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.