JC / Railbird

Fractions

The Times

More about American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes fractions from Matt Gardner, admiring the Trakus times for the Triple Crown winner:

Look at that consistency because it’s a thing of beauty.

American Pharoah churned out :12 after :12 after :12. He came home the last quarter mile of the mile and a half Test of Champions in 24.17 after setting all the early fractions. He did the dirty work early and still had something left in the tank …

I don’t want to lose sight of the horse for the numbers, but, yeah — his :12 second furlongs from start to finish are gorgeous in their symmetry.

Bob Barry of Around Two Turns has written a lovely appreciation:

American Pharoah’s seemingly effortless yet ruthlessly efficient action, which lends to that appearance of him seeming to glide above the racetrack, was the basis of his early fame and almost certainly his armor against the rigors of the Triple Crown season. That certain je ne sais quoi which first caught all the eyes at Clocker’s Corner, enabled him, at the end of three hard races in five weeks, to somehow run the last half mile of his Belmont faster than he ran its first. He is the very model of a modern Triple Crown winner.

Brian Hoffacker expresses the effect of such visual ease well: “Here’s how efficient and talented American Pharoah is: He hasn’t done anything to shock me yet, and I thought I’d never see a Triple Crown.”

Don’t call the Triple Crown winner great yet, writes Sam Walker:

The problem at present for American Pharoah is that while he may be clearly the best three-year-old in America, the standard of his rivals is not yet clear. He’s essentially flying high above unknown terrain.

But he is important, says Daniel Ross:

At a time when the sport has never had to work as hard for recognition and relevance, American Pharoah reminded a nation that widely regards horse racing in this country as overtly cruel, and callous, and uncaring, that the same spectacle can still produce transcendental moments.

The Atlantic decided to remind people of both the transcendent and the brutal on its homepage. Here’s what was there on Monday at approximately 8:00 AM:

I think I’m mostly grateful other publications haven’t posted similar pairings.

Late Closers

Steve Haskin on pace and the Wood Memorial winner:

I’m not saying Verrazano is going to win the Kentucky Derby, and I’m not about to dissect his performance in the Wood other than to say he did show a new dimension regarding the ability to settle off the pace, and he did come home in splits of :23 4/5, :24, and :12 3/5, which not only are strong, but are fractions you see from late closers.

You can say the same about Vyjack, as Superterrific pointed out to me:

2013 Wood Memorial fractions for the top three finishers

While Normandy Invasion was flashing a little more speed than either at the end, the winner and the show horse ran the same final fraction.

Tough Luck

That really was a hard-luck half-length loss for Gio Ponti in the Million:

DRF Formulator fractions for the 2010 Arlington Million

Faster than the winner Debussy at the three latter points of call in the 10-furlong race, but it’s the final time (and the trip!) that matters …

Another for the so-close file: If not for Blind Luck’s nose in the Kentucky Oaks, Evening Jewel would be an all Grade 1 Omnisurface Star after taking the Del Mar Oaks by a half-length over American Oaks winner Harmonious. Instead, she dominates the 2+ITM chart. Not for long, I’d wager.

It seems like we have the best 3-year-old filly, right now,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer after Blind Luck won the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. “[But] I hate to make those kinds of assessments.” There’s no reason for him to feel reluctant, not when his late-running filly overcame an absurdly slow pace (:49.45 for the half, 1:14.81 for three-quarters) to take her third Grade 1 stakes victory of the year. That’s the right kind of tough luck:

Preakness Notes

The best horse won,” writes Andrew Beyer, who picked Lookin at Lucky for the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and must have been pleased when the colt took the second leg of the Triple Crown by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:55.47, good for a Beyer speed figure of 102 (replay). Trainer Bob Baffert certainly was, telling Claire Novak after the race:

“This was a different kind of win,” he said. “This was a redemption win. This horse is such a warrior. He wants to win. He tries so hard. So I wanted to win it for the horse, you know, because he tries so hard every time. It’s easy to lose a little faith in him … I heard people say he gets in trouble because maybe he’s not that good. So today, when I saw Martin hit that wire, I was so happy for that horse.”

Sweet vindication, and not only for believing in his horse after all the troubles of Lucky’s last three races, but for making a rider switch from Garrett Gomez to Martin Garcia. “They have been winning at a steady, phenomenal 32 percent clip,” writes John Scheinman of the Baffert-Garcia combo, “and whatever magic the two have between them is alchemic.”

There was no magic for Gomez in the Preakness, riding Dublin for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Post position 12 proved as disastrous as Lukas anticipated when entries were drawn. Explained the rider:

“The first three jumps were not good. He tried to go into the gap and made a right turn with me. When I straightened him, they were all gone and we were pretty much out of it.”

Dublin finished fifth after he exited the gate veering outside. You could say the break cost him the race; he ran the first quarter more than 18 lengths off the lead in a dismal :26 flat. He then ran the second in :23.29, the third in :23.73, and wrapped up in :43.44. All of those times were faster than Lookin at Lucky’s (faster, in fact, than any of the top four finishers). Lucky closed in :43.81 after running splits of :23.45, :23.87, and :24.34. What most struck me, though, looking at the fractions, is how much Dublin’s Preakness run looks like Ice Box’s Derby run, and that the difference in how their finishes are being perceived is a great example of the strength of the visual impact made by a runner-up appearing to close swiftly on a leader in the final yards of a race, compared to an also-ran finishing out of the money.

Both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners will skip the Belmont Stakes, which is lousy news for NYRA, an organization that could use a little financial boost. Baffert said that Lookin at Lucky would be prepped for the Haskell Invitational Stakes on August 1, while trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Super Saver would be freshened for a late summer return. The Derby winner, apparently looking drawn on Saturday, finished eighth as the 9-5 favorite. “What are you gonna do? It was the two weeks,” said Pletcher.

Or is it that this crop of 3-year-olds isn’t so hot? “You have to wonder about the quality of the group,” says Michael Veitch. Yes, you do, when watching the juvenile champion grind out a short lead over a maiden winner to take the Preakness, and the Derby winner wilts at a mile to finish worse than any other at Pimlico since Monarchos in 2001. Two-thirds of the way through the spring classic season, it’s hard not to think about what could have been: “[I]f Eskendereya had stayed sound,” speculates Steve Crist, “we might well be looking at a runaway Derby-Preakness winner going for a Crown this year.” Watch the Wood Memorial replay if you doubt.