- While Todd Pletcher is the dominant trainer thus far at Gulfstream, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan swept all four stakes races over the weekend, wow! That means that Pletcher, for all his success, did not win any stakes. The rider’s feat was all the more impressive when you look at the prices of his winners and see that there were no favorites amongst them. Besides the aforementioned Doctor Decherd ($31) and the overlaid Gaff ($13.60), he booted home On Thin Ice ($12.60) in the G3 Hal’s Hope. I had him top and bottom in the exacta with favored Philanthropist, a very disappointing 7th at 9-5 for Shug.
Bridgmohan’s final stakes winner of the weekend was my first winner of 2006. I thought Honor in War was an overlay as the 7-2 third choice in the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes; this seven year old fires every time, and it’s of course easy to say this now, but I thought even at the time that he was almost a must-bet at that price. I was confident enough in going against favorite Saint Stephen and second choice Remind that I left them out when I part-wheeled the winner on top in the exacta. When Honor in War dropped out of the picture in mid-stretch, I looked like a loser, but Bridgmohan came flying late to get up with the type of flying finish out of nowhere that I’m usually only on the losing end of. Hotstufanthensome, the shortest price of the four I used for second, just bailed me out getting up for the place to complete an exacta of $90.20. Happy new year to me! (May I add that I later hit the 9th exacta at Sam Houston?) It came on my final bet of two consecutive Big A days, thanks to the Head Chef being away in Florida. (I came on Sunday midday after an early screening of Steven Spielberg's sometimes brutal but always exhilirating and thought-provoking Munich.)
Steve Crist writes in the Form (sub. only) that the inner track meeting at Aqueduct is off to a good start in terms of field size and competitiveness, and he crediting new racing secretary PJ Campo with helpful innovations such as claimers restricted to new four year-olds and optional claimers. For example, he points out: The Dec. 14 card had four [of the latter], where allowance fields that would have numbered 4, 4, 7, and 8 horses instead went with fields of 7, 6, 9, and 12, thanks to the presence of claiming horses that had already run through the allowance conditions of the races.
There also is the money to consider. An N1x allowance race for older males on the inner track carries a $46,000 purse, the same as if it were on Whitney Day at Saratoga. The same race this weekend at Gulfstream was not only worth just $33,000, but also was a lot harder to win: The race drew three entrants already placed in graded stakes and three promising recent maiden winners who sold for $700,000 or more. Aqueduct can look awfully inviting by comparison.The inner track is not always the speed-favoring course it has the reputation for either, and keep in mind that the stretch is actually around 20 feet longer than the main track there - yes, it's true. Still, I have to admit that most of my attention over the weekend was, and will continue throughout the winter to be, at Gulfstream and, to a someone lesser extent due largely to my familiarity with all the New York stables in Florida, Santa Anita and, soon, Oaklawn. Despite these larger and more competitive fields in New York, as a racing fan it’s certainly hard to ignore the quality of the races in Florida as compared to all the state-breds, maiden claimers, and races with all-too-familiar plodders being contested up here, even if the Big A races may be easier to decipher.
- One of the better of the many excellent features we’ve seen added to the Racing Form over the last several years is the Closer Look column which has detailed commentary on each individual horse. This is especially true with the maiden races, when writers such as Dan Illman share their expert knowledge of the horse’s pedigree.
I saw an interesting comment in the Closer Look notes on Miner’s Lamp, contesting the third at Gulfstream on Saturday. Noting the presence of Jerry Bailey on board, the author notes that he “was the original pilot (one of the more underrated angles in the game)." That’s an angle that I’ve frankly never noted. It’s certainly a good sign to see a rider, especially a top one, return to a mount after a poor performance, and I especially take note of a rider who sticks with a horse after it has been claimed. Another situation I like is when a top rider sticks around to ride a cheap horse in the final race of the day, especially if he/she has a mount in a stakes race just prior. This idea of a jockey returning to a horse whom he rode in its maiden voyage seems to make sense; I suppose the idea of a horse showing enough in its first race to warrant a rider’s return seems valid, so I’ll keep an eye on it going forward.
Another feature that the Form instituted was to list in italics any of the top three finishers in each race who returned to win its next outing; this is supposed to help identify a “key race.” But in looking recently at races in much more detail via the fabulous Formulator product, I’ve found that this feature can at times be deceiving if you’re unable to examine the race more closely. I’ve found many cases in which the next-out win was in a drastically lower class; or was a win on the turf whereas he and the subject horse were coming out of a dirt race, or vice-versa. This can be a matter of debate, but in my opinion, a horse winning a turf race after running on the dirt should not, in most cases, be a factor in determining whether the race is ‘key.’
In addition, since you’re only seeing the top three finishers, you’re getting only a small sampling of the field, especially if your subject horse was one of the top three. Seeing the complete race chart of the past race and being able to access the past performances of each one of the contestants, as you can do for every horse’s prior three races via Formulator, is the only real way to judge just how good or bad that race was (though it in some cases certainly qualifies as too-much-information). I know that the expense and the detail of Formulator is not for everyone, but I think one should be cautious about making any big wagering decisions based largely on those italicized runners in the Form’s running lines.