JC / Railbird


A Lucky Classic?

Well, I suppose it’s possible:

A defeat for dirt leader Quality Road and a sub-par success for all-weather leader Zenyatta were two further indications that Bob Baffert may be about to get lucky in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The first clue came last week, when his stable star ran away with the Haskell Invitational, posting the best performance by an American three-year-old this year.

But with the leading older horses having the chinks in their armour exposed on the weekend, it now looks increasingly likely that the elite division could be set for a changing of the guards in November.

Although, I’m not sure what chink is being referred to re: Zenyatta. The sub :24 final quarter? Or maybe the final sixteenth in :5.94?

Related: Eight reasons Pull the Pocket likes Zenyatta. Point #2, right on.

Crouching Jockeys, Faster Horses

According to research published in Science, the now-standard “monkey crouch,” popularized by jockey Tod Sloan in the late 1890s when he moved from the US to Britain, revolutionized racing by making horses run faster:

By, in effect, floating above his mount, the jockey saves the energy the horse would otherwise expend…. average times — almost 109 seconds per mile in the 1890s — fell dramatically and settled at less than 103 seconds for most of the 20th century.

The findings suggest an intriguing possibility:

Some researchers have hypothesized that a jockey could in effect “drive” the horse faster than it could go on its own. Pfau believes this might be possible if the jockey is moving the right way at precisely the right time. “But we haven’t cracked that yet,” he says.

Unproven, but such a conclusion seems intuitively correct. “A good jockey can improve a horse if he is a good fit for him,” trainer Bob Baffert tells Joe Drape. “That’s why we have speed riders and come-from-behind jockeys. The best stay cool and calm, and horses can feel it.”

Always More

From The Rail (NYT), 6/4/2009:

… thoroughbreds put out bigger efforts these days than their muscles, ligaments, suspension systems and bones can easily sustain. Their physical structure is tested to the utmost to maintain the speed they can now achieve with modern training methods.

From the Thoroughbred Record (HotC, p. 163), 6/3/1911:

Somebody once asked a famous Kentucky turfman what was the chief requisite in the makeup of a great racehorse, and the answer was “speed.”

“And what was after that?” was the next question.

“More speed,” was the reply.


– Discuss: Jockey Garrett Gomez chose to ride multiple graded stakes-winning Pioneerof the Nile in the Kentucky Derby over stakes-placed Dunkirk. Did he make the right call? “No,” says Bill Finley, Dunkirk is the better horse. “Yes,” says Jon White, PotN might sweep the Triple Crown. Now, this is the sort of debate it’s fun to have Derby season …

– Steve Davidowitz makes a point in his latest Trackmaster column worth repeating: “Isn’t it clear by now that horses that have run well — or reasonably well — on the synthetic surfaces in southern California have run just as well if not better on good ole plain dirt?” I can think of a few reasons a handicapper might decide to dismiss the Derby contenders, even Pioneerof the Nile, who have campaigned primarily over synthetics, but the surface isn’t a sound one, at least, not yet. There’s too little data, and what there is, points to the synth-to-dirt move as not being an automatic negative.

– Love this little detail in a Los Angeles Times article about Rafael Bejarano’s SoCal success: “Bejarano is so in demand that Saturday, on the 10-race California Gold Rush program, he will have a mount in all 10 races.” The Saturday following, Bejarano will be at Churchill to ride Papa Clem, whose Derby credentials seem more solid the more I consider him.

– Unlike Desert Party … Godolphin announced today that Alan Garcia will remain on Regal Ransom and that Ramon Dominguez will ride Desert Party for the first time next week, which doesn’t inspire confidence in this fan. (Not because Dominguez isn’t a fine jockey, but why no Frankie Dettori? There’s also the matter of Desert Party’s first work at Churchill, which was solid, but not so good as his stablemate’s on the same day.)

– Forget about looking for Kentucky Derby picks who have proved they can come home in less than :38 seconds in a nine-furlong prep. According to the Downey Profile, every likely contender who finished first or second in a prep race ran the final three furlongs in that time or better. What’s more, two-thirds of likely starters did so in better than :37 seconds. This really will be a competitive Derby. (Via The Rail, recently returned.)