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SATURDAY RECAP: World Cup jock complaints ring hollow

It was a long and intense day of racing across the globe on Saturday with action in Dubai, Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida, and California, just to name a few.  Victoire Pisa's (JPN) upset in the Dubai World Cup touched off deep emotions with his Japanese connections, while Mucho Macho Man's fading third in the Louisiana Derby left many wondering about the depth of this year's contenders for the Kentucky Derby. 

Below is a recap of a few of the big races from yesterday.

Dubai World Cup - Victoire Pisa (JPN)

The ride by jockey Mirco Demuro on Victoire Pisa was nothing short of brilliant.  Had he kep his horse at the rear of the field, where he was at the start after breaking awkwardly from the gate, he would have had no chance at the win.  The slow pace on the frontend negated the late kick of the majority of the field and if you weren't up front in the final half-mile, you had little shot to win.

While the ride of Demuro was brilliant, the whining by the other jockeys in the aftermath of yesterday's Dubai World Cup has been something to behold.  Almost all of the non-winning jockeys complained about a lack of early pace yet none took matters into their own hands, as did Demuro.  Below are a few quotes from the jocks following the World Cup:

Ramon Dominguez, jockey, Gio Ponti, 5th – "This horse is so push button. He's so nice and relaxed. The only two times I can remember him being strong with me was last year here and today. It's very unfair they're going extremely, extremely slow and I feel my horse was taken out of his game. Turning for home his kick, of course, isn't going to be as effective. Everybody was kind of sprinting home."

Christophe Soumillon, jockey, Musir, 7th – "It's a go-cart race, not a workout."

Tom Queally, jockey, Twice Over, 9th – "It was a messy race for everyone and I never got into it at any stage."

Kevin Shea, jockey, Golden Sword, 11th – "It was a sprint. Full stop. We walked to the straight and then it was full on. It was terrible."

First things first, if you take out the PPs for the World Cup and read the trip notes on the right side for the non-North American horses, it's pretty clear that most, if not all, wanted nothing to do with running hard early.  This race was destined to lack an early pace, it was right there in black and white.  The jockeys are essentially complaining about something they should have all seen coming.

Second, and this is directed at Ramon Dominguez's complaints, if you think the pace is so slow and so unfair, and you've got a horse that you say is "push button", why didn't you move your horse towards the lead in the early stages in order to minimize the disadvantage of the slow pace?  The jockey of the winning horse recognized what was going on, why didn't any other jockeys? 

The same thing applies to Christophe Soumillon: were you expecting a quicker pace based on the make-up of the field?  When you have a field of 14 horses, of which most are closers, not pressers or stalkers, but flat-out closers...well, can you really be upset that the pace is slow?

The sour grapes attitude from many of the jocks rings hollow; it seems a bit hypocritical to complain that no body wanted to run fast early when the jocks themselves chose not to run fast early.  Everybody wants a fast/honest pace, but nobody is willing to do anything to make that happen.

The lack of action by jockeys in the early stages doesn't just happen on synthetic tracks, we see it in North America in both dirt and turf races.  How many times have you watched a race where the lone speed runs off to win after the other jockeys let him walk through opening fractions? How many times have you said, "what the hell were the riders thinking?  They just let him loose on the lead?"

The typical complaints about speed on synthetic surfaces and how disadvantaged it is rings even more hollow.  Yesterday's World Cup was won by a horse that sat less than a length off the pace as they passed the half-mile, and the horse that led from the second the gate opened finished 2nd.  Seems to me you had a better chance of winning if you had your horse in front, but instead the jockeys let the leader walk through opening fractions and then complained when they couldn't make up ground.

Louisiana Derby - Pants On Fire

Yesterday's Louisiana Derby, while featuring a full field of 14 horses, didn't look like a whole lot on paper.  There were a couple of horses with graded stakes experience but Mucho Macho Man was really the only one that stood out from the field. 

Liondrive once again finished dead last, just as he did in the Risen Star, and just as he will in any of these graded stakes races if his connections continue to place him in spots where he is clearly over his head. 

Below is a chart summarizing the internal splits for all horses in the field.  I've bolded the fastest times at each interval:

Horse 1/4 1/2 3/4 Mile Finish
Pants On Fire 23.60 24.10 24.41 25.14 12.68
Nehro 23.94 24.02 24.75 24.91 12.35
Mucho Macho Man 24.03 23.95 24.64 24.64 12.79
Elite Alex 25.42 24.27 24.90 23.89 12.16
Machen 24.28 24.22 24.73 24.37 13.09
Wilkinson 24.91 24.44 25.07 24.10 12.30
Left 24.74 24.10 24.90 24.76 12.30
Nacho Business 24.11 24.05 24.90 25.24 12.40
Majestic Harbor 24.38 23.86 24.64 25.88 12.82
Le Mans 24.30 23.85 24.58 25.41 13.34
Mavericking 24.40 24.02 25.15 25.46 13.29
Liondrive 23.43 24.10 24.49 26.29 14.43


I'm sure there's a desire by many to look at the charts and come to the conclusion that Elite Alex ran a really good race considering how far back he was after leafing the starting gate.  Unfortunately, it's starting to look like Alex is a colt that gets himself into bad trips, race after race.  Three back he tripped over his own feet leaving the gate.  Two back, he broke slow and race wide and wider at Oaklawn, and yesterday he broke slow and had to finish wide...again.  it becomes increasingly unlikely that Elite Alex will ever get that "good trip" when he causes most of his own problems.

As for the winner, Pants On Fire, he's now firmly inside the Top 20 in graded earnings and has a spot in the starting gate awaiting him in Louisville, should his connections decide to push on.  Whether he has a legit shot to win the Derby is a whole other matter.  Right now, it's hard to see him as anything other than a pace presence.

Spire Stakes - Animal Kingdom

It's doubtful that the winner of the Spiral Stakes will have much of an impact on this year's Kentucky Derby as Animal Kingdom has yet to touch conventional dirt in his career and his pedigree (by Leroidesanimaux (ARG)) doesn't really make you sit up and think "mile and a quarter on dirt!".  His sire was a champion miler on turf and Animal Kingdom has shown himself to be a competent turf horse in his earlier races.  It's possible he could love the dirt, but it seems unlikely. 

While the winner of the Spiral might not be suited for dirt, runner-up Decisive Moment has run well on dirt in the past as he finished 2nd to Gourmet Dinner in the Delta Downs Jackpot.  However, given his running style (early speed), he would appear to be, like Pants On Fire, a pace presence in the Derby.  A running up-front early in this year's Derby means trying to run with The Factor, something that no horse has been able to do at this point.