Today in Racing, April 30, 2014

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I watched Tuesday’s Pursuit of the Crown telecast on HRTV, and they are pretty much down to filler at this point.  As is the daily report issued by Churchill Downs.  The Toddster’s quartet walked the shedrow.  Samraat jogged twice around the track in the wrong direction.  Chitu schooled in the gate.  Ride On Curlin galloped.  Medal Count “stood motionless by the half-mile gap for five minutes.”  Oh, man.  What’s next, the official Daily Diet and Defecation report?  Draw the post positions and start the race already, what are we waiting for?

We are squarely into “too much information” time.  The official timed workouts are apparently over.  We’ve heard of those scheduled three furlong “blowouts” for Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong on Thursday; but Contessa says nothing of the sort regarding the former in the Churchill Downs report; just that he’ll school in the paddock before the fifth race on that day.

DRF clocker Mike Welsch is none too pleased with Wicked Strong these days.  Gave him a pass the prior day for being distracted on his first visit to the track.  But he said that, on Tuesday,  the colt continued to lack focus and was looking around, particularly at the new giant screen towering over the backstretch.  Can’t say I blame him, I’d be checking that thing out too!  Now, perhaps this all qualifies as “too much information.”  But, as we know, the horse has not run well outside of his familiar surroundings in New York.  And I’ve already made my feelings clear about what I think of his chances.

Samraat made his first appearance on the track since arriving from New York. Trainer Richard Violette, Jr. noted:   “It was almost like he was beamed here….He likes traveling.”  That’s not surprising considering that the son of Noble Causeway shipped back and forth between Palm Meadows, in Florida, and Aqueduct in between each of his last four races, racking up enough frequent flier miles to schedule his own vacation in St. Kitts following the Triple Crown.  His usual work pattern is a half-mile work followed by a one mile breeze.  He continued that pattern for the Derby.  But since they were in New York, we don’t have the kind of commentary about them that we do for the local works.

Samraat is a horse who I believe may be somewhat overlooked in the wagering on Saturday. That’s despite his having been beaten only once, by Wicked Strong in the Wood. He is not rated as highly by the Beyer figures as we have him, and, as I’ve said, I believe that the Wood results vindicate our figures over theirs in this particular case. He’s a NY-bred by a relatively obscure sire in Noble Causeway – 14th in the 2005 Kentucky Derby/6th in the Preakness after running second in the Florida Derby – out of a mare by the fine middle-distance sire Indian Charlie.  Looking through his female family, there are no obvious distance horses to cite.  The dam is a half to Nonsuch Bay, a nice mare who won stakes up to the nine furlong Mother Goose, but who faded to 5th when she tried an extra furlong in the Alabama.  He does however have an economical Dosage Index of 1.22

Uncle Sigh is the NY-bred who I think might present some outstanding value here.  If Samraat is indeed overlooked, Uncle Sigh figures to be more so, having finished behind his rival all three times they’ve met; narrowly twice, and then by 4 1/2 lengths in the Wood.  I’m tossing the latter.  He was off a beat slow (he schooled in the starting gate on Tuesday) and was significantly wide on both turns.  His TFUS speed figures are highly competitive. Uncle Sigh has the tactical speed to gain good position in the chaotic run to the first turn….barring another misstep at the start, of course.

My concern is that, like Samraat, he could be a bit too one-paced to make the kind of finishing move needed to win this thing.  But he sure has some interesting stamina influence on the female side of the pedigree.  By the aforementioned Indian Charlie, he’s out of a dam by the 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, whose progeny have an average winning distance of 7.36 furlongs.  Uncle Sigh is a half-brother to a couple of middle-distance stakes winners in Slew by Slew and Percussion.  And though the latter was second in the mile and a half Brooklyn Handicap, that was a horrible race run in the slop from which I wouldn’t necessarily draw conclusions.  More interesting if you delve back further: the dam is a half-sister to Symphony Sid, who won the 12 furlong Carlton F. Burke on the turf in front-running fashion.  Underneath the third dam, besides the champion 2yo filly Storm Song, is Better Life, a “champion stayer” in Japan who won up to about 1 3/8 miles; Balladry, stakes placed in marathon turf stakes up to a mile and a half; and Midsummer Fair, another Japanese distance winner, at a mile and a quarter. Peak back even further, and you’ll find Flit-to, a multiple-graded stakes winner on the grass who won up to ten furlongs. And his 5th dam, Fleet Victress, was a fabulous turf filly who was a huge favorite of mine back in the 70s.  (Perhaps we’ll see Uncle Sigh run on the turf some day.)  So yeah, I’m feeling this colt as a longshot play. No doubt I’ll have at least a few bucks on him, hopefully at 20-1.

Another horse getting talked up on Pursuit of the Crown was Dance With Fate.  He’s getting raves for his workout at Santa Anita – a sharp half mile in 47 seconds – which you can watch here, on the HRTV.com site.  I’ve already gotten some blowback here for dismissing him as a synthetic specialist.  (Just to clarify, when I wrote “what a joke,” I was referring to his standing at #3 in the points based on a win on Polytrack, and not to those of you who like him.  I disagree with you respectfully.)  Perhaps I underrated his dirt race last year in which he was second at Santa Anita, ahead of Tamarando (who I don’t seem to notice in the Derby field), earning a modest TFUS speed figure of 91.

However, I cannot get past the remarks of his trainer, Peter Eurton.  In the immediate aftermath of his G1 win in the Blue Grass, when he should have been basking in the fact that his horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby, he instead said: “He doesn’t have the power to get through dirt. It will break away from him. I’ve seen him train over synthetics, and he gets over it so much easier.”  We all would pay good money to hear that kind of insider stuff from trainers, and here he said it right out in public.  Besides, that workout the other day would not even have been on dirt had it not rained – it was scheduled for the turf.  It’s one thing to work out on dirt – Eurton said he’s always worked well on the stuff – and another thing to “power through” it in a race.  I’m throwing this horse out completely, and if he beats me, then very well, he beats me.

And then, of course, there’s California Chrome.  His workout regimen is complete. So we’ll all be overanalyzing commentary on his jogs and gallops.  He appeared on the track on Tuesday, and the reaction was generally good, though not effusive.  With those last four running lines, and his Beyer numbers, I can’t imagine he won’t be the clear favorite no matter where he ends up drawing.  Our office over/under number is 3-1.  Having said that, I just get the sense that the hype is a bit muted, whether due to his not having ventured outside California, his breeding, or just the mindset that we want to catch a price in this race.  So I’d be leaning towards the over on that.  But not by much.

I often oppose the Kentucky Derby favorite because I don’t like him.  This year, it will be more just because he’s the favorite.  Hard to find too much fault with California Chrome. He has good speed, and the ability to sit behind it when necessary.  He came home strongly in the Santa Anita Derby – 12 2/5 for the last furlong, 36 3/5 for the last 3/8ths. And about his modest pedigree, I’m a bit fascinated by that stamina that appears under his third dam: Amourette, the Robert G Dick winner at a mile and 3/8ths; and her son Lemonade Kid, third in a mile and 3/4 Arlington stakes despite hopping at the start, and a strong second, missing by a neck, in a 1 5/8 miles turf stakes there.  “Too much information?”  We’ll see.

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