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Monday, April 16, 2007

Beyer Gets The Blue Grass Blues

- Andy Beyer, who has complained about Polytrack in the past, is extremely unhappy in the wake of the Blue Grass on Saturday.

Racing fans expected Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes to be the definitive prep for the Kentucky Derby, with a showdown between the two leading contenders, Street Sense and Great Hunter.

But when four horses reached the finish line at Keeneland almost simultaneously, with 8-to-1 shot Dominican prevailing by a nose, the result revealed almost nothing about their relative merits. It told nothing about what may happen at Churchill Downs three weeks hence. In fact the Blue Grass, which was contested for the first time over the artificial surface Polytrack, bore little resemblance to thoroughbred racing as most Americans know it. [Washington Post]
The Keeneland track is not slow. The times at the recent under-tack show for the upcoming juvenile sale were uniformly fast, and we saw that world record race at 4 1/2 furlongs last week. But the early fractions in route races have gotten ridiculously slow, as in the Blue Grass, and this is what has Beyer riled up. He reiterated that he feels that it's an "ugly style of racing." But considering that something like one horse went wire-to-wire in distance races during the fall meet (an unofficial stat that I caught on TVG...but I'm sure the number isn't much higher than that, if at all), who can blame the riders for being as anxious to have the lead as Alberto Gonzales is to get grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee (an appearance that has been appropriately postponed due to the killings at Virginia Tech).

It's certainly a fair point that a track that strictly favors closer is no better than one that strictly favors speed, even though given the choice, I would personally pick the former.

But there are a few points that Beyer makes that I would most respectfully disagree with. For one thing, I don't agree that this makes for "ugly racing." Though I agree that Keeneland has probably been too biased to closers, what can be bad about close races with wide open stretch runs; I think they serve the sport well. Even Beyer acknowledges that "Keeneland with Polytrack set wagering records." As he did in his previous column cited above, he writes about how speed is ingrained in American racing, and notes that the breeding industry has invested billions of dollars to produce such horses.

But isn't the emphasis on speed in American pedigrees precisely what many blame for the increasing unsoundness of the breed? Wouldn't a return to an emphasis on stamina help to reverse that trend?

I also disagree with the assertion that "the result revealed almost nothing about their relative merits." In my opinion, Street Sense was the best horse, as I thought he was before the race. I thought Great Hunter would run well without winning, and that's what he did. The race confirmed that Zanjero is a consistent closer who is probably a cut below the top ones (remember that he saved significatn ground compared to the previously mentioned pair), and that Teuflesberg is a nice speed horse who won't hold on at a mile and a quarter. I thought that the form held up rather well, and that the race perfectly reflected their relative merits, albeit in a rather compressed manner.

And finally, Beyer claims that the Blue Grass "told us nothing."
It has no relevance to a fast-paced Derby that will be run on traditional dirt. It didn't tell us whether Street Sense is a potential thoroughbred star or whether Dominican is a worthy Kentucky Derby contender. What's the point of running a rich stakes race when it won't even reveal whether the horses are good or bad, fast or slow?
But to that I say, so what? Is there some rule that Derby prep races have to spell everything out for us? Isn't much of the appeal of the race rooted in its unpredictability? I actually think the race told us a lot, at least about Street Sense. I thought that it confirmed that he's is an extremely talented horse, probably the best horse that will go to the post in three weeks. He had to be pretty good to be able to overcome that slow pace and wide trip to almost win the race. On the other hand, it also told us that the colt may have some inexperience issues that could call Nafzger's two-prep strategy into question.

And it race confirmed that Dominican loves the Polytrack. Here I agree with Beyer. It's true, his performance tells us absolutely nothing about his ability to compete with these horses on a traditional dirt track. Of that, we'll have to contemplate, kick it around, come up with our best guess, and assess whether the odds make it worth our while to find out. In that sense, he's just like all of the other 19 horses about whom we'll really just be guessing about their ability to run a distance they've never run before, before more people and commotion that they've ever experienced, and in a crowded field that will create traffic issues they've never before encountered. There's not a Derby prep in the world that will tell us the answer to those questions. That's what betting the Derby is all about - anticipating how young horses will handle something entirely new, and that's what makes it so totally fascinating that we've been discussing it at length for the last four months (at least). If the Polytrack adds yet another variable, then that makes it all the more challenging. And all the more fun.


Anonymous said...

Prior to yesterday, many "well known" speed figure publications had DOMINICAN's best effort to date on the dirt track in Louisville. He's just a good horse on any surface.

As for Beyer, he's just whining. That said, we all want our tracks to be fair and it appears Keeneland has gone from one extreme to the opposite end of the spectrum. I also think it's possible that a huge wind must have been helping the stretch runners on Saturday. All the races had slow early fractions and unusually fast late fractions.
_______________________________ - Usually accurate more than half the time

El Angelo said...

I agree with the other commenter, the real lesson here is that Beyer found something else to complain about. Dominican is the real x-factor come the Derby, but how often will you be able to get the winner of the Blue Grass at 18-1 or so?

I also remember people dismissing Barbaro last year as a turf horse who caught a pair of easy dirt races in Florida. Let's not make the same mistake again with Dominican; this may be a good horse, albeit one also with just two preps.

Is it just me, or do we have precisely 3 horses that fit the mold of a Derby winner--namely, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Any Given Saturday and Cowtown Cat? And are we ignoring Pletcher's real sleeper in CC, who may actually be ~30-1 on the big day? God, I love Derby chatter.

Anonymous said...

I dont know what the mold of a Derby winner is anymore. They can be speed horses that steal the race like War Emblem, or plodders that pick up the pieces when a race falls apart, like Giacomo, or anything in betweem. More than not the best horse does not win, which is part of the reason it is so fascinating.

The only factor I believe in, and it only eliminates a few this year, is the winner has run third or better in one of the traditional Derby preps in its last start.

And this rule may be broken by Great Hunter this year.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Beyer about much, but I agree with the "ugly racing" comment - and it goes for horse racing or human racing. Slow bunched up paces make the first 4/5s of the race not worth watching from an entertainment standpoint. For this race, they could've left the betting windows open through the half. From a betting standpoint, it's great, because your 50-1 shot still looks in it at the top of the stretch.

I find turf races boring because they all look the same. Don't want to see that happen on the dirt (whoops, I mean "poly"). And I think Beyer's point about the race not telling us much is that 4 horses hit the wire together, and it is not credible to think the talent of those horses is that equal.

BTW, I can't get behind a horse (CC)who hasn't run a mile and an 1/8th in less than 1:51.

Hawken said...

I can't believe what Beyer is saying. The race was terrific - I was there. The wind was blowing in their face on the backstretch and down their backs on the homestretch. This isn't to say that they couldn't have run a faster 3/4 - just to confirm what an earlier post mentioned. I thought the race revealed a lot - Dominican is a really good horse that a lot of people will be ignoring at their own peril on Derby Day. If nothing else, everyone should notice that Dominican ran down 3 of the top 4 closers in this year's crop - and everyone who thinks the bumping compromised Street Sense's victory needs to take notice that when SS was bumped, he veered right into Dominican's path causing him to check in the middle of the stretch and then re-rally. What I like most about the race is that all the horses should still have plenty in the tank for the Derby - maybe Beyer wishes they had done a 45 half and collapsed down the stretch...Yeah, that would've been a really exciting one?!

Anonymous said...

Beyer was born a gelding.
Any merits to B.G. were nullified before the race because of different surfaces.
As far as a slow track: prev. 7f. race missed record by a tick.
Track that rides like grass is what created the exciting finish.
Yes,speed kills the breed,stamina is what creates exciting finshes.
Those who run straight in deep stretch will will display the ability to run that extra furlong.
If connections of Dominican can't map out a plan to have their gelding run on dirt before the big race;then shame on them and pity us,the poor gambler.
Lastly,there was an overlooked article in a popular horse rag that talked about the connections to Stormello attempting to slow his speed for the Derby.Trainer explaining how he had to trick the animal into conserving his early lick.Seems to me that gate to wire might be the way to go this year if your horse isn't the best steed.

Anonymous said...

A couple more points -

1) What exactly did last year's Blue Grass on the old speed strip won by Sinister Minister "reveal?" I would argue that that race was far more insignificant in terms of pointing out Derby contenders than this one.

2) If there was a dirt track instead of the Polytrack, the race would have been run on a sloppy track, which, again, would have likely made the race more meaningless than the critics are accusing this one of being.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone still on the Street Sense bandwagon? Dominican outfinished him while having to angle out and around him. No rail, no perfect trip equaled a loss. I hope SS is the favorite or second choice, he will surely not be on top on any of my tickets.


Michael said...

I think everyone is still on the street sense bandwagon b/c they are dismissing his run in the Blue Grass as a polytrack fluke. Which is the same reason folks will overlook Dominican (something I won't do), b/c they'll question his ability to switch from poly to dirt.

Anonymous said...

I'll definitely be trying to beat Street Sense because, for one thing, I don't think that anyone under something like 12-1 makes much street, or any kind of sense this year. But I thought he still proved his worth closing into an impossible pace scenario. Perhaps I am overlooking Dominican's performance. As Lenny correctly points out, he went around him and outfinished him. But I'm thinking that the Polytrack helped him, and figuring that if Street Sense ran in a straight line (which I admit is no guarantee on Derby Day either), he would have prevailed.

Harl said...

How did DOMINICAN get this PolyTrack specialist label? Wasn't he close to TIZ WONDERFUL and ANY GIVEN SATURDAY last year at Churchill? Just because a horse happens to come back with two races on PolyTrack after being gelded, that makes him a PolyTrack specialist? I think his performance has more to do with getting snipped than what surface he's running on...

Alan Mann said...

>>How did DOMINICAN get this PolyTrack specialist label?

Well, he's raced twice at CD; he was six lengths behind Tiz Wonderful and Any Given Saturday in the KyJC; and four behind Zanjero in an allowance, both at two. I think it's a valid argument either way, and one of the more fascinating keys to this year's race.

Overlooked in the Polytrack debate is the fact that he's only raced twice this year.

Anonymous said...

SS gets the break because everyone expected a soft performance off the Tampa race - same with AGS. If this was SS's "bounce" then people have a right to expect great things in May.

What I don't get is the ignoring of Scat Daddy. Arguably the best trainer, rider, and the runner with the two best times at a mile and an eighth this year. And he'll be rested. Definately worth something at 11-1.

Anonymous said...

Looked like a good old ordinary Turf race to me. And who doesn't like that. Plus, if it means fewer horses breaking down, I'm all for it.