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The 2014 Belmont Stakes Wrap Up by Bob Pandolfo

Some people actually want to change the Triple Crown. They think that 3 races in 5 weeks is too hard on the horses, and therefore no horse will ever win the Triple Crown again. Let's put it in perspective. Using California Chrome as an example, he had 4 weeks off prior to the Kentucky Derby. Therefore, the Belmont was actually his 3rd start in a span of 9 weeks. Chrome worked strongly leading up to the Belmont and was obviously in top shape. He did not lose the race because he was worn out. He lost for the same reasons so many others do. 

First of all, the mile and a half distance is the great equalizer. It's tough. But there's another factor that is not recognized. These young horses often improve. Tonalist, the $20.40 winner, who was my Best Bet of the day, was only making his 5th start. Commissioner, who ran 2nd, was only making his 8th start, and Medal Count, who finished third, was only making his 9th start. I used all three of these improving colts. Commissioner had the perfect Belmont pedigree (4 Belmont stakes winners in his pedigree) and appeared to be improving, and Medal Count was finishing gamely when cut off in the Derby, and he worked strongly for this race, so he also appeared to be on the upswing. 

Handicapping races with lightly raced horses is much different than races with older horses. These young horses are eligible to jump up with a sharply improved effort, since they have not peaked yet. One of the reasons why I wanted to bet against California Chrome was that he had raced 12 times. We had already seen his best. The only way he could win was to run the same race he always runs, and have no one else improve, which was unlikely, since there were so many lightly raced, well-bred colts in the race.

I also didn't like the inside post draw for Chrome. He got good stalking trips on the outside to win the first two legs, but you are not going to get that type of trip from an inside post. Some people blamed the jockey, which often happens. They say that Victor Espinoza should have been on the lead. The theory is that Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat all went wire to wire in the Belmont. But, California Chrome would not have won on the lead, either. He is not as good as those great horses, and the front end was not the place to be on Belmont Stakes day. No horse went wire to wire all day. 

The Triple Crown series is very popular and successful. There is no reason to change it. You don't want to make it easier. Look at baseball. Will anyone every break Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak? Should baseball change the rules to make it easier to hit to someone will beat Dimaggio's record? Will any pitcher ever pitch two straight no hitters, the way Johnny Vander Meer did? Prior to the steroid phase, only two men in baseball history, Ruth and Maris, had hit 60 home rums in a season. Baseball changed the rules, it allowed illegal drugs, and sure enough, all of a sudden three men who were on drugs hit more than 60 homers in a season. Was that a good thing? Of course not, it was not fair to Ruth and Maris and it diminished the feat, and, the sport. 

Horses like Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat were amazing racehorses. Joe DiMaggio was an amazing baseball player, as was Babe Ruth. 

You want to win a Triple Crown? You need to be amazing. Let's not diminish the feat. It's not supposed to be easy. 

 

The 2014 Kentucky Derby Wrap Up by Bob Pandolfo

Wind Can Speed or Slow A Race

After the Derby was run, the initial reaction was that it was a very slow race. Earlier in the day, some of the fractions and final times seemed on the quick side, so it seemed odd that the Derby came up slow.

But, this is why you have to carefully analyze a track's speed, bias, and conditions on each racing day. I did speed figures for over 10 years. For five years, they were published in Racing Action, a weekly newspaper, and they were also published in the NYRA track program until Equibase started to generate figures. 

On all tracks that ran two turn routes, I always split my track variants. I did this because I found many days where sprints will play much faster than routes. In other words, the track surface appears faster for the sprint races, and vice versa. This is often due to the wind. 

On Saturday at Churchill Downs, there were gusting winds and they wind was blowing from right to left, which is a headwind (in the stretch). If you look at the three two turn races, the Derby, which is 10 furlongs, and the other two 8.5 furlong races, they were on the slow side. But the sprints were quick. This is because in the sprints, the wind was behind the horse's backs as they ran down the backstretch. This speeds up the fractions. And, in sprints, the horses only had to race into the wind down the stretch.

In the two turn, route races, the horses had to race into the wind leaving the gate, and again in the homestretch. In the Derby, since the race starts closer to the final turn, the horses had to run a long way into the wind, and then into the wind on the way home. This is why the final time was slow. This is a very important handicapping factor. I have met several professional horse players who take careful notes on wind direction and speed. 

Now, in this case, the slow time is not going to push gamblers off of California Chrome. He'll probably be 3-5 in the Preakness. But, in many instances, a windy day like this can give a smart player an opportunity to catch overlays. For instance, in the other two route races that day, the published speed figures, which normally do not take wind into account, may make some of the horses look like they ran slower than they did. This is how you get value. 

Some people think that the pace in the Derby was slow. It wasn't. The first quarter was timed in :23. But, that was into the wind. If you look at the race, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, finishers, all rallied from far back. How many times do you see deep closers pass all the stalkers when the pace is slow? Not often. And, some quality colts that were close to the pace, like Samraat, Ungle Sigh, Intense Holiday, Chitu, all finished off the board. If the pace had truly been slow, some of these horses would have hung in and finished closer. 

As for the winner, my first reaction was that he got a dream trip stalking a modest pace. But, once I analyzed the entire day, and looked at some replays (and saw the flags blowing), I realized what had happened. California Chrome was the only horse that ran with the pace that had anything left. And, his slow final quarter was partly the result of having to run into the wind, twice. He ran a very good race. I don't know what all of the published speed figures, Bris, Trackmaster, Beyer, Equibase, etc., will show, but I would think that California Chrome ran a race that was about as fast as the races he ran in Southern California, over the Santa Anita track, which is a very fast surface. 

My guess is that California Chrome will race well again in the Preakness. I don't think he's a great horse, so I don't think he'll win the Triple Crown. But, he is certainly not a slow horse, as the final time at Churchill seems to suggest. 

 

 

 

 

Top Mud Sires (wet track sires and pedigrees):

Horses with these names in their pedigree should like off tracks. This includes sires, dam sires, and broodmares. In some cases I've listed horses from similar families. For instance, Grindstone/Birdstone, Machiavellian and Street Cry. Relaunch (In Reality) is one of the most famous mudders so I also have other horses like Bertrando and Officer on the list, because they are from the same line:

 

Afleet
Air Forbes Won
A P Indy
Awesome Again
Bertrando
Birdstone
Blushing Groom
Carson City
Clever Trick
Cormorant
Crafty Prospector
Cure The Blues
Danzig
Deputy Minister
Distorted Humor
El Prado
Elusive Quality
Fappiano
Forty Niner
Gone West
Grindstone
In Reality
Machiavellen
More Than Ready
Officer
Polish Numbers
Relaunch
Speightstown
Street Cry
Storm Cat
Unbridled 
Valid Appeal
Wagon Limit

 

Pandy's Top 10 U.S. Thoroughbreds (based on horses that I saw race)

Of the horses below, I saw all of them in person except Zenyatta and Spectacular Bid. On a list of the top 10 or 20 horses of all time, and horses that I did not get a chance to see race, I would definitely include Citation, Man o'War, Kelso, and Dr. Fager, and others merit serious consideration. Of the Europeon horses, Frankel, who recently retired undefeated in 14 starts, stands out to me and might be the best turf horse that ever raced.

For pure speed, I feel that Secretariat was the fastest horse I ever saw, especially at the classic distances. Seattle Slew, Zenyatta, and Ruffian were also extremely fast horses. Seattle Slew and Ruffian just ran horses off their feet with blazing early speed. I saw Ruffian twice in person and I've always felt that she was the fastest horse I ever saw up to a mile. Zenyatta was undoubtedly the fastest finisher I've ever seen. Since it's much tougher to run fast late than early, I feel that Zenyatta is probably right around the level of Seattle Slew and Ruffian. Yes Ruffian and Seattle Slew ran faster races and early fractions, but that's because they raced on the pace. Zenyatta was a deep closer so she did not have control over the final time, she ran as fast as she had to while winning 19 of 20 starts. 

The best turf horse on the list was John Henry, although Secretariat ran big on the turf as well. I have Cigar ranked ahead of John Henry but not by much because when you include John Henry's turf races, his career was quite remarkable. 

 

  1. SECRETARIAT

  2. SEATTLE SLEW

  3. ZENYATTA (F)

  4. RUFFIAN-(F)

  5. AFFIRMED

  6. FOREGO

  7. CIGAR

  8. JOHN HENRY

  9. SPECTACULAR BID

  10. ALYDAR

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Last updated: February 22, 2013.