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Weekend Recap: R Heat Lightning Rolls On Towards The Oaks

Ah, spring.  Flowers blooming.  Baseball. And great racing across the country. 

The 2011 Keeneland spring meet opens this week and I'll have a bit of a preview on Tuesday.  Until then, here are some thoughts on what transpired this past weekend in the world of racing.

-The Beyer figure for the Florida Derby came back at a 93, which pretty much fits in with the consistently ho-hum performances in most of the other preps this season (other than a couple exceptions).  Saturday's Gulfstream Oaks and Rampart Stakes came back as a 100 and 102, respectively.  The Skip Away earned a 102 on Sunday.  Below is a bit of a comparative look at the fractions for the Florida Derby as compared to the other dirt races at Gulfstream on both Saturday and Sunday.

Race Condition Age/Sex Dist. 1/4 1/2 3/4 Mile Finish
SAT2 Allow./$50k OC (FL) 3yo 6.0 22.00 44.79 1:10.45
SAT3 Allow. N1X 3yo, f 6.0 22.58 45.68 1:09.83
SAT4 MdSpWt 3yo, f 8.0 24.46 47.52 1:11.44 1:37.51
SAT8 MdSpWt 3yo, f 6.0 22.18 44.84 1:09.75
SAT10 G3-Rampart 4up, f&m 9.0 23.61 46.80 1:10.85 1:35.97 1:49.09
SAT11 G2-GulfstreamOaks
3yo, f 9.0 23.06 46.32 1:10.97 1:36.50 1:49.27
SUN1 $25k Claiming 4up 6.0 22.60 45.41 1:10.62
SUN2 MdSpWt 3yo 6.0 22.85 46.05 1:10.20
SUN3 G2-Swale 3yo 7.0 23.13 46.42 1:10.15 1:21/94
SUN4 MdSpWt 3yo 8.0 24.11 47.07 1:11.83 1:37.09
SUN5 Allow./$62.5 OC 4up 8.0 24.43 46.60 1:10.39 1:35.45
SUN6 SirShackleton Hcp. 4up 6.5 21.86 44.22 1:08.71 1:15.22
SUN9 G3-SkipAway 4up 9.5 23.87 48.38 1:12.49 1:36.49 1:55.73
SUN10 G1-FloridaDerby 3yo 9.0 23.30 46.35 1:10.63 1:36.38 1:50.07

It's tough to directly compare times from the first two day but, overall, it appears that the main track was a tick or two faster on Saturday than it was on Sunday, yet speed played well on both days.  The Maiden Special Weights and N1X Allowance on Saturday for three-year-old fillies came in at 1:09 and change while similar races for the colts on Sunday checked in at just a tick slower.  Overall, I think the track was pretty consistent on both days.

As for the Florida Derby, of the four two-turn races on dirt over the weekend, the Derby had the fastest six furlong fraction and the 2nd fastest mile split of the group.  The final time was the slowest of the three 9 furlong races and was unlikely to produce a faster time than the Skip Away had they gone an extra sixteenth of a mile.  

So what do all these numbers mean?  Like most statistics, different people can interpret each quite differently, but I tend to think that while the Florida Derby was not a hugely fast prep race it wasn't at the bottom of the barrel, either.  Looking at the 2011 Triple Crown file (2011 Triple Crown), the Florida Derby appears to rank right about in the middle of the pack when compared to the other races at nine furlongs in terms of splits, final times, and speed figures (although we still need the Bris figure). 

-While people will debate the strength of the Florida Derby and it's field, I think (at a minimum) Dialed In deserves some kudos for winning while running from off-that-pace.  I wouldn't call the main track this weekend an out and out bias because in most races the top horses were running as they were expected; the fact that they won on the lead doesn't necessarily indicate a bias.  However, when we see 68/1 longshots like Shackleford set quick early fractions and it then takes the entire stretch drive for a known quality closer to pass him (like Dialed In), that tells me that it was difficult to come from off-the-pace.

As I wrote yesterday in the comments, horses running 1-2-3-4-5-6 after six furlongs in the Florida Derby finished 2-3-4-5-6-7 at the wire.  Over the final three furlongs Dialed In was the only horses to change his position, while the rest appeared to be simply running in place.

-There was a lot of noise around Gulfstream Oaks contender It's Tricky the past few weeks, with several people (including myself) believing she was a serious contender for the Kentucky Oaks.  That notion is pretty much shot after she was waxed by R Heat Lightning on Saturday in a race where she finished over twenty lengths back of the winner. A very disappointing performance for that filly in a race that unfolded perfectly for her.

-Of all the performances this weekend I was most impressed with Travelin Man's easy score in the Swale on Sunday.  Other horses won by larger margins and picked up bigger speed figures, but Travelin Man won in such an easy and controlled manner that it's hard not to be greatly impressed. 

-After Travelin Man dominated the Swale, I got the feeling that Flashpoint (a horse that blew Travelin Man out of the water in the Hutcheson) might be able to run a big race in the Florida Derby.  At a minimum, I thought he'd get out and set a "catch me if you can" pace like The Factor did in the Rebel.  Instead, he was unable to secure the lead entering the first turn and never posed a serious threat to win at any stage of the race.

-I've written about this a few times (and many of you have commented on the same thing) but I think it still deserves some focus; the form for the Remsen, a race that looked really strong last November in terms of speed figures, has not held up at all this winter/spring.

Last fall, To Honor and Serve dominated a field of five juevniles in the Remsen and earned a lofty Beyer of 102, one of the biggest figures for any juvenile not named Uncle Mo.  I was a bit skeptical after the Remsen back in November primarily due to the small field To Honor and Serve beat that day at Aqueduct.  While speed figures don't take into account field size or the ease of which a horse can grab the lead on the frontend, I've always believed that a huge, wire-to-wire performance against a five-horse field isn't nearly as impressive as doing the same thing against a ten-horse field. 

Below is a bit of what I wrote last November after the Remsen (Juvenile Tracker and Weekend Recap):

"If you only look at the this weekend's juvenile races from a speed figure perspective, To Honor and Serve's win in the Remsen would propel him to the top of the ranks on the strength of his 102 Beyer.  But while the figure looks nice, I wasn't a big fan of that race for a number of reasons.  First, scratches left the field with only five runners and, in turn, helped to create a bit of a pace void.  Second, the race was run in a "merry-go-round" style with the first and second place horse running 1-2 around the entire track.  Third, To Honor and Serve ran the final 1/8th of a mile in a pretty slow 13.42 which, while better than Dixie City's snail-like 14.10 in the Demoiselle, doesn't "wow" you."

Following To Honor and Serve's lackluster third place finish in the Florida Derby (and Mucho Macho Man's similar finish in the Louisiana Derby) I think we can now safely say that the Remsen wasn't as strong of a race as it appeared on paper.  The figures were big, but they've never been duplicated since and most of the field has run disappointing races in 2011.

-Prior to last month's Davona Dale I was starting to believe the R Heat Lightning's best racing days may have been behind her as she was starting to look like a filly that was developing a tendency to run 3rd and 4th every time out.  Then she ripped off a big win in that race and followed it up by dominating the Gulfstream Oaks on Saturday.  I think it's safe to assume she's back on-form.

-This next weekend is probably the biggest Derby prep weekend of the year with both the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby scheduled to run on Saturday afternoon.  Current Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo will run in Wood, while Jaycito and Premier Pegasus will lead the way out at Santa Anita. 

-And finally, the Rainbow Pick Six at Gulfstream Park carried over again on Sunday.  Wednesday's sequence will feature a $977,917 carryover.