- Who woulda thunk that the very Moody Blues song I was listening to yesterday would turn out to provide the title of this post? I guess I kinda trailed off in the middle of my half-hearted live blogging yesterday. I managed to avoid the trip to the OTB after getting distracted by other events at home, and limited my losses to my available balances. Whatsmore, the result of the Blue Grass - especially the non-performance of Pyro - left me rather speechless, and also a bit glum about the upcoming Run to the Roses. It seems as if the Derby is presently under a cloud - a synthetic dust cloud, similar to what one might see at Woodbine.
I've been a supporter of the synthetic tracks; I've tried to minimize the differences between them and the dirt ones, and render them insignificant as compared to the goal of improving safety on the track. But there's no getting around the issue this year, especially with the question of how safe the new tracks really are up in the air. In the past, the key questions coming up to the Derby were related to whether horses could handle the distance, the crowd, and the commotion. But this year, the question of the artificial surfaces may be the one that most puzzles handicappers. And not in a good way. Whereas we're able to make at least educated guesses as to the traditional questions using past performances, replays, pedigree charts, and historic trends, here we're all just guessing when it comes to at least three of the horses who will be amongst the main contenders.
Let's take stock of what we know and don't know with respect to the synthetics angle to this year's Derby. Starting with what we don't know:
- Was Pyro's performance totally attributable to the Polytrack? His connections said all the expected things afterwards:
"You could just tell going into the first turn that he wasn't getting over the ground like he normally does," said Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, who was at Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby.Before the race, I was hoping that Pyro wouldn't win so that I could get 6 or 7-1 on him in three weeks. This isn't exactly what I had in mind. Sure, it's easy to say throw out the race. But that running line is going to be ugly. Do you think that 6 or 7-1 is still a fair price now? Is it possible that, in addition to not liking the track, the colt has lost his edge? Or maybe that those who have been insisting that he's not fast enough are correct?
"At no point in the race did I think he looked comfortable," Asmussen told the Keeneland public relations department. "We'll just train him up (to the Derby) accordingly. Hopefully, we can just keep moving forward from here." [Lexington Herald Reader]
I was watching on ESPN afterwards, and Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss still had Pyro high on their lists. But they were also kinda laughing at each other and at themselves, as if to say, how can you still like that horse after a performance like that? I may very well find that it's hard to do so. There was talk about last year's Blue Grass being "ugly" despite its rousing finish, but it certainly couldn't have been more so than the sight of the even money favorite floundering at the back of the pack.
- Can Colonel John handle the natural dirt? And even if he can, can his moderate Beyers (although I'm no longer sure exactly who, other than Big Brown, they are really moderate this year in comparison to?) be dismissed as irrelevant due to the fact they were earned on synthetics? I could make a good case that, surface aside, this horse is the legitimate Derby favorite based on his class, consistency, foundation (even with only two preps), and running style. But his ability to transfer all of that to the dirt is strictly conjecture, even if his pedigree indicates he can.
- Though I think I'm on safe ground in saying that Cowboy Cal is a turf horse, can we really just similarly dismiss the win by Monba? Or is he a real contender for the Toddster? We wait, as usual, for the Beyer boys to help shape our perception of the race, while knowing from last year that speed figures earned in the Blue Grass don't necessarily add up to much. After a first quarter of almost 25 seconds, it was a remarkably even paced race at around a steady 24 second per quarter pace; Monba got the final eighth in 12.35, and the last 3/8ths in 36.35. You'd think those would be good numbers on any surface.
As you may know, Monba has already won over the Churchill surface; an entry level allowance win at a mile in his second start. He then ran well to be 4th in the Cash Call, continuing a pattern of improving speed figures. If you throw out the Fountain of Youth debacle, in which he was said to have gashed a heel, pulled a muscle and seemed to suffer a breathing obstruction. [Courier Journal], the Blue Grass may have just been a resumption of his progression. I read someone say or write that, well, Stevil finished 4th at 68-1, and he's also a son of Maria's Mon so that shows that it was just the Poly. But I don't see how you can say that considering that Maria's Mon already has sired a Derby winner in Monarchos.
Monba is out of an Easy Goer mare who's a half-sister to two U.S. dirt graded stakes winners in Secret Hello, Silent Account, and Hadif (the latter also a stakes winner in the UK. And Monba has a half-sister Gijima, by Red Ransom, who's stakes placed on the grass. So maybe he likes both surfaces.)
Here's what we do know:
- Gayego can handle the dirt. The son of Gilded Time stalked a quick early pace of 22.71 and 46.61. But it didn't take him 14 seconds to get home; he gamely held off Z Fortune in a last eighth of 12.68, so nice going there. And now, after his four-wide-on-both-turns trip, I'm not feeling quite as bad about having a few bucks on Z Fortune at 38-1 in the first futures pool.
- Besides somehow getting confused - a senior moment perhaps? - and inserting a horse from the 10th race into the Blue Grass, I must say that I had a pretty solid day on Saturday as far as my handicapping on this blog. Of course, I ended up not making a cent. I picked Rebellion ($10.20) right on top, but didn't figure 38-1 Elite Squadron for second (nor 10th race winner Pickapocket at a way overlaid in retrospect 13-1 for Mott, ouch). Also had Meal Penalty ($5.60) by default after the other Pletcher scratched; and close seconds with Pimm's O'Clock and, especially fatal to my betting day, Pick Six.
- The Head Chef is very impressed with Keeneland track announcer Kurt Becker. She was listening as I watched the Blue Grass this morning, and I heard her actually getting into the race just based on the call with a little 'woo.' She was impressed by the way he captured all the action, even managing to slip in the fact that the two Pletchers were running one-two. Becker has always been accurate, and I'd say that he's been sneaking up to me of late as far as my appreciation of announcers go. I heard on TVG just yesterday that he's been hired by NYRA to call the races at Belmont during the time that Durkin is at the Derby and Preakness; so good job there for Becker, getting that gig and the Head Chef's endorsement within just a couple of days.