Beyond picking the occasional winner, what turf writers root for most are the great stories. Saturday at Keeneland, the Blue Grass Stakes produced a great-story exacta.
Swiss Skywalker has been a revelation this season and will still go into the Kentucky Oaks a deserving favorite. The only thing the filly lost yesterday was a horse race to Art Collector, a Derby colt on the come.
Hustled along from the start by Mike Smith to gain the lead, Swiss Skywalker was pressured every step of the way but ultimately gave way a sixteenth from home, no match for garden-tripping Art Collector at the end.
Looking at her form going into Keeneland’s signature event can get a handicapper tired when they note that she began her campaign in Oldsmar FL, shipped to New Orleans LA, to Hallandale FL. to Hot Springs ARK, to Arcadia CA and finally Lexington KY.
That’s 6,404 air miles but wait, there’s more. If you count the miles between races back to the home training base, add 1,378 more miles for a grand total of 7,782 travel miles in 178 days.
That’s lot of time on the road and in the air, especially for a filly. And the point? It was OK to get a little tired inside the final furlong, and we’re taking nothing away from the winner.
Unless some other three year old filly comes along and sweeps the Grade 1/Grade 2 two-turn table (Gamine?) she already has my Eclipse vote in this category. Swiss Skywalker is one classy miss, the horse of a lifetime type.
So credit Ken McPeek for his development of the filly, and credit his guts for accepting the challenge of making history.
This does not detract from Art Collector’s performance, a colt who’s won all his starts this year and has gotten good at the perfect time.
In my mind’s eye, he’s not yet the equal of Tiz the Law or Honor A. P., but he’s entering the neighborhood. More on Art Collector in a bit.
This is more the story of his trainer, an legendary third generation horseman known only to industry insiders. Until Saturday.
In the past, if you needed a top assistant, Thomas Drury Jr. was your man; if you needed a young horse broken, you’d call Tom. If you have a runner in need of a rejuvenating layup, or a horse with a little problem, send him to Tom.
Drury has trained a few nice horses in the past but never has had one that could take him to the mountain top as this one might.
So the 2020 Blue Grass turned out to be quite the coming-out party, as Drury engineered a 3-for-3 season with a drawing away 7-furlong score, a laugh-out-loud two-turn dirt debut after find himself on the lead, prior to defeating a top class rival.
A filly? Yes. But the accomplished winner of three consecutive graded stakes while giving a five-pound head start.
And, just for the sidebar of it, Brian Hernandez Jr., who had ridden both to victory, committed to the colt in advance. One week ago the rider might have asked himself? Do I want to be, say, 10-1 in the Derby, or even money in the Oaks?
Hernandez answered that question brilliantly yesterday; the highlight of an already outstanding brief meet. And who knows? Hernandez might wind up on both Derby weekend.
Hopefully there will be time enough for McPeek to refill Swiss Skywalker’s tank and that Drury’s talented colt will suffer no roadblocks along the road to Louisville; he’s earned that.
When asked about his Derby prospects yesterday, Drury had the perfect response: “I’ve waited all my life to get here. I’m going to enjoy this one more day before I start thinking about all that.”
TVG PET PEEVE
Not going to “hammer” the network, endless equivocating and pandering notwithstanding. I appreciate the information that hosts/analysts provide. I have my loves and hates, and I’m sure they feel the same about me–hate’s 3-5 on that early line.
But I can’t condone the endless knocking of linemakers. TVG analysts are well aware of today’s condition books that go three to four class distinctions deep because the racing office needs to make races go.
Do most handicapping analysts have an idea how hard it is to match up such disparate entrants 48 to 72 hours in advance of race day? Let me answer that for you; most don’t.
Much has changed in this game since I first learned to make a line at the old Triangle Publication’s National Armstrong Daily, a.k.a. “the scratch sheet.”
It was easier then with no simulcasting, when a month layoff was a bad thing, and shippers weren’t as commonplace. “Just make sure you have the right favorite and the “book” should never exceed 120 points,” Vince Mangano scolded.
The job back in the day was more about grading the entries. The public determines what the final odds will be. The linemaker’s job was to provide an acceptable price for what horse should be–a proper value line if you will.
To balance a book of 120 percentage points–which reflects takeout and odd pennies based on actual dollars wagered–it gave oddsmakers breathing room to “balance the book” which in reality cannot exceed 100%. Different topic; different day.
When today’s linemaker makes a horse even money–even if he’s sure the horse will be 1-2 ante post in an 8-to-12 horse field, even money is 50% of the percentage allotment,” leaving only 70 points to reflect solid approximate odds on the rest.
But if the linemaker in a 10-horse field makes the favorite 1-2, worth 67 points, he only has 53 points left to set a price on the remaining nine horses.
Meeting those parameters would, on balance, be unfair to bettors because the oddsmaker is forced to set very high odds on the remainder of the field to balance or “make the book.”
Today, politics makes it almost impossible to set a line honestly. Tracks don’t want their employee to embarrass the owners and trainers who fill races by making horses 50-1 or 100-1. I know two tracks where linemakers are not allowed to exceed 30-1.
The occasional championship making race with a large field will yield a 50-1 shot–our “limit” at the Armstrong Daily–but as a rule the oddsmaker will need to save points for contenders as a betting guide for the public.
This is the true purpose of the morning line; for an expert to rate the entrants in correct order approximating post time odds, not to predict what the price will be at post time. It has become that. However, old school was better.
Even today’s algorithms don’t have it easy when it comes to setting lines at sessions such as Gulfstream’s championship meet, or Saratoga, places where horses ship in from all over.
And try making an accurate line at Kentucky Downs for a 14-horse field of young turf maidens going 6-1/2 furlongs. This is why in our analyses why we refer to the prices as an “early line.”
With 24-hour entries in the old days, the “Scratch Sheet” was not available, if memory serves, until the night before, sometimes not until the morning of.
Today’s oddsmakers don’t have the latest track conditions, or scratches, rider changes, overweights, also-eligibles that draw in, etc., etc. Television analysts can best serve their audience by passing along useful betting information.
Fans and bettors alike would appreciate it more, and it wouldn’t potentially cost track employees their jobs.
COMING TUESDAY: Around Winner’s Circles for JULY 11