RSS Feed for this Blog

Friday, June 03, 2005

Bad Trips and Tracks

- The Racing Form’s Brad Free doesn’t hesitate to challenge common wisdom, and today he takes on those who automatically assume that a horse that had trouble in a race would have run significantly better if he had a clean trip. He uses Hollywood Story, the likely favorite in Saturday’s Milady BC Handicap, as a specific example. In the adjacent column in the print edition, Mike Watchmaker notes (sub. only)

In the Hawthorne Handicap, heavily favored Hollywood Story was wiped out and nearly dropped by an opponent who ducked out sharply going into the first turn. Yet she still inhaled her field with a wide rally into the stretch, won by a widening 2 1/2 lengths, and earned the top last-out Beyer Speed Figure in this race.

In light of that remarkable effort, and given Hollywood Story's proven affinity for the main track at Hollywood Park (she has now won 3 graded stakes from 4 career starts over the surface), it is impossible to go against her Saturday, even at a short price.
But Free retorts:
It is not that simple. Trouble does not always compromise performance. And in the case of Hollywood Story, an unprejudiced review of the Hawthorne leads to an obvious conclusion - the first-turn incident did not adversely affect Hollywood Story.

This is not meant to malign the filly. Hollywood Story's rapid recovery from the heel-clipping incident is testament to her agility and competitive spirit. Other, lesser horses might have surrendered then and there. It requires unusual talent for a horse to pick herself up, and go right on with it.

The hard part is quantifying the incident, and on this point handicappers are easily confused. Trouble is not necessarily negative. Dramatic, yes. Harmful, no. A bettor who believes a horse will always run significantly better with a clean trip is making a leap of faith. Often, they do. But there is much to consider before reaching the conclusion.
He then goes into a long series of questions that should be addressed before assessing the impact of a trouble line, for example:
Did the incident negatively affect the horse's running style? It did not affect Hollywood Story, a deep closer whose style is to race near the rear of the field early. If she had been a front-runner forced to take up or lose position, the incident would have been significant. But she was back where she was going to be anyway.
Unfortunately, it’s a subscription-only column, and I’m not going to reprint it here in its entirety; but if you don’t subscribe on-line, check it out in Saturday’s print edition, it’s well worth the read. And note that Free did not begrudge Afleet Alex for his stumble. Yet.

- With Evangeline still closed and leaving a big gap in my simulcast menu, another southwest track, Lone Star, is coming under fire for being too hard and too fast according to the Star-Telegram’s Gary West.
Horsemen have complained intermittently about the Lone Star surface for years. Of course, horsemen complain about almost every surface in the nation, particularly when they aren't winning many races. But the complaints this year seem louder and more desperate than in the past, and in many cases, they originate from trainers who are winning regularly.

And the complaints seem justified. The surface has indeed been uncommonly fast this season, unusually conducive to rapid times. The surface typically has been about three lengths faster than it was a year ago, and it was fast then.

On May 27, for example, a $10,000 claimer named Front Tees ran six furlongs in 1:08.95. Now, a $10,000 claimer shouldn't be able to move that fast unless he's riding in the back of a van. On April 28, a $25,000 claimer named Devil's Money ran six furlongs in 1:08.02 -- that was faster than Speightstown's winning time here in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in October. And on May 15, a maiden claimer named Polevault set a track record of 51.19 for 4 1/2 furlongs.