There were six races run on the main track at Gulfstream on Saturday. Take a look at the result charts – in only one case did the finish position for the horses that were 1-2-3 at the stretch call change at the finish; and that was a horse who rallied to get third, some six lengths behind the winner. It was a big race day and, as we’ve seen so often, speed was king. Even in the 5th race – an absolutely horrible, awful maiden race that took 40 seconds to run the last 3/8ths (nearly 14 seconds for the final furlong) and which was painful to watch – nobody could gain ground late.
This continues the curious phenomenon of speed biases on big race days. They obviously don’t just happen organically. Can’t just be a coincidence. Somebody has to be doing something, and I’ve never understood the appeal of fast raw times (not even the case across the board on Saturday), and why track superintendents or management or whomever would want their races on these days to be so uncompetitive in the late stages. You’d think that Frank Stronach in particular would be sensitive to the issue. Horseplayers blasted Santa Anita’s surface after Breeders’ Cup Friday to the point where major effort was put into making the track play fairer the next day. Yet, it was more of the same at his Gulfstream folly on Saturday. I just don’t get it.
Well, if there’s one good thing to come out of it, we should sure have an honest pace for the Kentucky Derby! Wildcat Red ($11) and General a Rod alternated in the 1-2 spots from start to finish in the Fountain of Youth, and thereby earned themselves spots in the starting gate at Churchill. You can bet they’ll be around early that day; and I’d be willing to bet right now that neither will be around late. As we discussed in our FOY preview, General a Rod is the better suited of the two pedigree-wise for the longer distances. But, after dueling to a half mile in 46 1/5, these two decelerated from there, and were there for the taking. I’m thinking they’ll be taked at a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May, joined up front early on no doubt by other speedy types who take advantage of speed biases on their big prep race days. For their efforts, each colt earned TFUS speed figures of 103. As Craig points out:
@TimeformUS Orb received 106 last year, 111 for Derby. FOY in 2012, Union Rags ran 118, I’ll Have Another won Derby with 116. 2013 weak.
— Craig Milkowski (@TimeformUSfigs) February 23, 2014
Showing once again that the public is slow to adjust to apparent biases, Top Billing, who earned a figure of 97 for finishing third, was sent off as the 2-1 favorite. Shug McGaughey says he’ll run next in either the Florida Derby or the Wood. If I were he, needing points to insure a spot for his colt in the Derby, I’d be thinking about hopping the next plane north. Between the ridiculous track configuration at Gulfstream that will put his horse at a severe disadvantage should he again draw poorly, and the way the track played on Saturday, Shug may be putting his hopes of winning two Derbies in a row in jeopardy by sticking around.
Having said that though, I’m only willing to write his effort off to a track bias so much. Top Billing was able to conserve ground and energy early on as the two front-runners set their lively pace up front. He didn’t even have to go very wide around the turn for home. He had dead aim on two speed types who were hooked up all the way and were slowing down steadily. Yet he hung like a third grader’s forgery of the Mona Lisa. Was it the track bias? Perhaps; surely it was part of it. But good horses overcome, and this horse didn’t really come close. And he wasn’t exactly flattered by Commissioner’s disappointing performance. I’ll be looking to beat him at 4-5 next time he runs.
Normandy Invasion got a TFUS speed figure of 111 for his winning return. From listening to all of the accolades, one would think he would hardly have been eligible for the entry-level allowance race that he won. I’m not a big fan, though, in retrospect, it was foolish to try and beat him in this spot. He still hasn’t won around two turns though, and he’s another one who figures to be a big favorite in his next race (at two turns, according to Chad Brown), and whom I’ll be looking to oppose.
At the Fair Grounds, Intense Holiday earned a moderate TFUS speed figure of 100 for winning the Risen Star for the Toddster; that as opposed to the 102 assigned to the game runner-up, Albano, and the 105 earned by Untapable, the dominant winner of the Rachel Alexandra. We heard Jeremiah Englehart, the trainer of Ria Antonia (and it is not in hindsight that I say she was hugely overbet), talk on HRTV before the race about his filly running in the Derby. Maybe the connections of Untapable should consider that path considering how weak the field of colts is looking these days.
At least, however, Intense Holiday won the way we like to see three-year olds do so at this time of the year. He closed against an unfavorable pace scenario – Albano went in 24 2/5 to the sixteenth pole after a prior quarter in 25 flat . And he did things that are not factored into our speed figures – encountering traffic early, losing ground when wide on the turn, and closing with grim determination to make up a late gap that seemed insurmountable. He was easily, in my view, the most impressive horse we saw this weekend amongst those considered to be Derby prospects. Intense Holiday is by Harlan’s Holiday out of an Unbridled’s Song half-sister to the fine handicap horse Crafty Shaw.
– We’ve been mentioning Gary Contessa here, and how well he’s been doing with his grass horses at Gulfstream. Sure, he had a couple of disappointing (and overbet) favorites in grass stakes over the weekend with Runway Ready, 5th at 3-2 in Sunday’s Ladies Turf Sprint, and Rydilluc, 5th at 7-2 in Saturday’s Canadian Turf. However, his Thor’s Mjolnor was a right-there 4th at 41-1 in the 4th on Saturday. And it was his Collinito who, at 15-1, was DQ’d in the controversial decision by the stewards in the finale that day that extended the Rainbow Six carryover and crushed the hopes of a single horseplayer in what might be the worst beat in all of handicapping history. Andy Beyer says the DQ was legitimate though, and that’s OK by us.
Videos of the Fountain of Youth, and the Risen Star below: