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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Maximum Security gets a final opportunity in the Cigar Mile Saturday to lock down what should have been his months ago. A victory will eradicate all questions about who is the legitimate 3-year-old champion.

Not that there should have been any. He has gotten to the wire first in seven of eight career starts, including a decisive score over older horses last time out in the Bold Ruler.

If his Kentucky Derby hadn’t been taken by the stewards—by disqualification standards everywhere but the U.S. and Canada his number would have stayed up—he would be champion by acclamation.

The only serious Eclipse challengers are Code of Honor and Omaha Beach. Both had their chances to launch a championship bid and blew them at the Breeders’ Cup.

Code of Honor, whose credit sheet has been enhanced by stewards at Churchill Downs and Belmont, didn’t show up in the Classic, running seventh. Moreover, he has faced Maximum Security twice and finished behind him twice.

Omaha Beach ran second in the BC Dirt Mile to Spun to Run, a talented horse who will get another shot at Maximum Security in the Cigar. When last they met, Spun To Run trailed Maximum Security home by almost 10 lengths in the Haskell.

Is Spun to Run a better horse now? Probably. He is unbeaten at a flat mile. Is he 10 lengths better? Unlikely.

Network Effect looked like a serious horse as a 2YO in 2018 but has had only start this year, an allowance victory. True Timber, runnerup in the Cigar a year ago, returns but he isn’t exactly a win machine. Whitmore is a late running sprinter who hasn’t proven himself beyond seven furlongs.

If there is any other threat in an otherwise moderate field, his credentials don’t jump off the page.

No 2YO leader

Thanksgiving weekend racing did little to clear up the other remaining competitive championship competitions. Instead it muddled the picture.

Tiz the Law probably could have snatched the juvenile male title with a winning performance in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes but could manage no more than a third place behind Silver Prospector. In spite of the fact the winner is on nobody’s list of championship contenders, Tiz the Law remains on top of his class in a not insignificant category. With a day to digest the implications of the KJC, Derby futures bettors made him the 11-1 individual choice for next spring’s Run for the Roses.

This might have been the best learning experience any 2-year-old got this season. It has always puzzled me how trainers of top Derby hopefuls avoid any off track preparations even though more often than not in recent years the Run for the Roses has been conducted over wet surfaces.

Interestingly, the 12-1 second choice is Dennis’s Moment, who ended his season with a BC Juvenile performance far more disappointing than Tiz the Law’s close call over a treacherously sloppy track at Churchill Downs.

The fact that the top two individuals in the Derby futures are coming off losing races is a commentary on how undistinguished the rest of the generation is at this point. If you need further evidence, the winner of the BC Juvenile, Storm the Court, closed at 41-1.

As usual, “all others” closed the even-money favorite. Maybe this year (and in the future) there should have been a proposition, “any of these 22 individuals.”

A couple of 2YO stakes on Saturday are unlikely to clarify the division rankings. The Remsen at Aqueduct lacks a clear standout with Forza Di Oro, coming off a two-turn win for Bill Mott the likely favorite. It would be imprudent to overlook Ajaaweed, coming off a fourth in the salty Breeders’ Futurity after breaking maiden handily at a mile.

No matter the result, it doesn’t figure to have any bearing on divisional rankings.

Out West, Anneau d’Or, a game second in the BC Juvenile, could enhance his status in a wide open Los Alamitos Futurity. The horse to beat is probably Bob Baffert’s High Velocity, two-for-two after a win in the Bob Hope at Del Mar. Baffert is also expected to start Thousand Words, an impressive maiden breaker, who will be the often lethal “other Baffert.”

Spa wisely stands pat

NYRA has announced the 2020 Saratoga calendar and it’s a facsimile of 2019. Racing will be conducted Wednesday through Sunday (except for the Thursday opening and Labor Day), starting July 16 and concluding on the latest possible Labor Day, Sept. 7.

This wouldn’t be news except for the fact there were conversations about transitioning to a Thursday-to-Monday regimen. A school of thought among racing people and Spa merchants was the absence of Monday racing hurt Sunday attendance and impacted area businesses in a negative way.

Don’t bet Thursday-through-Monday won’t be the case down the road. However it was probably wiser to stick with the familiar in the coming year. The earlier opening and switch to five-day weeks last season was a jarring shift. To make another significant change after only one year might have been too much change too soon.

The worm turns

How rich is this? California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been holding a sword over the head of racing, with a referendum mentioned as one of the tools to end racing in the state, is facing a petition drive recall effort of his own.

Actually, he’s facing two of them. One is organized by Erin Cruz, a Republican state legislator candidate. The other is being pushed by Dr. James Vettmeyer, a prominent San Diego physician. Both mention prominently the growing homeless crisis, which Newsom has done little to curtail, as motivations.

A million and a half votes are required to get the recall on the ballot. Even if this threshold is met, odds are strongly against success. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there have been 51 recall attempts in California history and only one, the recall of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, has achieved its goal.

Moreover, Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco is a popular figure in  California politics.

However, it would behoove any Californian in racing or who loves racing to sign the petition. The more Newsom is distracted by the potential recall, the less time he has to hassle racing.

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3 Responses

  1. Mr. Jicha,
    Dennis’s Moment BC flop was a throw out. He blew the start, how is this disappointing? Ok, disappointing to those who used him in horizontal wagers as well as win bets but you cannot hold a stumble at start a measure of greatness, or not. The horse is not going to recover from that incident and run lights out. And why should he? He lost all chance and from that point on it was just go around the track and then head back to the barn. He has bigger “fish to fry” than a win in BC Juvie. Send it in on first Saturday in May (or now at your favorite sports book). Stood behind a guy at Las Vegas Hilton who was collecting 10k on a 4-team parlay ($500.00 bet). I looked at his ticket: 1 NBA, 2 college hoops and 1 NHL. You can’t make this stuff up. Maybe he came up with Storm The Court in BC Juvenile. C’mon, DM is a very good horse and I couldn’t care less about a freak misstep at gate. S–t happens.

  2. I was not knocking Dennis’s Moment. If he stays healthy I expect a big 3YO year from him, maybe with some roses.

    I was merely observing that his BC was disappointing. I think we can agree on that.

    Fact is, horses come back from bad starts and at least compete all the time. He didn’t run a yard. Maybe the jock was protecting him.

  3. Thanks. That’s how I interpreted the race but am only guessing. Not to say BC race was unimportant but with speed ruling the day (s) it was apparent, at least to me, that once the gate opened all hope was lost. Unfortunate but not, in the words of the late Paul Harvey, “the rest of the story.”

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