Never got around to putting up a final pre-Belmont picks post; partly because of time limitations, and partly because I didn't know exactly who to pick on top anyway. Came up with my wagers as I was standing at the paddock pre-race. However, I obviously wasn't letting Palace Malice get away at those odds without having a bet on him. Wrote last week that there's some price out there that I'm absolutely locked in to him, after having him in his hopeless Louisiana Derby journey and his out-of-control Derby dash; and 13.80-to-1 surely qualified as such. However, found it hard to make a rational handicapping case for him based on his having shown that he was good enough to win. It was more a case that the circumstances of his defeats meant that he hadn't proven he was bad enough not to. And, as I indicated in my last post, I was leaning towards using Oxbow and Unlimited Budget as well. So, I used those three as keys, and Orb, who I'd said I had a feeling that he wouldn't win, underneath only, and had a really fabulous Belmont, nailing the winner, exacta, and triple. Those picks are here somewhere if one stitched together the posts, so I hope this doesn't come across as after-the-fact bragging. I crushed the race, and seems that I don't get to say that very often, so that was obviously a lot of fun.
Was listening to Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock before the race talking about Oxbow, and she answered her own question about his ability to stay the mile and a half distance with an emphatic "No!" Something about his short hind quarters or something like that; have no idea about that stuff and let the experts fill me in. However, can one really say that Maggie was wrong even though he ran second? Don't know that coming home in 28.05 seconds - a 54.79 final half mile - qualifies as staying the distance. Sure he appeared to be game in holding off Orb for second; but was he, or was that an illusion created by the Derby winner flattening out after his long attempt to rally?
Of course, it's not surprising that the race would be so slow at the end - Palace Malice took 27.58 seconds to get home; final half in 54.13 - considering that they went 23.11 and 46.66 for the first quarter and half (and thanks to the connections of the hopeless Frac Daddy for bringing him along and having him gunned from the rail - that was a really constructive contribution to the game). (By comparison, last year, Paynter - so closely related to Oxbow, both by Awesome Again and out of full sisters - was able to rate to 49.1 and 1:14.3.) Palace Malice wasn't far behind the scrum, and the fact that nobody was able to catch the top two - and that only the Derby winner made even a semi-serious effort - makes me really wonder about this whole Triple Crown exercise. We've had slow closing fractions in this race over recent years to be sure. But this was ridiculous, with most of the field floundering despite what should have been an ideal pace setup to at least make it competitive.
I read Joe Drape trying to compare this year's three Crown winners to the 2007 crop (Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun, Rags to Riches). Personally, I don't see how one can be inspired to make that comparison after this race. Curlin and Rags to Riches battled down the stretch in a final quarter of 23.83!! That was a real horse race. This approached farce territory, and it came after one of the slowest Preakness times (track variants aside) in history, and a Derby with a too-fast pace that makes it hard to really evaluate, especially in light of the failure of the top three finishers to subsequently replicate their performances. Hopefully, we'll see these horses perform better at more normal distances and maybe we'll be able to make that comparison some day. But surely not now.
I've always been a stout defender of maintaining the format as is when we periodically hear calls for change. But if our top three-year olds are finishing our "test of champions" in quarter times that now barely even qualify as harness horse time, then maybe it really is time to step back and re-evaluate. It can't be good for the horses, and it sure ain't pretty to watch. It's a bit embarrassing too. If these horses simply can't run a mile and a half, then maybe they shouldn't be asked to run a mile and a half; especially after some of them have run twice in the prior five weeks.
Crowd of 47,562 was surely a disappointment given that the Derby and Preakness winners were in attendance - only a couple thousand more than 2010, when they were both absent. (And why exactly were there only 46,870 in 2007 for Rags to Riches?) My over/under coming into the day was 55,000; but I lowered that by 10,000 when I was out in the back by the duck pond pretty late in the day and saw this.
Looked more like Father's Day than Belmont day. Could have parked the ABR bus back there. So I was leaning under even my revised number. Thinking maybe they must have counted all the cops and security goons to get to 47,562.
I'm inclined to give NYRA a pass on the crowd number. The security measures were a tough row to hoe to be sure; they had to have discouraged a significant number of people. The coverage I heard on the news in the immediate days before the race were all about those measures, and NYRA had to expend time discussing them instead of a matchup of the Derby and Preakness winners and the large field which made it a compelling wagering challenge. And they had an ethical, in addition to practical, obligation to do so, to get the word out. Not sure myself if their marketing efforts were short of prior years - seemed comparable to me. I saw a fair number of print ads, they did the Empire State Building press conference, and the event at Grand Central (which one person told me was really lame). But I would think that the enhanced security was too much to overcome. Given the fact that the weather had cleared early in the day, not sure how much that hurt; but I would guess that some people on the fence the day before were discouraged by the downpours.
However, there was no excuse whatsoever for the endless beer lines, and the reports I've heard from various people of concession stands completely running out of supplies well before the end of the day. The food trucks helped to a point - though the Head Chef spent no less than 40 minutes standing on line and then waiting for a fish taco. (Note to Mike 'N' Willies: Made to order is a noble effort, but not practical in a racetrack with thousands of starving patrons.) (But she said it was really good, and that's no faint praise from the Head Chef). She also, eschewing a homemade mint julep surreptitiously and brilliantly smuggled into the track, tried to get a drink on the 3rd floor before the Manhattan, but the bar was completely out of everything - drinks and cups alike.
How can that be? The crowd was smaller than expected/hoped for I'm sure, and you would think that they would be sure to be well-stocked given all the prohibitions on what the fans could bring in! I mean....who's running this place?
Oh. That's right. Nobody. Oh yeah, there's the interim leadership team. But they can't possibly be expected to know the nuances of preparing a racetrack for a big event day. Perhaps if the New NYRA Board had done their job and named a CEO with experience in running a track instead of diddling around with search firms to give the appearance that they are being SO thorough and industrious, he/
[UPDATE: And STILL no CEO in place after today's NYRA Bored meeting. Unbelievable.]