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Monday, April 04, 2005

Monday Night Madness

- Besides Todd Pletcher’s stakes triple at Gulfstream on Saturday, which at least partly made up for the disappointing runs of Vicarage in the FL Derby and Coast Line in the Excelsior at Aqueduct, there was a three-bagger of another kind at the Gulf. The father-son sire team of Unbridled and Unbridled’s Song had three stakes winners on the card as well.

Navesink River (Unbridled) avenged two close losses in graded stakes with his win for Pletcher in the G2 Pan American Handicap, defeating Quest Star (Broad Brush), who had won the last two editions of the race. Navesink River is out of a minor stakes winner by Easy Goer, and has multiple stakes winners Viva Sec and Viva La Vivi as his 3rd and 4th dams. As I’ve noticed more and more he’s inbred to Buckpasser, in this case 5x4x5; and also top and bottom 4x4 to Raise A Native.

Eurosilver (Unbridled’s Song) took the G3 Skip Away Handicap in 1:49 1/5, a tick faster than High Fly; though I must note that the pace scenarios were quite different, as High Fly chased a livlier pace than Eurosilver was allowed to set. Ironically, he was Nick Zito’s big Derby horse last year, but got sick, and hadn’t won a race in well over a year before this one. It was his first race with blinkers on for Carl Natzger, and jockey Castellano said "With the blinkers on, he's a completely different horse." [Bloodhorse] Eurosiver is out of a minor stakes winner by Nijinsky II, but his second dam is 1986 BC Juvenile winner and champion 2 yo Brave Raj. He’s a complete outcross through his first five generations.

Value Plus (Unbridled’s Song) won for the first time since Feb 2004 when he won the Artax Handicap for Pletcher on Saturday. I was at Gulfstream for that race last year and was very impressed with the way this beautiful grey seemed to practically glide down the stretch. I promptly donated money in his name to the Derby futures pool. It’s been a long road back (for him), but hopefully he will move forward from here and possibly justify his $1.1 million price tag as a yearling; he’s a possibility for the G2 Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby day. His dam is from the Hail To Reason/Turn-To sire line, but though through names like broodmare sire Rollin On Over, who won multiple minor stakes and a total of 20 races, his sire Brent’s Prince, a one-time Ohio horse of the year, and his sire, 1967 Derby winner Proud Clarion (Hail to Reason). Value Plus is also a complete outcross through five. I notice a lot of that too.

- Mike Watchmaker, in his subscription only column, provides an interesting look into the sometimes baffling-to-me process of the use of subjective judgments in the calculation of Beyer figures, in this case with respect to High Fly and Noble Causeway.

Fountain of Youth Day was a tricky day for speed-figure makers. The main track at Gulfstream that day started out labeled good, but was upgraded to fast during the afternoon. The relative speed of the racing surface also increased during the afternoon. When Noble Causeway won that allowance race, he ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.89. When High Fly won the Fountain of Youth three races later, he went the same distance in 1:49.70. Normally, such a disparity in time would, at that distance, make for a difference of about 10 Beyer points. But the Beyer team decided that the track was slower for Noble Causeway's race than it was for High Fly's and gave Noble Causeway a 96 and High Fly a 99. The outcome of the Florida Derby was strong evidence that the Beyer folks made the correct call. By finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind High Fly Saturday, Noble Causeway received a Beyer Figure 2 points lower than what High Fly got, or a 100, meaning everything fell into line nicely. [Daily Racing Form]
Emphasis added by me. I am sometimes rather baffled by the use of projections and of what has to be a fair amount of guessing to make, such as in this case, such a large adjustment in figs for races just three races apart; but they seem to have made the right call in this case. High Fly’s fig was a move forward, but not too much so, in a good way. Nonetheless, Zito will have to put his money where his mouth is to have him at his peak in five weeks. No question he’s a leading contender this year and will certainly be one of the favorites and deservedly so. But besides the layoff, he will have to contend with a drastically different atmostphere, far from the familiar environment and mostly mediocre competition in relatively short fields at Gulfstream. I could change my mind of course, but I think I’ll be trying to beat him in the Derby.