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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

DERBY’S SECOND SEASON OFF TO A FAST START SATURDAY ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 27, 2022 – If what’s past is prologue, the second half of the Derby season should be even more entertaining than the tradition-laden three-year-old fixtures of spring.

And this includes what was displayed in Saturday morning’s Irish Derby at The Curragh. Westover won in a romp, showing a devastating late turn of foot that previously was only good enough for a show finish in Surrey.

On that occasion, the 243rd renewal of the Epsom Derby, Desert Crown gave Sir Michael Stoute his sixth Epsom score with the enormously impressive Desert Crown.

Not only did Westover confirm the Epsom form, he, too, was a dominating winner, taking Europe’s most recent sophomore fixture in the same decisive manner that Desert Crown blew open the storied British classic.

Hopefully, one will show up at Keeneland on the first weekend in November, even though currently it appears that Desert Crown is the least likely of the two.

Whatever happens over there will not spoil what happens in the sophomore division here. What happened in North Randall, Ohio Saturday afternoon confirmed the form of America’s traditional classics.

The Ohio Derby exacta finishers Tawny Port and White Abarrio both competed in Louisville: Tawny Port was a tough-trip seventh but beaten only by 4-3/4 lengths.

White Abarrio, eliminated by an 8-10 wide Derby journey, conversely was in perfect position Saturday, stalking dueling leaders throughout, got first run, but was no match when Tawny Port came calling in midstretch.

Given what happened Saturday afternoon, and considering the developmental dynamics of each, it appears late developing Tawny Port would be the divisional leaders’ most challenging rival.

For now, Belmont Stakes winning Mo Donegal is the consensus leader, but Derby winner Rich Strike, deserving of another chance, is still in the conversation until proved otherwise.

Brown’s pair, Preakness winning Early Voting, and Blue Grass-winning, Derby runnerup Zandon while formidable, may be no match for the brilliance of their stablemate Jack Christopher, who has distance questions to answer.

But a three-year-old who does not, and has been all but forgotten recently, is Epicenter. Remember the colt who led the NTRA poll for nearly three months? Steve Asmussen does.

And what of the regrouping Cyberknife and Messier? Are they not capable of rejoining the elites at the top of the class?

Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath was compromised by race dynamics and made a premature run in Baltimore, but she, too, rates to be in any three-year-old conversation.

And the Belmont Stakes filly runnerup, Nest, in the end might not need to back a backseat to any of her contemporaries.

But that division also got deeper over the weekend when Gerrymander delivered on her promise, taking Saturday’s G2 Mother Goose at 1-1/16 miles.

As a half-sister to redoubtable American marathoner Lone Rock, Saratoga’s Alabama, one week before the Travers, could set the divisional championship table nicely. And if Nest shows up in this 10-furlong test, what an Alabama it will be.

Gerrymander does have a two-turn question to answer, in the manner that Juju’s Map is proven rounding a second turn but could not manage the intense pace pressure at the start of an elongated sprint.

That’s just as well for the Cox outfit that has Acorn heroine Matareya for Grade 1 one-turners up to a mile. But she, too, could run on, who knows until proven otherwise, though one suspects routes are not in her wheelhouse.

The two-turn question is less speculative in the case of Mother Goose runnerup Shahama.

A winner of the UAE Oaks this winter, her scopey frame and long stride will be much better suited to longer trips around two turns. Chasing rivals sprint-style is simply not what she’s made to do.

Either way, racing’s glamour division is deep in talent whatever the distance.

High class sophomores are everywhere in 2022, yet no clearly dominant equine has emerged–then that’s what summer and fall racing are about.

So, to paraphrase and invert an old limerick, run another verse, same as the first.

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6 Responses

  1. Tink, I don’t know where the commenters are and don’t especially care. We’ve been weathering the storm here since 2007. Little changes. Winners? Everybody wants winners. Interest in the “sport?” Not so much.

    What I write is for the relative few that still have an interest, and for my Twitter followers, of which there are 2,700 at one address and nearly 500 at another.

    I love what I do and am lucky to have something that keeps me relatively sane in this fucked-up and, at present, near fascistic society.

    I must say that throughout my entire Catholic grammar, high school, and college education, I never saw America 2022 coming. I’m sure no one did.

    But I’m at a loss as to your question. Our Saturday analysis of featured horizontal-wager races, generally stakes, has grown significantly since the Triple Crown prep season began this winter.

    Interestingly, however, there has not been much back and forth at all, positive or negative, which is strange. But it is what it is and we soldier on. I do the work for my gambling self and post those ideas.

    HRI will continue to do so as a service to our fellow rank and file horseplayers and continue to hold industry feet to fires when that’s called for.

  2. Thanks John. Like most in the industry, passion fuels your involvement in the sport, and I’m glad to hear that you still love it. Having cut my teeth in the ’70s, and, probably like you, having greatly enjoyed the late stage of the Golden Era of the game, I can’t say that I still have the same passion for it today. The high concentration of better horses in so few hands has, in my view, been particularly damaging, as has the culture of high-tech cheating. Add to that the profound shift from breeding to race, to breeding sell, and you have a toxic cocktail that has degraded the game significantly for most participants.

    That’s not to say that I don’t still appreciate individual people and horses, but the sport has been managed so poorly in the U.S. for the past ~40 years that it bears little resemblance to the one that I fell in love with in the ’70s.

    I was for many years focussed on betting, but haven’t been for a long time now. I’m sure that your related writings and musings are appreciated by many readers, irrespective of whether they choose to comment.

    As to America today, I have long said that racing is, in many ways, a microcosm of broader American society. I don’t think that anyone could have specifically predicted what the country is like in 2022, but the path to such extreme concentration of wealth and power – and its deleterious consequences – was foreseeable. Politically, it was also, I would argue, easy to see soon after 9/11 that there would be serious trouble ahead.

    We are, unfortunately, witnessing the collapse of an empire, and as is always the case, the average citizen will likely bear the largest brunt of the associated fall-out.

    I’m a personal optimist, but also consider myself to be a realist, and I frankly see no way that life in the U.S. will become better before it gets much worse. Forget about voting Democrat or Republican. George Carlin correctly called out that illusion of choice decades ago. There is literally going to have to be some kind of revolution to change the trajectory, as no political candidate who is serious about upsetting the status quo will be allowed to hold a high office.

    And on that cheery note, I wish you a good and profitable summer!

  3. Crazed, busy day. Will react appropriately when I get a minute, thanks.

    But I did read your first graph. We are simpatico.

    Later… JP

  4. I will comment more frequently when Saratoga and Del Mar are in full swing. I do not have much to say about Assiniboia (watching their free live video as I type this).

    The option for each of the 50 states to legalize sports betting has flooded the gambling market with product that cannot be matched by horse racing. More free video and data could help, but I do not expect the industry to give up sources of revenue, no matter how meager.

  5. Dan, your thoughts are fuel for a future column. Off the top, we agree.

    Tink, will get back at promised–another day, another doctor’s visit…

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