|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.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Stars Emerge In Spa Grade 1s
August 18, 2012—Today was one of those Chamber of Commerce days here. Not only was the sun shining but it was a Spa summer-brisk morning followed by a dry afternoon—the reason you take Exit 14 off the Northway to get here in the first place.
But then culture shock as you realized today’s Grade 1 on the grass was around THREE turns. Hell, that’s almost 75% of the Late Pick 4 on most days. But if you want a Grade 1 grass title in Saratoga, you earn it by traversing all 12 furlongs.
The Sword Dancer every year is my least favorite Saratoga Grade 1, maybe because of its timing, a sort of poor man’s Arlington Million, only a quarter mile longer for less money and less prestige. After all, not all Grade 1s are created equal.
When the Sword Dancer winner reached the finish line, the result begged one question: Did Shug McGaughey send the wrong horse to Chicago?
Because if Point Of Entry, at 4, hasn’t become America’s best turf horse, then he’s a pretty damn good replica.
From the eighth pole to the finish, Point Of Entry, pluperfectly ridden by Hall of Fame Johnny, was positively, in the language of the youngins’, was nothing short of amazing.
As the final of 12 furlongs approached, his stride lengthened, running through the finish line in full stride, four lengths to the good of runnerup Al Khali. Brilliant Speed was a good third; Newsdad finished fourth after stalking 3 wide the entire distance.
Turbo Compressor set the pace as expected but, unlike his most recent starts, he could shake loose, hounded by Center Divider and Newsdad. Meanwhile, Velazquez stalked from perfect position while saving ground.
At headstretch, it looked like it could be anyone’s race until Point Of Entry arrived on the scene and blew his rivals away in a very worthy 2:26.40.
“When he found the seam it was over,” said McGaughey.
“I wanted him to be covered up,” said Velazquez. “He was strong the whole way. He was ready to go any time I let him go. Incredible.”
Amazing. Incredible. Another word in contender, as in contender for an Eclipse turf title.
We loved her in the Coaching Club American Oaks. We hated her in today’s Alabama. And, after 22-and-change and 46-and-change, it was: “How smart am I?”
When they hit the finish line, it was the words of the great Jack Buck that came to mind: “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
And it was Questing, doing an Ali rope-a-dope with the field, bobbing and weaving her way down the lane, just like she did in the Oaks.
Only this time it was Irad Ortiz, who got up off the canvass yesterday, fearing he had a broken ankle. He was released an hour later; he was fine.
Then today he hit the deck again, this time aboard Wayward Sailor. Only no anxious moments for the fans. Within a minute, he was up and walking, caught a lift to the front-side and was back in the jock’s room, awaiting the storied Alabama.
“I was thinking the pace was too fast,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, “but I liked the way she was doing it.”
“She was going fast but she was so relaxed,” Ortiz said. “I kept my hands down, her ears were up; she was playing with her ears. She was amazing. I never rode one like that.”
“She was ducking each way a little bit today, instead of all the time left-handed,” McLaughlin added. “But as long as she’s five in front I’m not worried about it.”
Actually, approaching midstretch, she was 6-1/2 in front of In Lingerie, who moved to challenge at headstretch. “Going that fast I thought she would come back a little bit,” said Velazquez aboard the runnerup. “Going to the half-mile pole I was saying, ‘I think I got it, we’re going fast enough.’ Psshh. I moved up a little bit and the winner took off.”
“She’s a special filly,” said her trainer, which doesn’t sound much like hyperbole from here. “She’s definitely the best three-year-old filly in America on the dirt.”
That doesn’t sound much like hyperbole either, not when you win the Alabama by 9 lengths in 2:01.69.
By the way, let’s use that as a target for next Saturday’s Travers colts to shoot; Which way are you betting, over or under?
Hey Luca, Our Guy Put Your Guy to Sleep
That not fair, of course. Not after they swept the American St. Leger with Jakkalberry, the Secretariat Stakes with Bayrir and the Beverly D. with I’m A Dreamer, the last two Grade 1.
But the home team won the big one—with an assist from Saratoga’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, who shipped to Second City and won the Arlington Million with another American speed-ball, Little Mike, who treated the Arlington lawn as if it were Gulfstream’s, a course he dominates.
DomingueZ was exquisite nursing reasonable fractions but, of greater import, getting Little Mike to relax. Resultantly, he was a fresh horse when pre-race Euro rogue Afsare, balked at the starting gate came strongly to challenge at midstretch.
But Luca Cumani’s gelded 5-year-old was easily held safe but the Dale Romans-trained speedster. There’s was some question as to whether Little Mike could stay the entire 10 furlongs.
As Harvey Pack always liked to say: Question, answered.
Written by John Pricci
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Travers 2012: Expect a Gateful
August 15, 2012—Did anyone really believe that after Paynter shipped from Monmouth to Belmont Park, after a pit-stop at an equine clinic on the Jersey Turnpike, that he would be a Travers participant?
As disappointing as that is, it’s probably the right thing to do, especially if his connections truly believe in him and if they want to have a fresh horse for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his home state, there’s no need to test him at 10 furlongs now.
Of course, that’s if anyone will ever see Paynter or Bodemeister again, especially the latter. Originally, he was the one coming for the 7-furlong Grade 1 King’s Bishop but he hasn’t had a record workout since July 8th.
So, what are the chances he’ll be seen on Travers undercard, especially considering that stud arrangements are already set in stone with the WinStar folks? As they say, slim to none and slim just left town.
But until stated otherwise, we will take the word of Paynter’s connections and expect to see him next in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby.
What a country.
With Paynter and Union Rags among the missing, that means you can expect a gaggle of 3-year-olds in the Travers starting gate. Heading a prospective field of 13 are four from the Jim Dandy; Liaison and the first three finishers, Alpha, Neck N’ Neck and Street Life.
Other high profile performers include Hansen, a colt that won the Iowa Derby in a common cantor then appeared common himself with a fourth place West Virginia Derby finish.
Hansen’s connections claimed they were intentionally framed by the Gennadi Dorochenko-trained rabbit Hero Of Honor. But didn’t that horse upset the Louisiana Derby showing high speed throughout?
That claim is a little embarrassing, really, and in our view Hansen had none of his usual brilliance at Mountaineer. Give him a mulligan and figure he will be on the lead in the Travers; then decide whether he wants all of 10 furlongs.
Others very deserving of being in the field is Atigun, who acquitted himself well in the Belmont, Stealcase, the victim of gate problems in the Haskell, and possibly Teeth Of The Dog, if trainer Michael Matz reasons that the Dwyer winner’s Jim Dandy was an aberration.
Meanwhile, can’t wait to see what happens when classy sprinter and surface lover Currency Swap returns in the King’s Bishop to meet the freshened Trinniberg, himself defeated last out by Fort Loudon when they clashed at 6 furlongs on Calder’s Summit Of Speed program.
Sweet Home Alabama
“The three-year-old filly division is a wide open door right now,” said Tony Dutrow, who will saddle Grace Hall, the 7-5 early line favorite for Saturday’s Alabama.
Should the Delaware Oaks winner slam that door in the face of her rivals she very well could join Proud Spell, Blind Luck and Royal Delta, fillies that went on to win the Alabama and the three-year-old filly championship.
Grace Hall is a Grade 1 Horse for Course having won the Spinaway here last year. She’ll break from post 3 beneath Javier Castellano in the field of seven.
Her main rival in the opinion of NYRA linemaker Eric Donovan is Questing, the speedy winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks. For her and for all of them, 10 furlongs appears to be the biggest obstacle.
From the July 21 Diary Entry:
“Haven’t seen many of the juvenile races this season at Belmont Park; my bad. But I saw one yesterday and witnessed a colt that might have a bright future, indeed.
The debuting colt is named Spurious Precision. Sold at the 2YO Ocala Breeders Sales this spring, the price of $105K was three times the average for offspring of High Cotton, so the chances were that he would be a looker.
Spurious Precision is a looker and a runner. More than that, he finished professionally and when he entered the circle, he filled the eye with his scope. He’s a big boy.
After bearing out a bit at the start and bumping with a rival, he took a position off the flank of Exploring, engaged from about the three-path on the turn, took command then, after shaking the competition, he drew off leaving the sixteenth pole and won by 3-1/2 lengths in a worthy 1:03.49.
Show Some Magic was a game runnerup. After surviving his bumping match at the start, he recovered nicely, stalked the leaders on the turn, set sail about 4 wide into the stretch, chased the winner briefly but could not match strides late.
If we’re correct about the winner, then this guy will find the circle in his next start; bet on it.”
Last weekend, 30 minutes after Kauai Katie romped to an impressive score, Spurious Precision came out in the Saratoga Special and trumped her.
They came out and ran relays at him. First the speedy Southern Honor from the Delaware Valley, pushing Spurious Precision through an opening gambit of :21.35.
Next came the well-meant Drum Roll, who took the baton and pushed the leader to a half mile in :44.02. I don’t care how speed favoring the surface was, those kinds of splits get horses beaten.
Instead of weakening, Alan Garcia kept driving on him, opened nearly three lengths inside the furlong pole and won in hand by five in 1:16.53.
The best part is that trainer Rick Violette is treating him like the good colt he is. He’s been put away until the Champagne and if all goes well, it will be California here he comes.
Written by John Pricci
Monday, August 13, 2012
DAY 21: Jockey Club’s Reformed Rules Slowly Making Progress
August 12, 2012—“We put a stake in the ground and said clean athletes are going to have a chance to win. A win-at-all-costs culture has taken over the system, and if you stay stagnant, the cheaters will get ahead.”
Such was the testimony of Travis T. Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that used intense investigative and educational initiatives to better protect the rights of Olympic athletes and preserve the integrity of the competition.
“Our experience can be an example for [horse racing] to bring the magic back to the sport,” Tygart said.
Racing’s problem, of course, is that no one has figured how to get the magic out
of the sport.
The presentation of the annual Jockey Club Round Table Conference was streamed online from the Gideon-Putnam Hotel here. The agenda centered on the uniformity of rules, drug testing, and research, as well as the aforementioned ideas.
Tygart’s message wasn’t anything anyone in the room hadn’t heard from within but at this time and place there’s a new urgency and while progress predictably will be slow, the sense is that this time progress will be made.
Indeed, one significant change will take place with respect to the administration of clenbuterol. Of course, the medication is approved for use in humans as a bronchodilator to treat asthma and for horses with allergic respiratory diseases.
The problem is that it can be more potent and longer-lasting as a metabolic stimulant and a metabolic stimulator. It increases aerobic capacity and stimulates the central nervous system and oxygen transporter; a poor man’s EPO?
Humans have used clenbuterol as a performance-enhancer and there are many examples in the world of sports. Jessica Hardy, an American swimmer, tested positive in the 2008 U.S. Trials and served a one-year suspension in 2008.
This year, San Francisco Giants pitcher Guillermo Mota received a 100-game suspension after testing positive for the drug a second time. Nick Roberts, a Canadian weightlifter, received a two-year penalty after a urine sample tested positive.
Clenbuterol also has been abused on the backside, although many penalties were incurred when trace elements were detected because the substance had not metabolized during the allotted withdrawal period.
The updated version of the Reformed Racing Medication Rules states that the medication cannot be administered less than 21 days before the scheduled post time for which a horse is entered to race. Previously, the Reformed Rules recommended a 10-day period.
The new set of proposed rules feature a new categorization of medications, more clearly defined regulatory limits, and dramatically remodeled penalties. The Jockey Clubs wants all racing jurisdictions to implement them in order to improve the integrity of the sport and enhance the safety of its athletes.
Another change the Jockey Club seeks is to provide guidance and a set of best practices to regulators in the administration of their furosemide programs. Of course, the Jockey Club advocates that horses race free from the influence of all medication and Lasix was the 500-pound gorilla in the room.
It also appears that the austere body seeks to deal with this hot-button issue free from as much confrontation as is possible and at a later date. Uniform Rules are Priority #1.
The Jockey Club wants racing’s stewards to work a lot harder, too, calling on the state’s regulatory bodies and the Association of Racing Commissioners International to develop and implement a rule calling for a stewards’ investigation and report of the circumstances associated with racing fatalities.
Further, it wants a more clearly defined rule that allows a claim to be voided on horses that officially finish the race but fail to return to a designated unsaddling area.
“Reformed rules would be a win/win situation for the industry,” said Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps. “It would benefit honest and rule-abiding horsemen and just as importantly would benefit the racing fan who is wagering hard-earned money on what he believes to be fair and clean competition.”
The Jockey Club believes properly that the only way the industry can market its product successfully is if it reforms its medication rules. They believe those changes are needed if the industry is to attract new fans, new owners, sponsorship, and television programming.
Racing must compare favorably with steps taken by other sports in this area, that that’s the only way the public, professional observers, and the international racing community will be reassured that American Thoroughbred racing is doing everything possible.
It also might be the only way to avoid meddlesome federal intervention.
Written by John Pricci