By Keith Pettyjohn — When you have a horse with a particular running style, it is imperative that the jockey ride the horse according to that running style.
I have written about this several times with regard to Serengeti Empress and we have all seen the results since the connections committed her to racing out on the front end in elongated sprint races.
There is another horse I have mentioned before; Venetian Harbor in the Grade 1 Test Stakes in August at Saratoga.
Joel Rosario’s pre-race instructions were to have Venetian Harbor out on the front end. But he chose to rate her just off of the flank of Gamine. This resulted not only in defeat but one of the poorest efforts from her this year. A breakdown of her last four races:
On May 1, she ran second to eventual Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. She earned a Class-Based Performance Figure of 90 against an B rated field in that race.
In her next start, the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, she finished second to Speech and earned a 94 Performance Rating against an A- field group, improving her Performance Figure by 4 points.
In both of those races, she was on the lead and still able to run a very respectable figure against solid competition. Things went differently in the Test. She was not sent to the lead and finished second, beaten by seven lengths.
And it showed as her Performance Figure dipped to an 81 against that B-rated field. After that race many were critical of the ride she was given that took her out of her best game.
I expressed that it would probably cost the jockey the mount next time and it did. That brings us to last weekend’s Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland.
Manny Franco was the new pilot and as instructed, he sent Venetian Harbor to the front. She was able to dictate the pace and have things her own way.
That, and some tough luck for a few of her speedy rivals, allowed her to get comfortable and left enough in the tank to hold off the late closing Finite for the win.
It all resulted in a new lifetime best Performance Rating of 99 against A- competition.
Trainers must figure out what the best running style for their horses, what distance they prefer, the surface they like, etc., etc.
As handicappers we must look at how each race shapes up to determine whether the horse in question has enough speed and stamina to make the distance and to compete at a particular level.
Will the horse’s running style be compromised by the competition and race shape, making the runner a bet-against?
Obviously there are a ton of other factors to be explored, but I just wanted to touch on a couple of them here. The best part of this game is when all of the pieces of the puzzle come together.
Graded Stakes Rankings Oct 12th – Oct 18th
A: Sycamore Stakes.
A- Knickerbocker; Nearctic; Northern Dancer; Raven Run.
B+ Autumn Miss; EP Taylor; Hill Prince; Twilight Derby; Valley View.
B: Dowager Stakes
Class-Based Performance Figures, OCT 12 – OCT 18
Red Knight 103
Devamani 99; Venetian Harbor 99
Say The Word 97
Smooth Like Strait 96
Get Smokin 93; Stunning Sky 93
Warren’s Showtime 91
Blame Debbie 88