An Amazing Saturday in February

Even though Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, I consider winter unofficially over after yesterday’s terrific day of racing.

Here are my top 5 moments of the day:

5. Far from Over rallies after blowing the break in the Withers.

Far from Over at the break was so bad that you may have been tempted to walk away if you had bet him. But sometimes being way off the pace is the place to be. Ran a 96 Beyer, good for this time of year. One to watch.

4. Constitution re-conquers Gulfstream; runs huge!

Constitution takes the mantle of best horse in training in the East…at least yesterday and over the Gulfstream surface. Ran a 113 Beyer in putting away the speedy Lea.

3. Irad Ortiz wins his 5th race at Aqueduct.

It’s been a challenging winter for New York Racing, but Irad Ortiz had one of the moment’s of the meet with 5 winners on yesterday’s card. He’s an aggressive rider to say the least, and he’s got a bright future.

Here’s his stakes win on Salutos Amigos earlier in the day (he won the first 3 races):

2. Dortmund isn’t finished.

I watch tons of racing. It’s why I named this site “All Day Racing.” But I don’t remember the last time I saw a horse rally like Dortmund did yesterday. He was finished, passed by Firing Line by almost a full length, when he just decided to stop tiring. Very impressive, and I’m starting to get behind the big guy. Super Beyer of 103.

1. Shared Belief hand ride to victory over California Chrome

Shared Belief is the best horse in the US and I have always thought him better than California Chrome (and was vocal on Twitter about him earlier in the day.) It was great to see him prove it on the track. I’ll continue to drop everything whenever Shared Belief is running — sensational athlete.

Santa Anita Opening Day: The Malibu (G1)

Big racing from all across the U.S. today. I have my eyes some in NY, some in Miami, but mainly out west for the opening day of Santa Anita, highlighted by a pair of G1 Stakes for 3YO. But unlike the high class routes we’ve seen over the summer, both of these are contested at 7f, a challenging distance for both sprinters and routers. Both are key races in the late Pick 4, which as usual, should be a sizable pool. Both have heavy favorites, who are facing distinct challenges. I’ll focus here on the Malibu, which is essentially Baffert trying to beat Shared Belief once again. With the news that Pimpernel will be scratched, he’s down to a robust 3 horses in the race. He really tried in the Awesome Again — but to no avail:

Screenshot 2014-12-26 11.17.23 The chart caller may have bit a bit generous with his description of the shenanigans of that day: Screenshot 2014-12-26 11.21.42  This shouldn’t imply that the Baffert entrants in this race aren’t deserving; they certainly are. But instead to bring about an awareness that Baffert really does seem to embrace the notion of teamwork between entries. Chitu is the horse that you’ll hear the most about — he was great on this track and at this distance last out. Indianapolis and Midnight Hawk are the other two for Baffert, with Midnight Hawk ideally looming off the pace. Of all the Baffert horses, is the one to bet, if you can get past Shared Belief. That said, even with some risk beyond the standard “racing luck” — which certainly hurt him last time at the start — that’s a very tough thing to do.

The main concern for Shared Belief is the cutback from 10 furlongs in the Classic to 7 furlongs today. This is fairly uncommon; the most recent that I found was Colonel John in 2008, who finished 4th as the narrow second choice that year. I’d also watch for any bias on the track that could aid Chitu. But, even with these concerns, Shared Belief should ride his speed and class advantage. It’s been forgotten after the hubbub with the start in the Classic, but there was some concern that he might be dull after that strong effort in the Awesome Again. But now he’s rested and he’s still the fastest. I fully expect to see a winning effort from him today.

Image: Scott Ableman, Copyright 2014.

Looking back at Shared Belief’s Pacific Classic (G1)

I was not a huge fan of Shared Belief going into the Pacific Classic. I really liked him last fall at the now-closed Hollywood Park, and he had been routinely excellent in his limited appearances. But, overall, I remained unconvinced by the level of competition that he was beating and generally am against 3YO’s facing older for the first time. When handicapping that race, I was trying to find reasons to beat Shared Belief, who would be facing older for the first time.  But the field was uninspiring — Game on Dude was well past his prime (and since retired.) Toast of New York was the only other horse who liked the surface, but he himself was coming off a significant layoff, only having raced once since the Belmont Derby. He also was a 3YO facing older horses for the first time. Of the remaining horses, Majestic Harbor was an open question — bringing in top dirt form — but ultimately struggled.

So, it was not a terrible surprise when Shared Belief romped home in visually-impressive fashion as the favorite. His raw time of 2:00.28 was very nice as well.

Most of the publicly-available speed figures that came out were great. The Beyer was 115 and the Timeform was 116. But, the Bris speed figure was originally reported as a 95. This opened up some question as to whether the race was indeed as impressive as it looked, especially given the weak cast. There are criticisms of Bris figures (there are criticisms of all figures, though), but I was wondered whether there might be something in their approach that the others had missed. However, a few days after the race, this tweet came from Brisnet: Screenshot 2014-09-25 12.01.23

The controversial speed figure was being revised upward to 111. From what I remember from reading the Beyer trilogy, revising figures is an accepted part of the long-term speed figure process, although the 16 point shift on the Bris scale seems quite large. As a result, the Bris figure — which was among the only reasons to knock Shared Belief — was now in line with the other figures. This is reflected on the past performances for Shared Belief as well. Thus, it seems, at least among the top publicly available figures (and the Sheets reportedly have a very good rating for Shared Belief as well), there’s no controversy left:

Shared Belief ran a monster race in the Pacific Classic. He deserves his place at the top of the division.

Check back later in the week for a preview of racing from Santa Anita and for our opinion on whether there’s any value to be made in betting Shared Belief. Plus, tons of coverage of Belmont Super Saturday.

The West Virginia Derby (GII): Now and Then

I enjoy Mountaineer racetrack, which races during the evening from March to December. Anyone wanting to gain expertise in the nuances of conditioned $5K claimers would be wise to play. But, on Saturday, the track takes a break from its workman-like cards to host several stakes races, highlighted by the GII West Virginia Derby for three-year olds going with a purse of $750K.

This is the sixth installment of the race at its current GII grading and is a particularly deep renewal of this nine-furlong race. This year’s race is especially notable for the presence of three 2014 Kentucky Derby starters: Candy Boy (13th) Vicar’s in Trouble (19th), and Tapiture (15th). In fact, the past five years, it’s been quite uncommon to see Derby runners here, with only Overanalyze, Hansen, and 2009 Derby Winner Mine that Bird having run in both. None of them found the winner’s circle — a streak that likely could end this year.

It’s always great to see horses return from the grueling Triple Crown trail during the three-year old season. These three are all making their second starts since the Derby, but only Tapiture can claim a win in his last out — doing it nicely in the Matt Winn Stakes (although Candy Boy may deserve a pass given the beast who is Shared Belief). Vicar’s in Trouble certainly has some past excuses. He drew the dreaded “1” post position for the Derby and raced in the mud in the Iowa Derby. But, that said, this is a horse that has run his best when he gets the lead. That’s no given today.  The public will likely bet these three heavily — although they make back off Vicar’s in Trouble a bit — and the winner will likely be be one of them.

Of the other horses in this year’s field, For Goodness Sake brings the best speed. Claimed from Chad Brown in February, this horse was scintillating in two performances at Churchill during the spring meet. He also has won at the 9f distance – something that only Vicar’s in Trouble has done among the rest of the field. He’d need to improve yet again, and might need to rate off what could be a hot pace. But, of the later developing horses, he probably has the best shot. Divine View ships from the mid-atlantic circuit for Larry Jones. He’d need major improvement, or regression from the others to find the winner’s circle. The rest are longshots.

To get even more excited for Saturday’s race, enjoy a look back at the past five years of the West Virginia Derby:


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Image: “West Virginia”, Noe Alfaro, Copyright 2013.