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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Everything Can Change

- I have no doubt that Belgravia will win the Lexington on Saturday, nor that Patrick Biancone and his ownership team of Zayat Stables, Tabor, Smith & Co. will run him in the Derby if he gives them reason to, which would have to include finishing at least second in order to qualify on graded earnings. Marty McGee wrote in the Form that he's far more likely to wait for the Preakness, but Biancone supplied the usual qualifier: "..owners and trainers, they change their minds. Everything can change with racing." Besides, that group didn't spend $2 million with the Preakness in mind, though it certainly wouldn't be a bad consolation.

Biancone said that the son of Mr. Greeley "is perfect now," and I think there's little reason to doubt that. It's his first race since running 4th, beaten less than two lengths, to Stormello and Liquidity in the Hollywood Futurity, a race in which he lost much ground on the first turn after breaking from the ten post. Biancone has been bringing his horses back extremely sharp off layoffs at Keeneland. On Thursday, he scored with Danzon, last seen running tenth, by just three lengths, in the G1 Martiarc in November. On Wednesday, Asi Siempre had that super-sharp and impressive return in her first try since the Breeders Cup. He's also won with Stream Cat, who'd last raced in July, and Quasicobra, last seen at Saratoga. Flawless Treasure lost by a nose in his first try since May; Her Majesty by a neck in her first appearance since the Juvenile Fillies. They all had quick five furlong works as part of their preparation, as does Belgravia.

If he is ready, he should handle this field. Pletcher has Soaring By, who bounced back from his poor Louisiana Derby in a weak allowance field at Gulfstream. Forty Grams, who vied for the lead in the Winstar Derby, and Lukas' Starbase, who did so in the Lane's End, are likely doomed after dueling to a half of 54 seconds. Joe Got Even, who has proven himself to be a reliable sort, has the preferred closing style and trainer Phil Sims, whose runners have been very sharp in limited starts at the meeting. I look for him to run well, and maybe create just a little value in the exacta if Pletcher's horse gets overbet. But the way Biancone has his returnees primed, I'd be surprised if Belgravia doesn't get home first.

- Dial 1-800-NODERBY and vote Doug O'Neill's Cobalt Blue and Liquidity out of the Derby. The connections of each are forging on to the Derby despite strong indications that they don't belong. Merv Griffin is showing the same good judgment with his colt as he did in politics when he donated $25,000 to the Republican National Committee before the 2004 election.

I was interested to see O'Neill quoted in USA Today as saying, of Great Hunter's Blue Grass, "I was shocked they didn't claim foul." Corey Nakatani had said that they were beaten anyway, and I guess he only would have moved up one place to 4th. But that would have meant a bit more purse money if nothing else. Remember, O'Neill didn't make it to the race, and I wonder if there would have been a claim had he been there.

- Thanks to reader Benjamin for mentioning the article in the Albany Times Union the other day in which Jerry Bailey revealed who he'd like to ride in the Derby.

"Any Given Saturday regressed a little bit in the Wood and the only other times he got beat he was hung out wide....I look for him to run a big race in the Derby. That would be my pick to ride."
Thanks Jerry, but I'd actually prefer those who share that opinion to keep it to themselves at this point!

- I outsmarted myself in the Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland on Thursday. I'd had Moudez (Xaar) on my watch list after his impressive rally in winning his last race. But when handicapping the race, I used Formulator to take a closer look at the competition in that race, and concluded that it was just a moderate field, and that others had faced better. So I picked him to be just third in the Special, though he moved up to the second choice when In Jest scratched. Too much information, in this case.

- Looks like it's going to be the first-ever Ugly Breeders Cup, when the World Championships move to Santa Anita in 2008. Everything can change, and the landscape of the sport is certainly doing just that.


Anonymous said...

Concerning Liquidity and Cobalt Blue, I've heard a lot of people complaining that the graded stakes rule for Derby consideration should be changed. But I've yet to hear a reasonable substitute.

Are there ideas out there?? Anything I think of seems to allow for the same possibilities - namely finding a very soft race for your colt to "shine".

Harl said...

How about the top ten spots go to graded earnings and have a committee decide the remaining entrants, up to a maximum of ten?

Patrick J Patten said...

Yeah committees make great choices, just look at the BcS.

Harl said...

True, but they make better decisions than owners/trainers with Derby Fever.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm not that unsympathetic to the current rule. If a good horse doesn't have the earnings, it's likely the fault of his connections. They should just have run him more. And if the horse is too fragile to run in two or three graded preps, then perhaps he doesn't belong in the Derby anyway.

Warstone said...


Yesterday in a chat Randy Moss said the following:
In my opinion, the graded-earnings rule has exhausted its usefulness and needs to be changed. If Xchanger finishes last in the Tesio, and his owners still decide to run in the Derby, he will get into the field instead of Chelokee because the $1 million Delta Jackpot was a Grade 3 race last December. Is this fair? I wrote a column a year ago specifying how I would change the Derby eligibility, and it has to do with qualifying performance similar to the Masters in golf. The top three finishers from the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial, Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby automatically get Derby berths, as do the top two from eight or 10 other races, and the winner of a dozen more races. It works. Chelokee would already be guaranteed a spot in this method, and Rock Hard Ten, Eddington and Sunday Break would have made their fields as well.

So I am sure that there are other ways to achieve a better result than graded earnings. (I was not able to find his column from last year).

I would base it on races worth a certain amount of money (say all races over $300,000) and make the earnings earned as a 3yo count double than earnings as a 2yo. But I think Randy's analysis works.

I don't think committees help. It would be fair to the owners, trainers or the horses to have a last minute committee decide. The process should be fair and mapped out. An owner should no what it takes to make the gate up front and decide based on that. I don't want to see a horse with higher earnings than another be excluded because some committee thinks that the way it should be on Derby week.

Anonymous said...

You'll have controversy either way. Controversy is a good thing, it gets people talking. We know that Handride prefers points systems over people systems as in his Blog Standings, and I think there are compelling reasons to utilize points when it comes to rankings and year-end awards. But I think Kevin makes a good point about Derby fever obscuring good judgment, and I think I'd rather leave it up to a committee than to Merv Griffin. And then let the controversy and debate begin, the more the merrier.

Patrick J Patten said...

Thanks for the article idea. And I really like the Master's Theory, that would be totally fair.

El Angelo said...

How about using the Grade of the race as a multiplying factor? For example, what's earned in a G2 counts for 1/2 the value won, in a G3 counts as 1/3 of what's won, and in an ungraded or non-stakes race, for 1/4? Numbers can be changed, obviously.

Also, they're going to add ANOTHER BC race in 2008? A Turf Sprint, I guess?

Harl said...

Nothing wrong with adding additional championship races, I guess. Turf sprints have been gaining in popularity, especially in California, so it's a good place to inaugurate a turf sprint championship race.

Anonymous said...

Following up on El Angelo's suggestion, perhaps there should at least be some kind of limit that a horse can be credited when it runs in a Grade 3 with an inflated million dollar purse like the Delta Downs race. Maybe it should be graded, non-slots subsidized earnings!

Anonymous said...

GRADED NON-SLOTS SUBSIDIZED EARNINGS!...the satorical/humor side of your writing is priceless!
Maybe lighten up a little on the more serious rants and you'll be the maven of racing(screw hockeee) we all know you are.

Valerie Grash said...

Talking about Cobalt Blue, there is an interesting commentary in a blog being kept by the brother of the clocker at Keeneland, about his poor workout today at Keeneland, and conversely Liquidity's strong workout:

Interesting insight, particularly those joint workouts with Circular Quay and Rags to Riches...I guess she won't let him pass her! Interesting :) Do I understand that Any Given Saturday is now working out with her?

I also kinda like Randy Moss' idea about the top three finishers from the graded prep races qualifying for the Derby. It would probably focus more of the general public's attention on those races too, understanding them more like a "playoff" system to get into the Derby.

Oh, and from a long-suffering Penguins fan, congrats, Alan, on your Rangers winning!

Anonymous said...

I think the point system would suffice, would remove the artificial slot subsidize factor from the equation.

Auto qualifiers are being tried this year with the BC, would not mind but not sure i would go so far as to grant the show horse a berth.

No way would I go to committee however, politics play too big of a role in this sport as it is. It would turn into the NCAA committee type thing, do we take Pletcher's 8th best horse that happens to be owned by Tabor, or a colt trained by some hard knocking old time trainer who has been waiting for this chance of a lifetime?

Anonymous said...

Green Mtn Punter says:

Alan, yes, the introduction of synthetic racing surfaces is certainly moving the racing industry into a new era, an "Ugly Era" to paraphrase Andy Beyer, and one that I see characterized by continuing concessions to poor breeding practices. From now on we'll be hearing "Polytrack I had a strong showing in the Santa Anita Handicap but this is is his first effort against open stakes company on the dirt ." I see the synthetic tracks creating a tier of second rate tracks, sort of like domed baseball stadiums with artificial turf. Will be interesting to see how long Belmont and Saratoga can buck the trend- would it be safe to say that Saratoga will NEVER have an artificial surface? Besides, the Saratoga Springs Historical Society should, and I know would vigorously oppose any move to a synthetic racing surface at Spa as the track is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Belmont may qualify, too, on the basis of the track and grounds being established in 1905, even though the present grandstand was rebuilt and reopened in 1968. Churchill Downs is most certainly in the same category and sure to raise an outcry from preservationists- I am amazed that CDI has gotten away with the ugly additions they have made to the historic twin spires, additions that don't even pretend to preserve the architectural integrity of the original facility. I think it is this kind of attittude, of disrespect for the history and traditions of the sport, that prevents the racing industry from drawing fans back to the track. I saw a brilliant idea posted the other day on LATG, might have been Alan's, perhaps it was Steve Crist's: Reduce the on-track takeout to 0% and let the off-track and simulcast bettors, over 80% of total handle these days, pay the takeout. Could the NY State Legislature and Gov ever see the wisdom in that move?!

Green Mtn Punter