For those not “socially” connected with horse racing, it still shouldn’t surprise you to learn that race-watching, like handicapping, is more art than science. Achievement beyond results often can be hard to recognize, never mind nuanced.
And we would not have known that was even a thing had @Varsity Punks not given us a Twitter heads-up.
How could so many question Abel Cedillo’s handling of Maximum Security, who won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap by a nose? Did his critics bother to put together the entire scenario behind the task at hand? To wit:
Was this not the Kentucky Derby first’s comeback following a 147-day layup? Was he not carrying high weight of a steadying 127 pounds, spotting the horse he beat narrowly five pounds?
As an aside: Kudos to Del Mar Racing Secretary and Handicapper David Jerkens for bringing Maximum Security and major contender Midcourt together at the line.
Jerkens is the son of Steven Jerkens, he the son of Harry Allen Jerkens. It appears the apple doesn’t fall far from The Chief.
Wasn’t Saturday Max’s first start in a new barn that compared to his former handler is like going from night from day; five furlong works in 1:04 compared to five-eighths in :59.
And what of Max’s lack of race experience where the turf meets the surf? Finally, were eight workouts enough to have him fit but not close to Pacific Classic peak?
If horseplayers want to pick at nits, they could have done so with a tad more credulity had they challenged Ricardo Santana’s handling of Volatile, whose opening gambits of 23.46 and 46.67 allowed his G1 Vanderbilt rivals into the race.
Santana used an offensive weapon defensively. He won the race but victory was made possible by a horse capable of running the final quarter-mile of a Grade 1 Spa dirt sprint in an extraordinary 22.93.
Only champions, or would-be champions, can run that fast on a bias-free surface that did not yield aberrantly fast times on the day.
Cedillo, meanwhile, who won the G2 San Clemente 30 minutes prior to the San Diego with a well-executed plan aboard Laura’s Light, rode a text book race on ‘Max,’ who finished first for the 10th time in 11 starts.
Maximum Security’s only racetrack loss came in the overnight Pegasus Stakes, a prep for the 2019 Haskell Invitational. It’s a record that spans seven racetracks from Riyadh to Oceanside, 8,347 air miles.
Maximum Security’s share of the $20-million Saudi Cup is being withheld by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia pending an inquiry into the result and investigation of former trainer Jason Servis.
Consequently, his FEB 29 victory is effectively being held in abeyance.
Cedillo’s winning ride in the San Diego was textbook. After an alert start, it was clear he would ride him as if he were on the best horse, taking the lead and some of the sting out of his major rival on the first turn then taking back, albeit a tad abruptly, after Higher Power had moved into second.
In route fractions that were identical to Volatile’s Grade 1-sprint fractions, Cedillo needed to put Max in the race and pushed on him sooner than he probably wanted.
If he hadn’t, it is unlikely that he would have been able to win the photo as there was no quit in Midcourt. In fact, they even galloped out together for a short span.
The eight published works plotted by Bob Baffert were enough to get his horse fit, but between the rustiness and wish to leave something in reserve the Grade 1 1-1/4 miles to come, there was just enough in the tank, but no more.
Had it been Pincay or Delahoussaye or Smith or Rosario doing the booting, Twitter likely would have had nothing but praise. Then that’s horse racing for you.
Speed Is Always Dangerous…If Rationed Correctly
By definition, Ricardo Santana Jr. did nothing wrong and, like Cedillo, rode Volatile as if he were on the best horse, which obviously he was. But to set half-mile route fractions in a Grade 1 sprint is a recipe for defeat.
Grade 1 sprints are seldom, if ever, won with quarter-mile splits of 23.46, 23.41 and 22.93. Top class turf sprints might be won with those splits but not dirt sprints.
In its purest forms, turf racing is a game of acceleration; dirt racing a game of deceleration. But not the way Volatile with Santana played it Saturday.
What Volatile accomplished in his Grade 1 and Saratoga debut was the near impossible. The only reason he was able to draw out at the end of six furlongs in 1:09.61 is that he didn’t find his very best, lengthened, stride until Santana drove him out in the final sixteenth.
The time for separation was approaching headstretch instead of allowing three Grade 1 rivals to chew on you in your first true class test. It wasn’t a bad ride, it’s just that, given prevailing dynamics, Cedillo executed his job a little more thoughtfully.
Too Soon Old and… Too Soon Smart?
Early Saturday morning, we saw the great Enable fire her best shot to win an unprecedented third King George VI-Queen Elizabeth I, her 11th Group 1, after making a disappointing 2020 debut.
Later in the afternoon, we saw another great six-year-old mare, Sistercharlie, lose her 2020 debut in an effort that can only be described as flat, which was helped along by a late, unflattering lead change.
Her defeat wouldn’t have been as shocking had Maximum Security given that Sistercharlie had a very accomplished rival to conquer.
Starship Jubilee, who succeeded despite having to come a brush-in with the starting gate and racing too keenly early, just like she thing in her prior at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, but that just might be her.
The “good” Sistercharlie, even at an inappropriately shorter trip, likely would have run “the best claim ever” down.
But given successive defeats after winning six consecutive Grade 1s over two seasons, it is fair to wonder whether or not she’s over the top and perhaps never to return to her best form.
But ‘Charlie’ is older now, and older horses often need to be raced into top condition.
Chad Brown told television analyst Andy Serling Sunday morning he’s confident he can get Sistercharlie where she needs to be as she attempts a repeat victory in the longer, Grade 1 Diana one month from now.