Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Review

What a weekend of racing. For everything we learned about some of the key contenders, a new batch of questions popped up for others.

The off track at the Fairgrounds did put a damper on their stellar card but I doubt whether it had any effect on the outcome of the 3yo features.

G1 Louisiana Derby

Dominant effort by Fresian Fire and there is not a lot more you can say.

If there were any doubts about his ability they’ve been put to rest. He has great tactical speed and a pedigree that's made for the Derby distance. The only question here is his schedule. The problem with the Fairgrounds circuit is its feature race comes 7 weeks out of the Derby. Any horse that runs through their entire 3yo circuit has been awfully busy and squeezing in another race can do more damage than good. Of course the flip side to that is nobody really wants to go into the Derby off that type of break.

I’m in favor of him training up to the Derby for two reasons, one, the horse ran huge in each of his last three starts. He needs a breather. Secondly, Jones proved what he can do in the Derby off a layoff with Hard Spun two years ago. Hard Spun ran in the G2 Lanes End, 6 weeks out of the Derby and Jones elected to train him up rather fit in another race. Hard Spun ran a monster race in the Derby and was a factor in each of the following Triple Crown races.

If Fresian makes another start he’ll become “toss” material. If he trains up, watch out.

Also, while I think the field wouldn’t have beaten Fresian on any surface condition I cant help but think the off track led to many of the stragglers not firing. I don’t believe Patena, Terrain, Giant Oak and Flying Pegasus can be that bad. The problem is, its virtually impossible to differentiate between their efforts and upside because of the track. They could be anything at this point and no one knows.

G2 Rebel Stakes

I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Old fashioned has been a model of consistency and training very well. He towered over this field in class and ability. After taking firm command of the race he went into a virtual crawl to set up one of the biggest upsets in Ark Derby history.

To be fair he chased brutal fractions early, but I’m not really sure if that’s enough to excuse the effort. If those fractions zapped him, then he probably got a little more out of the race than they wanted going in. Also, it doesn’t bode well that he is not tractable enough to avoid a suicidal pace from a “no hoper”. With his miler pedigree, this is not a recipe for Derby success.

Afleet Alex ran like a dog in the Rebel and was able to bounce back with a dominating win the Ark Derby. (Later it was confirmed he was sick) The faithful can still be optimistic considering this type of defeat has been overcome in recent time.

Until we get a report on him it will be hard to make a decision. Either way this is a serious blow to his Derby chances.

G2 San Felipe

I have a hard time enjoying anything other than turf racing from California. They have synthetic surfaces that make their horses impossible to compare to contenders abroad. Then he you have their pathetically small fields in stakes races. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but on days like this it's really driven home while horses like Fresian Fire are taking on nice fields of legitimate stock.

At first glance the win from the west coast powerhouse Pionerrof The Nile was sub par. He was fully extended to defeat a field of questionable quality.

There are a couple obvious points to take into consideration. Bob Baffert is not new to the Triple Crown trail and he isn’t going to prime his horse for a prep race in March. The race was also devoid of pace and Pioneer had to make an early move to push the pacesetter. He is certainly more effective making one big run late.

It would still be nice to see him handle a field like that a bit easier. I like to see a horse distancing himself from his rivals at this time of year, not doing the bare minimum.

This of course sets up the showdown between The Pamplemousse and Pioneer in the Santa Anita Derby. Hopefully it draws a near full field.

G3 Tampa Bay Derby

Not sure what to make of this race. I don’t expect much from the winner moving forward and it’s hard to peg the quality of General Quarters and Hello Broadway after their efforts.

Hello Broadway was running a brilliant race for about 7 furlongs. He tracked nicely without being rank and made a very powerful move into the far turn before hitting the wall. The question is, did he hit his physical limit or was that just an effort of a horse running in his first two-turn start. If it’s the later then I guess you can forgive the effort.

General Quarters got a brutal trip. He had to check three times before hitting the backstretch and didn’t have a clear run until a sixteenth left. (Far too late to be a factor) I think he showed a lot of heart to finish as well as he did after essentially being swallowed by the field the entire way around.

G3 Fairgrounds Oaks

Perhaps the best effort of the day was Rachel Alexandra comfortably drubbing the field while Calvin Borel spent the entire stretch posing for those in attendance.

If there was a case for Stardom Bound to be considered the leading 3yo filly going in, it’s gone now.

While Stardom Bound’s path is being reeled back to within her own gender, many fans are wondering whether Rachel should be running against the boys.

Count me as one of those people. With Old Fashioned being defeated by a 56-1 shot, the Arkansas group looks to be weak and ripe for the taking. Id imagine his lost will prompt a couple shippers to invade, but if the field does not draw especially deep I don’t see a reason why Rachel should skip the Arkansas Derby.

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