Lea ($13) earned a career high (on dirt) TFUS speed figure of 117 for his upset victory over Will Take Charge in the Donn yesterday at Gulfstream. Perhaps you watched the race on FOX; it was the first in their series of telecasts scheduled for this year. I thought it was a game effort from a broadcast team whose nervousness was palpable, and which will need time to develop chemistry together. However, it was great to see a telecast that was geared towards horseplayers new and old, without the fluff that we have to put up with on other networks.
One point on which I thought they misfired was with respect to the running style of Lea. They were talking about him before the race as if he was some kind of committed front-runner who the others would have to work to deny the lead. It was then commented afterwards that, while the result may not have been that surprising, the way that Lea won, sitting just off the pace early, was. This could not have been further from the truth.
As one can see, on only one occasion since he graduated in a grass race at Saratoga in 2012 had Lea had a lead in the first three calls of a race – and even in that case, he surrendered the lead by the half-mile mark. Here, Lea ran more or less the same exact way he had the last four times he won – closely stalking the leader early. If anything, he attained the lead even earlier in the Donn, as he was in front at the half-mile call.
Will Take Charge, close early, was eased back a bit to get to the outside, and had to re-start his momentum from that point. With Lea cranking out a steady series of quarters run in 23 4/5 seconds from quarter mile mark straight through to the eighth pole, it would have taken quite a phenomenal rally to catch him. Last year’s three-year old champ – conceding six pounds and a couple of feet in ground covered – fell a little short, but lost no stature in the process.
It would be exciting should these two meet up again to knock heads as the season moves on….but, if they do, you may very well not see it on FOX. Their remaining schedule presently does not include a single dirt race for the handicap division as the headline race. Hard to blame them for that considering the way that division has fallen off over the last decade or two. But why all the grass races instead?
Lea, a stakes winner on grass at three, is now two-for-two on dirt, and Mott mentioned the Whitney as a goal down the road. As our Chief Figure Guy (who was surely righter than I was on the grossly overbet Revolutionary) mentioned on Twitter: Seem to remember another horse Mott turned from a turf runner to dirt with at least some success.
Lea is the third North American Grade 1 winner to be sired by First Samurai, joining Justin Phillip and Executiveprivilege in that regard. He’s out of a mare by the European champion Galileo who is a half-sister to the two-time graded turf stakes winner Grassy; and this is also the female family of the Grade 1 turfer Stroll. Nonetheless, this horse’s immediate future will surely be on dirt.
In the other Grade 1 on the card, Lochte ($80.60) never left the rail in scoring his huge upset win in the Gulfstream Park Turf, covering 47 less feet than runner up Imagining. You can see below how this horse has improved since moving to the barn of Marcus Vitale (from McLaughlin)…especially if one (literally) draws a line through the race at the freakish distance of 1 7/16 miles.
Still, hard to anticipate the 115 that this horse earned in winning on Sunday. Lochte is by Medaglia d’Oro – his tenth Grade 1 winner – out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare who is a half-sister to Kiss the Kid, a multiple graded stakes winner on grass. This is also the direct female family of the sturdy handicap horse, BC Classic winner, and champion Black Tie Affair (whose dam is the third dam of Lochte). And, since we always like any excuse to take a look at a race from the past – to hear the names of those who ran behind the winner as much as anything else – here is the 1991 Classic, run at Churchill Downs.