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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Wicked Wrong

I didn't mention Wicked Strong in any of my posts about the Wood because I didn't like him at all.  Guess I was wrong about that.  Perhaps my judgement was somewhat clouded by the fact that I liked him in the Holy Bull and picked him on this blog; and he ran just horribly, barely lifting a hoof.  I'll sometimes shut my mind to a horse that burns me like that, I must admit.  Not that I hold grudges or anything, but he just really sucked that day.

However, my antipathy towards the Wood winner went beyond that.  I liked Samraat and Uncle Sigh, thinking they could run back at least to their top figures earned in the Withers and Gotham (and, as always here, I'm talking about the TimeformUS figures.  We had those two colts rated pretty significantly higher than did Beyer, and in this particular case - and I think I've been pretty fair about this - our numbers were far closer to the mark.) So, Wicked Strong would have had to run an 18 point top to be competitive with the horses I liked, and I just didn't - and still don't - sense from his running lines that he had that kind of performance in him.  Sure, I know, he had his 'sneaky-good' 4th in Constitution's allowance race.  But I'm looking this time of the year for 3YO's who have shown development since two and look ready to explode, and I just didn't see that here.  I mean, his Holy Bull was so awful that I was thinking more in terms that he could run back to his Remsen, which wasn't that fast to start with, and is a race that wasn't looking all that great anymore between Wicked Strong, Honor Code's defeat in his return, and the indifferent performance by Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby.

What's more, a fair number of smart guys liked him - including our buddy Figless and, more significantly as far as the betting went, Andy Serling, who picked him second (and had the exacta box) - and he was bet down from his 15-1 morning line.  I perhaps would have considered him at twice the price that he went off.  Value, he was not, in my opinion.

So, I'm gonna go with 'Congratulations if you had him.'  You know, what you sometimes see someone write when you get the feeling that he/she is just a tad bitter and, worse yet, trying to say that you were lucky! Something I've seen Steve Crist write in the past, and all of our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family at this time.

As it turned out, Wicked Strong ran a 25 point top on the TFUS scale (17 on the Beyers) and earned a figure of 117 which is top amongst three-year olds this year.  Beyer gave him a 104, compared to 107 for California Chrome, and the 111 that Social Inclusion got for his allowance win; so still a strong number if not the top one.  Is he a legitimate Derby contender?  I'd say definitely.  Could very well be that he just didn't like it in Florida and was maturing all along despite the lackluster performances in the afternoons.  His breeding is fine, especially in this year of lackluster pedigrees amongst the contenders.  He's by a Derby runner-up out of a dam by a Derby winner, and he has the mile and a quarter Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Student Council in his female pedigree.  (The second dam of Student Council is the third dam of Wicked Strong.)

So yeah, if he once again gets an excellent post, an honest pace to close into (nearly a certainty), a nice uneventful inside trip around the first turn, no horses outside to hinder him when it's time to make his move, and a clear path down the lane, then sure, he could win the Derby.  But, at this point, a bit less than four weeks out, I'm thinking that I'd want something north of the 9-1 that he went off.

Anyway, I wrote more about the Wood at the TimeformUS blog here. And about California Chrome and his win in the Santa Anita Derby here. I got a little pushback in the office on my contention that the latter is the likely Derby favorite.  It was pointed out that the public has actually done a good job of identifying false favorites; and that they gravitate towards horses working well and/or with classic pedigrees.  But I don't know that there's anything about California Chrome that would make him a false favorite (as opposed to a beatable one, which I think he will be).  He's going to come into the race off four straight daylight victories with a total winning margin of 24 lengths, a resounding win over the Rebel winner (for comparative purposes), and the top Beyers in the field (unless Social Inclusion gets in).  [Should clarify here that I'm assuming that nobody in the Arkansas Derby jumps up to run an explosive number...and that I'm talking about dirt figures, in case someone in the Blue Grass does.] And while we know his pedigree is modest, who exactly are the 'pedigree' horses this year?  I don't see any horse with the depth of stamina that we saw in the pedigree of Revolutionary last year.  So, I do think that California Chrome is the likely post-time choice unless he works his way out of it and/or draws the 1 or 20 posts.

 - I didn't take any pictures of the new Longshots simulcast room/bar area when I was there on Saturday; but I'm sure you know the drill.  Tons of big screen TVs, with individual work spaces with their own TV.  Here's a photo from the NYRA site.

Over to the left as you walk in, there's a smaller room called the Elite Players Club (though nobody stopped me from walking in, and I surely do not qualify as such); and, to the right, the bar area.  A big rectangular bar surrounded by small (two-drink minimum) tables, and another big bank of big screen TVs.  Those of you familiar with the old Kelso and Man O'War rooms that used to be back there will surely recognize the footprint.  It's not particularly elaborate nor luxurious, but it's a solid job, just what the place has been lacking.  We could sit here and wonder what took so long, but I suppose that's between NYRA and Genting, and I would be quick to blame the latter.  As nice as it is, it's also obvious that it shouldn't have taken more than a few months to build....and, in fact, it didn't, once they finally got underway.

The $5 admission price (or free for NYRA Rewards members) will keep the crowd down.  There won't be a more crowded day at Aqueduct (approximately 12,000 fans on hand.....silly to announce precise numbers when you know it's inexact with people walking in and out through the casino); and while it was crowded with all the workspaces taken, there was seating available in the bar area and at the bar itself.  It was a good atmosphere, with people into both the racing and the sports; a big cheer went up when Ike Davis hit his game-winning grand slam HR. Yes, people were watching the Mets.

There are some kinks to work out.  There was no wifi (I was told it would be in place by Monday); no audio of race calls; and, despite the card on the bar tables picturing a variety of liquors (such as Knob Creek and Makers), the selection was limited (Jack Daniels the only bourbon, ugh).  But those are minor issues.  (Not much in the way of food options, and I'm not sure whether that is temporary, or not.)  All in all, I'd say it delivers what was promised and what we've been anticipating.  I could definitely see hanging out there with a group on a hot sultry August day, playing the races while they're up in Saratoga.

On the way out of the track, I overheard somebody saying "Why does everyone say this place is such a dump.  It's nice."  Aqueduct, nice?  But it is, for the most part. The renovation hasn't touched the seating outdoors on the apron or on the second floor, but otherwise, it's clean, freshly painted, and bright.  Charging $3 to get up to the Equestris level on Wood day made it a second option to Longshots as a haven from the crowd downstairs (and caused some audible grumbling).  And the bar in the Manhattan Terrace was actually open!  You could definitely sense the Chris Kay hospitality emphasis, as there was a myriad of smiling NYRA employees around the track to answer questions and direct people to where they wanted to go.

And last, but certainly not least, a big shout-out to anyone and everyone involved in preparing the track for this day.  It was as honest of a racetrack that one could ever ask for, as opposed to the nonsense we've seen at other tracks on their biggest racing days.


El Angelo said...

Alan, you were right to dislike Wicked Strong based on the Holy Bull, but his prior race, where he lost to Constitution, was a vast improvement and a sneaky good race and was why I liked him on Saturday. He had no shot in his prior race - that was Fountain of Youth Day, and you remember how bad the track bias was - he drew wide, and was wide and behind much of the way and couldn't close ground on three pretty good horses ahead of him. But speed figure-wise, he ran back to his race in the Remsen, which indicated to me the Holy Bull was a total toss, or even better, he just hated Gulfstream. He looked logical to improve in the Wood given the likely pace, good draw, and return to a track where he had success. If he's 10-1 on Derby Day, I will bet him again.

Alan Mann said...

Well, I would say: Congratulations for having him! Lol. Nice going. (We didn't quite have him running back to his Remsen, he was still four points short on our scale....but that still wouldn't have made a difference to me.)

Figless said...

I will second the kudos for NYRA on the track surface, great job.

There was actually a piece of useful information presented on the NBCNS-Versus-whatever they call that network show. Jimmy Jerkens indicated that he returned from the Holy Bull with a huge gash on his hind end, doesn't know what happened but it had to effect him. And he was wiped out (his words) on the first turn of the FOY.

I don't remember if this was mentioned before or after the race but going forward feel free to draw a line through the HB.

I made this assumption before the race, didn't know WHAT happened, but I figured SOMETHING happened for him to run that poorly.

Still believe the Remsen was a key race, Honor Code was not right in his ALW loss, another assumption I made when judging SI, and Cairo Prince had a bad day in his last. I expect him to bounce back in his next.

Made a lot of assumptions, and you know what they say about that, but instead of making me an arse for once it made me a lot of money.

PS- Could tell the difference right away in the NBC production vs the Fox shows, stuffed with fluff, little discussion of gambling, boring same old same old....

PPS - Cal Chrome appeared he real deal, will be shocked if he isn't favored, they are loving this horse out West and the money will pour in

Anonymous said...

A shame that I didn't see your post on the Wood. I posted on another site, 2 days before the race, why Wicked would upset the field.

Every race he had as a 2 year-old, he was green, and immature, and that included --- he failed to change leads, reacted to the use of the whip, drifting in and out. In the Remsen, a race he should have won, he changed back to his wrong lead, and once Rajiv got him to switch to the lead, he should have stayed on entering the stretch, he exploded with his run, just missing. His greenness and immaturity, obscured people from seeing the tremendous ability he possessed.

In the Holy Bull, he was bet, but never fired. I think JAJ would start over, and in his Constitution race, the horse started last, on a decidedly speed favoring Gulfstream strip, that he was not in there to win. He could have finished 3rd, I thought, but the jockey didn't push him. I might be wrong, but I don't remember Lezcano using his whip, and he may have been under instructions not to.

A return to a racetrack where his true ability was masked by his greenness and immaturity, and where all could achieve redemption, was too good to pass up.

Let's see what is in store for the Derby for Wicked, and whether the greenness and immaturity continue to recede, and the ability continues to shine through.

Figless said...

Anon, I thought he still appeared green in the stretch while pulling away, really like the way he was travelled the last 1/8th.

Should love the extra distance and get the proper set up, but going to need a perfect trip and a dry track.

Will be on my ticket but if he takes too much money will look for value elsewhere, not liking this crop overall so thinking we might see a bomb.

Figless said...

"didn't really like"