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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

CLASS ON GRASS PREVAILS BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC–AND GETTING THINGS OFF MY CHEST

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 5, 2022  — On balance, most would agree that turf racing, trips notwithstanding, is more formful than dirt racing so the “best horse” most often wins.

But before getting to the best performance of Saturday, can we please stop going gaga over Emmanuel’s win in the Pennine Ridge?

Yes, Emmanuel was the most accomplished horse entering yesterday’s Grade 2 Pennine but the race proved very little; it was over virtually before it started, about a sixteenth of a mile from the barrier.

No regular observer honestly expects the top riders in New York—the deepest in America, special events notwithstanding–to commit pace suicide in furious head to head battles.

But is it too much to expect that some mild pressure be competitively applied? Either way victory would not come easily, but at least a presser would have a modicum of chance. No “best horse” can reasonably be expected to catch a high-class loose leader.

Stewards in other countries not named America question jockeys, and trainers, regarding race tactics. The actually keep a close critical eye on the form. Here? Here stewards allow blinker changes following a win!

Full disclosure: Yes, I took value against what likely would be a loose Pennine Ridge leader but did save in the exacta making a few dollars. But that isn’t the point here. When will officials proactively protect the betting interests of the public? Never mind. Given past performances that’s a rhetorical question.

DESERT STORM

Alas, no venue is perfect, but whoever thought fireworks would add to an event about to be renewed for a 243rd time–with horses on the course minutes before post time–was sadly mistaken.

But that took nothing away from the best performance seen Saturday, which came in the morning, not the afternoon. Desert Crown brought pyrotechnics of his own to display before top-hatted observers at Epsom Downs.

Ridden by a chilly and confident Richard Kingscote, Desert Crown gave the brilliant Sir Michael Stoute his sixth Darby victory. King Arthur’s boys had nothing on this legendary horseman.

Kingscote settled Desert Crown into a rhythm without incident among 16 rivals in covered-up style. When urged to rally, the colt simply willed an insurmountable lead with a good deal of ground left to run.

There’s the turn of foot one is accustomed to seeing at the end of races, not earlier moves that blow the competition away before the final stages of a stretch drive.

We are still honing our Euro race-watching skills, given the bunched-up nature of its races that often use a wide expanse of the course, some races featuring a pack on the near-side, another pack on the far-side rail, and sometimes even a third group in the middle.

It is highly doubtful we can make a case for the much troubled, well fancied Westover being best on trip dynamics. But he did fly home in the final hundred yards, nearly catching 150-1 chance Hoo Ya Mal for the place, noting that Desert Crown won with something in reserve.

Since we are a relative newcomer to foreign sport, we lack the historical perspective that comes only with experience. But it doesn’t take a genius to know what Desert Crown displayed yesterday belongs in some time-capsule category.  

Video, Video… Where Art Thou?

Is there a good reason why horseplayers and fans expect and generally get blanket coverage of Derby and Preakness workouts from their respective venues, but not from New York?

I enjoyed and found useful video of Rich Strike galloping two miles Saturday morning at Belmont Park. But Mo Donegal and Nest, two major contenders, worked in a company for a barn that has won three Belmonts. All that was shown was about a furlong’s worth of B-Roll.

Are logistical challenges and horseplayer services mutually exclusive? California, Kentucky, Florida make workout video a priority. New York is seemingly content with a whenever-we-get-to-it-approach.

In Florida–not the most progressive state in the union–there is workout video from Palm Beach Downs during its premier meet with big events looming. PBD is a private facility about an hour’s drive from Gulfstream Park. Todd Pletcher’s major string trains there. Workout video is very helpful.

PBD video does not provide blanket coverage, like XBTV provides from SoCal on a daily basis, but it sure beats a blank. We think NYRA often gets criticized unfairly, but not on this issue.

Why The Delay?

While we’re at it, the post draw for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes are now on Monday of event week, five days in advance. What makes the Belmont Stakes so special that fans must wait until Tuesday? How tough can it be filling eight other graded stakes?

We’ve been calling for an universal 72-hour entry box nationwide for several years. Fair Grounds, for instance, draws about one week in advance. With liberal scratch policies in place virtually everywhere, there’s no good reason why handicappers cannot have one more day to prepare. It’s good for business.

It’s no wonder that Kentucky and New York have been trending in opposite directions. One state takes pride in, and aggressively promotes, horse racing. The other, albeit with numerous disparate priorities, seems content to skate on past glory as racing’s undisputed leader.

Outfits and individuals have been deserting the “racing island” of Southern California within the past year for greater opportunities elsewhere, and it appears that the majority seems to believe that the future is in Kentucky, not New York.

Yes, Virginia, there is only one Saratoga. But then there’s the other 46 weeks of the racing year. The fact that Pletcher and Chad Brown, to name just two, have sizable divisions in Kentucky post-Keeneland this year has not gone unnoticed.

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2 Responses

  1. [From Indulto, via personal email]

    To be fair, JP, Santa Anita has not done as well as expected with the dates and races it inherited from Hollywood Park, but it certainly appears that horsemen and jockeys are abandoning ship on the West Coast.

    All those stakes, and so few willing or able to run in them! Will the hemorrhaging continue at Del Mar?

    Is the problem as simple as lack of “casino dole” to fuel purses, or has the combined lack of integrity and transparency continuously exhibited by the CHRB, TOC, and ST/1 finally reaped what it sowed?

    I review the SA results charts every racing day, and many of the biggest names are indeed missing. Not only are Baffert, Miller,, and Baltas absent altogether, but former luminary, Mandella, seldom starts a winner. It sometimes feels as if I’m looking at the jockey column for Golden Gate Fields!

  2. I,
    As you know, things and times change and purse money available elsewhere borders on the obscene. Interesting that Prat is killing it on this side of the country whereas Rispoli, a top rider, especially on grass, could attract enough business here.

    Well, at least Jack Sisterson has announced that he’s going back to his roots in SoCal. Lots of migration going on at this time.

    Don’t think Del Mar will be that adversely affected since most California trainers point that win, like New Yorkers do after the Belmont somewhat after the Belmont and definitely after July 4, thoughts are of Saratoga.

    Saratoga already has come up in several recent trainer quotes I’ve seen relative to future plans for a particular horse.
    With Del Mar’s ship-and-win program enhanced this year, that should help, too.

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