weighted points system based on graded stakes finishes exclusively. Commander Curve only would have qualified under the new rules.
Like old friend Drosselmeyer, he had only a third place finish in the Louisiana Derby to recommend him.
Once more Todd Pletcher's presence was underwhelming given his mastery of the Derby preps; especially given the new rules. His Derby trainees finished 3rd, 10th, 12th, and 17th, Danza could have finished closer owing to his troubled third.
Potential prepmeister Mike Maker's multiple entrants were unable to muster serious threats, as they finished 11th, 16th and 19th.
If Danza shows up in Baltimore at the last minute, it will be his third race in five weeks, a la Bodemeister, compared to six weeks for the Derby winner. If as expected he doesn't, it will reaffirm that Pletcher regards five weeks rest more important than racing his Derby also-rans in the Triple Crown’s second jewel.
All but the top two finishers had troubled trips to varying degrees. If you totally trust the Equibase charts, Dance With Fate seemed to have encountered the most interference. At various stages he was jostled, shuffled, bumped, and shut off, yet still managed to finish sixth. I am awaiting his next start with interest.
As there will be betting on the second leg, too, I won't be expecting to find any from new shooter Social Inclusion. As of this writing, only Ride on Curlin and General A Rod are the only Derby survivors to join the Preakness cast—although I believe Ride On Curlin needs more distance, not less, to turn the tables.
In terms of wagering, apparently DRF Bets account holders were given a chance to bet the Derby after all but had to transfer their account to Xpressbet to do so. Unknown to me is why couldn't both platforms offer Derby betting?
At the end of the day, I and my bankroll both got a well-deserved rest from the rigors of handicapping and wagering, respectively, which doubtlessly saved both my bankroll and sanity.
I will still be boycotting Churchill Downs races, only the Grade I Stephen Foster really representing any sacrifice at all.
The old friends I was Skype-ing with Derby Day supported my decision to boycott in principle, and only one attempted to entice me to split a ticket. He cashed the winning bet by himself, the racing gods being the poor sports that they are.
Knowing my affection [affliction?] for alliteration, he pointed out what a perfectly symmetric exacta box the two CCs would make. I replied that the asymmetric Danza/Dance With Fate combination might work, too. All I wound up losing was my mind.
My friends were as outraged by the takeout hikes imposed by Churchill Downs Inc., as they were when the Thoroughbred Owners of California did the same thing three years earlier. They understand how rebates--enabled and masked by excessive takeout--put them at a disadvantage.
The difference is that my friends play five to 10 days a year compared to my 50 to 100. These days they're into the entertainment and social aspect of the game with perhaps a slim possibility of making a score, even more than in staying in the black.
Parenthetically, I find this a source of amusement since some of them are the same guys that in their earlier days frequently burned the midnight oil on Friday nights, marking up their Morning Telegraphs prior to making long drives the next day to the nearest track with the best purses. How we loved horseracing then, and still do.
They will be watching the Preakness and the Belmont and those with grandchildren might attend the Belmont if the Chrome is still chasing the dream. But they only participate when the best face the best.
They have expressed no interest in the majority of races they perceive to be less reliable; the contestants too frequently over-medicated to the detriment of horse, rider or bettor.
Contraction seems inevitable to them unless the California Chrome story can be replicated and told over and over. It’s often said that in this game there’s always tomorrow. That’s still true. Unfortunately, the game’s prospects don’t look as good as they once were.