JC / Railbird

Goldencents fan at the barn to say goodbye. #BC14Untapable #BC14 #Distaff#BC14 #ClassicInside the sixteenth. #BC14 #Classic #latergramThere was a garden for Baby Z at the #Zenyatta statue shortly after the gates opened this morning. #BC14Santa AnitaThe best find during Thursday's Beacon Hill Stroll was this pencil sketch of Man O'War. Now I just have to figure out where to hang it ...

The Right Side

So, here’s a feature idea I’ve been kicking around — an occasional series called “You’re Doing It Right,” calling out instances in horse racing of good work. For example, Woodbine choosing to replace its Polytrack surface with Tapeta, because it makes sense for their racing program and business goals. Or NYRA, for whatever it’s doing to deliver a sharp, never-buffering high-definition video feed of its races across its digital platforms. Or TimeformUS, for its upcoming faster and more responsive relaunch and the backend development involved in making that happen. (I got a peek; you’ll want to check it out.)

Or Kentucky Downs, which edged out Keeneland — the leader for six years running — in the 2015 edition of the Horseplayers Association track ratings by offering full fields and lower takout:

“… Kentucky Downs has definitely given horseplayers something to get excited about,” said HANA President Jeff Platt. “Despite the short meet, the ratings algorithm does not discriminate when it comes to value; Kentucky Downs has it and horseplayers have been responding.”

Complete rankings are in this month’s Horseplayers Association magazine (PDF). There’s also a terrific interview in it with Andrew Beyer about carryovers, jackpots, and the grind of the modern game, plus seven questions for several players and handicappers. (Including me. Thanks, HANA!)

Firing First

After finishing second to Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December and then the Robert B. Lewis in February, Firing Line came back to win the Sunland Derby on Sunday by 14 1/4 lengths, a performance that earned him a Beyer speed figure of 97 and a TimeformUS figure of 111. With the final round of Kentucky Derby preps beginning on March 28, each worth 100 points to the winner, here are the 2015 prep schedule results so far.

Trainer Bob Baffert wouldn’t say which of his top Derby contenders, juvenile champion and Rebel winner American Pharoah or undefeated Dortmund, is better when asked — “That’s like asking me which kid I love more,” he told Ed Golden — but Bill Finley has no need for such tact:

American Pharoah is a brilliant horse. Dortmund is a grinder. He’s tough and game and somehow he always has his nose in front at the wire, but nothing he does takes your breath away. I’d be shocked if he proves to be the better of the two Baffert-trained stars.

I don’t know — a grinder who can make a horse capable of a 14 1/4 length win work hard for second, not once, but twice, is kind of brilliant in his way.

Old Warrior

When NYRA tweeted a photo of the newly retired Stymie parading at Jamaica in 1949, it immediately called to mind one of the great pieces of turf writing — Joe Palmer’s “Common Folks,” about the popular horse’s final appearance.

Stymie was retired after finishing second in the 2 1/4 mile New York Handicap on October 1; he was found sore in the right front leg, in the same spot where he had previously sustained a sesamoid fracture. “He was just getting good,” lamented trainer Hirsch Jacobs of the 9-year-old. A month later, Jacobs reported Stymie was galloping sound, “but he doesn’t trot the way he should.” The next day, the trainer declared that Stymie’s career was over.

New York Times correspondent James Roach described Stymie’s last trip to the track before the third running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup like so:

It’s about time to make mention of the fact that old Stymie, racing’s money champion, was very much among those present for the third running of the Gold Cup. He’s on the retired list now. In a sentimental gesture that was appreciated by all hands, Hirsch Jacobs had him jog through the stretch before the race and then take part in the paddock preliminaries. It was his last public appearance in New York before he goes to stud in Kentucky.

Stymie, with pink and green ribbons braided in his mane and tale, got a fond farewell from Jamaica’s children. There was much beating of palms when a pony boy, Alton (Mickey) Finney, led him through the stretch and there was additional applause when he was walked back to his barn …

Some think he’s the most popular horse that has run in this theatre of turf operations since Exterminator’s day.

Palmer, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, put it this way:

… the racetrackers, I think, save most of their affection for the Exterminators and the Stymies and the Seabiscuits, who do it the hard way in the handicaps, pounding out mile after bitter mile, giving weight and taking their tracks wet or dry, running for any jockey, and trying with what they’ve got, even when they haven’t got enough. That’s why Stymie fitted a farewell better at Jamaica than a welcome in Kentucky …

This tourist … will long remember the way Stymie came around the turn in the Pimlico Cup Handicap, making pretty good horses look as if they had just remembered a pressing engagement with the quarter pole.

He was not a great horse, in the sense that Man o’ War and Equipoise were great. He isn’t versatile … [b]ut give him a field with speed in it, at a mile and a half or more, and horses had better get out of his way, even Whirlaway.

Anyway, another fine and ardent and satisfactory story of the turf was brought to a close at Jamaica. And it was happy to note, for all the the long campaign, it was not a battered and limping warrior which left us. Stymie never looked better with his bronze coat in great bloom, and the high head carried as proudly as ever.

As he stood for the last time, before the stands, people around the winner’s enclosure were shouting … “Bring him in here, for just for one more time.”

The groom didn’t obey, and probably was right. Stymie never got in a winner’s circle without working for it. It was no time to begin.

(I love those last two paragraphs.)

Stymie retired with a record of 131-35-33-28 and earnings of $918,485.

Figuring

The March edition of HANA’s monthly newsletter is now out, and it includes two great interviews, one with jockey Julien Leparoux, and the other with Dana Byerly talking about Horse Racing Data Sets, the site she launched last month for sharing data. I’m biased, but HRDS is swiftly becoming a good, useful resource — the most recent addition to the site is a spreadsheet from Brisnet containing 25 years of winning speed and class ratings, which I’ve just begun exploring for possible Kentucky Derby implications.

Somewhat related: TimeformUS posted their winning figures for the last five years of Triple Crown race preps. You can find Beyer speed figures for the same races since 2010 in the Derby prep schedule (the column labeled “BSF”).

HANA’s newsletter also includes a short primer on churn, which Lonnie Goldfeder recommends setting a goal for each day you play. Goldfeder’s latest column at Daily Racing Form is about staying sharp; it’s a reminder that wagering, like any discipline, requires a commitment to practice.

The Big ‘Cap

To gauge how easily Shared Belief won the Santa Anita Handicap, look back to last month’s San Antonio Stakes, writes Mike Watchmaker:

And that right there should give you a greater appreciation for California Chrome. Even if he was only prepping for the Dubai World Cup, California Chrome still was only second best to Shared Belief in last month’s San Antonio. But California Chrome at least made Shared Belief work for it. At this moment, you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of horses capable of making Shared Belief run.

Yesterday, “The only threat in sight was boredom.”

For the win, Shared Belief was given a Beyer speed figure of 111, and a TimeformUS figure of 117. “One of these days Shared Belief will actually have to run late and pop a 130,” tweeted TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski. The question is, who’s going to make him?

Jay Privman reports that the Met Mile could be Shared Belief’s next target.

Here’s another question: How is that Santa Anita has gorgeous HD video (see the replay above), but the live video feed looked like the screenshot below while streaming on both the ADW platforms where I have an account?

Santa Anita Handicap video stream screenshot

Beyer speed figures for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby preps: Dortmund earned 104 for the San Felipe, Carpe Diem 98 for the Tampa Bay Derby, and El Kabeir 89 for the Gotham. Get the charts, replays, TimeformUS figures, and the updated leaderboard via the big Derby prep schedule.

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