The Vanity Mile Stakes was never really a contest. Mike Watchmaker on how Beholder handled 3-year-old filly champion Stellar Wind on Saturday:
Stellar Wind ran extremely well. She was dead game, and she is very, very good. But Beholder absolutely toyed with her. Toyed with her. Anyone who watched the Vanity knows the difference between Beholder and Stellar Wind on Saturday was far greater than what the result chart suggests.
Beholder earned a Beyer speed figure of 100 for her 17th career win, her 10th Grade 1 victory. After the first three quarters in 1:12.53, she ran the last two furlongs in :11.46 and :11.98. “I thought we would go in sub 23, 45 and change for the second quarter and I thought the final time would be under 1:34,” said jockey Gary Stevens. “Twenty five is legit, 49 is legit, but I think that’s the fastest last three eighths I’ve ever run in my life.”
It was such a certainty that Beholder would win the $300,000 Grade I Zenyatta Stakes that by the time she had cruised to a 3 1/4-length triumph over second-place My Sweet Addiction at odds of 1-9, Santa Anita was figuring out how much money it had lost. There was a $75,708.52 minus show pool and $4,750.12 minus place pool. Beholder returned $2.10 to win, place and show after finishing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:42.83.
I cannot wait for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
I don’t know why we make things so difficult in horse racing: 32 is excessive by any measure. That’s against a rule, thus you penalize him. Next year, if you don’t want to see the same thing on national TV, you pass, or alter the rule beforehand and let the jocks know in the room that excessive use will result in a 14 day suspension. That would not allow the jock to ride in the Preakness. The jocks — who are professionals — will fall in line and your problem will be solved.
Except the people charged with keeping the rules don’t seem to see an issue with what happened. Although there are plans to review Espinoza’s whip use on American Pharoah, “clearly this is a discretionary issue,” chief steward Barbara Borden told Marty McGee (DRF paywalled, sorry). If there’s a point to press, it’s in the rule that a horse be given time to respond after being struck. As I said elsewhere, it didn’t look as though Pharoah got that.
Trainer Bob Baffert also downplayed how Espinoza used his riding crop on American Pharaoh, saying during the NTRA teleconference on Tuesday:
“I never noticed it during the race, and then … I read something yesterday. I went back and looked at it. The horse — first of all, the whips they use now, they’re so light … and he was just keeping him busy, because … the horse was not responding when he turned for home … he just was keeping him busy, and he was flogging him and hitting him, but he hits him on the saddle towel. He doesn’t really hit that hard, so he was just keeping him busy.”
It’s “flogging,” but it’s not a problem. And for the most part, watching most races, I agree, especially about allowing riders discretion — jockeys say the crop is required for safety and control, and because they’re the people putting their mobility and lives on the line in each race, theirs is the perspective that most matters. The crop also has a place in encouraging a horse. But neither control nor encouragement get in the way of articulating and enforcing limits.
Related to whipping not being a problem (in a slightly different way), here’s a quick post Dana Byerly put together last fall when Santa Anita was considering a change to its whip use rule (the new rule, which restricts riders to three consecutive strikes before they must pause, passed statewide in November).
6:45 PM Addendum: Santa Anita stewards have fined Espinoza $300 for a whip violation. He broke the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks on April 4, as reported by the state veterinarian in the test barn post-race. Trainer John Sadler tells the Blood-Horse, though, “This is the first I’ve heard of it and I don’t remember noticing any marks on the horse then.”
California Chrome went to post in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday as something of an anomaly — he was the first Horse of the Year since All Along in 1984 not to enter the gate as the favorite in his or her first start back the following year. All Along had a few excuses — the 1983 Horse of the Year didn’t return until the Turf Classic at Belmont the following September, 10 months after last winning the D.C. International at Laurel, and had to face the venerable John Henry, in his final season and peak form. He won the Turf Classic as the even-money favorite, and she finished fourth.
Shared Belief also had a recency edge, but it was the widely shared belief (sorry) that he was the better horse — if unlucky in not being able to prove it last year, first missing the Triple Crown races, then getting slammed out of contention by Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic — that made him the odds-on favorite in the San Antonio and California Chrome the 7-5 second.
You have to appreciate that the race was run in such a way — clean from start to finish — that there’s no questioning the results:
How Shared Belief passes California Chrome in the final sixteenth? It’s what I’d feared would happen to Rachel Alexandra if she and Zenyatta met. He’s so brilliant, it’s almost possible to miss that the top pair is lengths ahead of the rest of the field. They’re both monsters; Clark Handicap winner Hoppertunity ended up finishing 6 1/2 lengths behind California Chrome.
Shared Belief was given a Beyer speed figure of 106, and a TimeformUS figure of 112, for winning the San Antonio. Per Ed Golden’s stable notes, he and Chrome reportedly came out of the race in good shape. The two will point to separate races for their next starts — Shared Belief targeting the Santa Anita Handicap and California Chrome the Dubai World Cup.
Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.
That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]
At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.
“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”
Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.
While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”
Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:
Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”
With rider Gary Stevens up, Beholder worked a mile in 1:40.20 at Santa Anita on Monday in preparation for the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Trainer Richard Mandella got her in “1:38 and change,” and apparently, thought she looked so good that he “did a giddy jig afterward,” reports Jay Privman. Marcie Heacox observed her recent afternoon schooling:
Beholder schooled in a new way — without a pony but with a saddle and regular exercise rider David Nuesch. Like previous schooling sessions, she wore a hood to block noise, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella distracted her with peppermints. The team put the saddle on soon after she arrived at the paddock, and Nuesch mounted a few minutes before she exited, but she didn’t react to either change. She usually goes crazy at some point during schooling, but this time she behaved absolutely perfectly.
Sounds like she’s physically and mentally in the same shape as she was before winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and ready to meet Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches on their home turf.
Favorites won 32 percent (38-120) of races in the sample, a figure comparable to the record of racing favorites in general. The fact that BC fields are considerably larger than average may make the 32 percent strike rate higher than expected.
Favorites have had mixed success finishing in the money in the recent years. In 2012, favorites finished in the top three in five of six races on Friday, six of nine on Saturday. In 2011, three of six on Friday, four of nine on Saturday. In 2010, four of six on Friday, four of eight on Saturday.
10/26/13 Addendum: Breeders’ Cup contenders, by the numbers. “There are 121 group or graded stakes winners in the entries, including 71 winners of Group 1 or Grade 1 races.” And 74 of the 172 pre-entries won their last starts.
Today’s group and graded stakes with potential Breeders’ Cup implications from Newmarket to Churchill Downs, listed in order of approximate post time:
Race names link to summary results, winner names to replays.
There’s also the ungraded Unzip Me Stakes at Santa Anita (post time 9:14 PM ET), and almost a full card’s worth of maiden special weights for juveniles: Race two (1:36 PM ET) and race three (2:07 PM ET) at Belmont; race one (4:00 PM ET), race three (5:04 PM ET), and race four (5:37 PM ET) at Santa Anita; and race three (6:56 PM ET) and race six (8:30 PM ET) at Churchill Downs.
Among the many notable runners today are Pachelbel, the first foal of Music Note, winner of several stakes, including the 2008 Mother Goose and 2009 Beldame, making his first career start in race two at Belmont for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and Take Control, the now 6-year-old son of Azeri and A.P. Indy making his first start in more than a year and just his fourth career start overall. What’s he been up to? That’s a good question.
Furthermore, there are bad memories from the last two occasions the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita. In 2008 and 2009, the main track was a synthetic surface, and European horses won a disproportionate amount of races. It’s been switched back to conventional dirt since then, but East Coast horses routinely have trouble with the surface.
Re: East Coast horses, sure, the stats are bad — particularly for New Yorkers.
But bad memories? Coming after the horror of the 2007 Breeders’ Cup — watching George Washington slump into death on the sloppy Monmouth stretch and listening to the unknowing crowd clap as his lifeless body was driven away in the horse ambulance in the gathering gloom of a chilly twilight remains one of my worst racing memories — the light, warmth, and lack of dying horses at Santa Anita* in 2008 and 2009 was wonderful. There, at least, people were cheering for the living. I’m so glad the BC is back in Arcadia.
*I admit to being a little worried about what might happen this year. The publicly available Equine Injury Database stats for Santa Anita haven’t been updated since April 2012, but the fatality rate is up post-synth (PDF).
Look, horses like Game On Dude and Executiveprivilege were probably going to win Saturday whether or not there was a bias, so I don’t think they should be penalized for riding the crest of the way the track was playing. I am less convinced about Love and Pride and Power Broker. But I do know that the way the track was playing, well bet closers such as Richard’s Kid, Include Me Out, Amani, and Capo Bastone had absolutely zero chance. And that’s not fair.
Come the Breeders’ Cup, will we have reason to miss the Santa Anita synthetic?
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