FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28
Race 1: Las Olas Azur (#5)
Las Olas Azur was entering this race off a long layoff after running quite well in her career debut sprinting at Belmont. That day, she had made a wide move against a proven strong rail bias. One would have thought that she’d be a factor in this average maiden race based on that effort, but things did not pan out. She was steadied coming away from the start and was taken under a strong hold while fighting her rider. When he attempted to advance along the inside moving into the far turn, the hole that he was aiming for closed up and Las Olas Azur was steadied briefly. Afterwards, she understandably tired late in her first route effort. I expect a much improved performance next time. (watch replay)
Race 2: Mr. Style (#7)
This horse simply had to endure an extremely wide trip around the far turn that took away any chance he might have had. I know he’s nothing special, but he had a legitimate excuse for this poor effort. (watch replay)
Race 6: Spartiatis (#5)
This race is a textbook example of a pace collapse. All of the riders on potential speeds had the same idea and five horses were vying for the lead heading into the clubhouse turn. Spartiatis was the widest of all around that turn and quite surprisingly, was the only one of the frontrunners left standing by the time the field reached the top of the stretch. In many ways he played the biggest part in causing the pace to come apart and he did very well to hold his position for as long as he did. This effort was a lot better than it will appear to be in the printed past performances. (watch replay)
SATURDAY, MARCH 1
Race 1: A. P. Cino (#5)
Things didn’t go right for A. P. Cino from the start when he was shuffled out of position heading into the first turn. This is a horse who typically prefers to be forwardly placed and on this occasion he was forced to be ridden as a closer. Coming to the top of the stretch it appeared that he did have some run, but he lost momentum while his rider was unable to extricate himself from a position in behind tiring runners. By the time he was moved into the clear, it was far too late for him to make any sort of impact on the outcome. (watch replay)
Race 4: Non Stop (#5)
As I noted in my Gotham day analysis, I’m a fan of this horse so I admit that could be clouding my judgment a bit. However, I do feel that things didn’t work out very well for him in the Tom Fool Handicap. He’s not really a deep closing sprinter and was taken out of position at the break when the two runners to his inside and outside came together, forcing Abel Lezcano to steady Non Stop back to last. This also was a race that was dominated near the front in which no one made any significant closing run. All things considered, I thought Non Stop was actually doing some real running in the stretch and continued to do so through the gallop out as he passed even the winner by the time they reached the turn. While I’m not saying that I’d want to support him in a race like the Carter, I would love to play against a horse like Moments Notiz with this much-improved Non Stop in a starter allowance race next month. (watch replay)
Race 6: Greeley Pack (#9)
I’m not sure what Wilmer Garcia was thinking on the backstretch of this race. He aggressively sent Greeley Pack to the front from the gate, which we always love to see. However, as soon as he had cleared the other speeds he promptly reined this horse in as if he was concerned about being pulled over for a speeding ticket. The runners just in behind caught up quickly and Greeley Pack was steadily shuffled out of his advantageous position. After racing three-wide around the turn, he tired late. I’m not saying Greeley Pack was going to win this race, but this is a horse who has apparently rediscovered his early zip despite the fact that his rider was unwilling to use it to its full potential on this occasion. (watch replay)
SUNDAY, MARCH 2
Race 8: Henry’s Gal (#5)
Henry’s Gal broke a step slowly and then was rushed up to contest a fast pace, thus causing the race to collapse late. She ran by far the best race here and is apparently much better than her third straight Beyer speed figure in the 60s would suggest. Also, it’s worth noting that Henry’s Gal was claimed out of this race by Michael Dubb and Rudy Rodriguez. (watch replay)
MONDAY, MARCH 3
A general note about Monday’s races:
Anyone who was intently watching Monday’s card was proclaiming that there was a rail bias after only a couple of races had been run. We were all then left scratching our heads later in the day when the rail seemed to give no advantage whatsoever to the runners that stayed close to it. After rewatching Monday’s races a couple of times I’ve drawn some conclusions.
I believe that the track started to change after the fourth race and was drastically different by the time the sixth race was run. Not only was the rail giving an advantage for the first four races, but the track was also yielding final times that were significantly faster than those recorded later in the card. As of today it appears that the Beyer speed figure-makers did not create a split variant. Yet the Beyers that the first four races received seem unreasonably high: Monster Mash (93), Green Gratto (95), Prophet’s Cat (62), and Darnley Bay (81—that one in particular is hard to buy). Common sense would have you think that all of those horses should have recorded figures at least 10 points lower than the numbers they were assigned. Unsurprisingly, the only factor linking these four winners is that they all spent a significant amount of time on the rail. So I suppose you could say that it was the gold rail—rather than the racetrack—that was yielding unusually fast times.
While Saturday Bliss also rode the rail to victory in the fifth race, it seems to me that the track—or the rail, if you will—had already begun to slow down by the running of that race. It doesn’t really make sense that she would run significantly slower than a cheap claiming horse like Darnley Bay. Accordingly, I’m wiling to attribute her performance in part to the excruciatingly slow interior fractions that she was allowed set while strolling along on the lead.
By the time the sixth race went off there is no question that we were dealing with an unbiased racetrack.
The Beyer discrepancy is merely something to keep in mind moving forward when horses run back out of these first four races, but for the purposes of the below selections I’m highlighting horses who sustained wide trips against the grain of the track:
Race 1: Demon’s Deputy (#6) & Velvet Cap (#8)
Demon’s Deputy raced three-wide around much of the far turn while Velvet Cap sustained a four-wide trip. I’m not saying they would have won, but neither had a fair chance. (watch replay)
Race 2: Steve Came Thru (#7)
Steve Came Thru was three-wide around the clubhouse turn and then two- to three-wide around the far turn before drifting out entering the stretch. This was not a strong field, but Steve Came Thru may have been best. (watch replay)
Race 4: Another Page (#5) & Go Olivia Go (#8)
Another Page raced towards the rail around the clubhouse turn, but then gradually moved away from it on the backstretch before launching a five-wide run around the far turn. She ran quite well to get up for third, especially considering that she’s not naturally a closer. Go Olivia Go, meanwhile, was very wide around both turns and understandably finished far back. (watch replay)
Race 5: Saratoga Shoes (#7)
As I stated above, I believe the rail bias had started to disappear just prior to the running of this race, yet bias or no bias, Saratoga Shoes ran the best race here. While her stablemate was allowed to waltz through extremely slow fractions—the 52 2/5 second middle half-mile afforded her quite a breather—Saratoga Shoes chased three-wide for the entire journey. According to Trakus, due to her wide trip, Saratoga Shoes actually maintained nearly the same average speed to the winner of the race. In the pre-race prattle, Maggie Wolfendale was adamant that, of the two Weaver runners, the runner-up is the true two-turn filly. I saw nothing in this race to refute that assertion and will be interested to see where both of these stablemates turn up next time. (watch replay)