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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Rachel Alexandra (#3) beat older males in the 2009 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.
photo: Toni Pricci

In recognition of the adage, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” let’s get back to talking about horse racing. The temperature at Saratoga isn’t supposed to exceed 88 this weekend, so barring a plague of locusts or frogs, we can eagerly anticipate some great racing.

I’m particularly excited because Saturday will be my first day this year at the Spa. I’ll be reporting from there the next couple of weeks.

Arguably, the best horse in training (at least up to a mile), Mitole, will head the six furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt. The way he’s dominated in seven straight wins, highlighted by his triumph over the best field assembled in America this year in the Met Mile, it’s a wonder anyone still wants to test him, especially at a sprint distance. But a couple of well credentialed challengers, Imperial Hint and Firenze Fire as well as up and coming Strike Power are taking a shot. Then again, it is a Grade 1, so lesser placings matter.

I can’t see how Mitole gets beat but if I get involved in exactas, Firenze Fire will be prominent because of the Jason Servis factor. Anyone else notice how Maximum Security looked to be in trouble in mid-stretch of the Haskell only to find  another gear and draw away, an act we’ve seen so many times from Servis horses?

As long as we’re on the subject, the Jorge Navarro-trained War Story did the same thing in the Monmouth Cup. It’s uncanny how these two trainers do things, especially at Monmouth, that aren’t seen from horses coming out of other barns.

Saturday’s nominal feature, the Jim Dandy, is ostensibly a Grade 2 prep for the Travers but even with only six entrants it’s as Solid a 3-year-old race as we’ve seen since the first Saturday in May. Preakness hero War of Will, who deserves some kind of award for dancing all the dances, brings his WoW factor to a field that also includes Wood Memorial winner and Belmont runner-up Tacitus.

Peter Pan winner Global Campaign, beaten only once in his career, will give them all they want. His immediate victim in the Peter Pan, Sir Winston, came back to win the Belmont. At the likely prices, he’s the value horse.

If you listen to Danny Gargan, don’t go to sleep on Tax. The winner of the Withers and runner-up in the Wood has been training up a storm, according to the trainer. In spite of Gargan’s enthusiasm, I feel Tax is a touch behind the best of his generation.

Unfortunately, Code of Honor, placed second in the Derby, is sitting this one out, supposedly to await the Travers. It’s not as if he’s overworked. He skipped the Preakness and Belmont and has had only one start since Derby Day, against an overmatched field in the Dwyer. It appears Shug McGaughey, a great trainer who knows when to hold them and when to fold them, is doing everything he can to spot Code of Honor to protect his reputation.

Getting back to Maximum Security, there is no certainty we’ll see him in the Midsummer Derby. The day after the  Haskell, Servis started hedging about how tough a race it was and how his horse was really knocked out.

A $1.25 million piece is incentive enough to get any horse into the starting gate but there are defensible reasons for Servis to keep Maximum Security in the barn. At this point, Maximum Security might have done enough to capture the 3-year-old Eclipse. He’s won two Grade 1 races and finished first in three, including the granddaddy of them all. No one else has more than one. You have to think one of his contemporaries would have to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to overtake him for divisional honors.

What’s more, Maximum Security’s owners Gary and Mary West has Eclipse juvenile champion Game Winner coming East for the Travers  off a facile win in the Los Al Derby. Even though it came against inferior competition, he’ll be no worse than second choice to take down the big money in the Travers. Unless someone runs really big in the Jim Dandy, he could be a solid favorite. Why have one of your horses hurt the credentials of another?

Moreover, Maximum Security would be an overwhelming choice in the Pennsylvania Derby, another $1 million pot a month later, should Servis opt to skip the Travers and point him there.

The word superfluous might as well have been invented for Friday’s feature, the Curlin. The race for 3-year-olds without a graded stakes win accomplishes nothing but cannibalize the Jim Dandy.

Chad Brown has been a non-player in the 3-year-old ranks but this could change in the Curlin. He has a pair of contenders, Looking at Bikinis and Highest Honor, either of whom could get the money. The field also includes Cairo Cat, off since winning the Iroqouis, a September juvenile race notable for producing the first Kentucky Derby qualifying points, and the highly  regarded Endorse, stretching out for Kieran McLaughlin.

I’m partial to Looking at Bikinis, a winner of both career starts including a one-mile allowance on June 27. The mile and an eighth could produce a Travers runner or two.

DRF on life support

News of the latest round of cutbacks at The Daily Racing Form–another scoop by my colleague John Pricci–is troubling. I’ve been where they are, let go not because my work was unsatisfactory but  because my salary was too much for the budget.

I didn’t know personally writers Jay Hovdey, Mike Watchmaker, Byron King and Matt Bernier. (An editor, Robert Fortuna also was let go.) But I felt a bond through their work.

Also, the fact that DRF is going through another round of layoffs suggests the publication is not long for this world–at least not as we’ve known it.

I’ve been using the Form since it was The Morning Telegraph and sold for 50 cents. I’ve fallen away as the price sky-rocketed to $11. The latest moves mirror that which newspapers everywhere are making, raising the price while reducing the product. It’s not a formula for a reversal of fortune.  

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6 Responses

  1. Saturday it was the heat. Today (Thursday) it was rain.
    There are people who think Saratoga can’t be killed. Wrong!!
    Nobody comes from around the corner.
    Coming soon, a daily NYRA notice, “temperature today will be between 75 and 85 degrees, with minimal chance of rain, so there will be racing (Subject to change without notice).

  2. I was disappointed that Mitole wasn’t going in the Whitney, but Assmussen has shown he knows what to do with a horse this good.

    Won’t try to beat him. If the track is dry, I’ll box Imperial Hint, Firenze Fire, and Strike Power, in all but top slot of TRI and SPR ; extending to ALL at bottom of SPR.

  3. I recall driving close to fifty miles Saturday mornings for the Telegraph/Daily Racing Form back in the sixties. At that time it was published the size of a regular newspaper (the west coast version a smaller size) and did not offer the paper the day before. I never understood why so many writers were employed, and I never read ‘At The Post’ by Joe Hirsch or Jay Hovdey columns nor the breeding section. All I wanted were the PPs. In fact, I would strip the paper and just keep the PPs. I always believed that the paper was top-heavy with turf writers, the question I pondered often was ‘who reads this stuff’?

    Steven Crist made some remarkable improvements to the PPs, but still maintained what I considered irrelevant commentary. Didn’t most people purchase the Form for the PPs? When DRF came out with the Program offering the PPs, I had found the perfect presentation of the PPs.

    Today the Daily Racing Form is simply to expensive. Even the Program is creeping up in price. Don’t bettors who care to take the time to handicap the races (not just bet numbers, Alice) just want the PPs? And, today, with the ability to replay races over and over, information has never been better for the serious horseplayer.

  4. Drf got far away from core business. They are almost irrelevant which is amazing. Will buy form the handful of times I go in person. Honestly they deserve to die.

  5. Howard, sadly for “America’s Turf Authority,” this was not the first time I hard this sentiment over the weekend.

    For me, it was the minute they put racing news behind a paywall. s it was, some players could care less about the stories. I always read the track correspondents to learn about the horses in races coming up, but maybe I was one of the few…

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