JC / Railbird

Johnny V. #Saratoga #thoroughbred #horseracing #jockeysSix wins, three stakes. Tammi Piermarini had a good Sunday afternoon at #suffolkdowns.Thanks, Arlington. Let's do this again next year. #Million35Dr. Blarney wins again! #suffolkdowns @tammipiermariniTried to channel Barbara Livingston and take a picture of Mr. Meso's braids. #suffolkdownsLady Eli on the muscle. #BC16 @santaanitapark #breederscup #thoroughbred #horseracingThat's a helmet. #BC16 #thoroughbred #horseracing #jockeys

On the Backstretch

I tweeted last week about working on the backstretch at Suffolk Downs and Saratoga several years ago, something I’ve talked about here and there before. My time as a hotwalker was a rich experience — I’ll always be glad I did it, not least because it gave me a glimpse behind the scenes and another perspective on racing that still informs my involvement as a fan and bettor.

What led to the thread on Twitter was trainer Gary Contessa’s quoted remarks from the Albany Law School’s Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing, and Gaming Law Conference. “Nobody in America wants this job,” he said of working on the backstretch and the need for immigrant labor. I wanted to push back on the idea that the fault mostly lies with workers, which is how the issue often seems portrayed to me, letting owners and trainers dodge responsibility for working and living conditions that can be onerous.

I expanded the tweets into an opinion piece for the Thoroughbred Daily News, and now that it’s out there, I have a couple of things to add:

I refer to “passion” toward the end in a half-formed thought. Embedded in that mention was a criticism of how the word gets (ab)used, and not just by people in racing — “passion” for work is everywhere these days, and it sometimes gets twisted to mean that if you’re passionate about work, you’ll tolerate every demand it makes, which is handy for employers — reject some terms, and the problem isn’t with the work, it’s with you, and your lack of passion.

If anything comes of writing this piece, I hope it’s that more stories about working on the backstretch get told, from all different perspectives — major circuits and big barns, small tracks and family-run operations, immigrant and non-immigrant. I also hope it might lead to a constructive conversation about working conditions, backstretch culture, and resources for workers.

2017 Saratoga Babies

They’re off at Saratoga and that means I’m tracking every juvenile race, every juvenile starter in the Spa babies spreadsheet once again. Through the first few days of the meet, trainer Todd Pletcher is, as usual, the leader in number of 2-year-old starters. He’s sent out eight, but won only two races — and neither of the winners were a post-time favorite. Go figure.

I update the spreadsheet after each day’s card. You can sort the sheet by column. You can also download a copy as an Excel or CSV file for your use.

Belmont Stakes Day

Tapwrit wins the Belmont Stakes, and the 2017 Triple Crown season ends with trainer Todd Pletcher taking two of the three races and super-sire Tapit getting his third Belmont winner, achieving that record within four years:

The star of the Belmont card, though, was Songbird, making her 4-year-old debut a winning one in the Ogden Phipps. It was hardly an effortless return for the champion, who had to fend off a strong challenge from Paid Up Subscriber on the turn and work to get past her in the stretch. An appreciative crowd gave the filly and jockey Mike Smith an ovation when the pair paused in front of the clubhouse apron on their way to the winner’s circle.

“Let’s call this a great race off the layoff,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “I’m not sure she’s at the top of her game right now, but she did very well today.”

Beyer and TimeformUS speed figures for the Belmont card graded races:

Race Winner BSF TFUS
Belmont Stakes Tapwrit 103 120
Manhattan Ascend 104 130
Met Mile Mor Spirit 117 130
Just a Game Antonoe 101 119
Woody Stephens American Anthem 102 121
Jaipur Stakes Disco Partner 109 120
Ogden Phipps Songbird 97 116
Acorn Stakes Abel Tasman 99 117
Brooklyn War Story 102 114

Figures via DRF stakes results and TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski.

Watch the Belmont Stakes and replays of the other graded races:

Feeling Fresh

Cloud Computing earned a career-best Beyer speed figure of 102 for winning the Preakness Stakes by a head over Classic Empire, news delivered to Jay Privman via a text from Andrew Beyer. The colt was assigned a TimeformUS speed figure of 122. “Preakness is not an easy figure to make,” tweeted TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski. “Track was changing and route before it (Sir Barton) had slow pace that probably affected time.”

The pace was set by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, who broke side by side from the gate and then ran the first six furlongs together, matching strides through the first quarter in :23.16, the half in :46.81, and three-quarters in 1:11. The race was over for Always Dreaming before the quarter pole, as he ceded the lead to Classic Empire on the turn into the stretch, who opened up by three lengths on the rest of the field.

Just as it looked as though last year’s juvenile champion and jockey Julien Leparoux had the win, Cloud Computing struck — after stalking the top two with a trip as untroubled as anyone could wish for, jockey Javier Castellano and his mount ran down Classic Empire in the final sixteenth. No excuses for the finish, said Leparoux after the Preakness:

“We had a good trip. We got the trip we wanted, outside Always Dreaming. The only thing is, Always Dreaming backed out of the race early, so I got to the lead early, maybe too early. I got to the lead early, and the winner just came at us at the end.”

It was a valiant effort for the runner-up, considering the way the race unfolded from the start. Conquest Mo Money, widely assumed a likely factor in the early pace, was no factor at all, running in fifth and finishing seventh, and Leparoux had a mission aboard the fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher:

“Second doesn’t mean anything,” the trainer of Classic Empire, Mark Casse, told Leparoux in the paddock before the race. “Let’s go and try to win this thing.”

The winner, making just his fourth career start, skipped the Derby and entered the Preakness with six weeks rest following a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial. That was the plan, said trainer Chad Brown:

“Certainly I’m not going to dispute the fact that I brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy,” said Brown, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer, who scored his first ever win in a Triple Crown race. “Our horse is very talented, too. Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses, and our strategy was, if we are ever going to beat them let’s take them on two weeks’ rest when we have six (weeks), and it worked.”

“I have no regrets about missing the Derby,” Cloud Computing’s co-owner Seth Klarman told Bob Ehalt after the Preakness:

“I think possibly some of the reason that we won today was because we were patient and didn’t throw an inexperienced horse against a 20-horse field in the Derby on a very difficult track.”

Being fresh was “clearly a huge advantage,” Bill Finley concludes in his recap:

… a horse that had never won a stakes race and was coming off a modest performance in the Wood Memorial beat a Kentucky Derby winner and the 2-year-old champion in the Preakness. He was fresh. They weren’t. Case closed.

As for the Wood — downgraded to a Grade 2 for its lack of impact in recent years as Derby prep — Cloud Computing’s finish was a better-than-it-looked performance, writes Mike Watchmaker:

When Cloud Computing finished third in the Wood Memorial in his start before the Preakness, he was the victim of a passive ride that found him much farther off the early pace than he should have been. And this approach in the Wood Memorial was egregiously ill-timed because it occurred on a day when the main track at Aqueduct was profoundly biased toward speed horses. In other words, Cloud Computing’s third-place finish in the Wood wasn’t even close to a true representation of his ability. It was actually a good effort considering how he was so up against the bias.

Credit to NYRA handicapper Andy Serling, who touted Cloud Computing before the Preakness, tweeting:

“For those wondering who can beat Always Dreaming in the Preakness, I have two words for you…..Cloud Computing.”

Final time for the Preakness was 1:55.98. Cloud Computing, the sixth-favorite at 13-1, paid $28.80 to win. Here’s the chart (PDF). Watch the replay:

Get a closer look at key moments with the Blood-Horse race sequence gallery.

It sounds as though Cloud Computing, back in his stall at Belmont Park before noon on Sunday, may pass on the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. Brown was non-committal about the prospect on Saturday night:

“We haven’t ruled it out,” Brown said. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Todd Pletcher

Always Dreaming finished eighth as the 6-5 post-time favorite. It had to hurt:

A win was all [trainer Todd] Pletcher wanted on Saturday.

He paced in front of his Kentucky Derby winner’s No. 40 stall on Saturday evening, about an hour before the race, chatting on his cell phone as though it was just another day at the office.

He was anxious, he said, but not driven by his highly publicized winless record at the Preakness Stakes. Always Dreaming was only the ninth horse Pletcher had ever raced in the Preakness, and only the second in the past five years.

“I want to win it today,” he said.

Tim Layden also caught up with Pletcher before the Preakness:

“He’s ready,” Pletcher said, gripping a rolled-up program in his right fist. “He’s really ready.”

It wasn’t to be, although the trainer gave the appearance of taking the results about as well as anyone could:

Pletcher was a genuine stand-up guy Saturday, giving a clinic on how to conduct yourself when things don’t go your way by answering rapid-fire questions without the slightest hint of irritation.

“We didn’t have an excuse,” he said:

“We were in the position we expected to be and I think the turnaround was a little too quick. He ran so hard in the Derby and today just wasn’t his day.

“He didn’t seem to relish the track, but I don’t really think that was it. It was just that he put so much into the Derby that it wasn’t meant to be.”

“I was a little concerned coming by the wire the first time. He was there, but it wasn’t like he was dragging Johnny there, actually. It felt like he was on a loose rein by the time they turned up the backside, That’s kind of what we anticipated Classic Empire would do, take it to us, but he just didn’t have that reserve today.”

Jockey John Velazquez kept his post-race quotes brief:

“He just got beat. I didn’t have it. That’s it. I knew I was in trouble on the backstretch when the other horse got to him, almost head to head, and engaged him. I knew I didn’t have it. That’s horse racing.”

More Preakness recaps: Cloud Computing pulls off upset in 142nd Preakness (Baltimore Sun), Cloud Computing wears down Classic Empire in Preakness (Blood-Horse), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire in Preakness Stakes; Always Dreaming fades (Daily Racing Form), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire to win Preakness at Pimlico (Washington Post).

For the Patron

More details from Thursday’s New England HBPA horse park presentation:

Brad Boaz, of the Lexington, Kentucky-based architectural and engineering firm CMW, gave an overview of the “Massachusetts Horse Park” master plan, as well as presented some hard numbers, during a press conference Thursday in Boston.

“Keeping the horse in mind is paramount, but also for the patron as well,” Mr. Boaz said. “We want to keep them coming back.”

The horse park, proposed by the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, would be at least 200 acres and feature a horseracing complex, an “agri-tourism village” and equestrian venues …

“We don’t feel like it’s this massive structure. It’s very quaint. It’s very inviting,” Mr. Boaz said. “What we’re trying to do is take little features from some of our most favorite tracks.”

Saratoga was apparently cited as a model.

← Before