Monday, January 26, 2015

NYRA Needs to Look Deeper

Aqueduct has been the topic of heated discussion in 2015 after he death count rose alarmingly high, at a rate too quick for comfort. However, it is not the just the deaths that have caused the uproar, but their inexplicable nature that has the racing world worried.
The reaction is understandable, 14 deaths in the 27 racing days, since the meet began is far too many. To be exact, that is one death every two days, and nobody can come to a conclusion as to the cause. Some believe it is the track and others believe it is the horses that are being run over the track. Either way, the masses have implored then NYRA for change.
 The NYRA responded to the calls for change with four new policies, they are as follows…. Firstly, any horse that is put on a “poor performance” list will have to work a half mile in 53 seconds or faster, in order to enter future NYRA races. In order to be put on the list, a horse will have to be beaten by a margin of 25 lengths or more. Secondly, race day cards, during the week, will be reduced to eight races. Thirdly, they will raise bottom level maiden claimers from $12,500 to $16,000….And finally, no entries will be taken by those who ran their previous race less than 15 days before.
NYRA considers these changes an “important step toward addressing the troubling situation at Aqueduct.” Yes, this is considered a step in the right direction, but is it enough?
NYRA also has also made other changes, such as breaks in the winter schedule and workout requirements, for those coming off from extended layoffs. These changes, coupled with the four above, could prove helpful over time, but if they don’t? Then what comes next? The one element NYRA is has yet to address is the track.
Aqueduct’s inner track is a natural surface, made of soil, sand to give better drainage, an 8’’ base made of limestone aggregate –topped by a thin half inch, thick clay/sand/silt mix, with the top layer of the track being a sandy loam cushion, nearly 5’’ thick.
Aqueduct originally put in the Limestone base because of its durability. It lacks the violent reactions of other materials, and handles freezing and thawing much better than the clay/silt/sand mix, that is the base of Aqueduct’s main dirt track. However, Limestone aggregate does have its weakness.
Like any type of crushed stone, if the material is too dry, the bonds that hold the packed molecules together, become weak and unstable. That circumstance is far from ideal, when the base of the track needs to be as stable as possible. This can be helped by simply watering the track to the right degree. Watering the track, would help the limestone aggravate bond, stick, and pack together, creating a sturdy base.
Normally, this is not an issue for Aqueduct, as the winter normally produces several feet of snow, which provides natural moisture for the track to soak up. This year, that has not been the case, as there have been only a couple of inches of snow, at the most, during this meet. Now If Aqueduct remembers correctly, there was another spike in breakdowns during the 2011-2012 winter meet, and upon investigation, the only similar factor between the two meets is the lack of snow.

Snow Fall During Meet
Equine Deaths During Meet
14-15 (in progress)
14  (2 months left in meet)

The snow fall provides the natural moisture to keep the limestone base packed together, providing a stable base making for a safer, more stable surface for the horses to run on. As the chart dictates, very clearly, without the proper amount of moisture, the track becomes unstable, and hazardous to run over.

NYRA has investigated one side of the coin, taking steps to improve safety provided by the horsemen. Now, it is time explore other possibilities; Possibilities that could be as simple as watering the track, to ensure the foundation of the track stays as stable and as safe as possible.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nothing But A Dream?

She started off her career so promising, announcing herself with a bang, drawing off impressively over the Keeneland synthetics. The nearly white filly, Dancinginherdreams, a daughter of the hot sire Tapit, then was sent to Churchill Downs. In her stakes debut and first time trying the dirt, Dancinginherdreams ran away from her competition yet again. Her, John Ward, raved about her talent and maturity, only adding to the growing speculation that she could perhaps be the next year's Kentucky Oaks winner.

Next year came and Ward entered his promising pupil in the seven furlong Forward Gal where she ran a rapidly closing second to Pomeroy's Pistol. Not the return we all were hoping for, but an encouraging beginning to say the least, especially when considering how well she closed over a track not know for it's kindness towards deep closers. In her next start, the mile Davona Dale, the highly regarded filly ran second again, this time to R Heat Lightning, currently the Oaks favorite. Dancinginherdreams would then leave Gulfstream, bypassing the Gulfstream Oaks in favor of the Ashland Stakes at Keeleland, the sight of her dominating maiden victory.

Even I believe that the Tapit filly would return to her winning ways here. She had an impressive victory over the track and did not have to run over a very speed biased track. I believed she would turn in a big effort, but when Saturday came she turned in the worst finish of her career, finishing a well beaten ninth.

What happened? Has Dancinginherdreams simply not progressed from her promising juvenile form? Was her loss due to the possibility of not liking the track? I know she won at Keeneland, and it was an impressive win, however, that was against maidens not stakes winners. Is it possible that she is a one track horse? Look at Win Willy. Who would've thought he would take down a mighty looking Misremembered. But Oaklawn is his track and he got the pace he was looking for. Win Willy is mediocre at best when racing elsewhere, but at Oaklawn he is a force to be reckoned with. Could it be that elsewhere Dancinginherdreams is simply just good, but she's a Churchill freak?

This was a freaky weekend and with many favorites falling victim to some unorthodox circumstance or another I am willing to toss the Ashland out. It was the only truly bad performance of the consistent filly's career, and I would wager that when she gets back to Churchill she will come alive again to light up the tote board.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Mo Chance

Show of hands who was surprised when Uncle Mo, for the first time in his short career, came to the top of the stretch and did not kick clear? Who was surprised that in the stretch, not only, was he passed by one horse, but two? Well, as long as we're being honest, I'll say that my jaw hit the floor so hard that I may have knocked some teeth lose.

When Tom Durkin said "The most shocking upset since Secretariat himself" he was not exaggerating. There was shock, then disappointment, then the "what just happened" mode. Did Uncle Mo not handle the track, was he too short, did grabbing his quarter throw him off, or was it a combination of all of things? We can't be sure, but one thing I can say is every horse deserves a second shot, even Uncle Mo.

Uncle Mo did, for once in his career, came staggering down the last sixteenth of a mile, as opposed to his normal bounding. He went right for the lead setting, what looked like average fractions for the day. However, when comparing with the only other nine furlong race within the last couple of days he was moving at a fairly decent clip.

The first quarter and half are normally pretty average when compared to other track, however when looking at the three quarters and mile splits, one notices a huge difference. Where other tracks will run a 1.11 or 1.12, Aqueduct normally sees a 1.12 or 1.13. Mile splits for many tracks will be 1.35 or 1.36, but at Aqueduct you hardly ever see a horse breaking 1.37. In fact not many, over last week were even breaking 1.38. Uncle Mo's fractions over the Aqueduct main course were 23.49, 47.98, 1.12.28, 1.37.26, with his personal final time being around 1.50.13.

Were these fractions blazing, no. However they were solid when put into proper prospective. Mo was also a short horse in need of conditioning, entering the Wood Memorial. He only had two four furlong works coming into the race, off the Timely Writer, one was a 49.45. Before the Timely Writer the longest he worked was 5 furlongs, and he did that twice before running in that spot. One could argue that Uncle Mo was better prepared to go nine furlongs in his first start than he was in the Wood Memorial.

Looking at the replay, it is apparent Uncle Mo had simply run out of gas down the stretch, which can be largely attributed to the lack of work he had prior to the race. It was also reported that Uncle Mo grabbed his left front quarter leaving the gate. Depending on the severity, this could have easily caused Uncle Mo pain when he went to switch to his left lead in the stretch. Normally, Uncle Mo switches leads and displays a turn of foot that leaves his opponents spinning. This time Uncle Mo did not drop his shoulder and level off. Instead it looked like he continued evenly down the lane.

Knowing all of this does Uncle Mo deserve to be tossed to the curb off this one race? I say no. Many people wanted a race that would see him challenged and would give him some conditioning. The Wood did that. He faced adversity and even though he did not win he certainly did not fold, like other top Derby contenders have this year when trouble has come their way. He certainly got the conditioning most were crowing for out of this race, which if coupled with a couple of long fast drills from Pletcher, should have him cranked up and raring to go for the Derby. So, come on people. Yes, the result was disappointing, but everybody and every horse has an off day. Let's give Uncle Mo one more shot.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Review

Fabulous Fillies

From where I stand it was not the males that took center stage at Gulfstream, when all was said and done, it was the fillies. R Heat Lighting did it again, dazzling her onlookers and crushing her foes, with an even more dominating victory than in her Davona Dale romp. Settling into a nice smooth rhythm, R Heat Lightning, sat third behind a solid pace of 23 flat, and 46.32. After three quarters in a snappy 1.10.97, the daughter of Trippi began to turn on the pressure. Advancing on the outside, R Heat Lightning entered the stretch with daylight between her and her opposition, under only a hand ride, before drawing away at will.

She stopped the clock in 1.49.27, which was a 4/5's of a second faster than Dialed In ran a day later. There is no doubt this filly will enter the Kentucky Oaks as a major favorite. If beaten foes return victorious elsewhere, it should only add to her reputation, before the Oaks.

In the Older Filly/Mare division a new name joins the ranks. Awesome Maria threw her hat into the arena when she stormed to a decisive victory in the Rampart. Among the fallen was Unrivaled Belle, who defeated Rachel Alexandra and won the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic in 2010.

Florida Derby Pros and Cons

After a surprising loss in allowance race, Dialed In put it all back together when he nipped a dead game Shackleford, in the shadow of the wire, to take the Florida Derby. The son of Mineshaft benefited from a solid pace set-up after Shackleford, To Honor and Serve, and Flashpoint all gunned for the lead. Dialed in dropped as many as 14 lengths off the leaders, biding his time.

After the field moved past the 3/8ths pole, Dialed In began to pick up the pace, picking off horses one by one. At the top of the stretch it was still Shackleford to catch, but Dialed In, five lengths out was charging hard. A resolute Shackleford did not make it easy, but in the end Dialed in would not be denied.

The final time was an average 1.50.07. The pros of Dialed In's race are that he is most certainly the real deal. The Flordia Derby showed his gameness and what he could do when he gets an honest pace, which is what he will get when he goes to the Kentucky Derby. However, the Florida Derby was a huge performance for this horse, and could set him up for a bounce come Derby day.

The cons, if you would call them that are, for one, Dialed In is not adjustable. He raced closer up two outings ago, and did not show the same punch he did in the Holly Bull or Florida Derby. Being this way puts him at a huge disadvantage in the Derby. He will risk either getting caught wide or running into traffic. Also note, that while it looked like Dialed In flew home, his final furlong was run in over 13 seconds. R Heat Lighting ran her final furlong in 12.77 under a mild hand ride. So while this race was impressive, and there is no doubt that Dialed In is a very talented colt, some of the cons I saw in this race would keep him out of my top three come Derby day.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Gulfstream Heatwave

Florida is always one of the warmest places to be during this time of year, but this weekend it's about to get a whole lot hotter. Not only is Gulfstream Park hosting a fabulous race card, filled with appetizing allowance races and juicy stakes, but it feature the Gulfstream Oaks and, the big enchilada, the Florida Derby.

The first race to draw attention on Saturday's card is the fifth race, an allowance optional claiming. The two main draws there are Tapitsfly and Hibaayeb. The former won the 09 edition of the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She came back this year with a disappointing effort in her first start, where she finished 11, however she came back to run a much improved second in her next outing. Hibaayeb surprised all when she came over from Europe and took the Grade one Yellow Ribbon, at Hollywood Park by storm. If she can pull out another performance like that she will be tough to handle.

The next race to come will be the Rampart, featuring the return of last year's Breeders Cup Ladies Classic victor, Unrivaled Belle. The five year old mare, who last year beat the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, makes her 2011 debut while defending her Rampart crown. However with the likes of the ever so consistent Awesome Maria and Persuading, who returns to dirt, in the race, the daughter of Unbridled Song will have her work cut out for her.

Saturday will end with the Gulfstream Oaks, formerly known as the Bonnie Miss. Here R Heat Lightning gets her first taste of nine furlongs, and her performance will define her as a miler or the division leader, heading into the Kentucky Oaks. The horse that is expected to give R Heat Lightning her biggest challenge is the unbeaten star from Aqueduct, It's Tricky. The daughter of Mineshaft has absolutely dominated her competition in her last two starts but should receive a much stiffer test in this spot.

Sunday opens up with a dynamic and wide open field for the Swale featuring Black N Beauty, Travelin Man, and Little Drama. Black N Beauty is trying to recover the form that saw him wire a solid allowance field earlier this year. Travelin Man will try to wire the field, while his nemesis, Flashpoint, runs in the more lucritive Florida Derby, while the Calder sensation Little Drama tries to fit in with the big boys. The Sir Shackleton should heat things up as D'Funnybone, Iboyee, Our Edge, and Regal Ransom all hook up for the lead, to see who can go fastest the longest, setting things up for Capt. Candyman Can, who returned after a 16 month layoff to take the Super Stakes. D'Funnybone, who displayed both blazing and dazzling speed, early last year before tailing off, returns after eight months away. The question is, can he return to his brilliant form that he had as a 2 year old and early on as a three year old, or has he just finally flamed out?

The next two races, the Appleton and Skip Away Stakes flash names like Nicanor, Barbaro's little brother, and Little Mike, who has been performing quite well in his last couple outings. In the latter we have Colizeo and Drosselmeyer. I know it seems like the day could not get any better.

You would think that by this time the stands will have to be all but cheered out, right? Wrong, because, believe it or not, the Florida Derby tops anything that any of the previous races had. I would go as far as to say the Foriday Derby is the most competitive Derby prep this year. Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, Dialed In, and Flashpoint will all do battle, and by time the dust settles, we may very well have a horse that could give even the might Uncle Mo a challenge in the Run for the Roses? So, what do you think? Can you take the heat?