JC / Railbird

Triple Crown

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).

Four Derbies, One Triple Crown

Bob Baffert might be the one trainer a non-racing regular can name, thanks to his Triple Crown race record (Wall Street Journal — beware paywall):

[Not even D. Wayne Lukas] can match Baffert’s ruthless efficiency. Both have won the Derby four times, the most of any trainers in the last 50 years. But Lukas has done it starting 48 horses, versus Baffert’s 27. Both have won the Preakness six times, but Lukas’s total comes in 41 attempts — more than twice Baffert’s 18.

For the past 20 years, Baffert’s California-based operation has been a Triple Crown juggernaut. He won both the first two legs of the Triple Crown in two consecutive years in 1997 and 1998. Then after years of more big-time wins both in the U.S. and across the globe, his Triple Crown triumph with American Pharoah in 2015 sealed his legacy as one of the best ever.”

Related: Paying a visit to American Pharoah, “a stud and a gentleman.”

Intertwined

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun delivers a story on Park Heights, the neighborhood that surrounds Pimlico. Three quotes:

1.

“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in Laurel,” Ritvo says. “Laurel is a much better place to have a year-round facility.”

State law requires the organizers of the Preakness to hold the race in Baltimore, unless there’s an emergency. But Ritvo says crime and blight are keeping the track in Pimlico from greater success.

“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” he says. “We had a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”

Security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in June 2015.

“When we run the Preakness here,” Ritvo says, “we try to get everybody out before it gets too dark.”

2.

City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the area near Pimlico, says a race track renovation plus connected businesses could help spur economic growth in the neighborhood.

Schleifer says the Stronach Group is standing in the way of progress.

“If we found a partner to rebuild that facility, you would see private investment come in on every corner,” he says. “These guys are holding Park Heights hostage.”

3.

Losing the Preakness would be a huge blow to the neighborhood’s rebirth, he says.

“If you had the Super Bowl in your backyard every year, you would never let it go,” Hurley says. “I don’t understand how anybody could be OK with it going to Laurel.”

Read more: Here’s a good overview of the money and politics involved at the Maryland Reporter. The Stronach Group is committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland, if not at Pimlico, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says.

From the department of far-fetched ideas: A New Jersey state senate candidate sees opportunity for Monmouth Park. “Pimlico is struggling to keep up its end of the bargain … let’s edge them out. With the right investments, Monmouth Park has the potential to be the new home of the Preakness.”

5/17/17 Addendum: So, about the Preakness moving to Laurel …

The subject is bound to stir powerful emotions, says Anirban Basu, an economist with the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group who has studied the Maryland racing industry. But in pure financial terms, he agrees with Ritvo that the Preakness could thrive at Laurel Park.

“I’m not advocating one way or another, but I don’t see any reason the race would not work much better at Laurel,” Basu says. “It’s a more upscale track, the MARC station is right there, there’s more parking and it’s in closer proximity to BWI and the D.C. airports. I very strongly believe the race at Laurel would be a more upscale affair that would attract more well-heeled patrons from around the nation and the world.”

On the other hand, the event would sacrifice some of its tradition and its quirky juxtaposition of corporate tents and college debauchery on the infield, he says.

“It would be more of a corporate race at Laurel,” he says. “At Pimlico, it’s more of a populist affair.”

From the archive, about that “populist” aspect: Whose Party? (5/12/15)

And here’s a stinging Baltimore Sun editorial taking the Stronach Group to task on the idea of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel:

It might well be smarter to talk about an entirely new Pimlico rather than investing in renovations …

But as for the wisdom of investing in Pimlico, we would note that the good condition of Laurel and deteriorating one of Pimlico didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Stronach and its predecessors to consolidate operations and investments in Laurel …

Rather than warning that it would require a “huge” commitment of state resources to keep the Preakness at Pimlico — and not acknowledging the “huge” amount of money the state is already sending their way as a result of the legislation that legalized slots and casino gambling — Stronach officials ought to be focused on finalizing an agreement with the Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Development Corp. on a second phase of the Pimlico study.

More Thunder Snow

Or, as I like to call him now, Thunder Bronco.

Jon White really regrets picking him to win the Kentucky Derby:

I am very glad that Thunder Snow was found to have no injuries. However, considering he was reported to be okay physically after a vet examined him, I can’t help thinking that perhaps what he also needs is to be examined by a psychiatrist. I’m even willing to join him on an adjoining coach. Because I certainly feel like I was out of my mind for betting some of my hard-earned money on a colt at odds of 16-1 who acted like a complete goofball on the sport’s biggest stage.

I understand the feeling, although I’m more chagrined that I put down a little flyer on J Boys Echo a couple of minutes before the race, swayed by his post parade appearance, 46-1 odds, and trainer Dale Romans’ pocket square. (Romans was dressed to win, but sartorial optimism is not a solid indicator …)

Tom Durkin had a run-in with the rambunctious Snow in the tunnel:

“The race starts and I’m watching it on TV,” Durkin said. “The horses kind of thunder past and I can’t really see anything. Then there’s this great commotion and people are yelling, ‘Get out of the way. Get out of the way.’ They open up the pole on the gap that leads into the tunnel and in comes Thunder Snow with the outrider. He’s crazed, and he basically pinned me up against wall of the tunnel. I am afraid of horses. I make no bones about that. He’s wheeling his ass end around and then I had to push him out of the way so he doesn’t kick me in the head. It was scary.”

According to the Churchill Down notes from earlier this week, Thunder Snow slunk out of Louisville on Tuesday afternoon, “[headed] for Huntsville, Alabama, where he would catch a flight to England.”

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