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Monday, May 16, 2005

Fair Play or Fast Pace?

- Joe Drape’s article in the NY Times today is entitled After Derby Shocker, All Eyes Turn to Preakness, but it’s really about continuing whispers around the industry regarding the effect of increased vigilance on medication on race results, specifically those from the Derby and at Belmont, where all entrants are now sent to a detention barn for the six hours prior to their race. Indeed, he writes that the Derby results are being looked upon by many leaders in the industry as evidence that vigilant medication policies and tighter security are leveling the playing field for all owners and trainers. [NY Times]

Over Belmont's opening week, for example, the betting favorites won 18 percent of the time, below the industry average, which is considered 33 percent. Over the same period in 2004, the favorites won 28 percent of the time. But during the recently concluded Aqueduct meet, which ran from Jan. 1 to May 1, the post-time favorites won 36 percent of the time.

"We know that whenever you change racetracks and begin a new meet, there is going to be some changes in the numbers, but we believe strongly in what we're doing with the prerace monitoring," Hayward said. "It is gratifying to see a broad range of trainers winning, a number of them that were not high-percentage trainers. It seems like we're heading in the right direction, but I don't think we should be pounding our chest on one week's data. We'll see what the numbers show us."
Drape points out that the results of Belmont’s second week have brought the favorites up to a more normal 30% wins. I find the fact that industry professionals are seriously discussing the possibility that medication, or in this case the lack thereof, effected the result of the biggest race of all to be disturbing, to say the least. I’m more inclined (wishfully?) to accept Todd Pletcher’s explanation that “it had nothing to do with the outcome of the race; it was the fast pace that cooked some of the favorites and set it up for Giacomo."

- Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito have yet to make a final decision on which horses they’ll run in the Preakness. But with Lukas’ A.P. Arrow having broken his maiden Saturday at Churchill, perhaps we’ll be spared Going Wild this time. Zito is supposed to be waiting to see how they work out. (Just got a note that Noble Causeway worked 5f in 1:02.60, pretty slow compared to his pre-Derby works.) If Lukas does not run Going Wild it will be one less horse to set a fast pace. One horse who will be on the lead, at least according to his trainer Bobby Frankel, is High Limit. "He's going to make the lead….I'm going to put blinkers on him. He seems like he needs something to make him focus.” [NY Post]

- Check out the prospective field for Friday’s Pimlico Special, wow!
Badge of Silver (Jerry Bailey), Funny Cide (Jose Santos), Second of June (Cornelio Velasquez), Pollard's Vision (John Velazquez), Eddington (Eibar Coa), Presidentialaffair (Stewart Elliott), Eurosilver (Javier Castellano), Grand Reward (Gary Stevens), Offlee Wild (Edgar Prado). [Baltimore Sun]

- Sherry Ross of the NY Daily News on some Derby winners who were overlooked a bit in the Preakness betting:
It's not unusual for Derby winners to not go off as the betting choice in the second leg of the Triple Crown. In fact, in four of the last eight runnings of the Preakness, the Derby winner was not favored. It is worth noting that three of those ignored Derby winners did win the second jewel and went on to the Belmont for a chance at the Triple Crown: Silver Charm was the third choice in the 1997 Preakness after Captain Bodgit and Free House. Real Quiet (1998) was the second choice behind Victory Gallop. Charismatic (trained by none other than Lukas) garnered no respect in the 1999 Preakness, going off as the fifth choice in the wagering at 8-1.

Giacomo is not likely to go off at Dark Star double-digit odds. The beaten Derby favorite, Bellamy Road, is injured and will miss the race. Another reason is that souvenir hunters and eBayers will buy $2 win tickets on Giacomo, just in case. It would be no surprise, though, if he is second or even third choice. [NY Daily News]
I think it’s pretty clear that Afleet Alex will be the favorite; besides that, who knows? If High Fly is entered, I think he has a chance to be second choice. We could be looking at more than fair prices for not only Giacomo, but Closing Argument, whose effort in the Derby becomes more and more impressive in retrospect, as well. Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press noticed the latter’s Derby effort too:
..he ran his first quarter in 22 4/5ths seconds. He bobbled slightly at the break, got into contention early from post position 18, then stayed dangerously close. He was only two lengths behind Bellamy Road after a half-mile — five and a half lengths off the lead — and was even closer after three-quarters, which was run in a blistering 1:09 2/5ths. He ran his six furlongs in just over 1:10.

In other words, if you hear somebody building a case for Closing Argument in the days ahead, don't dismiss it out of hand.

- From Newsday, some early opinions from turf writers around the country on the Preakness outcome. (The article is entitled "No Giacomo fans.")