JC / Railbird

On the Surface

Stan Bergstein in DRF:

And so, as it became apparent that Pro-Ride was not the answer to synthetic success, just as 3M’s Tartan had not been, I realized things had come full circle in racing, as in much of life. First, I had watched Delvin Miller’s dream for a synthetic track implode, and now Richard Shapiro’s as both visions disintegrated with their tracks.

Oh, come on.

At the fall meet midpoint, Keeneland, now in its fourth year with Polytrack, reports on-track handle has increased and that all-sources handle is barely off from 2009. Horseplayers are betting the surface. Breeders’ Cup contenders are prepping over it. The Polytrack is, as Alan pointed out on LATG, “as much of a synthetic surface success story as Santa Anita was a failure.”

But that’s not the story you’ll get, and most certainly not from DRF, which sells products as speed-biased as the old Santa Anita dirt track.

Tangentially related: At the Races blogger Matt Chapman rounds up the likely European contenders for the Breeders’ Cup. He comes up with 24 names, 19 of those for the turf races. If that is indeed the likely contingent, it’ll be off about a third from the number of 2009 European contenders, and I don’t think there’s much argument the return to a main track dirt surface isn’t a factor. Fewer Euros isn’t such a big deal this year, but I keep bringing the subject up because — as suggested most recently by the new Champions’ Day, which is marketing itself as an alternative to Churchill dirt in 2011, and the shift in breeding power to European studs, as discussed by Bill Oppenheim and Sid Fernando — it does seem as though the era of American exceptionalism, vis-a-vis dirt breeding and dirt racing, is passing. We can keep our dirt — at the price that we’ll matter less internationally in the future.


Nice piece. Was that a shot at DRF, or did I misread?

The Breeders’ Cup races, ironically, have played a part in the deterioration of the American racing programs that included enough stamina races and a series of events particularly in NY—the Woodward and JC Gold Cup, specifically—that encouraged stamina lines,though general trends have been to reduce race distances here while the Europeans were steadfast in staying with traditions that encouraged stamina.

At one time, the JCGC was two miles—almost unheard of now! And on the West Coast, the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano on turf was a legitimate G1 target.

A watershed event was the 1989 JCGC, by that time as 12-furlong race and one still with enough prestige to draw the best horses. Easy Goer won for the stalwart Phippses, but at what price was the refrain! In his next start in the BC Classic at 10 furlongs, he lost, and the media blamed his lack of “speed” because he’d “prepped” in a 12-furlong race.

Two things: The JCGC was suddenly now a “prep,” instead of a championship-defining race, and in 1990 the race was cut back to 10 furlongs! The tail had wagged the dog, the head of The Jockey Club and NYRA—Mr Phipps—had capitulated, and a true new era was baptised.

This, of course, set the trend for the “end game” of campaigns only, which meant that horses began avoiding each other to arrive in optimum condition for the BC.

This is simplistic and quick, but it’s true.

Posted by Sid Fernando on October 20, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

Handle is OK at Keeneland, but it was downright abominable at Arlington.

Posted by EJXD2 on October 20, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

[…] on yesterday’s post, Sid Fernando provides some interesting historical context on how modern American and European racing…. Sid also asked of the post, “Was that a shot at DRF, or did I misread?” Well, I […]

Posted by Jessica Chapel / Railbird v2 - Speed’s Virtuous (Vicious) Circle on October 21, 2010 @ 7:01 am

The Proride wasn’t the failure it was the base that went wrong.

Posted by LarryK on October 25, 2010 @ 7:46 am