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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


So, how was your Belmont Day? Mine was fine, thank you. I was safe and warm, wasn’t even in LA, and happy not to be hailing cabs in the rain on Hempstead Turnpike Saturday evening, with or without curfew.

Honestly, I think that the racing and the horses that competed yesterday from coast to coast as every bit the equal of what a Belmont stakes-laden would have given that card a run for its money.

Here were some of the tremendous highlights, listed in a personally prejudicial order of favorite scenes as provided by some really top notch racehorses, both former and would-be champions:

But don’t ask me to rate the top performance of the day–there were so many to choose from. That doesn’t stop the HRI Faithful from weighing in with theirs, so have at it if its important to you.

Honor A. P. was worth the wait, wasn’t he? John Shirreffs finally got him to where he needed to be–such a great old-school horseman–and his magnificent beast delivered in the storied Santa Anita Derby.

Did he have the table set for him? Of course, but then you still have to perform and he did. Ridden confidentally by Mike Smith, he looked the part of a winner once Authentic was hung out wide, the team swooping the group at headstretch.

He lengthened stride as he reached the finish post in 1:48.97 as he he was looking for the 10th furlong. If all goes well, he’ll get that chance on SEP 5. He’s in any conversation on which member of this deep and talented sophomore class is best.

Could it be that after all the accolades for Swiss Skydiver pre-Santa Anita Oaks, she was being underrated? Agreed, it wasn’t a stellar field she handled, but Mike Smith, handling her as if she was much the best, took it to his three rivals from the jump.

Her four lifetime victories have come over different tracks beneath four different riders. Like the man in that auto-repair insurance commercial asks, “who does that?”

She completed 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.20 and “really wants to go farther,” her trainer said.

The divisional leader, that’s who, but she could be even more than that, closing in on “one of the ones” territory with each victory. With her versatility, anything’s possible. She probably makes Ken McPeek a little nervous–in a good way, of course.

Improbable finally delivered the kind of performance he had been promising throughout his enigmatic career, putting it all together in the Hollywood Gold Cup with the aid of a good setup. (Ever notice how often the best horse works out the best trip)?

He easily stalked a longshot throughout at a very moderate tempo and exploded when allowed to run approaching headstretch.

In front after a mile in 1:36.26, he raced the final quarter in a highly respectable 25.43, winning with some energy in reserve by 3-1/4 lengths. “He’s only going to get better,” trainer Baffert promised.

Can you believe that Cezanne was 18-1 in the Derby Futures before his first start yesterday? Must be all those sports bettors that don’t understand horse odds.

Anyway, I thought it was a very good debut. Agreed that it wasn’t impressive given all that hype, but there were several things to like:

He won, running to his good looks and obscene purchase price, getting a great education from between-horses speed battle, probably forced to move sooner than all connections had hoped. But wait, there’s more.

Classy response to repel sweeping rival at headstretch; hybrid 6-1/2 furlong debut a trying trip and, finally, lengthened stride racing through the wire as if wanting more ground, just as HAP would do, after getting no breathers. May justify $3.6M tab yet.

Before heading East, a quick stopover in the Midwest. How quick? Would you believe 1:07.67, which was as long as it took Volatile to reach the finish line in Churchill’s Aristedes.

If anything was more impressive than his winning margin–earning consecutive victories by a combined 15-1/2 lengths–it was his turn of foot at headstretch. For an instant, it looked like it might be a battle. I blinked, and he was three in front.

What a good coincidence that track maintenance harrowed the sealed, wet Belmont surface prior to the G3 Westchester just in time for the return of late-finishing, almost-2019-three-year-old champion Code of Honor.

Unfortunately the skies opened, the track was down-graded to sloppy and, having been opened up, it needed to be squeegeed but the damage had been done and with more rain was very wet the rest of the day.

The bottom line is that Code of Honor, ridden smartly and confidently by Johnny Velazquez, was fresh and relatively close, swept into contention and confidently wore down the leader, Endorsed, who slipped through on the fence.

It was a great race to build on and Shug McGaughey has made it clear he has two primary goals; the Whitney at Saratoga and Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. With steady development and now a four year-old, he could get that 2020 championship.

Many fans, disappointed with her last year, have been awaiting the four-year-old debut of Newspaperofrecord. With a little help from a soggy course, she ran the G3 Interborough fillies off their feet but had to work hard early to do so. Grade 1s next.

Not long after Volatile did his thing in Kentucky, here comes Vekoma to blow out a terrific sprint field in the seven furlong G1 Carter, skipping over the slop in 1:21.02 and winning by a widening 7-1/4 lengths. Terrific preparation by George Weaver.

The four year old is a star in the making and rates to be a major player in the sprint division up to one mile. While the race comes up relatively quickly given the effort, Weaver said he is considering the Met Mile. Talent indicates that he belongs.

And now, this: At a place called Laurel Brown Racetrack, yesterday’s ‘Eye On Corona Virus Futurity’ was won by a filly over colts named, wait for it … Political Bedlam. For real, saw the chart on Twitter, courtesy of TVG’s Mike Joyce.

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21 Responses

  1. Kenny McPeek sure has a magical relate with fillies under his care. All runners for that matter. Superb Trainer is so often over looked. Thinking he has a touch of Horse Whisperer in his DNA and am always confident in his abilities when taking on the High(est) Echeleon trainers of the sport. Had to dial up Echeleon with all the mud at Sandy yesterday. Thinking he got the call over Personality when the track turned up off. Trivia Question: Trainer was Max …….?

    If you were on Hempstead Tpke Elmont late afternoon yesterday, you would have traded an Uber for a boat. I was on Jericho, and my wife and I waited it out in a parking lot. Raining Donkeys and Elephants it was. Donkeys were wearing mud calks. Lol.

    1. McD,

      Thank God mud caulks are not illegal… but still on turf, even turn-downs can’t be severe. Then what am I talking about, you know that.
      Personality? Jacobs, not Hirsch, right?

  2. Honor A.P. was wonderful yesterday – and he’s only going to get better. The great thing about him is that he’s got speed and he’s tractable. Yesterday he was able to run from off the pace, but if necessary, Mike Smith could have kept him closer. I love that long, beautiful stride of his….and I just really love watching him run. MS said he had a hard time pulling him up – not news if you’ve seen him work. The longer, the better for this big boy…..

    Regarding Mind Control (from the previous post) – apparently he just did not handle the track. That would explain it as he’s much better than that. He’ll make up for it next out.

    I like Code of Honor a lot – I missed the race, but he’s going to have a big year. If only I could Google Honor Code without tons of info on Cod of Honor popping up, lol.

    1. Betsy, go into YouTube and type – Code of Honor Belmont Westchester – and up pops the replay.

      1. Love the HRI Faithful, always with a helping hand. And call up Swiss Skywalker if you didn’t see her, several of her races because Saturday was much of a test in a short field.

    2. Cod of Honor, is that some kind of recipe?

      The horses I will vote 1-2 in this week’s NTRA Poll are Tiz the Law and Honor A.P., who definitely is in the right hands.

      And forgot, this was really for McD: McP is great with fillies, as we’ve noted many times. But it may turn out this filly could even make me look good. So honest; keep waiting for clunker that never seems to come, good luck to both.

      Mind Control has handled slop before, not necessarily loving it but handling. But what the hell was that? Aragona was right and so were the people who did NOT bet. Even if it were a prep, what do you get from that? Hope all is well with him.

      1. Cod of Honor? LOL it sounds like that fish you see people put on wood plaque and hang in their house, lol

        I guess any horse is entitled to throw in a clunker, but you’re right – MC likely got little from the race.

        Richard, thanks! I did see the race- he looked good, at a distance well short of his best.

        Shug has a 3 year old running on Thursday (please, let the rain hold off) named Creed that I think could be good. John he’s the one I mentioned some weeks back. He’s getting to stretch out to 1 1/16, which should help him a great deal.

        1. Betsy, you’re welcome. YouTube is a great tool when it comes to seeing these replays. Slightly off topic, but I’ll pass along two other historical ones – Slambino Saratoga and Ready’s Echo Saratoga. Spoiling the surprise, Slambino closed from far out of it in last and was an 88-1 winner. Ready’s Echo was 25 lengths behind the field and finished like a freight train from a totally impossible spot for 2nd in a 5 1/2 Furlong MSW race. Replays are commonly used to identify potential winners running today but these two are simply too good to keep for myself.

          1. Richard, actually remember the Ready’s Echo race, wow!

            You Tube is what we use here when highlighting races from Tampa Bay Downs and Laurel Park.

            My IT person takes the races off You Tube — only after securing permission from the tracks — to save the readers a little time and highlight potential winners off races that are pivotal to today’s conditions.

            We see it as a teaching tool in trip handicapping and with some luck, winning tool. That’s good advice you gave Betsy, thanks from HRI…

          2. It’s a good thing for replays, Richard – not just because it allows us to watch older races we never before, but because they can put a lie to the chart caller, lol. For instance, a colt I’ve been following ran in the War Chant stakes at CD on 5/23. He’d been off for many months, and since his trainer had said that the mile was too short and he probably needed a race, I just wanted him to run well. Well, he was pretty much blocked the entire final furlong or two of the race, but he still put in a rally so that, while finishing 9th, he was only beaten about 6 lengths. If you look at the chart, it just says something like “put in a mild rally”. When handicapping the race, that is what the form will say – which is totally misleading. I know that multiple handicappers noticed the discrepancy between the chart and the actual race ,so hopefully if they post as such on Twitter, people betting the race will take notice.

        2. Will check out Creed, Bets, thanks for heads up.

          I might have been a little too harsh on MC. There was a note that Johnny said he was spinning his wheels. Good news is he came back well and will [point to the G1 Vanderbilt in Saratoga.

          1. You’re welcome, John! I’m not sure what number his debut got – I’m guessing it wasn’t anything “WOW”, but it was Tampa, it is Shug, and he did have trouble.

            It’s funny, but I had been wondering where all the straight 3 year old maiden races were…I see a lot of 3 and up now. I wonder if that’s because there was so little racing for the first half of the year that NYRA just wants to combine the 3 year old maidens with 4 and up so as to allow them more room for other types of races.

            Yeah, that race was just too bad to be true; Mind Control never runs a bad race ……..just one of those bad days, sadly. At least he came back well – that’s not always the case, so I’m thankful for that.

          2. Bets, Generally, I have seen a number of races for 3’s and up over the years, beginning in late April–you get the weight allowances and you take your chances. My posit is that talent will win out, but when comparing horses of equal abilities, think 4’s have edge over 3’s until we get into fall when I think reverse becomes true.

            BTW: Your trip example is why we created the video feature for Laurel and Tampa; trips are in the eye of the beholder. Obvious ones are over-bet and don’t win enough given short prices; subtle trips take more practice and patience but the extra time can pay off well. Wish I had more time.

  3. Maybe half right on the Hirsch trivia credit. I was thinking Max Hirsch had trained Personality, but it was first name Hirsch, Hirsch Jabobs who had him. The last name Hirsch, Max Hirsch, trained Assault.

  4. From memory, McD, Warren Mehrtens who rode, and might have been an apprentice, or a least as young as Georgie Martens when he won the Belmont for Luis Barrera. Both of them; really sweet gentlemen…

  5. Talking about the “as least as young”, I’ll go all in with Cowboy Jack. Not even old enough for working papers when he won the Preakness. Working papers? When I started my journey into indentured servitude, I could only find employment delivering The Tablet on Sunday mornings. Tips were awful delivering “The Legion of Decency” once a week. At that young age by the way, can’t speak for the girls, but the boys would look at the Tablet movie ratings for what movie they should be trying to sneak into. Two bucks says even Loughlin Lohn Boy gave it a look once or twice. “Bless me Father, It’s Broadway again ……. Three Hail Mary’s and Three Our Father’s kid. Next in line” Lol.

    Newsday and the L.I. Press wouldn’t hire me. “You’re too young kid.” Alas, not much money to be had delivering the Tablet on Sunday mornings. My oldest brother Bill (RIP Willie) told me to “never ever collect for any paper on Sunday mornings”. He advised to “Wait and collect on Friday nights when the Dads are home.” He added “Tips are always best if you wait for the Dads to get home, and wait until they have had a beer or two.”

    Turning to the racing pages to see whom Pricci likes today. Wait until three minutes to post when he has a beer in hand. Prices always best if you know he has his money in. Lol. Two minutes to post, peek at the board for the odds, and then hit the AWD. See you at the cashiers window.

    1. You could be right that Cowboy Jack was younger when he won his classic than Martens was when he won his.

      As for the tips, back in the day Fridays were almost always pay day, right?

  6. The Big Four of a fortnight ago is now a Big One.
    In another example of major players having no respect for the sport, Maxfield is skipping the Belmont. Disrupted schedule notwithstanding, it is a jewel of the Triple Crown.
    Instead he’ll go in the rescheduled Blue Grass, where he’ll probably be 1-9.
    With Baffert’s triumvirate also out, and Honor AP looking further down the road for a race in which he’ll be 1-9, the Belmont is reduced to a virtual walkover for Tiz the Law, another likely 1-9 shot.
    We can only hope they’ll all deign to show up on Sept. 5 but as events of the past week show, who knows if they’ll all still be in one piece by then.

    1. Well of course that’s the game and fingers crossed always part of it. Yes, Tiz the Law will be a worthy heavy favorite but they still have to run around the track. Interesting to see whether that Casse horse that freaked will come back in and Pneumatic, if he runs, was a good third to Maxfield after doing the dirty work in the Matt Winn. Not always as easy as it looks on paper. Authentic looked unbeatable, until he wasn’t…

  7. At 1-9, pass the race, any race, one exception. Sometimes go with a Waya wager. Bet two bucks on the 2nd and 3rd choices in the show pool, and hope the bridge jumpers go bust. I was at Belmont the day Waya paid $8 to win and $56 and change to show. I had a 3-1 ticket on the second choice, and went back up to the windows when I noticed the money going down in the show pool. I can’t remember the odds on name that day, but the strategy has worked several times since.

    If the favorite comes in, you still have two shots at getting your money back, and a live shot at getting a good score if he or she finishes out of the money. Never ever bet the 1-9 or 1-5 to win. Instead of passing always look to the show pool. Maybe the computer guys have changed their algo’s, but give it a shot and check the show pools late. Only takes a click with the keyboard at post if the $$$ is way out of synch. People get stupid in big races at times. Think like like Forest. S### happens.

  8. Yeah, it’s a good wise guy move to bet remainder of field in a heavy minus show pool. Most times you lose a little, but when you win you do get rewarded many, many times over.

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