HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 22, 2021 – There’s an unwritten rule savvy sports bettors keep in mind when watching games to measure talent levels and exigent circumstances that account for the wins and losses:
“Teams are never as good as they look when they win, or as bad as they look when they lose.”
The reality lies somewhere in between the extremes, and the same rule applies to horseplayers who use race-watching as their primary handicapping focus. Like stakes races or surface conditions, not all Grade 1s or ground conditions are created equal.
Contextually, Mandaloun exposed himself more as a Derby pretender than top class contender, his record a product of speed, perfect trips, and favorable dynamics. Maybe even the company he’s been keeping.
But there’s another factor to consider. He likely had more than enough Derby qualifying points going in, so maybe he wasn’t wound as tightly as he needed to be. He didn’t need to win on Saturday.
Florent Geroux was hard pressed to explain: “He was a little flat today for some reason… He’s already in, but I don’t know. He was traveling great. I almost thought I had to slow him down because he was doing so good but when it was time to run, he just didn’t have it.”
The opposite was true of Hot Rod Charlie, who needed the win. He proved to be a good horse by running very well against high quality competition. In the G2 Louisiana Derby, beneath brilliant Joel Rosario handling, he showed that he belongs in the top echelon. Like Loyola-Chicago or Syracuse, he’s peaking at the right time.
Hot Rod Charlie’s track-record time of 1:55.06 is a bit dubious since 1-3/16 miles isn’t a distance they run very often down on the Bayou. Fractions of the race were :23.10, :47.04, 1:11.25 and 1:36.38, moderate but by no means slow.
Runnerup Midnight Bourbon ran good for the seventh time in seven career starts [2-2-3] but like Mandaloun, he has plenty of pedigree on paper but again was found wanting going in for the layup. Show finisher O Besos was a good third and was nearly second. He can finish up, and he’s learning how to run.
Johnny Velazquez sounded a bit like Geroux: “[Proxy] ran the same race (as the Risen Star). I thought he would be more aggressive but by the time I got to the backstretch I had to ride him. He took me to the first turn really good. When we got to the backstretch we got off the bridle. He came to the quarter-pole, then kind of flattened down the lane.”
Mike Stidham couldn’t add any more insight: “Very confusing,” the trainer added. “We’ll go back to the barn and take a look at him. The blinkers did not improve him. You could see Johnny getting after him.”
As Geroux also said, that’s what the preps are for, and so we look forward to what may or may not happen Saturday at Gulfstream Park. More answers and probably more questions, too, like who will make racing’s equivalent to the Sweet 16. The Florida Derby would be a good place to start anew.
Oaks Rivalry Score: Travel Column 2, Clairiere 1
Thus far, the tactical advantage, distance advantage and dynamics advantage have been in Travel Column’s favor. The Churchill Downs surface is a push as Travel Column, a comprehensive, margin winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks, is 2-for-2 in Louisville.
Clairiere, 1-for-2 there, was second to her rival in the Golden Rod. Next stop for both is the Kentucky Oaks.
And that’s what stepping stones are for. Clariere may hold the edge next time for two reasons. It is unlikely that Travel Column will have the pace advantage she enjoyed Saturday–no soft leads in 48.64. Further, the 9-furlong trip is more in the runner-up’s wheelhouse, and that’s what Grade 1s are for.
Life Is Cruel
“It’s nothing obvious but he cooled off a little off behind,” Bob Baffert told the Paulick Report following a Saturday morning workout. “He’s going to miss the Santa Anita Derby and we’ve got to do some tests on him. The timing is not good.”
Obviously, missing the Santa Anita Derby means Life Is Good would not be at his absolute best on May’s first Saturday, so missing the Derby is a disappointing no-brainer.
But announcing he will miss the Triple Crown and that he is scheduled to see Dr. Larry Bramlage indicates one of two things: The injury is not apparent, or it’s a little more than just a cooling out a-little-off-behind issue.
Baffert later added that he does not believe the issue to be career ending. Time, and Dr. Bramlage, will tell. There certainly was no evidence of anything untoward in the workout itself as he skipped through six furlongs in 1:11.40 and galloped out straight and strongly rounding the bend into the backstretch.