In horse racing, all that glitters is not gold

October 7, 2020

I like to put what I see on the racetrack in perspective. I always have.

When it comes to the sport of horse racing, all that glitters is not gold. All too often in the wake of what look like outstanding performances, we hear words like freak, monster, epic, and comments about how we just saw the next coming of who knows who. We’ll also see very good performances on the racetrack that generate talk of all time great race efforts, some of them are, some aren’t.

I always say watching races is a learned art. We all don’t see races the same, and we surely all don’t watch them the same and for the same things. Personally, I like to go back and watch a race again a day or two later to see just how great it was or wasn’t when the excitement is at a much lower level. It usually gives me a much better and realistic impression of what we saw.

In my opinion two recent races that have been raved about by most fall into the category of;

they looked better than they were.”

Both were excellent performances, and I am not taking away anything from either race, performance, or horse. I am just pointing out how and why in my opinion the races looked better than they truly were. That’s not intended as a knock, just an observation. Getting an accurate picture of what you witness on the racetrack can give you an edge in races going forward, and also helps in your studies of this historic sport.

Everybody knows Swiss Skydiver ran a huge Preakness beating males and specifically Kentucky Derby winner Authenticate on the square. We all saw the great stretch battle with the filly on the inside after a heads up ride by Robby Albarado. It was exciting to watch, and a special race by an excellent filly. It resulted in the second fastest Preakness to Secretariat’s. That is where I think we have to do a reality check.

No question it was a fast race, and a fast Preakness. There is also no question it was run in October and not the third Saturday in May. It was also not run on two weeks rest after a grueling Kentucky Derby like just about all of the others it is compared to were. Those factors alone can lead to a faster race, and make the comparisons to other runnings somewhat inapplicable.

Three-year olds improve in leaps and bounds as the year progresses. It is very plausible a three-year old can run faster in October of that season than in May. Factor in the absence of a tough mile and a quarter two weeks prior and you’d have to expect a faster race more often than not. We likely won’t get to test this theory, but I offer the probability that if we ran the Preakness under this year’s conditions every year, we’d see faster times overall.

This is not to say I don’t think Swiss Skydiver ran a huge and special race. I do. i just don’t think the second fastest Preakness comments, though accurate, at least we hope, are very relevant or all that significant.

The other thing about the Preakness is that other than Authentic and Swiss Skydiver, nobody else really showed up. Art Collector didn’t fire at all, and we had open lengths back to the third finisher. That could mean the first two were that much better, or the others didn’t show up, or both. While I think the answer is both, I also think nobody else showing up takes away from the performance at least somewhat. Maybe I’m nitpicking, maybe not, but I go on the conservative side with these races so i know the ones I call epic are epic indeed.

Improbable’s Awesome Again victory at Santa Anita looked beautiful. It was visually impressive for sure. Just what the Doctor ordered heading into the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’d expect nothing less from Bob Baffert. The City Zip people really owe Bob one, no actually two. Improbable is the second horse, the first being Collected, by City Zip to win graded stakes at distances thought to be beyond the sires best distances.

In addition to the masses lauding the performance of Improbable, they equally knocked the race Maximum Security ran. I’ll start with Maximum Security.

Maximum Security was wide into the first turn, then wound up between horses the whole way around while being hounded. He was in a fight the entire race and showed a lot of heart and determination to finish second while not changing leads smoothly at all. A lot of horses pack it in after the trip he had. I note he didn’t. That, and knowing Bob Baffert, I won’t be surprised if we see a much better effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if that is where he shows up next. I think he ran a good, not a bad race.

Luis Saez offered this and I am in agreement:

“There was a lot of pressure along the way and he couldn’t get comfortable, but that’s how these races go, He was fighting at the end of the race, but we lost.”

As for Improbable was he not a lead pipe cinch after a half in 46 plus with him 4 or 5 lengths in back of 4 winging horses? I thought he was, and the race was for second at that point even with Improbable last of 5 and several lengths back. What good horse was not going to run by those 4 the way things set up? Sure he did it the right way, was geared down at the finish, and is a deserving leader heading into the Classic. That said, I think he did exactly what was expected and he was supposed to the way things unfolded.

When a horse, any horse, but especially a quality runner like Improbable gets a set up like that the race is going to look very good to the eye. I always like to look deeper and find what is not so obvious.

Take a look and I think you might see what I mean:

Again I am not taking away from either horse. I’m just trying to keep it real and in perspective. Besides, in horse racing I have grown to love the minority or unpopular opinion. That’s what makes a horserace.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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@PastTheWire I got out with Dupree @OaklawnRacing on backend of DD that paid 7-1. Nice pick!

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