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Friday, April 06, 2012

The Wood

In the Wood, Street Life (4-1) has sure relished the extra ground since stretching out to two turns on the inner track after floundering in a sprint first time out. Subsequent graduation was not without its obstacles, as the son of Street Sense had to alter course sharply on two occasions. Stepping up directly into stakes company, he seemed hopelessly beaten turning for home, and even halfway down the stretch before he took off like a shot to catch Copy My Swagger. That one was trying a route for the first time, so one could quibble about who Street Life beat; but he did set a slow pace, and has an interesting pedigree for distance. And besides, that was a pretty decent field behind those two; I'd match them up with the horses that Alpha (5-2) beat in the Gotham for sure. Out of a Grindstone half sister to graded route winner Brilliant, this is also the distaff family of the G1 winner Furiously. Well suited to continue improving here at nine furlongs, and race figures to have a lively pace for him to close into.

My Adonis (8-1) comes off his second place Withers finish to Hansen, who's just plain better than these, I think. Best races have come on tracks with at least a bit of moisture, and there won't be a trace of that on Saturday for sure. Still, he's returned at age three with two efforts faster on the Beyer scale than anything he ran last year, and always love to see improvement from two to three like that. Will use top and bottom in exactas with top choice, and hope the top two morning line choices run out...

...which could be wishful thinking, but worth a shot here I believe. Alpha (5-2) is two months and about a dozen changes in plan from his last race, which I guess doesn't mean all that much these days. He won the Gotham easily, but, as mentioned above, didn't beat a field anymore accomplished than did Street Life in his last. Gemologist (8-5) is quick, unbeaten, and scary for Pletcher. Not only that, he showed in the Kentucky Jockey Club last year that he can stalk the pace and win too. But his one race this year wasn't much more than a workout in a paceless field on a wet track he's bred to like. Should be busy up front with The Lumber Guy on his outside, Teeth of the Dog and My Adonis to his inside. And I think he's going to be way, way overbet here.

- Quickly, in today's Transylvania on opening day at Keeneland, I was gonna stand against the morning line favorite Monastic (5-2) until I took a look at the replay of his last two races. I don't generally come on here to pick favorites. But man, this horse is a monster - not a surprise of course given that he's a son of Rock Hard Ten...this is daddy's boy! He just towered over his hapless opponents in his last race at two, at CD last November; and rolled by them after being caught in an uncomfortable spot throughout the backstretch. He faced similar traffic, pinned back of the field on the rail amongst horses, in his three-year old debut last month at Tampa. This time, he had too much to do with the pace scenario against him, but was still impressive rallying for third nonetheless. I think it will help this massive colt to not start from the rail as he did in his last two, and I wouldn't want to be in his way once he starts rolling with Leparoux today with an extra sixteenth mile to run this time. Trainer Thomas Proctor is hot, with four winners and two very close thirds with his last nine starters. Tough field though; State of Play (3-1) returns to grass for Graham Motion and gets Johnny V, who wins at a 30% clip for the barn; and Icon Ike (7-2) was a million wide rallying to beat weaker in a shorter race at Fair Grounds.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Useful Prep for Union Rags

While some people might be jumping off the Union Rags bandwagon in the wake of his third place finish in the Florida Derby, maybe I'll hop on to some vacated space. After all, the race was a prep for the Kentucky Derby, and not a race that he had to win in order to qualify on earnings. And how better to prepare a horse for the Derby than subjecting it to the kind of race conditions he's likely to encounter on the first Saturday in May? So, instead of excoriating himself for having Union Rags too far back as he has, perhaps Julien Leparoux should be patting himself on the back. Son of Dixie Union was pinned squarely into a box in and amongst horses for the length of the backstretch, thanks in part to the efforts of Javier Castellano, who may have been more interested in justifying his much-maligned selection of Algorithms over Union Rags as his Derby horse than doing the right thing on El Padrino. Turning for home, finally extricated from traffic, horse and jockey found themselves behind a wall of horses and with much to do. Finally put in a decent late run for third, in an effort that reminded me somewhat of the third and second place Wood Memorial finishes of Genuine Risk and Monarchos, respectively, prior to their Derby wins. He got the final furlong in a race-best 12.45 seconds (according to Formulator, 12.58 according to Trakus), and earned a Beyer of 93.

Having said all that though, I do think Union Rags seemed a bit short. I'd classify his trouble more as nuisance than catastrophic (bad word to use these days) debilitating - indeed, not a single mention of trouble in the chart call - and he didn't suffer significantly from any ground loss compared to anyone but the winner. I'd have thought he could have been more explosive in the final sixteenth than he was. And, let's face it, he's still never run all that fast, at least on the Beyer scale. The difference to me between Union Rags and the aforementioned Derby winners is that those horses had the kind of foundation that made me believe at the time (did I mention that I had both in the Derby?) that they could build on their Wood efforts and progress to a career-best effort. With Union Rags, not to mention with virtually every other three-year old these days, their running records are so spotty in terms of frequency, spacing, and level of competition, that one really just doesn't know. Now though, the odds on Union Rags may make finding out worthwhile in this uncertain season. (How much lower than 7-2 do those betting him at that price in the futures pool think he will be at post time?)

As for Take Charge Indy, LOL at the thought of him winning the Derby. Clever rating job by Borel on the front end on a day on which that seemed to be the place to be. Got in breather quarters of 24.11 and 24.38 after a first quarter of 23.60. allowing him to pick up the pace to 23.87 to the 1/8th pole, which gave him the margin for tiring that he needed to hang on at the end. But this horse, previously eligible for entry-level allowance conditions and winning his first race ever on dirt, strikes me as being on the mediocre side, and it would be a depressing commentary on the quality of these horses, and another losing Derby for me, should he prevail. Should take a boatload of money with Borel though, the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned.

- In the "better to leave well enough alone" category, the Dubai Gold Cup turned out to be a double disaster on Saturday. Re-run after the World Cup after it was halted mid-race following a fatal breakdown shortly after the start, yet another horse perished during the second running (and yet a third had to be pulled up). Can't blame medication for these accidents, as they are strictly prohibited in Dubai. Sometimes this stuff just happens.

And as we pause for the idiotically anachronistic Palm Sunday break here in New York, nine days of racing on the main track at the Big A have now passed without a catastrophic event....and that before the new condition book with lower purses for cheap races takes effect. So....was it the inner track? Is it possible, as I've seen speculated about from time to time on Twitter, that the unusually warm weather caused problems on a surface constructed specifically to withstand the cold? Increased scrutiny since then by the track vets resulting in more scratches? Or, was it all just a statistical quirk?