HALLANDALE BEACH, FL — Before leafing through a chock-full simulcast notebook a word about events in Saturday’s nominal feature at Gulfstream Park, the H Allen Jerkens, the 11th race on a stakes-laden holiday Saturday:
Approaching headstretch, 1-5 favorite American Tattoo was on a clear lead. Carom was attacking from the outside under right-handed whipping from Irad Ortiz Jr. going stride to stride with Shazier, fence-sitting and loaded beneath Paco Lopez.
As the eventual winner straightened away toward the line, Lopez tried to race-ride his way out of the pocket. Could he have taken back, gone around, and gotten there in time? Unequivocally, maybe, and maybe not. But that’s not the point.
Whether Carom had enough in the tank to win, or even out-finish Shazier for place, is also a separate discussion. It is the race-riding that is at issue and, in our view, it was dangerous. This-win-at-all-costs approach to race riding needs to be addressed before someone gets killed out there.
Also to be put aside before making our argument is the politics. By comparison, Irad is the fair-haired boy and a solid favorite to win the 2019 Eclipse Award. His work astride Bricks and Mortar alone would be a good enough argument.
On horseback, Paco Lopez is the farthest thing there is from an altar boy. And he, as the world knows, has a history with the Gulfstream stewards. I cannot pretend to be an expert of horse-backing. I don’t ride. But I have been watching races for over a half-century.
I also don’t know what’s in another man’s heart and mind. But after Shazier and Carom straightened away together, Ortiz appeared to drive his horse into Lopez’s mount, seemingly more interested in keeping him in than winning the race for himself.
I have never, ever, suspected that the Ortiz brothers of helping each other when riding in the same race. On my children, I have never seen evidence of that. And I’m not at all saying that that’s what happened here. But I am saying that having Jose in the boot on the winner is not a good look.
Meanwhile, that’s only money. My concern is for life and limb, both human and equine. I don’t want or demand that any action be taken by the stewards against either rider unless the stewards deem it so themselves.
But I am insisting that they take a look at this incident–if the haven’t done so already–and be transparent about their findings. If they don’t want to make an official statement, they can respond here at HRI.
The thing is that fans would not have needed to see the incident for themselves, although they should. All they would need is to listen to Pete Aiello’s race call, who saw and reported on what was happening on the racetrack.
SMITH MAKES HISTORY; OMAHA BEACH THE HEADLINES
Whether you’re a fan or horseplayer, you should have had the big fun yesterday. I know I did–and I didn’t even win. If only a couple of those exactas had gone the other way. Woulda’, coulda’…
Mike Smith did it all in one glorious if not chilly season opener at Santa Anita Park. It was worth the wait, naysayers, wasn’t it?
As all now know this morning, ‘Money Mike’ surpassed the great Jerry Bailey in Grade 1 victories, gaining # 216 in the La Brea and setting a new standard aboard Omaha Beach an hour later. The first took all his skills as the pilot, on the second he was strictly a passenger.
The moment was captured on TVG as Mike swallowed hard to get through an interview that called for him to put the moment in perspective:
There was a hit-the-wire arm pump tribute, as Bailey had done aboard Cigar, relating how they grew up in Texas–Bailey’s dad was Smith’s childhood dentist–and how he admired him from afar, his hero accomplishing only what were his childhood dreams.
Mike got the money on Hard Not to Love, improved her record to 4-for-5 lifetime going from listed stakes show finisher to Grade 1-winner following masterful handling from John Shirreffs. And wasn’t it apt that Smith would equal his hero for the man who trained old partner Zenyatta?
Heavily favored Bellafina probably missed Flavien Prat, who had called in sick, and apparently Victor Espinoza felt it necessary to battle it out on the pace with speedy Mother Mother. He certainly regretted the tack inside the final sixteenth. Bellafina can rate a little; she’s no run-off.
For whatever reason, three-time Grade 1 winning Bellafina seems to pick the oddest times to disappoint her fans and backers. She’ll have time to make good in 2020 in what likely will be a widely-spaced sprint campaign. She has unfinished business in Breeders’ Cup F & M Sprint.
Smith needed no assist to win the centerpiece Malibu. He simply sat there as Omaha Beach did almost all the work, effortlessly, after Man-Oh-Mandella had dotted all I’s, crossed all T’s. Omaha Beach was dominant and is all set for his Pegasus swansong.
That will be bittersweet for several reasons, especially in light of what might have been. Maybe Gary West decided to go for an easier $20-million than a harder $3-million. Maybe he saw Omaha Beach train and, after yesterday, let out a big sigh of relief.
Parenthtically, before you ask what would I have done, I’ll tell you exactly. In my current position I would have gone for the money.
If, however, I were a half-billionaire, loved the game as much as I profess to, I’d want to prove that I deserved the Eclipse Award I’m likely to have picked up as America’s best three-year-old of 2019 and remove lingering doubt.
Getting back to riders, Trevor McCarthy blew open a three-jockey battle on the penultimate day of the Laurel Fall meeting, riding five winners including three stakes, the most prominent aboard Someday Jones, a two-length winner over Awaysdreaming in the Native Dancer.
Three-year-old Alwaysdreaming gave actual weight to all and was coming off a single six-furlong prep. Thinking out loud, he was game enough to try the Preakness after his Federico Tesio romp last spring. Maybe he’s ready to try the deep end of the pool again on JAN 25 at the same 1-1/8 miles trip?
Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz Jr. concluded their Saturday with three winners at Gulfstream Park. Pletcher’s notable scores came with Halladay in the Tropical Park Derby and American Tattoo in the rescheduled Jerkens.
Of most significance, however, is the fact that Santa Anita’s dirt and turf surfaces both played, fast, fair and of greater import, safely.
May the trend be with them.