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Sunday, July 20, 2008

True Greatness Not Artofficial

- Great horses do get beat, and sometimes it's in defeat that they show their true greatness. Bob Heyden, interviewing Paul MacDonell after Somebeachsomewhere was defeated in world record time by Art Official in the Meadowlands Pace, was so taken with the loser's performance that he seemed to forget the result and congratulated the driver when he was done.

Many observers may have found that particularly ironic, believing that MacDonell raced his own colt into defeat by launching a bold three-wide, first-over move on the backstretch into an insane half mile of 51 4/5! It was obvious from the start, when the 5,6,7 and 8 horses all rocketed for the lead, that Somebeachsomewhere wasn't going to have another routine brush-to-the-lead-at-the-quarter win on this night. MacDonell moved off the rail going into the first turn, and John Campbell, on Share the Delight (third place, congrats to Andrew Cohen), promptly moved up to keep him there. He then found himself third over in an early cover flow, with Art Official clearing Mucho Sleazy to get the lead, and Bullville Powerful left parked out.

This is the point at which the critics will say that MacDonell could have taken a spot on the rail to await further developments. Share the Delight was now gapped, and indeed, Somebeachsomewhere would have had some rail time and space to himself. Instead, he launched his move around Bulville Powerful to engage the leader. "I thought those two horses where chewed up at the half after 51 [seconds] and a piece."

That doesn't exactly ring true, as in fact, Somebeachsomewhere had already engaged the leaders by that point, thereby contributing to that fraction. However, I'm going to defend MacDonell, who was all class after the race, praising Art Official to the hilt. His colt had had the lead by the half mile pole in all of his races since his first two career appearances, and had dominated these same horses in the past. He drove the horse as if he was the best horse in the race, as he should have. Had he tucked in at that point, he would have later had to contend with a fading Bullville Powerful, and, given Art Official's incredible performance in his own right, who's to say he could have caught him. As it is, it took a world record performance by the winner to beat him. As noted on the Pull the Pocket blog:

If Art Official was not primed for the night of his life, beach would have won by about 5 in 147. Megosh would that have ever upped the hype!
Art Official is the horse that challenged Somebeachsomewhere first over in the elimination, getting the "silent treatment" according to the race chart. He was clearly second best though, so there was good reason for the confidence of his connections leading up to the final. But I can't imagine they expected this. Driver Ron Pierce admitted that his strategy was more or less impromptu. "I didn't decide until the gate to let him loose," he told the Daily News. He told Bob Heyden after the race that his refusal to yield on the backstretch was the only way to beat the favorite; indeed, had he let him by without a fight, the race would have been long over.

The winner's trainer, Joe Seekman, said that he knew his horse had something left when he saw Pierce tip Art Official out on the final turn, after Somebeachsomewhere had settled in front of him. An observer at the track said during the replay that it was a 'little tease' by the Hall of Famer, letting MacDonell know he was still there in case he had thoughts of giving his horse a breather. Once Art Official got his head up beside MacDonell, you hear track announcer Sam McKee note that MacDonell was shaking up the reigns on Somebeachsomwhere. The ensuing stretch battle after a three-quarters mark of 1:19/1/5 that nearly had McKee falling out of the booth, with the understandably tiring Somebeachsomewhere digging in like a true champion, was an absolute classic, with Art Official edging by in the last couple of strides in a final quarter of 27 4/5. The final time of 1:47 shattered the world record for three-year old pacers by 4/5 of a second, and was merely one fifth from the fastest race mile of all time.

I told the Head Chef afterwards that I'd have to say that it was one of the greatest races I've ever seen. Not a harness fan, she rolled her eyes a bit. Perhaps some of you thoroughbred fans are as well. But this one had all the elements of a classic - an undefeated horse in a major stakes facing extreme adversity, setting off on a wild journey that would have soundly crushed any mere mortal equine, and culminating in a memorable stretch battle in a world record time. Horse racing just doesn't get any better than this. Watch it for yourself.

- Another glorious but luckless day of racing in NJ for me, with a couple of tough beats. I'd picked My Little Dragon in the second, and he came through ($6.20) to start off some Pick Three's; but Won the West just got caught at the wire at 6-1 in the middle leg, and by a 13-1 shot too. Otherwise, I would have had the Pick Three. (I have to admit here that I picked Won the West partly based on a faulty reading of the Harness Eye PP's. The horses are not listed in post position order there, and I actually liked what I thought was the six post, rather than the inside two that he really had. I don't like inside posts for closers, though Grismore managed to work out an almost winning trip.) Worse yet, I had the 1-2 exacta box in the sixth, and ran 2-3 to 18-1 Mystery Chase. Would've/could've/should've had a nice exacta there wit an 11-1 over a 6-1. My other blog picks, Up Front Hotsey and Tinys Million, were both hopelessly boxed and rallied well when finally extricated. So, one-for-four with a close second on my selections. (And er, that doesn't count Somebeachsomewhere. :-\

And a winner at Belmont, as Diamondrella took the 8th at 7-2. Nothing doing for Foolish Bid, in an uncharacteristically dull performance. Perhaps a rest and/or drop in class is warranted at this time, though I don't have the official excuses in hand as of yet. And reader onecalicocat points out that Highland Cat is slated for the 5th at Monmouth today (Sunday), listed at 3-1.


Anonymous said...

Nice write up. The race was amazing. It reminded me of Smarty Jones in the Belmont. The ride cost Beach, but I had no action on it, so it was fun seeing him lose.

Anonymous said...

nice article this. I always smile when people can't take a horse losing at some stage

Brett said...

Great race. Rough ride, not terrible but costly. Oh well. He will run a sub 1:46.4 mile at the Big M if he stays there for a little bit. He being Somebeachsomewhere.

Time for some Lava Man action now.

Anonymous said...

From SunnyJim in Jersey

Alan - excellent job of narrating a great race, and thanks for throwing the harness coverage in there.

I'm sure that no jockey in t-bred racing or driver in harness racing with a 1-9 favorite wants to be blamed for making the wrong move that blows a big race.

Even though Gabriel Saez kept his mount with Proud Spell next time she ran after that loss in the Mother Goose a few weeks ago, that one bad ride may still negatively affect his career, as other owners and trainers saw what he did.

I think MacDonell almost had no choice but to do what I see most harness drivers with 1-9 favorites do: make a sweep for the lead, and at the latest do it by the half-mile pole.

If he lost a race of this stature by lingering in the back, or getting bottled up the way Proud Spell did, it would have turned him into the Goat of Goats, the Bill Buckner of harness racing, for a long time forward.


Anonymous said...

I admittedly know nothing about Harness Racing, so perhaps you can shed some light since this is the perfect example.

Many, including myself, claim the riders "put the brakes on" in the stretch sometimes.

This perceptions is driven by the odd riding style of leaning back in the sulky, which makes it appear the rider is holding the horse.

While obviously no one is holding anyone in a million dollar race on an undefeated colt, Some's rider is in this exact position that usually draws so much skepticism in the stretch.

What exactly is the rider doing at this point, leaning backwards?

Anonymous said...

Bob Heyden said it best when he told Paul MacDonnel immediately after the race that he believed Somebeachsomewhere was more gallant in defeat than in triumph. It was just so very sincere.
Only the very best and the oh so special can enhance their legend in a moment of deafeat.
Great job Beach, Great job Mac,
All of Nova Scotia