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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 14, 2021 —  If anyone thinks that what transpired on several racetracks Saturday, particularly the one in New Orleans means anything, is a portent for the rest of the reason, take a minute. I say this knowing I must remember to keep my own counsel.

But, damn, there some really good horses and great racing on display yesterday and that posit does not require further qualification.

Two divisions of the glamour variety, i.e. three-year-old colts of either sex, appear very strong and the dearth of handicap horses, which seemed so pronounced at Pegasus time last month, Knicks Go notwithstanding, got a big, apparently healthy player Saturday.

Thus far and until we wee more, only the grass division lacks clear definition, the very earnest turf sprinter Leinster a notable exception at Gulfstream Park. But until then my fellow horseplayers, Happy Valentine’s Day!

In sum, the three-year-old colts were good, the three-year-old fillies better, and the handicap division may have found its next star. And even the I-hardly-ever-notice EL Camino Real Derby turned out to be a wowzer.

First let’s note that Mandaloun delivered, atoning for his LeComte floparoo. What a difference a month of three-year-old winter development and a set of blinkers can make. But form held as the LeComte trifecta finish was repeated–albeit inverted.

A perfect ride and perfect trip didn’t hurt. Then, of course, you still have to win.

Note to race watchers: Perfect trips are only negative things when in the process of separating one competitor from another when next they meet. Otherwise, perfect trips are commendable because a horse and rider put themselves in position to get one then, as stated, make sure you win baby.

Runnerup Proxy was also very good, too, once again flattering the LeComte runners, enjoying a perfect trip beneath Johnny, the perfect trip ace. He seemed to get caught in a bit of turbulence with a half-mile to go, then rallied very nicely despite the loss of stretch ground.

The takeaway from the Risen Star is that nine furlongs was not too far for the exacta finishers, with Mandaloun winning more cleverly than it would appear at first blush. The final sixteenth of 12.89 was rock solid.

Mandaloun’s star, indeed, may be rising. The 50 Derby points all but assures him a stall in the Churchill Downs starting gate.

Don’t mean to prematurely jump on a rivalry bandwagon but Clairiere and Travel Column may have something going on here, splitting a pair of recent exacta finishes, both running very well in the Kentucky Oaks harbinger-making Rachel Alexandra Stakes.

Note to race watchers II: Both riders, Florent Geroux on the runnerup, and Joe Talamo aboard the Stonestreet filly, rode excellent races, Talamo just a little more brilliant and undeniably ballsy.

What might have been lost on some observers is that the result might have been a little more foregone had they inwardly and presciently opined that Clairiere only needed to get outside her rival in order to emerge the winner.

Had Clairiere remained on the fence, the result likely would have been reversed. That’s conjecture, of course, but either way, it feeds anticipation of their next meeting now that both ladies have the conditioning needed to take the next step as equals.

Meanwhile, the El Camino Real was an afterthought in the manner the Preakness is without the Derby winner. Rombauer wanted to get away from the SoCal Baffert-trained heavy-heads so went north to Golden Gate Fields where victory would show that this tack made sense for the individual as well.

One hears the phrase “giant strides” often, but never was the term more meaningful than in this case. Rombauer’s action was a thing of beauty after his late rally carried him–with a little help from angling 119-1 Governor’s Party immediately to his inside–into the 6-path at headstretch.

And wasn’t the filly, Javanica, in receipt of four pounds and getting first run, something to behold through the lane, requiring Rombauer to dig down deep for the neck victory?

Regardless of margin, it was a prescient move by trainer Michael McCarthy, to pick up a $60,000 winner’s share for his owners, 10 Derby points, and a free ride into the Preakness if Triple Crown nominated.

Taking It to the Max

Finally, now that he’s had two closely scheduled races for the first time in an undefeated five-race career, it’s fair to call star-crossed Maxfield, well, a star, such was his Mineshaft-like dominance in the Fair Grounds’ featured Grade 3 for older horses.

It’s not necessarily the measure of the competition he handled, but the manner in which he handled them. When he returned a bit fresh in his recent comebacker, it showed as he raced a bit closer to the early pace than was anticipated.

But in the Mineshaft, it was more like “what the hell is Florent doing?” as the four-year-old lost contact with the pacesetter soon entering the run down the back while racing wide.

Only briefly thereafter did it come to mind that Geroux was riding with disdainful I’ll-press-the-button-whenever-I-please confidence.

When he finally asked, of course, Maxfield was in the thick of the race instantly, but only briefly as the colt flicked away his competition soon after entering the straight.

In a broader handicap-class context, it will be interesting to see how much Knicks Go and Charlatan take out of each other in the Human Rights Abuses Cup in the Saudi desert next weekend.

There is no denying the quality and the brilliance of either one as 2021 plays itself out until November, and it’s great fun to ponder that future.

The one element I think I do know is who I will want when they all get together at a mile and quarter.

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12 Responses

  1. Maxfield is a beast. One of the widest racehorses I’ve ever seen. With the way the track was playing early on, I wonder if that slow start would have been disastrous had this been race 3 on the card. I also wonder, as he now races against older in tougher and tougher fields, when his propensity for lagging breaks will come in a field that is too tough to overcome. If Hidden Scroll takes a step forward next out vs his usual return to drama, I think he and Maxfield could be the start of a very interesting and potentially deep Met Mile field.

    1. Don’t know what to do with Hidden Scroll yet, Doc, we shall see. I know about exigent circumstances but he had disappointed before.
      Good point re Max’s propensity for stutter step starts. Several things, he can grown out of that, or be taught, or that will change with maturity, or he’s go good it won’t matter going a distance of ground. Fun to ponder…

  2. Human Rights Abuses (HRA) Cup???

    Before we get carried away complaining about journalist Kashoggi’s demise, perhaps we should make sure there will be no more George Floyd type encounters with government representatives here.

    Is a drive-by all we get at HRI without some ideas for challenging the world’s billionaire horse owners’ willingness to honor a “bloodthirsty” regime that has also long-played a prominent role in enabling climate change and triggering ecological disasters?

    To me, the most suitable moniker is the Fraud-E Cup. The “E” is for “Enterprise.”

    A) On the eve of the 2021 renewal, the winner’s share of the 2020 purse has still not been paid, ostensibly because the winning horse — invited by the Saudis – may have been given some undetectable PED which has not been proven, and probably never will world be. In the meantime, the show went on to the collective benefit of the Saudi regime minus a $10 million expense.

    B) The financial torture of jockeys by stewards independently of other connections who benefit from the jockey’s alleged violation(s) is not reasonable. Sadly, this practice has been exported to this country; most notably within the liberal confines of the state of California to the delight if not demand of animal rights activists.

    C) The most prestigious dirt races in the world including the BC Classic, Kentucky Derby, and Dubai World Cup, are contested at 10 furlongs, not 9. That the world’s largest purse does not reward the display of stamina and sustained speed demanded of true champions demeans the event, and insults the racing community the Saudis wants to embrace them.

    The full 2020 purse should be distributed prior to the next running of the race. Owners and trainers should share the responsibility for all their rider’s alleged violations. The 2022 renewal should be run at 10 furlongs.

    I feel compelled to also counter the Thumper’s mother-like approach to post-race evaluations here, i.e., “If you can’t say anything nice [about a racehorse’s performance], don’t say anything at all!” LOL

    Any additional Arazi-like” moves from Senor Buscador may require a return to Remington Park where his Derby prep win was a “pointless” exercise as he ran WITH Lasix while his significant competition did NOT.

  3. I, appreciate the poison apples to poison oranges analogy. Injustice is injustice everywhere…
    Agree that without proof, owner of last year’s 911 Cup (like that any better?) should be paid their money. Then again, what does proof have to do with innocence or guilt?
    It wasn’t Senor’s lack of Lasix, I don’t believe; I think it was more about the quality of the competition and the difference between a two- turn mile and a two-turn 9 furlongs. Either way, he’s better than that. You may want to revisit the Rem Park Mile, or not. It’s not always about the Derby…
    Agree with the 10 furlongs vs 9 furlongs disparity for determining class and performance levels–especially for that kind of money. If you recall, I pushed for the idea that the Pegasus should be lengthened to 1-3/16 miles. But when tracks think about carding races at longer that 9 furlongs, they think about field size and decide to lower the degree of difficulty in the interests of commerce…
    Finally, I get the Thumper reference, just not sure I understand the point.

    1. JP,
      I don’t like 911 Cup either, but at least it fosters more egregious memories.

      Any jockey that goes there without a signed agreement that all earning connections to his mount at least proportionally bear the cost of any fines imposed is naive.
      I won’t be surprised to see some other example of uncivilized unfairness unveiled in the scramble for oil-soaked dollars in the desert.

      1. I, They have oil-soaked dollars and we have 400,000,000 guns for 300,000,000 people. Don’t know what anything means at the moment, and might never. Just venting, it’s a dark day for me–yes, I realize there’s racing. Prepared to look at Tampa Bay for WED now. Enjoy your day…

  4. Indy, The best that I can come up with in support of your challenge is to abstain from participating. Maybe HRI might do the same. The best form of expressing my feelings of angst, anxiety and dread, regarding the despicable human conditions around the earth and the state of the world in general, climate change front and center, maybe our best way of “challenging the world’s billionaire horse owners’ willingness to honor a “bloodthirsty” regime that has also long-played a prominent role in enabling climate change and triggering ecological disaster” is simply not to wager on the event. Shame on any and all American interests for participating in any way. That goes for all AWD’s as well. Take a stand and tell the Saudi’s to pound sand. Now here’s a challenge…how’s about all participating go buck themselves. No Riders Up this time.

    Sixty minutes had a compelling report on the global warming issue last night. Bill Gates presented the case concerning a thirty year window for us to adapt to new ways of living and respecting the climate, or life itself will be endangered. Looking at global migrations due to climate and starvation. Most of us will not be around for any of it, but we owe it to our decedents to support a realistic change now. Electric vehicles and plant based foods are a start. Keep on fighting the good fight Iman. As Cousin Vinny says, “Let’s go get some bad guys.”

    1. Will do you one better, McD. I don’t intend to look at the PPs until after the race!

      I’ll watch the race for future races because it’s what I do and of course I need to see Charlatan v. Knicks Go, Bob v Brad, the Magilla in Megiddo, wherever, whatever…

  5. McD,
    Thanks for lending a sympathetic ear.

    My involvement in the boycotts over takeout have taught me a few things:
    1) Not enough bettors who make large wagers are likely to ignore their own self-interests long enough to bring their collective financial strength to bear unless the issue negatively impacts them directly.
    2) Not betting races in which one has a compelling interest can be self-defeating.

    While I still boycott non-BC day races at Keeneland as a private protest, I continue to handicap, wager on, and watch the Bluegrass.

    I’ll similarly ignore the remainder of the card, but I will handicap the Fraud-E Cup in advance, and if something should leap off the PPs at me with the potential to pass Charlatan and/or Knicks Go in the stretch at a price, I will indeed play the race.

    Laurel’s recently cancelled multiple-stakes Card now scheduled for the same day just doesn’t excite me, but there’s still the Razorback and Southwest on Sunday to warrant letting the moths in my wallet escape. LOL

    I’m sure glad I got up early to watch Arrogate come from last to catch Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup a few years ago. The Pandemic proved how easily it can all just be taken away.

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