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Weekend Stakes Re-Cap

Tizway rolled in the Met Mile. Keertana beats the boys at Churchill.  Amazombie gets taken down at Hollywood after Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland trade paint in the stretch.  Eight-year-old Awesome Gem wins a race for senior citizens everywhere.  And the Breeders' Cup Classic division looks like a muddled mess as we head into the summer.

Some random thoughts on last weekend's racing action.

  • Tizway looked mighty impressive winning the Met Mile yesterday at Belmont, while the rest of the top contenders failed to mount much of a challenge at any point in the race.  Haynesfield was the biggest offender of those that failed to pose a threat to the winner, running a non-threatening fifth.

    It's difficult to envision Tizway having any meaningful impact in the Classic division in the coming months.  While his Met Mile was impressive, he's never shown any willingness to run well at distances beyond eight furlongs.  Additionally, he's clearly a horse that prefers one-turn races. He won at a mile and an eighth to break his maiden at Woodbine, but since that time he's been solely a one-turn mile horse.  Unless Tizway suddenly develops an ability to stay at 10 furlongs, he doesn't appear to be a horse that will make serious noise in the Classic division.
  • The Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont yesterday saw some really weird fractions throughout the race.  Check out the internal splits below:

    1/4: 26.11
    1/2: 25.30
    3/4: 21.93
    Mile: 23.37
    Finish: 5.90

    The opening two splits were a glorified gallop (producing a 51.41 opening half), then in the middle part of the race the pace absolutely sizzled - 21.93.  And that split wasn't the result of one horse running off and burning up the timer; the entire field ran that quarter in under :22 seconds (except for Naples Bay).  Winner Winter Memories and runner-up Celestial Kitten clocked 21.86; Mystical Star and Arch Support ran 21.93; and Parting Words put up a 21.95.  Essentially, the entire field decided to kick it into high gear right in the middle of the race.

    That's a pretty odd pace; I'm not sure what to take from it (maybe nothing) but I wonder if this group of fillies will have a hard time relaxing during the early stages of races in the future?  It just seems like they all were willing to really get into the bit all at the same time.  Something to keep an eye on if any of these return in a race that features some actual pace on the front-end.

  • There were a good deal of upset people at Hollywood Park yesterday after Amazombie was DQ'd from the G3-Los Angeles Handicap following an incident in the stretch with M One Rifle.  It's hard to me to offer an unbiased opinion of the stewards decision because I had Camp Victory in that race.  If I had bet on Amazombie, I'm sure I'd be upset, but since I didn't, I'll take anything the stewards want to give me. 
  • Emerald Downs ran the Auburn Handicap at six furlongs on Monday, and it was won by the 2nd longest long-shot to ever win a stakes race at the track - Showme yourfriends at 50/1.  The highest priced stakes winner in Emerald history is No Giveaway, who won the G3-Longacres Mile in 2005 at odds of 60/1.

    The top two finishers closed on the inside part of the track after the rest of the field got absolutely cooked in a torrid opening half mile.  The opening internal splits came out at 21.85 and 21.94, which lead to the final 2 1/2 furlongs in a predictably slow 24.73 and 6.53. 

    While times are generally pretty fast out at Emerald Downs, yesterday's surface was exceptionally quick.  But at the same time, it didn't seem to be a punishing, or tiring, surface.  In fact, several horses put up very quick opening spits but were able to take their rivals wire-to-wire to victory.  And while the Auburn Hcp. was clearly the fastest pace on the card, I wonder if the way the race collapsed in the final 2 1/2 furlongs was as much a result of distance or class limitations of the early leaders as it was the pace. 

    The win by Showme Yourfriends keyed a late Pick 4 that paid $12,829.25 to a single $0.50 ticket.  
  • While Keertana's win in the Louisville Handicap rates as one of the top performances of the weekend, I think I was most impressed by Pachattack's win in the G3-Arlington Matron (I've been spelling that name wrong all weekend...there is no "t" in the first part of the name).  I don't know where this mare fits in terms of the Ladies' Classic division given what appears to be some surface limitations; she's never tried conventional dirt. 

    One factor that may suggest a possible affinity for dirt is Pachattack's turf form: she's performed much better on "Good to Firm" turf courses than on grass that has a bit more give to it.  The fact that she likes a harder surface might allow her to make the transition to dirt in the future.  If not, she'll probably continue to look for graded races on the main tracks at AP, Woodbine, Keeneland, and possibly Del Mar.
  • Does anybody get the feeling that we are in store for just a brutal season in the Classic division?  While it may be a bit early to declare this year's Classic a dud, there is not a lot to get excited about when looking at the older males running in North America right now.

    Mike Watchmaker does a top 10 for each divisional category every week, and this is what he's got for older males right now (link: Watchmaker Watch):

    1. Crown of Thorns
    2. Sidney's Candy
    3. First Dude
    4. Twirling Candy
    5. Giant Oak
    6. Regal Ransom
    7. Apart
    8. Mission Impazible
    9. Tizway
    10. Game On Dude

    I don't have an issue with any of those ten that Mike has listed out; I think Twirling Candy has the talent to be higher, but his flop in the Big Cap makes it tough to rank him ahead of the others.

    The problem with that list is that it's really thin on true Classic horses, and I'm not sure it's going to get a whole lot better.  Let's take a look at each one.

    -Crown of Thorns has never won a race beyond a mile and a sixteenth and has never won a Grade 1 race.

    -Sidney's Candy appears much better suited for turf than dirt, and hasn't proved a desire to run further than about a mile.

    -First Dude....yeesh...he's returned to the winning track (finally) but when victories in an N1X and a Grade 3 race can propel you into the top of the older horse division...well, that's really all we need to know about the lack of depth.

    -Twirling Candy: if he can bounce back from that flop in the Big Cap he could be a formidable Classic horse the rest of the year.  Dirt isn't a problem.

    -Giant Oak looked good winning the G1-Donn in early February but he hasn't been able to back that up in his last two races (G2-New Orleans Hcp, and G3-Alysheba). 

    -Regal Ransom doesn't appear to me to be a horse that really wants 10 furlongs, but he'll certainly be pointed for another try at the Breeders' Cup.

    -Apart appears to have some room to still develop and looks like a legit Classic contender at this point, although he's never gone further than 9 furlongs.

    -Mission Impazible seems like more of a Dirt Mile-type.

    -Tizway hasn't proven himself at two-turns or beyond a mile.

    -Game On Dude...I don't know whether that Big Cap win was a fluke, or what.  He didn't do much at Lone Star yesterday; perhaps he's just better at longer distances.

    If some of this year's three-year-olds, like Animal Kingdom and Shackleford, can stay in training and develop over the summer, I think this will be a year where we see the Triple Crown horses fair very well at the Breeders' Cup in the fall.
  • And finally, how about Awesome Gem yesterday at Lone Star?  Eight-years-old and still able to churn out a grade stakes win now and then.  People put a lot of faith in Game On Dude after that Big Cap (and the apparent throw out race at Charles Town), but it was Awesome Gem that proved to be the horse to beat. 

    Awesome Gem has run in the Breeders' Cup Classic twice (3rd to Curlin in 2007; 7th to Zenyatta in 2009), the Breeders' Cup Mile once (6th to Goldikova (IRE) in 2008), and the Breeders' Cup Marathon (7th to Eldaafer in 2010).  He's probably a better fit with the Dirt Mile when you look at his recent success.  Unfortunately for Awesome Gem, the Dirt Mile is a one-turn race at Churchill and he's much better going two.