RSS Feed for this Blog

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

Every post you can hitch your faith on,
Is a pie in the sky,
Chock full of lies,
A tool we devise,
To make sinking stones fly..

And so, once again, the quest ends, the stone sinks, this time buried down on a deep rail at Pimlico, where Orb labored home to a most unsatisfactory 4th place finish in the Preakness.  Pie in the sky?  That remains to be seen, but I don't think so; believe he will still prove to be the best of the crop, and that his best races lie ahead of him....perhaps maybe not until next year (and if anything good is to come out of this, maybe we'll see him stick around).  Surely the nature of the race did not suit him as it did at Churchill.  Would have taken a great horse to overcome the pace and apparent track bias favoring the outside runners.  I've never thought nor said that Orb was a great horse at this stage of his career; but surely felt that he's already better than the rest of these, liable to get better, and therefore able to beat them and any other takers two more times.

Maybe I'm just missing the point, and that it will take a truly great horse who can overcome any obstacle thrown at him/her to break the streak of futility, rather than just the best of an ordinary lot.  The kind of great horse that this industry no longer seems even remotely capable of breeding.  Don't think we've seen a male three-year old that even faintly approaches that description since Big Brown, and, given his trainer, it's surely fair to wonder by exactly what means he got to that point.

Been reading a lot about how the "slow pace" aided Oxbow's win; such as in this piece from The Rail ("very soft fractions") and the NY Post ("crawl the first half-mile in :48.60 and the six furlongs in 1:13.26"). But I disagree with that; don't think the pace was particularly slow at all.  Uncontested to be sure; but not at all slow.  Take a look at the two-turn dirt races at Pimlico and you'll see that the fractions are generally pretty lethargic.  I saw Watchmaker try to make the case by pointing to the first two races of the day - slower than what allowance/optional claimers went in the opener, on a par with what starter handicap horses posted in the second race.  But those were mile and a sixteenth races for older horses with a shorter run to the turn that both featured highly contested paces; so I don't think they're an appropriate comparison.  Perhaps a better one would be the Pimlico Special the day before at the same quirky distance, in which the speedy Eighttofasttocatch took almost 50 seconds to get to the half.

Sure, a hot pace like the Derby it was not, but I think he was galloping out there at a perfectly legitimate clip.  I can't imagine for a second that Kevin Krigger was under orders to rate Goldencents in second; he was there because Oxbow flat out outran him to the turn.  And he just kept going, and going, from there.  After the first quarter in 23.94, he grinded away the next two in 24.66 each, then only a miniscule reduction to 24.88 to the 3/16ths pole.  That's a pretty steadily relentless pace into which Orb had little chance of sustaining Rosario's attempted middle move even if he hadn't spun his wheels on the worst part of the track.  Oxbow came home from there in 19.40 for the last 3/16ths; that projects out to around 25.86 for a quarter, pretty par for the course these days.  But by that point, he had simply run the field off their feet.  He was a running fool and bottomed them all out, the way I see it.  Itsmyluckyday - again ridiculously overbet (and boy I can't wait to oppose him at 3-5 in the Haskell) - had an ideal tracking trip on the best part of the track but hung on the money late; Mylute passed tired horses rallying from far back, and Orb probably did fairly well to pick up the 60K consolation for 4th.

So I think that anyone who writes the effort off as the product of a crawling pace does so at his/her own risk.  If Oxbow manages to be able to similarly gallop along on the lead at Belmont, no telling how far this son of Awesome Again out of a Cees Tizzy full-sister to the two-time Classic winner Tiznow - and to the dam of last year's Belmont runner up Paynter - will be able to last.

 - Read a couple of interesting 'what-if's' regarding Orb.  Monmouth analyst Brad Thomas wrote on his Twitter account:

  If Orb was trained by me and owned by you, his level of acclaim would have been no higher than Animal Kingdom's after his Derby.
And a really smart kid who I work with suggested that, had Orb not run in the Derby, then Golden Soul would have won and we would have heard nothing but how fast the pace was.

Let's take one at a time.  First of all, I'm a big fan of Brad Thomas, think he does an excellent job, as I've said many times in the past.  But he seemed to have a real bug up his ass about Orb.  He hadn't tweeted since the Breeders' Cup, and all of a sudden here he was going off on Orb post-race, suggesting that the triple crown talk was "silly."  Now, I was informed on Twitter than he'd predicted on the Francesa show that the horse would not win the Triple Crown; and Brad pointed out that he was "on record in multiple places adamantly disagreeing that Orb was a legit TC candidate."  We'll take him at his word; but still, the only person that I know who's allowed now to call it "silly" is reader ballyfager, who was consistent in insisting, before and after the Derby, that the horse isn't that fast.  I think Brad made some fair points in his ranting, and we'll get to one of them in a minute; but this statement above is just nonsense.  Orb was the legitimate Derby favorite coming in off four wins in a row, and would have received ample acclaim no matter who his connections were.

The point about Golden Soul is more worthwhile to ponder.  I noted in response that, should he have won, there also would have been ample talk about his perfect ground-saving rail trip and how Robbie Albarado out-Calvined Calvin Borel.  But no question that we'd have heard more about the blistering pace than we did.  Having said that, longshot winners always beg for excuses and explanation.  A winning Derby favorite is passing the high bar of meeting expectations, and it's only natural that the focus would be more on the who than the how....even if he had benefited from a ground-saving trip.

The other point that Brad Thomas made that I wanted to mention is this: 
  As for Oxbow not demonstrating Gr1 quality previous to Sat-at least he demonstrated Gr1 heart repeatedly trying his guts out despite little time between stars all year long and many tough trips and set ups. That tough love and seasoning allowed him to rise to Gr1 status on the day. Conversely, Departing ducked a FG spot for a soft race at Sam Houston because of an outside post. Maybe some seasoning under adverse circumstances would have served him well when the going got "deep" near the inside in the Pimlico stretch.
That's an approach that has become all too counter-intuitive these days.  Not too long ago one might look for the seasoned horse with ample foundation that has a horse well-prepared for the grind; now we tend to shy away.  If this Preakness serves to change that thinking, it could only be a good thing, both from a sporting aspect and, who knows, maybe for the health of the animals who appear to have only become even more fragile despite (because of?) the cautious handling.

Oxbow doesn't have a layoff line on his DRF PP's since his very first race - and who woulda thought they'd be looking at a classic winner who was being vanned off the Saratoga track that day after taking choppy strides at 22-1.  He's been in training straight through since his next effort, at Keeneland in October, and will presumably make his 11th start since then at Belmont.  Seemed to be showing steady improvement with all the racing up to his disappointing 5th in the Arkansas Derby.  But one could surely make a red board case for his Preakness win considering the traffic he encountered that day and, of course, the nonsensical pace he was chasing in the Derby.   (And, by the way, I could turn that statement about Golden Soul around and say that had Palace Malice not run in the Derby, then perhaps we'd be looking at a Triple Crown bid!)

 - A brief word on the NBC telecast; which it all it really merits.  Spent last week checking out some of those old full telecasts that are posted on You Tube (one of which I posted here).  One of the things that stands out is that we've devolved from the likes of the great Jack Whitaker to that woman that NBC is using to appeal to casual fans.  Not surprising at all considering the general MTV-inspired dumbing down of American culture since then; a reflection of the times to be sure (not to mention the horrible bands that performed in the infield).  But another thing is that with so much too much information available via the internet for those of us who follow the sport closely, I find myself watching these telecasts and thinking "please, tell me something I don't know."  And they can't....or just won't, with the casual fans in mind.  So, I find I just have no use for these telecasts; simply find them boring, don't know how else to describe it.  Could be the best line of the whole show was when Ms. Beadle noted that the Black-Eyed Susan kicks the mint julep's butt.  (And I'd rather agree.  The use of mint should be restricted to toothpaste and mouthwash as far as I'm concerned.  The Head Chef brought back some dark chocolate from a recent gig of hers, and I was horrified when I bit into and discovered it was mint dark chocolate.  EWWWW!)


Figless said...

Oxbow was "vanned off" in his debut which means he is considered dead in the NY Times data base.

So if you played the runner up Joe Drape should cash your ticket.

Unknown said...


Figless said...

Excellent analysis of the fractions, good job. As for the quote;

"If Orb was trained by me and owned by you, his level of acclaim would have been no higher than Animal Kingdom's after his Derby. "

This illogical comment does sound like sour grapes, trying to justify his pre Derby comment, and I paraphrase, on Francesca that Orb had not faced any worthy opponents while touting Goldencents. I attributed it to West Coast bias at the time.

The skepticism regarding AK was entirely due to his lack of prior dirt form, the perception that he was turf horse.

The low profile connections of prior Derby winners did not reduce their hype, in fact it heightened it at times, and it had nothing to do with his perceived slight of AK.

El Angelo said...

I'm going to disagree with the nostalgia on the Triple Crown coverage on TV. Horse racing coverage on NBC isn't like baseball, football or basketball, where they can presume a fair amount of knowledge from the viewer. The analogue is the Olympics, where the majority of the viewers either know very little about the sport itself or know something about the sport but not a ton about the participants.

We are not the target audience for NBC's telecast. Nor should we be - why do we really care what they're showing during their pre-race coverage? If they can get us the entire race shown cleanly plus some good replays plus some good post-race analysis and a good call by Larry Collmus, what else do we need? We can get the updated odds online. We can get all the most recent information online. The only piece of information that we could possibly want is a report from someone as to how someone looks on the track, but I think that's too pie-in-the-sky to even consider.

If the Beadle-ification of racing coverage attracts other people to even consider watching other races, going to the track and betting on the races, then it's worthwhile. The sport is not going to lose viewers because the broadcast isn't full of know-it-alls speaking in tongues that only the die-hards care about. We're going to watch anyway. If Beadle isn't your cup of tea, that's fine. Andy Serling isn't everyone's cup of tea either. My suspicion is that casual viewers would rather here soft-focus stories and Beadle-like tales than a dissertation on Trackus and breeding patterns. And that's perfectly okay. It's three races a year. We will live.

dave r. said...

>> the Black-Eyed Susan kicks the mint julep's butt

Now you've gone too far. Black-Eyed Susans are so sickly sweet. What is even in those things? Mint juleps all day.

SaratogaSpa said...

I find by the day of these big races I got so much information from the web, especially on Twitter, such as all the picks from every expert known to man, free PP's, spreadsheets, videos, statistics, etc, etc that by the day of event, other than a visual of the horse in the paddock, I don't need any more information. I actually just want to watch the race.

Unknown said...

Hey Angelo -

We are not really that much in point is that there's little about the telecasts that appeal to someone like myself who (thinks he) knows everything. Do seem to recall the old telecasts being more interesting, but that could be because back then we didn't read about every breathing moment of every horse online. Better chance of actually learning something by watching the track feed, or HRTV/TVG.

One thing I definitely miss though, and with all due respect to Larry Collmus, are the calls by people like Dave Johnson and Chic Anderson. Those guys were legends. (Oops, didn't mean to kill off Dave Johnson again...)

Pull the Pocket said...

I found the Animal Kingdom comment out of whack as well.

Animal Kingdom was still -even after the Derby win - considered a turf/synth horse. He was also 20-1 or so in the Derby.

Orb was chalk and was coming off a flawless prep schedule where he won his races easily, coming from off the pace on a track that everyone knows favors inside speed.

Going back several years, most Derby horses are not considered as strong candidates as Orb, simply because they werent.

After the Derby IHA was considered slower than Bode, and he lucked out. There was also whispers about soundness and O'Neill.

MTB was 80-1.

Not since Big Brown has there been a more3 worthwhile TC candidate, and even with Big Brown there was questions of soundness.

Orb didn't have 115 beyers coming in, but no one else did either. He won three in a row and did it with some form of brilliance. That he was 3-5 in the Preakness and a short shot to win the TC offshore should not surprise anyone, imo.


Figless said...

Well stated PTP. AK, and how he was perceived by the public, has no relevance to Orb, apples and oranges.

Brad Free was against Orb before the Derby, that's fine, that's what this game is about. We take a position, back it at the windows, brag when we are correct, cry in our beer when we aren't, red board why we were wrong.

Its not about trying to justify your prior position based on future results, and criticizing others for believing a horse is Triple Crown worthy.

By all means, if you picked Oxbow in public, go ahead and brag, but bragging about picking Orb to lose the Preakness, that's stretching credibility.

August Song said...

"Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."


And, I'll admit it. I was driven insane, too. But, let's not forget Andy's reminder to Red.

August Song said...

One last thought, that we're at times, much too bound by tradition in our sport. While it can be a tremendous achievement, when it all works out. Maybe, just emulating "the cowboys" approach, like Ellsworth and Tenney might prove to be the better one. No expectations. Win the Derby, and skip "the other jewels" entirely.