November 2, 2001

Breeders' Cup XVIII
Have a good Breeders' Cup? The faves were tame, the Euros game and Exogenous's eventually fatal accident a crying shame.

It doesn't seem like it's a Belmont BC without some sort of freak occurrence. We all know about the unfortunate Go For Wand in 1991, not to mention Mr. Nickerson and On The Line. In 1995 the freak occurrence, thankfully, was not a tragedy but the sight of Cigar smoking in his prime.

But this year, not even one race goes off before the catastrophic events befalling the truly unlucky Exogenous come into sharp focus for everyone -- the on-track crowd, the simulcast throngs and the lookie-loos watching at home on NBC -- to shriek, gasp in horror and turn away from. Thank you, Exogenous, for the thrills you gave us along the way. We will miss you.

After all that, Flute, the strong favorite in the Distaff, fails to do any serious running, while last year's victress, Spain, looks like she's going to repeat in the shadow of the wire. That is, until Pat "Wait Till Christmas" Day pulls off his patented gang-charge to the wire to score with longshot Unbridled Elaine. Tranquility Lake was not a factor while once more proving she's just not as good on the main track.

You, another Frankel choice, was routinely thumped in the Juvenile Fillies, and Tempera came back to validate all the hype she generated "earlier" in her career -- at 12-1! A very nice price for a filly who figured to get better with more distance, against a favorite who had more than a few knocks against her (all of which were enumerated in this space last time). Congratulations to jockey David Flores for a calm, cool, collected ride on the outside in a big race.

Val Royal made it another Mile triumph for trainer Julio Canani, and also proved the perennial quality of the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile when it comes to sending live issues to the real Breeders' Cup Mile. Affirmed Success, Irish Prize and even Noverre were hard to find in the balance. More congratulations to rider Jose Valdivia Jr., a steady, "people's jockey" who gets the job done without the flashbulbs popping or the microphones flopping.

Memo to Eddie D.: Dude! You knew the rail was not a good place to be in the stretch when you had to struggle home with Tranquility Lake! So why did you take to the inside with Swept Overboard's furious late-rally? The horse had been potent on the outside in the Ancient Title, and you did have the 12-hole in the BC Sprint! Squirtle Squirt did what he had to do; namely, change style in a hurry, pass some horses late and get to the wire to touch the otherworldly Xtra Heat at 9-1. A thrilling race to watch, regardless of the outcome.

Banks Hill emphatically answered the distance questions surrounding her, annihilating proven 10-furlong fillies like they weren't even there in the BC F&M Turf. The always-trying Spook Express put forth her clockwork final-furlong burst, and while it wasn't enough to threaten Banks Hill, it was sufficient to secure the runner-up position and complete a $229 exacta that was hardly a stretch of the handicapping imagination. Banks Hill's performance was easily the most impressive (though not the gamest) of the afternoon, particularly considering her price (6-1) and the uncertainty about her getting the trip.

Like You, Officer came into his two-year-old BC race with many unknowns, chief among them his ability to perform at the distance against truly top-flight company. Questionable ride or not by jockey Victor Espinoza, Officer was ambushed on all sides, and turned in his badge early in the straight. Came Home and the ill-fated Jump Start were not the answer, but Eurostar juvenile Johannesburg was resolute in the lane -- in his first try on dirt, no less! The balance was completed by proven route horses.

More Continental flair in the Turf, where the remarkable Fantastic Light finally gave chalk-players something to cheer about in hanging on for a half-length score over fellow invader Milan. Timboroa carried the U.S. hopes, but far back in third.

And in the Classic, Tiznow did it again, exuding undying courage and determination throughout a long homestretch, replusing an onrushing European and prevailing by a margin photographically deemed as somewhere between a nose and a dead heat.

And what about this Lanfranco Frankie Dettori? A la Swain in 1998, Sakhee looks odds-on to get up in time at the wire, only to be held back by a Dettori finish that leaves too much to be desired during crunch time. OK, Frankie, we know you can win by daylight in this country, but how about the close ones?

As for Tiznow, he could be the equine equivalent of his fellow Southern Californians, the Los Angeles Lakers. Beset by injury and rumor and controversy during the meaningless regular season and through the preliminary rounds of the championship, he comes through when it matters the most. Amazing. Jockey Chris McCarron also preserved the dominance of the BC Classic Holy Riding Trininty, giving the triumvirate consisting of himself, the Day and the Jerry Bailey a fourth-straight Classic win and their eighth in the last nine. How about that!

Aqueduct Arrives
Belmont closed on Sunday, the day after Breeders' Cup XVIII, but racing continued in New York on Wednesday with the opening of Aqueduct's autumn stand. The big mile-and-an-eighth main track will be in use until the first week of December, when things switch over to the notorious inner. Here are some things to ponder:

Early Speed...Or Else: This course is so front-biased, it's not fair. When you get around that double-entendre, you realize that so many races at this oval -- sprint, route, it doesn't matter -- are decided in the opening quarter- or half-mile, it's ridiculous. For every horse that wins by launching a rally inside the eighth-pole, three others are establishing their position by the quarter-pole or even the half-mile pole. This ratio holds up at the regularly contested six-furlong and flat-mile distances.

Amazingly, the seven-furlong distance, known nearly everywhere as a godsend for late-runners, boosts the speed's chances even more. Thirty-six seven-furlong races in the springtime of 2001 were won by a horse that led or drew abreast by the first four furlongs. Only two winners rallied from farther back than a half-furlong with an eighth of a mile to go. The furious stretch-runners are doomed.

Turf Trends: Some of that early-speed influence must be spilling over to the turf course, because bold frontrunners can and often do succeed at the mile-and-a-sixteenth and mile-and-an-eighth trips. But at a flat-mile on turf here, the stretch-run rules the day.

Trainer Angles: Conditioners John Hertler, Richard Dutrow Jr. and Mark Hennig topped the list of longshot winners, with Gary Sciacca, Robert Klesaris, Bruce Levine and Linda Rice all doing admirable jobs of getting home the occasional surprise. Hertler in particular was extremely adept with striking early (first or second race) off the layoff at huge odds.

In the Irons: All the leding riders will exploit the speed bias. Johnny V. (a.k.a. John Velazquez) is super at gunning for the front, much more so than perceived leading speed rider the Mig (a.k.a. Richard Migliore). However, if you have to count on getting your horse home late, Norberto Arroyo Jr. seems to be your best bet. But only on dirt.

Power Couples: The combination of trainer John Kimmel and jockey Richard Migliore are staples of success, as are (Richard) Dutrow (Jr.)-Arroyo Jr. and Serey-Bravo.

Don't go away...there's more

Hollywood Premieres
Aqueduct is open, and Hollywood debuts this Wednesday. Comparisons between the soi-disant Track of the Lakes and Flowers and the oval across town (Santa Anita) are in order:

Distance Subtleties: The shorter sprint distances at both tracks behave pretty much interchangably. But at seven furlongs, there's a world of difference.

In 2001, Santa Anita's seven-furlong trip has favored horses who have begun their winning charge in the stretch or just before the final furlong, and not sooner. Horses making the early running through the opening half-mile have had their woes.

But when the up-front types move to Inglewood, they'll find a trip that this year has favored good contending speed through the first two furlongs. Conversely, the late-runners who succeeded at seven furlongs at Santa Anita might not be able to run down the pace at Hollywood. Look out.

The flat-mile distance at Santa Anita is notoriously speed-favoring; but that distance isn't offered at Hollywood, where the one routinely contested route distance is a mile and a sixteenth. Luckily for the speedsters, the mile and a sixteenth at Hollywood also promotes the front. But if the Santa Anita milers decide to shorten up the seemingly innocuous half-furlong to the weird, one-turn seven-and-a-half-furlong trip, they'll pay. The layout and dynamic of that trip strongly favors the deep closers. The stats bear it out.

The turf-sprint differences are beginning to even-out. In years past, speed did much better over the shorter Hollywood trip. But this year, the Hollywood turf-sprint course has done an about-face, and closers are doing better than ever. Nonetheless, it's probably best to stick with horses who won't be completely lost after the opening-half mile.

Jockey Styles: During the spring meeting, jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr. and Alex Solis dueled to the very last race on the final day of racing to determine who would wear the riding crown. The statistics bear out how effectively these two rode this course.

Solis rode 26 winners who made their winning move inside the eighth-pole. Pincay had 24 of those. Solis rode 22 winners who were right with the leaders during the opening quarter-mile. Pincay had 21 of those. Simply put, these two were blessed with a keen sense of a balanced-type riding style, with a slight emphasis on the closing move.

For comparison's sake, Tyler Baze, quickly becoming the most lethal on-the-lead jock in Southern California, rode 24 winners who were opening-quarter-mile contenders, but he could manage only a handful of late-running tallies.

Power Couples: Santa Anita puts more emphasis on recurring tandem success. But Hollywood has its share, and some of them are high-profile. Mandella-Solis, for instance, returned an average Hollywood mutuel of $10.88. Sadler-Baze, always dangerous, pushed home enough juicy-priced mutuels to average $12.80. Even Drysdale-Stevens averaged a little over $12.

But the absolute top tandem for predictability and price was Nick Canani-Jose Valdivia Jr., who are especially potent with the first-off-the-claim move for none other than uberowner Richard Englander.

No Contest Till Next Week
All the excitement of BC XVIII has us tuckered out, so the racing games will begin anew next weekend. Enjoy the time off.

This Week's Book of the Week, Cal Cup Analysis Special
Check out the offers in The Handicapping Store.

We appreciate your comments about this newsletter. Please send them to our staff. Thank you!