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Friday, June 02, 2006

Odds and Ends - June 2

- It's not often that you see a horse appear in a $14,000 claiming race after having last run second in a Grade 2 stakes. But that was the case today with Willy o'the Valley, back to the races nearly 11 months after his close second to Smokume in the Tom Fool. Two races before that, he won the G3 Maryland BC Handicap.

But there he was today for Richard Dutrow, and the bettors were somewhat skeptical, making him at .95-to-1 favorite against what was, at least on paper, a hopelessly overmatched field. Horsemen were downright dubious, as nobody put in a claim. I was thinking you gotta bet against him, but fortunately none of the others inspired me to do so.

Willy o'the Valley (Will's Way) won pretty handily, tracking the leaders before moving three wide around the turn and drawing away. However, remember we were talking about Joe Takach and bad pull-ups the other day, and Willy o'the Valley did not gallop-out well at all. He barely made it to the far turn (which is longer at Belmont than most, but still...) and walked back very slowly. He didn't even stick around for the winners' circle photo, as the owners gathered awkwardly around jockey Rudy Rodriguez.

Then, in a macabre coincidence, Papa Behr (Behrens), a three-year old half brother to Willy O'the Valley making his debut for a $35,000 tag, pulled up shortly after the start and was vanned off.

- Great stretch drive in the Coronation Cup, as Ouija Board made a run at Shirocco midstretch. But the BC Turf champ dug in, repelled the mare's charge, and went on to a 1 3/4 length win. Shirocco is now two-for-two since returning for his five year old campaign last month; in his last, he earned a 130+ Timeform rating which was by far and away the best in the field, and which, if you use the 14 point rule of thumb in comparing the numbers to Beyers, compares quite favorably to Grade 1 turf horses running here. Ouija Board's trainer Ed Dunlop said: "She has been beaten by probably one of the best horses in the world and I am thrilled with her." [Sporting Life]

In the Epsom Oaks, Alexandrova (Sadler's Wells) drew off to win easily in the mile and a half race, as, in the words of the UK's Guardian Unlimited site, came with an irresistible run on the outside and made mincemeat of the opposition.

It was instructive to look at the past performances of these races (good job by the Form, and by TVG for carrying them live). There's a big deal being made about the spacing of the Triple Crown races, but it's interesting to see how two week gaps between races are commonplace in Europe. The Oaks winner made her first start since September on May 17, and then came back to run a mile and a half just 16 days later. French entry Galatee had started before on 4/22, 5/7, and 5/17. Runner-up Rising Cross had run a week apart on 4/1 and 4/8, and again on 5/6 before this race today. And these are three-year old fillies.

On the other hand, they do seem to take more time off between campaigns over there, and don't prep as much for the classics. And they run on turf. If it turns out that Polytrack allows horses to come back quicker here, it would serve the sport very well.

- The Epsom Derby will be on TVG at 8:20 A.M. Eastern time tomorrow morning.