|For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Diary, Day 17: Words Trumping Accomplishment Over There
August 8, 2012—I’m sure glad someone jumped into this fray because I thought I was the only one getting a wee bit tired of the notion that Frankel ranks among the best horses that ever lived.
Admittedly, I have not seen Frankel race in the flesh. But then that’s the best part of racing in this era isn’t it; the best horses in the world are a matter of keystrokes away. But I have seen all his races except two. This clearly is an extraordinarily gifted animal.
But before we elevate him into the ranks of all-time greats; the Phar Laps and Ribots, the Secretariats and Sea Birds, could we please ask him to run in races that take him out of his comfort zone before the anointing?
Or will owner Khalid Abdullah refuse entertain the idea of challenging this equine star?
Frankel undeniably is the perfect race horse, which is what you would expect from a horse that’s 12-for-12 in a three-year racing career.
Pardon my ugly America bias but I don’t think that record is even as impressive as Cigar’s, far from a perfect race horse but one that traveled far and wide, all over America and half way around the world to Dubai, taking 16 straight, of course.
And with a gun to my head, I don’t think he was as good at 10 furlongs as he was at nine. Frankel, of course, never has been beyond eight. Breeders covet speed and perfection, preferably from miler types.
That legacy is secure, but history’s reference demands a wider frame.
We know that Frankel is not a one course wonder, having won everything important that’s run at Ascot, Goodwood, Newmarket, Doncaster and Newbury. But finally he will be tested over a mile in the Juddmonte International.
It was Juddmonte Farms Ltd, that bred Frankel, and those chose this magnificent specimen to honor their prolific American trainer, the late Hall of Famer, Bobby Frankel. But it would have been embarrassing to skip the Juddmonte, don’t you think?
And even at that, Frankel is fortunate that the horse many believed would have been his most serious rival, the classy French runner Cirrus Des Aigles, will miss the race later this month with an ankle injury that will require a little more time to mend.
I’m told reliably that the Timeform people really know their horses and are not practiced in the art of hyperbole. I have no reason to believe that they are and the 142 rating he earned in the Queen Anne, while otherworldly for most runners is routine for this superstar; I get all that.
Now, should Frankel win the Juddmonte and challenge the ground and the distance of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, then we’d be getting somewhere.
When considering historical context I harbor one prejudice; dimension. Show me how many stones you can carry, show me the ability to act on any ground, at any distance, and I’ll build you a pantheon with my own two hands.
When I was a lad many years ago, the old-timers preached that great horses meet all challenges, are expected to overcome them, and no excuses are acceptable. Maybe they were guilty of hyperbole, too.
But I’m old enough now to establish my own criterion: I demand dimension. Hell, must Frankel’s greatness be defined at all costs that an honestly fast pace must be assured by a stablemate so that he can show us all how great he is?
This horse has an electric turn of foot, but can he look another in the eye and out-will him to the finish? Inquiring minds and true fans of the sport want to know this.
Now I have no hesitation calling dual Breeders’ Cup Milers Miesque, Lure and Da Hoss great milers—great turf milers. I’d be an idiot to say otherwise.
Goldikova, while a mile specialist, was great, too, but in another dimension in our view. Her greatness was transcendent, not limited by qualification. What a difference a three-peat makes.
The manner of those three Mile victories was unconfined by commonplace parameters. And they came in a foreign country many time and temperate zones from home at the end of a long season.
Her courage, and that of her connections, was limitless.
I have no idea how much input trainer Sir Henry Cecil has in all this but Mr. Abdullah's apparent need for perfection has set limits by which his colt's faultlessness might be judged.
The colt’s future after his racing days end already are secure. Aren’t Frankel’s people the least bit interested about where the horse fits in the pantheon? Or are the press clippings enough and let history debate what is, and what might have been?
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, August 05, 2012
Day 13: Whitney Day
August 4, 20112—When you win at Gulfstream Park in the winter and don’t beat a field of horses that have distinguished themselves nationally, you’re called a “Gulfstream horse,” a kind of one-track wonder.
Then when you win another graded race at a track like Prairie Meadows, you’re not taken as seriously as horses that win a race like the Donn or even, say, a race like the Grade 2 Alysheba.
It’s the reason why when you win a race like the Cornhusker before shipping into Saratoga for the storied Whitney, even if your energy figure was good--even if the race produced a next-out winner from a subsequent starter, don’t expect to get any respect.
But to open at 15-1 given his recent form and 7-2 morning line, the crowd seemed to go out of its way to diss Fort Larned. But after turning the G2 Cornhusker into a key race, they won’t ignore Ian Wilkes’ late developing 4-year-old next time.
Maybe it was the #9 post going a mile and an eighth, or the presence of Brian Hernandez Jr. in the boot--not Dominguez or Velazquez or Castellano—buy Hernandez, fans don’t give you a second look.
Well, they won’t miss any of those players next time because Fort Larned finally has arrived, and got the very quickly, too, 1:47.76 quickly. And now he’s a Grade 1 winner, as is Hernandez, not a bad Saratoga debut for the Kentucky-based rider.
“I always thought he belonged in the division,” said Wilkes. “You question yourself coming off a race like the Stephen Foster; you got beat, got your head handed to you. But this horse stays consistent.”
By winning the Whitney, Fort Larned earned an all-expenses paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup and is in the Classic if Wilkes can get him there the right way, and thus far he’s managed him beautifully in 2012. “Let’s enjoy today,” Wilkes suggested.
Ron the Greek, who always runs his race, was a wide-trip second, a head in front of stablemate Flat Out, with Hymn Book, racing closer to the pace than expected, was 1-1/2 ½ lengths back in fourth.
Welcome to the Big Time
Two excellent maiden-breaking juveniles made the scene on Whitney Day. Fortify, a Darley runner trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, ran off and hid from some well-meant juveniles, stopping the timer at 1:16.34 for 6-1/2 furlongs, winning by 5-1/2 drawing away lengths.
A few hours later, it was Palace Malice’s turn, and he did not disappoint. Breaking sharply for an outside slip, he just sat off the speed comfortably beneath Javier Castellano, was turned loose and opened a clear lead, winning by 3-1/2 just several hundredths slower for the distance, 1:16.48.
I’m sure the connections are hopeful there’s a repeat effort coming over the Spa surface early next month.
Everyone’s Just Wild About Harry
When Emma’s Encore, the well named 3-year-old filly, made it two straight upsets of Agave Kiss beneath Junior “Ice Man” Alvarado in the Prioress, there were cheers, hugs all around, and some tears, too, as The Chief, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, entered the winners’ circle to greet his filly after she upset the heavy favorite in the Grade 1 sprint for 3-year-old fillies.
Bets n’ Pieces
When is it permissible to bet against a wire-to-wire Preakness winner that’s sprinting six furlongs?
A) When it’s making its lifetime debut at the distance?
B) When the track is wet and the horse has not hit the board in either of its lifetime starts under those conditions?
C) When it draws the rail?
D) When it was beaten 22 lengths in its lone Saratoga start?
E) When the race is a stated prep for a 7-furlong Grade 1 later in the meet?
The answer is F) All of the above.
That’s the Shackleford story for Sunday. And while he indisputably owns a significant class edge over his competition, especially after having won the storied Met Mile in his last start, the factors outlined above makes it imprudent to take a short price on the early line 8-5 Vanderbilt favorite.
Even if much of the factoids listed weren’t true, it isn’t as if Emcee (2-1) doesn’t have the needed gas to beat him to the finish. Trainer Dale Romans apparently believes he will have a better chance with his classy 4-year-old going 7 furlongs in the G1 Forego. Otherwise, why would he even need a prep?
The Vanderbilt, however, given Emcee’s noted speed; his freshness; the ability to handle a track with moisture in it; recent bullet works and the fact he’s in receipt of six pounds (121-115) while sitting right off his rival’s left hip, all augurs well.
But the Vandy is far from only a two-horse race.
Rothko (8-1) owns competitive energy figures and is 3-for-4 at the trip, more important at the highest levels going three-quarters of a mile than seems intuitive at first blush.
It doesn’t hurt that he won his only start at the Spa, has a good (2) 1-1-0 slate in the wet and reunites with winning rider Leparoux—doing much of the winning for Steve Asmussen at this meet.
For his part, Justin Philip (10-1) loves wet footing, winning half of his six muddy-track starts. Poseidon’s Warrior (30-1) is by slop-freak sire Speightstown, has won five starts at this trip, the barn is 23% third time off the layup and his recent blowout 4th fastest of 67 in peer group.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, August 04, 2012
It’s a Grade 1 Double Down at the Spa
AUGUST 3, 2012—One of my favorite races of the Saratoga meet, the storied Whitney Handicap, will be renewed once again this weekend and Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man notwithstanding, the gang’s pretty much all here.
The nine furlong Grade 1 has drawn nine entrants and a half dozen of them have a chance ranging from most likely winner(s) to a puncher’s chance. We’re looking at two to top our tickets but more on that later.
The big Grade 1 question of the day is this: What the hell happened to Agave Kiss last time?
In our view, two things: First, and foremost, was the size of the Equiform energy figure she earned while winning the Miss Preakness Stakes on the third Saturday in May for his sixth career victory without defeat. How big was it?
How’s this for perspective? Looking at the Internal 6-furlongs sprint figures of 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile winner Shackleford, who earned a 77 Internal figure in both recent starts, including the Met, those numbers paled compared to Agave Kiss’s 79 ¼ for winning the Miss Preakness.
Note here that we’re comparing the figures of a 4-year-old male to a 3-year-old female; to say that this is unusual, especially considering Shackleford’s obvious class, is to serious understate the case.
The second thing? The rail at Belmont Park July 7 was not the swiftest portion of the Elmont oval and Agave Kiss, coming off the monster effort was pushed through splits of: 21 2/5 and :44-flat, carrying high weight of 123 pounds under allowance conditions.
The difference Saturday is that Agave Kiss has the wide post in the field of six, a favorable draw, retains Ramon Dominguez, and her blowout of :46 2/5 for this, termed breezing, was fastest of 76 members of her peer group that week in Saratoga.
A filly with her kind of ability certainly deserves a mulligan considering the unfavorable circumstances, even if she was 3-10 to extend her career slate to 7-for-7.
As for the Whitney, there is Rule , good enough to win his first start in nine months, the G2 Monmouth Cup, after stalking an extremely low pace throughout.
Although that scenario was to his benefit, he finished his last half-mile in :48-flat around a turn. Common horses just don’t do that. Further, his best figures have come going nine furlongs at Saratoga. Very difficult test here, but not impossible.
The serious horses will all be various shades of favorites, although none are prohibitive.
Clearly, as the winner of the G1 Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster, Ron the Greek is the most accomplished member of the group this year and a deserving early line favorite. There’s more than enough early speed to set up his late burst.
The same can be said of Hymn Book, a wild-horse finishing runnerup to Mucho Macho Man in the G2 Suburban following a very poor start. The Grade 1 Donn winner this winter also reunites with Johnny Velazquez, his South Florida partner.
The two runners that peak our interest are Ron The Greek’s uncoupled stablemate Flat Out, making his second start for the Mott barn, and Fort Larned, a revelation since he’s turned 4.
Flat Out, after an abysmal grass experiment from which he received no benefit and was no factor in Hymn Book’s Donn, was sent to Mott, freshened, and appeared at The Shore in Rule’s Monmouth Cup and finished second after breaking out of hand and racing in close on the fence throughout.
After finally securing room, his course was altered to the outside by Rosie Napravnik and the talented old pro finished extremely well after the fact. Subsequently, he’s been training lights out here and while his recent blowout of 1:02 1/5, termed breezing, was fast, but it was accomplished the right way.
Fort Larned, however, has been brilliant on several occasions this year. After he freaked winning the G3 Skip Away at Gulfstream, he returned to do most of the dirty work in the G2 Alysheba but had to settle for place behind then hot Successful Dan.
Following a horrendous adventure in the Stephens Foster, he dominated the Cornhusker in 1:47 2/5. Most notable, his best figures have come this year, at today’s distance or similar, and his recent five-eighths in :58 2/5, termed breezing, was fastest of 41 member of his peer group.
The Whitney figures to be competitive from end to end. The feeling is you will be rewarded no matter where you land.
We have an idea or two, so why not check out today’s Feature Race Analysis later on. Remember, I always pick ’em good; it’s not my fault if they don’t run any good.
Written by John Pricci