Today in Racing, March 3, 2014

Well, so much for No Nay Never, who was here to wow us but will now presumably, and as scheduled, head back to England. He’ll do so with a big Spot ($21) blemishing his record after being upset as the 2-5 favorite in the Swale Stakes on Saturday. Wesley Ward’s colt had even overshadowed the return of Havana; and when that one was scratched, a victory was being taken for granted. I even heard one commentator say that he was expecting the race to be no more than a tour de force for the son of Scat Daddy.

All of the hype reminded me a bit of that which preceded the US debut of Bold Forbes in 1975. That was different in that Bold Forbes had already run on dirt, winning all five of his starts in Puerto Rico; and, unlike No Nay Never, had never run in this country. He won his debut, at Belmont, as the second choice to Iron Bit, a horse who had missed the track record by 2/5ths of a second in winning his debut; and then went on to win the Saratoga Special on what was the first-ever Sunday of racing at the Spa. (That’s right. The NYRA has been racing on Sundays for only 39 years, a drop in the bucket in the scheme of things, and recently enough so that I well recall needing to find other things to do on that day. Oh man, I could tell stories about Sunday afternoon drives up to Monticello for the 2:30 post time there, if only I could remember them…)

So, the official excuse for why No Nay Never “tamely surrendered his unbeaten record,” as reported by the UK’s Racing Post, is this: “He was fresh and hadn’t run in a while.” That according to jockey Javier Castellano. Of course, as we had mentioned here, it was his first race on dirt, and you know the old Harvey Pack adage that you never bet on a favorite doing something he hasn’t done before. As the rider noted, referring to the quick pace set by Can’t Stop the Kid that he sat just behind: “..he did all of the hard work in the race.”

That was reflected in the TFUS speed figures for the race. While Spot earned a figure of 91, No Nay Never was given a 96. Presumably, had Havana been in the race – and especially if he’d been able to rate as he did in the longer BC Juvenile – he would have crushed this field, at least based on the figures he’d earned in the past.

As for Spot, the 91 was not too much of a leap from his past figures, though it’s hard to make much of a red-board case for this colt based on his form.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.07.07 AM

He’d graduated, in his first try on dirt, in a race with a weak race rating of 77, and with a slow pace that played to his advantage; and then gave an even effort in the Hutcheson. That race has now produced three next-out winners (Wildcat Red won the Fountain of Youth, and 6th place finisher Tashir won a 3YO overnight stake at Calder yesterday). One thing that was is in favor however was the switch to the Nick Zito barn, which has been sharp of late, thus earning the HOT rating that you see above. (He also won the 8th at Gulfstream yesterday with West Coast Chick [$10.80])

Zito seemed to balk at the idea of pointing this horse to the Derby, which I bet he wouldn’t have done 20 years ago when he was one of the real dominant Derby guys. “I wish there were a mile race here. I’ll figure it out.” Spot is by Pulpit, out of a winless Quiet American mare; not much on the catalog page to report here as far as his female family goes.

– I noticed in the Racing Post piece linked to above that they wrote that, in the Gotham, Samraat “edged out old rival Uncle Sigh.” They actually had only met once before, in the Withers. But nowadays, even two ding-dong stretch battles between the same two horses can qualify as a rivalry, I suppose. Gotta be impressed by the way that Samraat sat behind the leaders, conceded ground while circling the leaders three-wide on the turn, and got the job done despite picking up weight and conceding five pounds to the runner-up. Third place finisher In Trouble ran quite well too, especially for a horse whose last two workouts reportedly did not please his trainer Anthony Dutrow. In fact, In Trouble earned the best TFUS speed figure, at 109, compared to the 108 given to Samraat and Uncle Sigh.

Coming into the race, it seemed like everyone liked Harpoon, who was bet down to the 4-1 third choice for Pletcher. Everyone except for Millie Ball on HRTV. I saw her on Friday disparaging the horse’s chances, lamenting how he’d lost his aggressiveness since the blinkers were removed, asserting that he doesn’t like dirt in the face, and going so far as to say that he’d lacked “competitive spirit” in his last two races. I had to rewind to make sure she was really talking about a horse whose last two races were a five length win and a nose loss in the Sam F. Davis! However, she turned out to be right on, so great job there.

– The snow storm fizzled out here in NY, so Monday racing is on at the Big A. We have our Horses in Focus post up here, and a race preview of Race 5 here.

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