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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bring On The Boys (and the Devils)

- So I want to go back and take a look at the races that I couldn't pay much attention to during the busy last hour or so at the track....and own up to a couple of picks gone very bad, sorry about that. Reader Jeff emailed to say that it seemed apparent that I was ready to get outta there at the end, and that was the truth. I was blogged and tracked out at that point.

Before I get to the three-year olds, I wanted to discuss what was, to me, the most notable event of the day - the two compelling wins at Oaklawn, before a crowd of over 30,000, for the connections of owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Sherriffs. The latter had previously only started one horse at Oaklawn in the last five years, but I imagine he collected enough memories there yesterday to last a lifetime.

In the Apple Blossom, Ginger Punch was pounded to 2-5 despite the presence of Sherriff's sensational four-year old filly Zenyatta. After all, Ginger Punch is a champion, while Zenyatta was making only her 4th career start, and she had yet to run nearly as fast as Frankel's mare in terms of speed figures. As it turned out, Ginger Punch would have gone down even if Zenyatta wasn't in the race. Which she wasn't for the first seven furlongs or so. By the time Zenyatta was gobbling up the champ after being 9 1/2 back after a half mile, so was 18-1 Brownie Points. However, it's possible that Ginger Punch sensed that there there was no point in expending any further effort because there was a monster coming down the middle of the track.

And indeed there was! No sooner had track announcer Terry Wallace noted that Zenyatta, who, according to Sherriffs, weighs some 1200 pounds, had yet to start her run as they entered the final turn, she took off, gobbling up ground as quickly and effortlessly as you'll ever see any horse do. By the time she swung for home, it was plainly clear that she would not be stopped.

“Heading into the final turn, I wanted to see what I had underneath me and I urged her a little without much response, so I asked her harder and she took off,” said [Mike] Smith, riding Zenyatta for the first time. “I was about at the three-eighths pole and I was afraid I was going to get to the front too soon.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
She ran each portion of the race faster than the prior one - her fractions, according to Formulator, were 24.85, 24.08, 24.06, 23.60, and 6.05. In just her 4th start, Zenyatta has seemingly reached the pinnacle of her division, having conquered the defending champ. True, Ginger Punch may not have been at her best. But still, I'm thinking - when are they going to get serious and start running her against the boys?? Her final time for the mile and a sixteenth was 1.42.64. The time for the mile and an eighth of the Oaklawn Handicap run two races later is listed as 1.50.34 (which could conceivably be changed - the race was hand timed after the teletimer malfunctioned, and there are no internal fractions available at this time). The way Zenyatta was going, I think it's completely fair to speculate that it wouldn't have taken her nearly the 7.7 second difference between those times, and that she could have beaten those horses handily. She could be a major factor in the Older Horses Besides Curlin division to be sure if Sherriffs decides to go that route. And, after another tour de force like this against her own kind, what else will there be to do?

The Oaklawn Handicap may not prove to have the same implications as Zenyatta's performance, but it was just a fantastic stretch duel that is well worth checking out; and it was that much more dramatic considering the unlikely double it provided to the connections when Tiago managed to win the head bobbing duel with favored Heatseeker. Jerry Moss called it a "charttopping success." “One of these races can make your year. To win them both is quite amazing.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

Neither of these horses would give an inch as they battled, and they were absolutely dead even throughout the last eighth at least, right up to the wire. Tiago won strictly on the bob, and if the stretch was a couple of inches shorter or longer, Heatseeker very well may have prevailed. Mike Smith spoke of a change of strategy for the winner.
“He gets too far back, but I thought if I could get a better position early it would make the difference. He’ll give you a good kick from wherever you put him. He didn’t like it when I hit him, so I just snapped the reins at him all the way down the stretch.” [ADG]
Tiago benefited from saving some ground on the turn, during which he was a couple of paths inside of Heatseeker; and from a two pound weight advantage. It was a great effort for the runner-up nonetheless, as he proved he could handle natural dirt and race outside of California. However, I don't think either horse proved that they could beat Zenyatta!

For me, it was a double whammy. I picked Circular Quay here, and he was just awful. No speed, no closing kick, no nothing. Well, I guess I was wrong, and that it was the Fair Grounds track that he liked and not necessarily the blinkers. I also completely dismissed the chances of Tiago, writing that 'you can have him at 7-2.' So I hope you did (actually at 3-1).

I'll be back to take a look at the Derby preps and the Ashland a bit later on.

- Also wanted to mention that the Rangers have a date with the Devil(s). They'll play for home ice advantage in the final regular season game today.

2 Comments:

rgustafson said...

Alan,

In a couple of blogs you made note of yesterday's attendance. As you said, around 30,000 at Oaklawn. Also just inder 24,000 at Keeneland and over 50,000 at Santa Anita. Aqueduct, with a card that had two Grade I and two Grade II races draws 7,700. That is just pathetic. Is it a reflection of the stae of racing in New York?
Your thoughts.
Bob

Walter said...

A start in the Classic would give Zenyatta an extra furlong to work with too, compared to the Distaff. The more ground the better with her, i think. Looks VERY feasible from where i'm sitting. Who would you rank in front of her right now??? Curlin, and that's about it.

PS - After winning the World Cup, i think it's high-time we put Curlin on retirement watch. I think it's just as likely they pull the plug as run him in the Classic again. I hope i'm wrong, but we'll see.