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Travers and Pacific Classic Weekend Recap

Uncle Mo
Uncle Mo

It was a big weekend of racing on both the East and West Coasts with the Travers, Pacific Classic, King's Bishop, Pat O'Brien, and a host of other great stakes action. The Sprint division became a lot more crowded and now includes a (somewhat) new leader.  Below are some thoughts on this weekend's results:

  • In my view, the most impressive performance over the weekend was The Factor's dominant performance in the Pat O'Brien.  We've always known this horse has tremendous speed and talent, but to come off a four month layoff and smoke a very good sprinter (especially on synthetics) like Smiling Tiger... well, that's impressive. Additional aspects of The Factor's win is that he did it against older horses (compared to Caleb's Posse and Uncle Mo, who were still facing horses of their own age) and he did it over a surface that is probably not his best, Polytrack.  

    Assuming he comes out of the O'Brien healthy and without incident, The Factor has to be considered one of the top three contenders for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and might just the be divisional leader at this point.

    As for Smiling Tiger, TVG's Simon Brey commented several times that Smiling Tiger tends to run a lot better when he's had a good amount of rest, something he didn't have coming into the O'Brien.  The way he tired in the stretch, something we just don't see from this sprinter in most of his races, suggests that his best move is to train up to the Breeders' Cup.
  • The Factor's individual splits for the O'Brien were 22.43, 21.95, 24.32 and 12.96.  As with most sprint races, the 2nd quarter "turn time" was the key.  The Factor was able to put away Smiling Tiger on the turn and separate himself from the rest of the field, leaving the closers with too much to do in the final furlongs.
  • While Uncle Mo came up a bit short in his return to racing, his performance in the King's Bishop inspires a lot of confidence and excitement going forward.  The question is "what direction will Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher go with this colt: Sprint, Classic, or Dirt Mile?"  The Classic is obviously the "big prize", but it remains to be seen whether a colt that's had three races in eight months (only two of which were taxing) can be ready to win the Classic. But who knows this year.
  • While the overall final time of the Pacific Classic was fast (track record at 10f on the Polytrack) the pace was somewhat of a "start, stop" affair around the entire course.

    Acclimation ran the first quarter in 24.57.  He sped up in the second quarter to 24.08, almost a half second faster than the opener.  He slowed just a bit over the third quarter to 24.23 and then made another half-second improvement after a mile (23.73; 0.50 seconds faster). His final split of 24.00 seconds was 0.27 seconds slower than the previous quarter.  So, overall, Acclimation's rate of speed went something like this: -0.49, +0.15, -0.50, +0.27.
  • Below are the differences between each split for the entire Pacific Classic field (a negative number means the split was faster than the previous):

     1/2  3/4 Mile Final
    1 Acclimation -0.49 0.15 -0.50 0.27
    2 Twirling Candy -0.83 0.06 -0.67 0.12
    3 Stately Victor -2.26 0.27 -0.31 -0.09
    4 Game On Dude -0.66 0.15 -0.50 0.81
    5 Quindici Man -1.80 0.00 -0.67 0.41
    6 Tres Borrachos -1.43 0.41 -0.32 0.65
    7 Don Cavallo -1.54 0.00 0.01 0.77
    8 Jeranimo -1.80 0.44 -0.43 0.58
    9 Setsuko -1.29 0.26 -0.49 0.94

    As a comparison to the difference in how each race was run (and in the inherent speed of the tracks) here are the same numbers for the Travers:

     1/2  3/4 Mile Final
    1 Stay Thirsty 0.90 0.03 0.28 1.63
    2 Rattlesnake Bridge 0.19 -0.04 0.43 1.44
    3 J W Blue -0.13 0.18 0.02 1.44
    4 Ruler On Ice 0.81 0.19 0.29 1.63
    5 Malibu Glow 0.78 -0.29 0.77 1.78
    6 Moonshine Mullin 0.35 0.04 0.63 2.65
    7 Bowman's Causeway 0.55 0.27 0.10 2.16
    8 Shackleford 0.53 0.20 0.89 1.61
    9 Raison d'Etat 0.46 0.61 -0.15 4.49
    10 Coil 0.12 0.10 0.70 6.28

    Other than the fact that it was rare for any horse in the Travers field to run any fractions faster than the previous one, is the dreadful performances by Coil and Shackleford. Other than the Belmont Stakes,  a race that was really out of Shack's distance comfort zone, the Travers was by far his worst race of the year.  As for Coil, perhaps he just didn't like the Saratoga main track because he simply quit in the final quarter mile and never threatened the top horses. He was slow in the beginning, slow in the middle, and slow at the end.

    Something else to take from the Travers splits: everybody in the field slowed down mightily in the final furlong; every horse ran the final quarter a minimum of a second and a half slower than the previous quarter.
  • Travers day produced some very nice payouts in almost every race on the day.  Below are the median payouts for the entire Travers day card:

    $2 Win: 10.60
    $1 Exacta: 39.75
    $1 Trifecta: 348.50
    $0.10 Super: 399.10
    $1 Double: 29.88
    $1 Pick 3: 219.75
    $0.50 Pick 4: 395.00

    The big number is the $0.10 Superfecta median of 399.10, a very nice return for the cheapest bet on the wagering menu (especially when you compare it to the $1 Trifecta.
  • If you've been following along with the Saratoga meet on a daily basis this year, you no doubt noticed the very slow come home times for races on the dirt.  While the track has played pretty fair on most days (and I thought it was fair on Travers day), it hasn't been conducive to horses flying down the stretch. The question I have with respect to these horses is what will this do for them in their next starts? Will the experience of running over what seems to be a pretty deep Saratoga surface give these horses a stamina edge over others when the season moves to Belmont, Keeneland and Churchill Down this fall?  Could be something to watch going forward.
  • Some bad news over the weekend, Ballerina winner Hilda's Passion suffered an injury during her win and will undergo surgery.
  • If you missed the Pat O'Brien, below is a replay of the race.