Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Review (Travers Edition)

I’m finally back in the fray after some time on the shelf. Despite popular belief I have not been on vacation, to the contrary it’s been a very busy few weeks on the work front. I finally got a respite this weekend and it was nice to be able to kick back and watch some sports. There was some good racing on Saturday, as well as the showdown between Manchester United and Arsenal and the Couture vs. Nogueira fight in the UFC. Not a bad sporting trifecta at all.

Year Of The Mudder

I can’t remember a year in recent memory so dominated by off track going. The Derby, Haskell and Travers were run over sloppy tracks and the Preakness was drying out from significant rain.

I typically don’t mind the odd race over less than ideal footing. Versatility is important to me when evaluating the quality of a horse and I like to see horses able to overcome any hurdle. This year has really taken it to an extreme though. Since the Triple Crown started only one 3yo G1 race has been run over a dry, fast track. 2009 will be known as the year of the off track.

G1 Travers

Pretty convincing win by Summer Bird, who has really blossomed into a fine horse. My dark horse Derby selection has finally put it all together. The interesting thing is the horse has really picked it up pace wise in his last two starts. He used to be a dead closer, now they are using some new found tactical speed and it’s helping him stay in contention. I’d say he has a big future beating up on the handicap division, but with two G1 wins in classic events he is surely on the fast track for the breeding shed in 2010.

This win officially ends his status as the “Other Bird”. From now on if that term is used here it’s in regards to Mine That Bird.

Quality Road didn’t fire his best shot but he was a solid play against in this race. There was no way to be sure he wanted the distance without a two-turn prep, never mind off a track record effort sprinting three weeks earlier. With the fear of a bounce in the air, he had the question mark exacta nailed cold. I still believe he may be the best male horse in the division, but Pletcher had to play catch-up to get him in the race. Not to be overly dramatic about a horse that may or may not have liked the wet going, but sometimes I wish horses were prepped and raced on their terms, not based on the stakes calendar. The horse could have used a race at a shorter route distance before diving into the 10-furlong deep end. He could have prepped for the prestigious G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but perhaps he’ll be a candidate for that anyways. I hope he stays sound and willing.

Charitable Man confirmed my belief that he is an overrated G3 type.

Kensei laid the big egg, but I’m inclined to give him a mulligan here for a variety of reasons.


The Birdie Ran a monster race, but there is no reason to believe Rachel wouldn’t have won the Travers. She was 6 lengths better than him 3 weeks prior and she would have likely been about 3-4 better then him on Saturday.

Some wanted her in the Travers, but I think her entry in the Woodward, against older males, is way more intriguing than anything against her own division. Also, I think people are overlooking just how difficult it is for any 3yo to beat their elders, much less 3yo filly doing so against older males.

No filly has ever won the event and that race will be must see TV.

Haskin wrote a great article about the race here.

G1 Kings Bishop

Congrats to Capt. Candyman Can. He is a tough, consistent horse. I’ve never really been a big fan of him and ultimately the race doesn’t really change much of my opinion of his ability, but whenever you win the division’s signature sprint race, you deserve a tip of the hat. At the end of the day I don’t believe he is better than either Munnings or Big Drama around one turn and you have to figure Vineyard Haven, who reappeared after a vanishing act in Dubai, is the more dynamic individual as well. With that said, he is tough and consistent and you tend to find your way in to the winner’s circle more often than not when you can repeatedly show up regardless of the track or conditions.

Its taken the Sheik a year but it seems like he might, just maybe, have Vineyard Haven in the same form he was before they bought him and trotted him halfway across the globe last year. It’s nice to see the big grey back on his native soil showing a pulse.

Munnings never fired, but he had a somewhat similar issue as Quality Road, but in reverse. In some ways I can understand trying to stretch the horse out, but I never understood why they chose to do so in a race like the Haskell, which had the best horse in training (Rachel) and the best active 3yo male (Summer Bird) How that was a legit option with the idea of falling back to the Kings Bishop is beyond me. Horses are creatures of habit and they shook this colt up too soon. I’m not saying he lost the Bishop because of the Haskell, but it is certainly a valid talking point. I always cringe when a trainer or owner talks about “taking a shot”. That is generally code for “willing to sacrifice my horses form on a foolish gamble”. I like to see a horse take a shot in the Breeders Cup or a signature event like the Triple Crown or Dubai World Cup, but the Haskell against the best horses in the country, when your horses will be the favorite in the only G1 sprint of the year? Come on.

I said after the Preakness I was afraid that the connections of Big Drama would not make up their minds as to what type of horse they wanted Big Drama to be. My fears have come true. He’s similar to Munnings, except he’s been jerked around all year, not just a single race. It was incredibly obvious the horse was a miler type when it came to routing and why they’ve elected to run him in second-class route races at second-tier tracks en route to a G1 sprint is beyond me. Horses like him only highlight the fact that humans are just as eligible to get in a good horses way as aide them.

The Kings Bishop is not a fall back race and should not be treated as such. When you have a horse that loves to sprint, keep them sprinting until the penultimate sprint, then get cute or experimental.

Tomorrow I will update the 3yo Top Ten

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