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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Breaking Through

- What I find particularly interesting about Ahmed Zayat's decision to pull his horses from Del Mar is that it's apparently not about the track being unsafe; but rather, about it not being fast enough.

Zayat said he was of the belief that "what distinguishes American racing is speed," but that Polytrack was "artificially slowing down" brilliant horses. "The way the Thoroughbred runs is so majestic," he said. "Why are we doing this? [Daily Racing Form]
I've had the attitude all along that I'm not particularly concerned about slower times, if the trade off is less injuries, the end of speed biases, and horses that are able to run more frequently and have longer careers. But thinking about it, I can understand where Mr. Zayat is coming from. As an owner, he takes pride in the horses he owns, and time is perhaps the only measurement left in the game by which horses of our era can be measured up against those of the past. I suppose that baseball players wouldn't be happy if a rule change led to averages dropping 25% across the board.

The track has thus far been safe, and Del Mar officials insist that most horsemen are happy. The Form reports that Bob Baffert, one for 20 at the meeting, spoke about changing the way he shops for horses at auction.
"I know if I buy a fast-looking horse and I put him on dirt, he'll be a fast horse....Now, you need a turf-influenced pedigree. I've got some horses that it will move way up. The jury is still out on this." [DRF]
Perhaps an early sign of the potential ramifications to the breeding industry should the synthetics continue to proliferate. And would an emphasis on stamina as opposed to speed be a bad thing?

- Another beautiful day at Del Mar on Wednesday. I gained some confidence early in the day even while continuing to lose; but at least I was having the right idea, which helps the fragile psyche. I loved Graham Motion's filly Cat Charmer in the 10th at Saratoga, and she ran a great race rallying wide for third after some early problems; I thought she was the winner, at 7-1, midstretch. Tab her for next time, but we'll surely be lucky to get 7-2. And then, though I couldn't come up with the apparently-out-of-form Atlando in the second at Del Mar, I at least had the right idea about AP Excellent, who was finished early, beating one horse at 4-5.

Backing up to the first for a moment, favored Newton's Memory showed that you can wire the field on the Poly if you're the only speed. But it also showed just how tiring this track is; after what would normally be considered a moderate half mile of 46.4, this horse hung on for dear life, struggling through the final furlong in 14.44 seconds, ugh!

I actually had the 4th race winner, Warren's Pepe, right on top, but didn't come up with the longshots who filled out the exacta and triple. But I felt I was at least making progress. And my efforts finally paid off in the late Pick Three. I went three deep in the 6th, and just barely hung on with Ex Caelis ($12). You may remember this filly from the Lukas barn last year; this was her first start for Richard Mandella, and her first outing since last October. She grabbed the lead turning for home, but again, you could see the tiring effects of the track late, as she just - and I mean just held on in a final furlong of 13.58. Another half-stride and she was a loser. This four-year old FuPeg filly showed some talent over the last two years, and it will be interesting to see how she does with her new conditioner.

I singled Ashley's Kitty, who I picked here, in the 7th, though she didn't turn out to be the value that her morning line of 6-1 advertised. But she was an easy winner as the 5-2 third choice; and is still unbeaten at sprint distances for trainer Ted West. And then I was spread five deep in the finale. I wimped out and included Frankel's favored Mezuzah even though I didn't like her off the long layoff; I wasn't letting the trainer beat me on this day. Second choice Forest Melody ($9) had the lead from the start, and I didn't have any of the fillies who were trying to run her down turning for home. But she hung on for a nice Pick Three return of $172.90. So I'm on the board.


Michael said...

How do you think pitchers felt in 1969 when they lowered the mound?

Warstone said...


The way I ready his comments I don't think that Mr. Zayat is particularly concerned with the actual times of the races but rather to the fact that the surface is playing against front running speed. He has invested millions of dollars for horses that will do will in speed favoring tracks and now they switch the game on him and speed is dead. There goes the investment! What he is arguing for is for a track that plays more like the dirt tracks did and favor more front runners or at least does not bias against them.
I think that even if times are slow you can still copare horses on the basis of adjusted figures like Beyers, you do not need the actual times to be comparable.

rgustafson said...

We can all agree that the surface is slow and tiring, but to say that it is playing against front running speed is not entirely accurate. If you are talking about races run around two turns, you are absolutely correct that early horses are not holding on and P and S type horses are winning the vast majority of the races. This is just not the case in the sprints. Accordimg to the BRIS summary figures from the start of the meet through July 30, races on poly at 5.5,6.0, and6.5 furlongs have been won by horses with a designated running style of E or EP 65%-70% of the time.

Handride said...

As I posted I think it's just sour milk on Zayat's part. People have a hard time with change and Mr Zayat is obviously used to having his way. It probably didn't help that his horse EZ Warrior finished up the track.

Warstone said...

Good point Mr. Gustafson. You are right on the sprints not being all that biased but the front runner in routes are definetely being affected. I think taht what is bothering Zayat.

jeff said...

Michael -- it didn't seem to bother Seaver/Koosman/Gentry too much in '69!

Alan -- Cat Charmer made my list, too -- Gomez was bouncing up and down on him the first half of the race -- he still came full of run from the outside late.

Oh, and things got a little nasty with Avery while you've been gone, but hopefully it's all resolved now.

Mutaman said...

"time is perhaps the only measurement left in the game by which horses of our era can be measured up against those of the past. I suppose that baseball players wouldn't be happy if a rule change led to averages dropping 25% across the board."

Raw final time has never been an adequate way to measure horses, of either the same or different eras. And rule changes have led to significant drops in averages over the years. Seen many .400 hitters lately?

I'm tired of seeing racehorses break down. That trumps everything else. I can adjust my handicapping.

alan said...

>>Raw final time has never been an adequate way to measure horses, of either the same or different eras.

That's true, no doubt. But I think that track and stakes records can still serve as useful general reference points, whereas things such as money earned or number of wins are useless comparisons between eras now.

Anonymous said...

I understand what people are saying, about it's not about how fast they go if they come back safe. I appreciate that the racing has been much least on the Polytrack if not Del Mar's grass course. Still, I like seeing good racehorses performing with corresponding good racehorse times. And if I wanted to watch a six-furlong stakes race come back in 1:11 and change, I'd watch racing from Calder. There's certainly a balance between being safe and not making the horses appear to be running in molasses into a 50 MPH head wind. I don't like Zayat much, I'm not crying over his picking up his marbles and going home. But he's got a point, in that racing is built on a foundation of speed in addition to stamina, and that you can be fair to both, and fair to all running styles without Del Mar becoming the Calder of California. That Del Mar's head is so adamant, or is it arrogant, against making a change that can reverse this slippery slope of dull racing and duller finishing times is pretty telling about the misplaced emphasis; they wanted the safer racing so much they forgot to make it fast and exciting at once.

I love Polytrack's potential, but it can't be so complicated to create and maintain a uniformly fair surface for all. Maybe they should have gone with Cushion Track instead.