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Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Wood, Keeneland, and Nuance

The Wood drew a field of 11, and wow!  It's a far more complex picture than I simplistically contemplated the other day when jumping the gun. Social Inclusion drew the outside 11 post, and his having the lead going into the turn is far from certain.  Here's what the TimeformUS Pace Projector looks like; it's the projected positions after a half mile (with the field listed below it; I stole that from Bossert's blog in the Daily News).

1. Kid Cruz  Manny Franco  Linda Rice 20-1
2. Wicked Strong  Rajiv Maragh  James Jerkens 15-1
3. Noble Moon  Irad Ortiz Jr.  Leah Gyarmati 12-1
4. Harpoon  John Velazquez  Todd Pletcher 8-1
5. Los Borrachos  Cornelio Velasquez  William Mott 30-1
6. Kristo  Martin Garcia  John Sadler 6-1
7. Schivarelli  Javier Castellano  Eddie Kenneally 15-1
8. Samraat  Jose Ortiz  Richard Violette 7-2
9. Effinex  Rosario Montanez  David Smith 50-1
10. Uncle Sigh  Corey Nakatani  Gary Contessa 5-1
11. Social Inclusion  Luis Contreras  Manny Azpurua 2-1

Now, of course, Pace Projector is computer generated based on recent early pace figures earned by each horse, and it doesn't take into account the strategy involved with jockeys riding in a Grade 1 for a possible Derby berth jockeying and jostling for crucial position going into the turn.  And those early pace figures place Schivarelli in front early, and Social Inclusion 4th.  The Eddie Kenneally-trained colt has PPs that look a bit like those of Social Inclusion; a six furlong maiden win (albeit from off the pace) and a smashing wire-to-wire allowance win around two turns.  Of course, he didn't beat the likes of Honor Code in the latter race; but he did actually earn a TFUS speed figure of 114 that is tied with Social Inclusion's allowance effort for the best number earned by any three-year old this year. He gets Castellano for the Wood.  His freak race came in the mud, which he's unlikely to get here.  But his first race was on a fast track, and though he didn't have the lead, he had a horrible start, and the chart comment notes climb early, eager, pull bit.  So it definitely seems like he wants/needs to be in front no matter what the track condition.

As for the other horses shown in front of Social Inclusion, Noble Moon, the #3 horse on the rail behind Schivarelli, returns for Leah Gyarmati 91 days after his Jerome win.  He's also shown sharp early speed when he wasn't getting bumped at the start, and has a good inside post from which to make a run for the lead.  His trainer says "He appears to be ready," not the most effusive comment I've heard from a trainer before a race.  Uncle Sigh, I'll get to in a moment.

Social Inclusion's early pace figures are mitigated by those from his allowance win, which we have rated as quite slow.  Due to that lethargic pace that he was allowed to set, his raw speed figure of 119 was downgraded to his speed figure of 114 (which appears as 112 in the running line for the Wood because it's been adjusted down for the increased weight in this race. Frankly, I don't agree with that approach at all, but that's how it works.)  Reader kyle made a great point the other day in that the way Social Inclusion did finish so strongly indicates that he could very well be rated.  Given his post and the potential speed inside of him, he may have to be in order to get the first or second place finish that he needs to make the Kentucky Derby. His owner, however, doesn't seem to have any regrets about shipping him up here.
"Our plan was to come here for the Wood and then go directly to the Preakness, but last time he ran so good we started thinking about the Derby and the Triple Crown," owner Ronald Sanchez said. "This horse is really special. If you see the workouts he does, he's floating. Last Saturday he went in :46 4/5 and galloped out in :59 3/5, so easy. [BRIS]
Looking at the others listed at single digit morning line odds, I don't like Kristo or Harpoon at all, and hope they go off at those prices.  Neither seems fast enough on the TFUS speed figures, and I don't get the feeling that either is likely to improve enough on Saturday. I think 5-1 could be a great price on Uncle Sigh; but, as I said the other day, I think he's going to be ridden more to not lose, as in, not earn any Derby points.  4th place will probably do it, but I'm sure they'd love to be in the money. Well, they'd love to win, of course. But Contessa was extremely disappointed when Rydilluc missed out last year, and he really wants to get there in May. So I think he will instruct his rider accordingly to try and get a forward inside position from the ten post and not do anything rash. I'm sure he'd be happy to suck along for third if that's the best option. There's definitely a price that I'd bet him though.

And, for that matter, I think 7-2 would be a perfectly fair price for Samraat. He's undefeated, fast (at least on our figures), and has already answered some important questions. He stretched out, he's won on the lead, he's rated and won from a tracking position, he's looked horses in the eye and prevailed.  Neither he nor Uncle Sigh have yet answered the class question; the Wood should go at least part ways towards doing that.  Maybe I'm being provincial, but I really like both of these colts. It would be really cool if they resume their rivalry in the Wood with the others watching from far behind.

 - Keeneland is switching back to dirt, and I don't really even know what to say.  Well, I do know what to say, but I've just been too bent out of shape about it to now sit here and put it into words.  So I'll refer you to Pullthepocket, who sums it up perfectly - the big fields, the record handle, the competitive racing, he hits all the high points.  I mean, talk about fixing something that ain't broke!

A couple of additional points:  I remember when the synthetic tracks first came on the scene with great hoopla, Beyer wrote an article lamenting that the sport would become "boringly homogenized" because all of the synthetic surfaces would be uniform.  Of course, that wasn't the case, and I would now turn that argument around at the prospect of those surfaces largely disappearing. As Beyer wrote in that piece, eight years ago: "It is difficult enough to find edges in the modern betting game, and many of those edges come from detecting differences in racetracks." Eight years after synthetics were introduced, you can still always find underlays and overlays due to bettors ignoring switches in surface or failing to recognize a surface preference. Those routine betting opportunities will be gone once synthetics disappear, or virtually disappear, as seems inevitable now.

Then there's just the timing of all this. PETA released their video and the Times followed up with their coordinated hit piece, we see stats shortly thereafter that indicate that synthetic tracks are safer and cause less fatal injuries, and the next day - the very next day! - we have Keeneland telling us they're going back to dirt. I mean, seriously. Barry Weisbod is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, Ogden Phipps says enough is enough with these negative media reports, and then we have, in the immediate wake of the synthetic stats, this clown at Keeneland struggling to explain why they'd be changing surfaces, babbling about top trainers and top horses not coming there while I'm handicapping the Ashland with 13 horses, when it's obvious that all they care about is the money and prestige that comes from the Breeders' Cup and maybe their feelings are a little hurt because the top Derby contenders prep elsewhere.

And sure, the commenters on my last post tell me that I'm wrong, bringing up valid points about those injury stats - that they are skewed because the cheapest racing takes place on dirt so maybe we shouldn't be lobbing apples and oranges into one basket and calling it significant and so on. They may very well be right. But meanwhile, Drape is already out there on Twitter with "This is horse racing: Stats show Synthetic tracks are safest by far. So Keeneland decides to go back to dirt," and you know what's coming in his next attack in the Times.  [UPDATE: Here it is, from Friday's edition.] And when somebody brings up the fact that those stats lack nuance, you know what he says?

This is the equivalent of a political campaign against the sport, and when politicians are reduced to trying to explain the finer points of nuance, you know they are on the losing end.  It doesn't work.  (Kinda like me trying to explain why Social Inclusion has a 114 figure in the chart but a 112 in the past performances.)  Perception is what counts, and nuance never makes for effective messaging.  Racing has been on the losing end of the media assault for years now, and it sure ain't getting any better with follies like this. We hear how the sport needs a national drug czar. I think it could use a national public relations czar. Where does one apply?


kyle said...

Despite what I said, now that he's drawn the 11 Social Inclusion may be forced to take up the running. To me the key to the pace is Kristo. I don't see Noble Moon as close as the model has him. He clears to the rail easily. And I think at that point Ortiz will want to let the race unfold in front of him. Garcia is probably going to want to clear him with Kristo. How much Uncle Sigh and Schivarelli get involved with that one will determine what Contreras has to/can do. If that trio creates separation Social Inclusion can tuck in. If not, Contreras is going to have to use what I think is SI's superior speed and go on with it. The draw really did create a fascinating dynamic.

Robert Finch said...

I never understood the supposed public dislike of synthetic surfaces. To me they are far more interesting to play than the dragstrip tracks like the old Keeneland dirt surface. Ideally I would like to see all races run on the turf but since the grass would not hold up to all that use synthetics were an ideal option. Blah to the return to dirt.

Figless said...

"We hear how the sport needs a national drug czar. I think it could use a national public relations czar. Where does one apply?"

You are too honest to be in PR, but if you can get past that fault your communications skills and knowledge of the sport would make you the perfect candidate.

Teresa said...

Speaking of communication skills and knowledge of the sport, David Grening tweeted today that NYRA's communications guy, Eric Wing, is leaving of his own volitions after less than a year on the job.

ljk said...

Saw this tweeted by Craig Brogden:
"Saratoga average 1.13 per 1000 past 5yrs. Keeneland 1.05 per 1000. These are comparable groups of horses. Dirt vs Poly"

If those numbers are correct I think that's pretty interesting.

Figless said...

Seems someone stole my figs!

Those five year comparables are indeed correct, I have checked and re-checked my math.

Steve in NC said...

Doing that math and using it to respond to Drape is something a national racing PR office would certainly do. I'm curious as to how the numbers would look if you added the other top tier meets, Del Mar summer and GP winter.

It also behooves us and any national racing leadership to look at the numbers from a critical perspective, not just for PR use, but to make the sport safer.

Maybe there should be fewer sprints, or they should be run on straightaways.

Maybe certain tracks need to close and certain track configurations/compositions need to be done away with.

Maybe safety numbers could be used as ammunition to put a floor on claiming levels, and maybe end winter racing, leaving far fewer races, but bigger fields, better and safer races. And challenge PETA to figure out what to do with all those horses that are no longer part of the game.

Figless said...

Well stated Steve. I plan to run the numbers on the other tracks when I have some time, want to compare the top tier synth tracks with the same number of top tier dirt tracks.

But the Spa and Kee comparison seems fair.

Of course it would just be easier if the Jockey Club would actually run the numbers by class.