Friday, September 28, 2012

Yankee Fourtune, presumably on the down side

Yankee Fourtune, a 5-year-old who has now won over $300,000 and who bagged a couple of grade IIIs a couple of years ago, inhabited a $16,000 claimer at Belmont Thursday. He registered a romp by the standards of turf races, coming home 4 3/4 lengths clear.

He is a horse who you can present as even better than his record. Not that he is, but there are some neat facts about him around company lines. When he won the Commonwealth Turf, the horses he beat included Guys Reward (finished 2nd and has earned $553,000), Turallure (3rd, $1,341,000), Mister Mardi Gras (5th, $729,000), and Stormy Lord (6th, $1,153,000). Then you can look at a more recent race, a December allowance where Little Mike bested him for the win by only a nose, and we all know what Little Mike has accomplished this year.

It took time for the strength of the Commonwealth Turf to play out, and the subsequent success of those horses does not necessarily mean that they ran as well that day as they would go on to run later, and does not necessarily mean that Yankee Fourtune achieved a major feat in beating them. Even setting aside somewhat nondescript Beyers, I don't think many regarded Yankee Fourtune as a likely future grade I winner when he was winning the Commonwealth Turf and running his other best races.

But he was a horse who stood out for winning as much as for anything else, taking his second career start, and winning four more in a row before suffering his first loss on the turf. How ironic, then, that running 2nd to him on Thursday was Gamblin Fever, who not only had run off the board in 13 straight races before Thursday, but stood a woeful 2 for 59 lifetime in the win department. The first of those wins came in 2009 with our W. C. Jones a neck behind him in 3rd, so I'll always feel some sort of a connection to the horse.

Yankee Fourtune's steep drop (he had been favored in his last two starts when exposed for $35,000 and $50,000) is not dissimilar to what we saw with a couple of Baffert trainees this year. Stirred Up, 3rd in the Sunland Derby and Jerome this year, started for $16,000 a couple of months ago, checking in 4th. Baffert also at least toyed with running 4-year-old Da Ruler, a 5 3/4-length winner of a nw1x at the Spring/Summer Hollywood meet, for $10,000 three weeks ago, but Da Ruler was scratched. Like with Da Ruler, Yankee Fourtune's preparation for his big-drop claiming race did not omit workouts; last competing on August 31, he had worked on September 14 and September 22.

The sobering reality is probably that many racers have essentially negligible value, even if they are just a bit on the downside and nothing is terribly wrong with them. Since this is true, the aggressive trainer has an opportunity to win races with horses like Yankee Fourtune who lay over a field.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Males invariably faster than females in state-bred stakes

One pattern I notice, which is purely an observation, and of a type that could well be dead wrong, is that males really outperform females when two divisions of "little" stakes," or state-bred stakes are run. I'm talking time-wise; for instance, it's not the best example because Palmy Bay won by 12 1/4, but he won the Louisiana Stallion on Saturday in 1:23.94, while I Dare U Em required 1:25.25 in the fillies' division. I generally see large differences between males and females in these lower-division races, while the sexes seem more closely matched at the graded stakes level.

If anything, I would have guessed the trend would be opposite -- that when you're talking about a Louisiana Stallion race, the quality of the winner from year to year is likely to vary greatly, and the same would apply with the quality from one division to the next. So times for the sexes would cross quite a bit. When you're looking at the past performances for state-bred stakes, particularly in states that don't produce many serious race horses, there's a decided lack of depth. If that lack of depth permeates the top, which it sometimes does, then you can get some really dreadful races. Quality would seem to matter more than sex. But this doesn't seem to play out; I think males or well ahead of females in small-time racing.

Trying to figure out why is completely perplexing. Is the style of training less fancy horses, maybe of working them somewhat hard, more effective with males? This is about the best I can come up with.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The case for Radiant Cut

She was 8th by 7 1/2 at Saratoga without an excuse in a maiden special weight, but my heart ached when I saw this filly was in for 50k at Belmont yesterday and won. It seems too easy to tab horses who projected out to very good showings with a normal break in one of their races -- too easy, and as if it doesn't work as often as logic says it should.

Radiant Cut fit the bill in her 6/29 Belmont debut; my notes have her start as "super slow." She finished 6th by 6 1/4 in a field of 9, and I remember her start as hypothetically accounting for the entire deficit. (I like to give context, so the winner was Almost an Angel, who either planted the seed or directly inspired the "Wesley Ward with raced 2 yos" post).

That race was 6f on the turf. Then came the 1 1/16 race at Saratoga, where I didn't see any of the promise I'd seen in the debut. She continued to work afterwards, so soundness was not obvously lacking.

Pedigree was another strong angle with Radiant Cut. Her dam, Ruff, won the Miss Grillo in 2000, and her half brother, Mr. Gruff is/was a very, very talented horse. He's sort of the poor man's Shakespeare: 7 for 13 lifetime, but not breaking his maiden until age 5, and needing five years to compile those 13 starts. Except for a race in Dubai, the horse always runs well. I'd say he's just a hell of a turf sprinter, but running 3rd in the 2010 Shoemaker at a mile, he might just be a hell of a horse, or a hell of a turf horse, anyway.

Then you have Radiant Cut's sire. Sharp Humor isn't just a sneaky good sire; he's good.

Crunching final-time numbers and watching her victory on Friday, I hate to admit that I saw a filly who was probably pegged accurately for $50,000. She showed a legitimate turn of foot to thrust herself into contention down the backstretch, but was workmanlike in the stretch, although on the way to a 2 3/4 length win. Even on a course probably  playing slower than on Wednesday and Thursday, the 1:10.85 time doesn't give the impression that this is a filly ready to battle New York maiden special weight winners in ensuing starts.

There were positives here to an unusual degree for a lightly raced 2-year-old in for a tag. But owner Robert Spiegal bred Ruff, Mr, Gruff, and Radiant Cut, so he knows of the positives more thoroughly than I. It's hard for me to believe he didn't appreciate them, given owners' abilities to appreciate their horses. So either a) Radiant Cut has red flags, maybe of the soundness variety, that I can't know about and appreciate or b) Siegal and David Donk thought they could get away with the $50,000 maneuver, (maybe because the bad start in the debut was somewhat obscured by a 6th-place finish and an understated DRF trouble line.) She wasn't claimed, so they did get away with it.)

I feel somewhat vindicated by the win, in any event. Vindication feels hollow next to missed opportunity, however.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Haldane, who won a 7f New York-bred nw1x for fillies and mares by 5 lengths in excellent time at Belmont yesterday, was a glaring overlay at 20-1. She was making just her 3rd start, having captured her last in maiden special weight company at Saratoga by 3 1/4 lengths. She's a full sister to two Empire Classic winners (that's typically a 250k race): Organizer, and Dr. V's Magic. One of the siblings of her dam is Acceptable, who came very close to winning the 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and siblings to her 2nd dam include Will's Way, Willa On the Move, and Citidancer. You might find New York-breds with stronger pedigrees, but not many. And because of a 62 Beyer in the last, you handicappers are going to allow 20-1? The favorite was the overwhelming Read the Research, fresh off a 76 Beyer she got in a $20,000 claiming win, that race coming two starts after she broke her maiden for the same $20,000. Haldane sure looks like a multiple stakes winner to me.

The Enron of nw1xs (won by Next Question)

A New York-bred named Next Question was a 5-length winner of an open nw1x at Belmont Wednesday. The distance and surface were 7f on the turf. He was the clear favorite, despite having finished 5th and 4th in his last two in New York-bred nw1xs. Looking at that, you'd think Next Question was a "wise guy" horse. To an extent he may have been; the Form past performances indicate a tough trip for him last time, and he went off at 2-1 that day. But when I look deeper, this race was just astonishingly absent of qualified horses.

Fresh maiden winners are appealing prospects in nw1xs, at least in terms of their long-term potential, if not their bettability. There weren't any of those in the race.

Four horses had run in the condition last out, by which I mean in an open nw1x. None had hit the board; Ivanho, 4th by 5 1/4, had been the most competitive.

Wishful Tomcat had run in open nw2xs on the dirt, finishing way back.

The rest of the field came from claimers and starters.

If you read this blog with some regularity, you know that the high volume of turf racing in New York drives me crazy. It would be easier to accept if the big fields the races drew really indicated they were filling a need of the New York-horse population. But in this case, there appears to have been absolutely no need for this race, and maybe only three horses really well qualified for the condition (this counts a horse like second-choice Becky's Kitten, who was in for the 25k optional, and did have decent tries in the condition two and three back). What you had here was really very interesting; even with horses who didn't belong, there were mass entries, with the trainers seemingly knowing that none of the others would qualified, either. The race was basically a faux nw1x; it could have just as easily been the non-winners-from-the-last-six-months $20,000 claimer of race 9.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sis City and Wonder Lady Anne L continue their common path

Both Sis City and Wonder Lady Anne L had their 3-year-old geldings by Distorted Humor win in the last several days. I connect the two mares strongly. At first I wasn't quite sure why. I knew both were Rick Dutrow fillies, and both I thought unlikely wonders, although on review, I see that Wonder Lady Anne L was always quite nice and never ran for a tag. I thought maybe both were in the same crop, and Sis City was 'A string' and Wonder Lady Anne L. 'B string,' but they were actually a crop apart. Both won the Demoiselle; I think that's the magnetic force pushing them together in my mind -- what pushes the parallels over the edge for me into eeriness.

What's interesting and maybe surprising about their qualified broodmare success so far, of course, is that they were Dutrow horses. Because of all of his charges' positive tests, not even the naive will argue it is far-fetched to argue that they were "on something." Sis City typified patterns many, including myself, believe go along with drug use: she ran some monster races, winning the Gulfstream Davona Dale by 16 and the Ashland by 10 1/2, but she wasn't generally near that caliber. She had the infamous maiden claiming start, giving the Dutrow barn the oppotunity to pick her up.

Sis City's 3-year-old, Second City, appears to feature quite an interesting story. He won the grade III British Columbia Derby on Sunday, running his record to 4 for 4. Those wins have come at Penn National, Charles Town (twice), and Hastings. He's done all of the racing and winning since July 12. And yes, like his dam, his first win came for maiden claiming, maiden claiming 25k. He wasn't even favored, won by 8, and Jamie Ness took the wrong first-timer starter, the Tale of the Cat firster Dubonnet Red (although he was a 5-length winner in his next start, which came last Thursday). Second City went back to his original barn, Stephanie Beattie's. The ceiling might not go any higher; I mean, when the race is just the fourth fastest mile-and-an-eighth race at Hastings on the day, the odds still seem stacked against you. But he's a great story.

There wasn't much attention paid to the Wonder Lady Anne L, Distorted Dream, in his first couple of races, where he ran respectably but didn't do better than 5th. But in his return from a 2+-month layoff Wednesday, people seemed to know he was a different horse, as he just ceded favoritism to Pletcher's Slash Five, who had gotten an 83 Beyer in his last. (To back up what I'm saying, Distorted Dream was 8-1 on the morning line, Slash Five 2-1; odds at post time were 9/5 for Distorted Dream, and 3/2 for Slash Five). Distorted Dream emerged with sharp works at Belmont in August, and he added blinkers Wednesday. I don't want to suggest he's a potential star, because I'm not convinced he is, but he beat Slash Five by 3 1/2 lengths, probably never being completely set down and certainly never being whipped. I got an 87.9 figure for him.

Outside of the fact that both were stars and Distorted Humor is a hot shot in the breeding shed, it appears a coincidence that both mares went to Distorted Humor in 2008. Or at least it was a coincidence from the standpoint of ownership; Wonder Lady Anne L was going to go to Distorted Humor, being partially owned by WinStarm, but Sis City was owned by Stonerside when Distorted Humor was chosen for her, When Darley subsumed Stonerside later in 2008, they became official breeders of Distorted Dream.

The point of this post is not to say that Dutrow didn't abuse the administration of medication, nor that the medications he administered didn't make much difference in the mares' performance, only to sat that there is a lot we don't understand. I will say that I think discounting or endorsing horses based on whether you believe they were clean or not clean does not bring you any closer to making good decisions. I just don't see a correlation with the believed status of individual horses and what they go on to do as producers.

Let's take the stallion side: Saint Liam, a Dutrow horse, was going to be really good. One who is impressive now with his first crop is Frost Giant. A Dutrow horse, and really not even that good of a one; he might be a much better sire.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How a healthy sample of races enable variant splits, multiple variants

In the Archwarrior post (to date the only one, and if this blog continues its spotlight on side topics, maybe always the only one), I wrote about my discomfiture making speed figures from just three races, while analysis tells me three races do not make for a much less accurate basis than a full card's worth.

One aspect in which this might not be true is probably for cases where the speed of the track changes during the card. By definition, then we no longer have the requisite three races to use. Patterns cannot be divined. Times do not support one another.

With a couple of races moved to the main track, Belmont had an uncharacteristic seven dirt races Sunday. And the times made it clear that one variant for all of them was untenable. The first four dirt races, all at a mile and including Dreaming of Julia's 1:36.46 clocking, suggested a track playing slightly on the slow side. The last three races were all of very cheap class, but went in 1:10.08, 1:10.88, and 1:23.61 (7f). That's a lightning-fast track, certainly for Belmont. The full-card variant says that Dreaming of Julia didn't run much faster than she did in her maiden win. The other three early mile races say she's about as solid a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly candidate as there is out there (which was certainly also the reflective reaction to her win).