The Whitney, and its aftermath, highlighted the best, and the worst, of thoroughbred racing here in the early 21st century.
First, the good part, which is, of course, the race, and the dramatic and, given the circumstances, unlikely winning rally by Blame to defeat 1-2 favorite Quality Road in the shadow of the wire. Much has already been written about the unusually slow pace set by Quality Road; at 48 flat to the half, he had Durkin noting with a hint of a giggle that it was "a walk in the park" thus far.
Durkin seemed rather complacent about the favorite after that point, and I think he kinda blew the call in that regard. He didn't seem to take the competition seriously, and was blandly matter-of-fact with his midstretch call of "here comes Blame with that stretch run of his on the outside." It was only after that, and after he switched leads, that the track announcer - and the rest of us - realized that Blame was mounting a most serious threat. Blame got the final furlong in 12.17 seconds; final 3/8ths in 36.52 seconds.
But, as Pletcher noted afterwards, it just might be the case that finding himself alone and not pushed on the lead in lazy fractions is actually detrimental to Quality Road.
“He was basically alone on the lead. He’s generally a little more focused when he has a target. There wasn’t anyone eager to take the lead yesterday, so we kind of inherited it. He’s one of those horses that does things so easily, he was kind of waiting on the competition.” [Bloodhorse]You look at his best races, and he did have a target or was pushed along. He sat second behind lively paces in last year's FOY and Florida Derby, and in this year's Donn; and he was prompted to a 45 first half by Le Grand Cru in the Met Mile. A comparable effort to Saturday's might have been the Hal's Hope earlier this year, when he was merely workmanlike in defeating a very weak field after walking to the first quarter in 25 and change. Just maybe, though Musket Man's trainer Derek Ryan classlessly complained that Ramon Dominguez didn't gun Haynesfield - "Haynesfield was supposed to run with Quality Road. It was in all the papers." [NYDN] C'mon man, are you kidding me? - Ramon Dominguez was doing the rest of the field a favor!
It was also interesting to read Johnny V comment:
"I tried to put him into the bridle but he was just going through the motions, which is strange for him....He ran, but he didn't give me his best race." [Times Union]Indeed, though Durkin, in deep stretch, was in his exclamatory mode, bellowing about Quality Road "digging in," take a look at the replay. He wasn't. Maybe at the very end when it was too late; but prior to that he was just going through the motions. If you want to see him digging in, take a look at the stretch run in the Met Mile when he was challenged by Musket Man; and that was when he really was tired, having run six furlongs in 1:08 2/5. The Beyer boys would have you believe that Blame jumped up and ran a career best 111; but the Whitney was the only two-turn dirt race of the day; so that's merely a guess. My guess is that Quality Road is likely to get the better of the two under just slightly more favorable (to him) circumstances and at equal weights.
Unfortunately - and here comes the worst of modern day thoroughbred racing - that won't come until the Breeders' Cup Classic...and that only if all goes close to flawlessly for both over the next three months; never a lock in this game in this era as you know. Each will race only once before that time and not against each other - Quality Road in the Woodward (followed by a two month break before the Classic), and Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (a two month break after the Whitney). Folks, these two horses have run a total of seven times in 2010, yet they will both tippytoe into the Breeders' Cup. Afterwards they, and probably the two fillies as well, will likely all be retired from racing. Should the four of them finally meet in the Classic - and I believe that if Rachel Alexandra shows even the slightest indication that a mile and a quarter is beyond her best distance in the Personal Ensign, it won't happen - it will be a huge thrill for us racing fans, and four ships passing in the Kentucky twilight to everyone else. It's just plain depressing, isn't it?