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Weekend Re-Cap: A Classic Mess

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I hope everyone had a nice weekend, especially any of those of you that are fathers.  Hopefully your kids treated you to something nice to celebrate the day.

I didn't spend much time in front of the Racing Form this weekend; sort of a weekend-off.  Seems like the first time in a long while that there wasn't some kind of Triple Crown story to follow along with. I watched a few of the races on Saturday and Sunday, and then reviewed the action I had on the DVR last night.  I was left with two distinct impressions following this weekend's action:

1. The Distaff / Ladies' Classic division is shaping up quite nicely with Havre de Grace, Blind Luck and Awesome Maria (and some other nice fillies and mares - Switch, It's Tricky, R Heat Lightning, Plum Pretty - thrown in for good measure).

2. The Classic division is an utter mess.

At this time last year we had three significant Classic threats, and a fourth horse that looked like he would be in the mix.  Zenyatta, Blame and Quality Road were at the top of the division, while many rightly believed the Lookin At Lucky would stake his claim before November rolled around.  This year?  Not so much.

I've already touched on this recently but it bears repeating: who's the top older horse this year?  After this last weekend, Twirling Candy is got to be the top of the division (despite the fact that he also has some flaws).  After that I haven't got a clue.  I thought Mission Impazible ran well in the Foster, but he doesn't scream Classic horse to me.  First Dude?  Eh, maybe.  Sidney's Candy?  I'm not convinced he's better on dirt than turf.

If Animal Kingdom can recover from his minor ailment, and Shackleford can continue to develop, the three-year-olds might be the ones to beat at the Breeders' Cup.

Time is running out for a older horse to stake a legitimate claim for Horse of the Year, otherwise, we are going to see a free-for-all leading up to the Breeders' Cup. Given the current situation, here's a question for the masses: if the older horse division continues to be the mess that it currently is, and if the top three-year-olds don't step up (there is certainly no guarantee), do the connections of Havre de Grace or Blind Luck take a shot in the Classic?

Some additional thoughts on the weekend:

  • I've got nothing against Stephen Foster winner Pool Play, but unless this horse has suddenly found some magic in a bottle, his win at Churchill Downs on Saturday paints a really bleak picture.  But at the same time, there is reason to believe that Pool Play's win in the Foster was more a result of track condition than anything else.

    Pool Play won the Stephen Foster with a stone-cold closing style into slow fractions on the main track.  The track was labeled "Fast", but given the significant amount of rain the surface received (the track was labeled "Sloppy/Sealed" for the first eight race, "Good" for race 10, and "Fast for the Foster) we might conclude that Pool Play was aided by a tiring surface. If that's the case that Pool Play was aided by a tiring surface, then I think the Foster becomes more of a throwout race, or at least one viewed with a high amount of skepticism, more than anything else.

    Additionally, if Pool Play was aided by the surface on Saturday, then it was playing against Mission Impazible, who was only beaten by a neck after running up front during the entire race.  Perhaps he deserves a little extra "kudos" for hanging in there despite the conditions. Conversely, Giant Oak really has no excuses for his dismal showing and it's looking more and more like his Donn win was a bit of an outlier.
  • The Foster was Crown of Thorns second try on dirt and, once again, he didn't handle it at all.  Unless he shows a significant change in his dirt track abilities in the next few months, he's an absolute toss in my book as any kind of contender for the Classic.
  • Awesome Maria's win in the Ogden Phipps was very impressive but, as usual, it's really hard for me to accurately assess how impressive when the field is so small (four other fillies and mares).

    As for Life At Ten...she clearly is not interested in competing at a high level any more based on what I've seen in her last couple of races.  Either drop her down to a softer spot, or give her the retirement she deserves.  Watching her turn for home and then lose any interest in passing another filly or mare is sad to see.
  • A sad end to the career of Unrivaled Belle, who flipped in the paddock prior to the Ogden Phipps and broke her withers.  She is expected to fully recover and, if she was younger (or a gelding), she would likely return to the races at some point in time.  But given the fact that she was not going to race in 2012, she was promptly retired.
  • A strong closing kick by Blind Luck at Hollywood Park in the Vanity allowed her to sweep by field inside the final furlong for the victory.  The main track at Hollywood was playing pretty fair all day on Saturday - there were some gate to wire winners, stalking winners, and closers - so Blind Luck wasn't getting any extra help from a biased surface.  Combine that with the very slow pace of the Vanity (25.52, 50.24, 1:14.56), and she might have ran the best race of the weekend.
  • While it wasn't a win that will resonate on a national scale, Noosa Beach's win in the Bud Handicap at Emerald Downs was a sight to behold. With his victory on Sunday, Noosa Beach tied an Emerald Downs record with his 10th stakes victory. Additionally, the five-year-old gelding has won nine of his last ten starts.

    The preliminary Beyer figure for Noosa Beach was a 91 (his lowest fig in his last ten starts), but I'm taking that number with a huge grain of salt as the track on Sunday at Emerald was very quirky. The first five races at Emerald on Sunday were run over a "Muddy" track and produced some big winning moves from closers, especially in race four, where West Seattle Boy came from well back of the field with a very wide move to mow down the field in the stretch.  When I see a result like that - a big, wide move on a wet track at Emerald - I start to wonder if the inside of the track was becoming a bit gooey and tiring.

    The race immediately following West Seattle Boy's victory saw another winning deep closer with a wide move (Buddy Dave), this time at six furlongs.  For race six, the track was upgraded to "Wet/Fast", but the times were still pretty slow and off-the-pace was the place to be; Gesche's Joy won the 6th at odds of 24/1. Race seven saw a well-bet firster, Rockmystar, set a sensible pace and then fall apart in the lane, fading to a well-beaten 7th.

    If the track was tiring on Sunday, then Rockmystar could be an excellent play next time out if the conditions are right.  He's went into my stable watch this morning.

    Emerald is a track that you really have to watch closely when it rains (which, since we're in Seattle, is about 95% of the time).  A dry track that gets a bit of rain becomes lighting fast, and can become a paradise for speed.  Sloppy tracks can play a variety of ways depending on if the rain is still falling or not.  And a "Wet/Fast" track that has been downgraded from "Fast" tends to play a lot different than a "Wet/Fast" track upgraded from "Muddy" or "Sloppy".