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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

GAUGING QUALITY OF FIRST THREE-YEAR-OLD PREP WINNERS REQUIRES MORE PERSPECTIVE

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 4, 2021 – The first prep races of the 2021 Triple Crown season came and went over the weekend. Perhaps the term should be experimental preps, performances that indicate whether or not the dream owners and trainers are chasing is a realistic one.

In that context, reviews of the performances we’ve seen or heard post-race were either a little harsh or misses the point completely.

The only horses we assumed to be going all out were those who were up against it on past performance lines going in. For them, these races were a prize unto themselves, not stepping stones to anywhere. Some had excuses, some failed miserably; that’s horse racing.

There was nothing not to like about the performances of any of the winners.

In New York, proving that he was more than a “Parx horse” was enough for Capo Kane to accomplish. and that he did, taking pressure throughout after breaking from the rail going a flat mile, and not only withstood that but shrugged off two challengers.

The Street Sense colt’s stride lengthened at the end of a final quarter-mile in a very solid 25.40. Dylan Davis brought him to the outside at headstretch, but he did drift out late after being shown the crop on his left side.

He drifted out for the third consecutive race which begs a question; is it greenness or something else? Remember when everyone said Tiz the Law was “green,” having a “lug-in tendency?”

Actually, given his retirement, as unexpectedly sudden as it was premature, maybe Tiz the Law was trying to tell us something else. Was the barn managing issues all along? Who knows? Saying as a little as possible is as much a part of horse racing as the starting gate.

I’m looking forward to his next start, the mile and-one-eighth Withers. Trainer Harold Wyner mentioned Fair Grounds as a possibility for Capo Kane, but the connections ultimately decided to take advantage of a surface that their horse likes. They kept an open mind, and we’re doing the same.

Mutasaabeq is now a stakes winner on two surfaces and his win, also at a flat mile, was workmanlike. Accomplishing what he did was not the easiest thing to do; switching surfaces and turning back to a livelier pace challenge in an elongated dirt sprint. He required urging from Luis Saez.

To our eye to looks to be more of a turf type. Saez warmed him up fairly vigorously prior to loading, efforting to put his head and body into the race. And he did just that, coming back to Saez when encouraged to do so, but also responding when encouraged to re-engage.

Through the stretch, he wore down a determined rival, getting stronger the farther he went. Interesting to see how far he will go next time. He’s from a Scat Daddy mare, and he was Downside Scenario’s first foal so she’s off to a good start. Turf or dirt, two turns would seem to be a better fit.

Will it be the Holy Bull or await the Fountain of Youth? It could be neither. Maybe he’ll stay on the trail by first stepping on a van and head north to Tampa. Nice to have options, especially this early in the season. We saw nothing negative, to the contrary in fact.

As for the only graded stakes for three-year-olds last weekend, the disappointing aspect to the victory by Life Is Good in the Sham Stakes is that it didn’t live up to the hype. Then how could it?

Too much was expected from a two-turn debut. The important thing is that he won despite not getting the sharpest of starts away from the barrier. But Mike Smith looped him around into the lead midway of the first turn, and that was that.

Life Is Good entered the stretch in hand, just as Authentic did in last year’s Sham. And just like Authentic’s Haskell, a disinterested colt tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, forcing Smith to save the colt from himself and a talented onrushing stablemate, Medina Spirit.

As Authentic benefitted from the Sham, and later from the Haskell, Life Is Good is sure to benefit from the experience.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he will separate the two next time, one will stay home and the other put on a plane. The problem for Baffert is that once again he has too many cards to shuffle, not knowing exactly how to keep them out of each other’s way. He’s been there. and has done that very well.

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8 Responses

  1. It must have been a bit painful to write about Capo Kane’s winning the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, as you comment ‘he was more than a Parx horse’; the comment exudes your distain for Parx racing and other so-called second-tier racetracks.

    Just finished ‘capping Philly races for today and, to my surprise, I like a couple platers in the eighth and ninth races (and two others in other races) that will allow me to bet a double (#7 in the 9th, and #3 in the 10th).

    You mentioned Baffert which sort of opens the door for me to broach another topic that I doubt few, if any readers of HRI commentary will know of or even care. Daily Racing Form proudly publishes trainer earnings and trainer wins under the heading : Leader board. It is unfortunate, though, that the numbers listed as money won and wins are totally bogus! Is the $20,000,000 plus won by Asmussen a truth? Is the number of wins of 422 listed for Asmussen a truth? Asmussen, according to the bible, Daily Racing Form, started 2,278 blue bloods, plodders, and low-level platers. Hmm! Possible? NO! Such a number averages out to 6.3 starters per day for a full year. How about Maker? He started 1,428 last year, averaging 3.9 starters per day. Pletcher? He started, DRF writes, 870 or 2.3 per day – a stretch, but maybe possible. And there are Baffert and Mott, who started 323 and 589, or .8 and 1.6 – these figures are probably correct. Why isn’t the person who saddles the entrant listed as the trainer?

    Why such obvious junk data from Thoroughbred racing’s bible, Daily Racing Form? How much of the past performance information is a fact, a truth or is some of the data mere belief or opinion? Take workouts. Was the plater working handily or breezing? Opinion. Did the plater actually go 47.2 for 3F handily, or 47.4? Time dependent on clocker’s eyesight and reflexes hitting the stopwatch. Opinion.

    How about the comments offered? Stumbled, blocked, went wide, shuffled, steadied, pressed, et cetera? Fact or opinion? How about the Beyer Speed Figures? Fact or opinion?

  2. WMC, I have no disdain for “Parx horses,” I was making the point that the Jerome represented a class test. Capo Kane passed with flying colors. For the record, it is my disdain for the usurious takeout rates at Parx, not the horses. All tracks run claiming races. I have absolutely no problem with that.

    When I make selections, I’m just following the money, the bettor’s money, which is greater on the higher classes than on the lower classes. I’ve mentioned this before but when a person’s mind in closed, I won’t engage repetitiously.

    You’ve mentioned mega-stables before, having divisions in different states and therefore are not training these horses. I’m not sure you understand what is involved. First let me ask: If a horse comes up with a positive finding, is the trainer of record not responsible?

    If a trainer instructs an employee, who he pays, to follow a procedure with each horse, success or failure is based on that trainer’s unique “program,” that’s what the owner is paying for, not the individual assistants, grooms or hotwalkers. The decisions are made by the trainer, who is responsible for everything.

    Finally, riddle me this hypothetical: A trainer has only one barn, say 30 horses, a perfectly reasonable number for any horseman. Do you think that trainer personally grooms, hot-walks, works-out every horse himself, brings them back to the barn, walk them until they cool out and hose them down?

    Then put each horse back in their stall, do the leg work, apply the standing bandages, prepare the feed, bring the tub into each of the 30 stalls? Then proceed to his barn office and call every owner to tell them how their horse is doing, what was accomplished that day, and thoughts on future races?

    Or does a trainer rely on the best help he can find to care for all the animals? Trainers get the money and the glory; they also get the criticism and the heat when things go wrong.

    To saddle hundreds of winners, earn millions, and get the support of owners who trust their judgment, the trainer must decide where a horse fits best; Parx or Laurel, or New York? The decision made, he will send the horse where it belongs so that the owner can earn and pay the bills. Only winning does that.

    One trainer should not have too many horses, and too many 1% owners form partnerships that effectively freeze out other wealthy individuals who have the means necessary to support a high class operation, but cannot compete at the sales vs. five-headed monsters. The mega-operations are ruining the game for everyone on every level.

    There’s plenty that’s wrong about the sport, but stats aren’t one of them.

    As social commentator Bill Maher might say, “I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true.”

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a claiming race on the turf at Tampa Bay tomorrow with a couple of horses to watch that I need to look at.

  3. You write Mr. Pricci, ‘there’s plenty that’s wrong about the sport (ugh), but stats aren’t one of them’? Well, I wrote above about stats that are bogus and based on opinion not derived from experience, observation, or science. Where is the truth?

    As to your riddle, a trainer with thirty horses, if he wants credit for the win, should be in the saddling arena with the horse he trains and required to tighten the girth, not a thousand miles away at another racetrack. And, DRF should inform its readers that much of the data in the PPs are opinions, not fact.

    Am pleased that you are looking at a claiming race at Tampa. You should spend more time with claiming races instead of the same cycle, year-after-year, of reporting on precocious three-year-old blue bloods who may race three to eight times in their life then are forgotten by all.

    Isn’t this ‘game’ for us blokes who enter a racetrack through the front entrance not the backstretch entrance about gambling, about cashing tickets; or is it about what one of the usual suspects, err trainers, have in their stable to run in some stake race that is forgotten by almost every horseplayer before the sun sets the day of the race?

  4. Please refer to post of 1:43 pm. I have nothing to add.

    Your opinion, and those of others, are always welcome to add to the discourse.

  5. I’d like to shift focus from the 3 year colts to the 3 year fillies. Last Friday at Gulfstream, Gulf Coast defeated Honorifique in the Cash Run Stakes at a flat mile running the mile in 1:37. I’m confident if they stay healthy, both fillies will have a lot to say in the 3 yo Fillies stakes division this year. Stay tuned, as we have just seen last year. From these girls; Swiss Skydiver, Gamine, Frank’s Rocket and Shedaresthedevil exciting racing and awesome performance are not limited to the boys.

  6. Excellent observation T. I allowed the fillies to fall through the cracks. I too was impressed in the moment but didn’t give it further thought. My bad; will look at those races more closely.

    I am a salmon swimming upstream and as such made Swiss Skydiver my choice for Horse of the Year 2020; so your point is definitely not lose on me…

    1. Wow that’s a ballsy HOY vote JP. My vote, after much deliberation went to Authentic. I did not want to penalize the horse because of the actions of his trainer Baffert.

  7. Tony, had written several times that I consider Authentic a clear frontrunner for Horse of the Year honors and expect him to win as the victor of the two most prestigious dirt races in America.

    But I make no apology for the choice of the filly, who is very accomplished, took on all challengers, competed at nine different tracks, a total of 8,844 van miles, won over five disparate surfaces, including, of course, a Triple Crown classic.

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