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Monday, August 09, 2010

Blame Game

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?


El Angelo said...

What was the last "rivalry" between horses that met repeatedly, even if it didn't capture the attention of the nation? Silver Charm/Free House? Formal Gold/Skip Away? My only point is that while this is horrible, it's nothing new.

Figless said...

Or perhaps Quality Road is best a mile, the logic behind my attempt to beat him Saturday.

He had never won a two turn race other than on Gulfstreams autobahn.

If he was pressed he would have folded worse, he had no answer in the stretch. Never believed these silly excuses about horse relaxing on the lead, looking for competition, he had everything his own way and lost. Either he can't handle two turns or Blame is a super horse in the making. We will find out in the Woodward, I guess, if anyone serious shows up to run against him.

Highly agree with your point about these horses schedules, this has been an extremely frustrating season as a fan of the sport.

For the first time in a long time there are four very good older horses, and we can't get more than one pre-Breeders Cup match up between any two of them?

El Angelo is right, it never happens anymore, because the Breeders Cup has ruined the rest of the racing season.

Dodge the competition and take the easy money until the Breeders Cup is the new mantra, in all divisions.

There are no sportsmen anymore.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure about Mr. Ryans comments either. Hard to say some bullshit when the horse you wanted "gun" broke through the gate. That tends to take a little sharpness out the horse. And the eventual winner came from behind you, so he didn't seem to mind the pace.


Figless said...

Dirty, corect his argument makes no sense, he clearly wasnt beating Blame regardless.

Anonymous said...

I don't think one can conclude Quality Road doesn't want two turns. I'm pretty confident he doesn't want 10 furlongs, but he did post a 121 beyer at 9 panels at GP. And his Florida Derby wasn't bad either. Yes GP can be a conveyor belt but I suspect QR can fire his best shot at up to 9 panels. I mean, a 121 beyer is pretty sick. As it turns out, he might even be best at 6-7f, since he obliterated the 6.5f track record at the Spa last summer. Either way, he's toast at 10f in CD. Also, the horse is obviously fragile, given his spaced out racing schedule. As long as an undefeated Zenyatta races in the BC Classic it will be huge drama, no matter who she is running against. -jp

Figless said...

We will know better after the Woodward, where I will be against him as long as there is a viable option.

Anonymous said...

Alan, nice piece on the Whitney Handicap, with the Travers one of Saratoga's top two Grade I stakes races. This year's Whitney went more or less according to it's usual barnburning script, in short, a helluva race as we have come to expect.

Yes, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Breeders Cup is hurting racing nationwide, especially in the Grade I ranks.Racing needs to find a fix and fast.

Many solutions have been offered but at minimum must include a new point system for Eclipse Awards. Thus a consistent performer over 8-10 Grade I's could win the Eclipse without running in the Breeders Cup.

This will make those Breeders Cup as Super Bowl promoters unhappy, as well as those looking for the easiest path to an Eclipse, but so be it. It is way overdue.

By adopting a NASCAR-type point system approach to racing awards, it will help all tracks all over North America and keep the fans coming. Why bet the farm on one race day at one track every year? /S/greenmtnpunter