A closer look at Santa Anita's main track surface on Friday:
After a clear-cut speed bias ruled the main track for Thursday's card at Santa Anita, here's what happened in Friday's dirt action.
Race #2: The cries of another speed bias were heard after 37/1 longshot Heir of Storm blazed through fractions of 21.70 for a quarter and 43.69 for a half, before drawing off through the stretch to win by more than four lengths at 37/1 odds.
To see a $77.60 horse draw away with such devastating ease after setting cartoon-like fast fractions is certainly a shock to the system of handicappers. Not only was the margin of victory large, but it was almost seven lengths back to the third-place finisher and ten lengths back to the fourth-place finisher, in an eleven-horse field. Heir of Storm ran virtually the entire field right off of the TV screen in a dazzling display of sustained speed.
This was a horse who had failed badly in each of his last three races at this class level, finishing 6th, 7th, and 11th respectively. However, after the fact, one can see some merit in Heir of Storm.
Trainer Alexis Barba is in a nasty slump right now. She has currently saddled 54 straight losers, a losing streak that goes all the way back to the aforementioned Heir Of Storm's fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on August 5th of 2012.
All of Heir of Storm's prior form going into yesterday came while trained by ice-cold Alexis Barba. The three-year-old colt made his first start yesterday for new trainer Pete Miller, a man who upset Bob Baffert and Doug O' Neill to win the 2012 training title at Del Mar.
Moreover, Heir of Storm had raced exclusively on turf and synthetic throughout his career. He made his first start on dirt yesterday, and all projections suggested he would take to it. By sire Wildcat Heir out of a Tiznow mare, Heir of Storm had a pedigree rating of 91 for yesterday's race. New trainer Pete Miller also had a 99 trainer rating with the first-dirt category.
Heir of Storm added blinkers for the first time yesterday, and it certainly gave him a huge early speed infusion over his prior form. Also, he wasn't exactly outclassed on speed figures. Heir of Storm ran a 97 speed figure in his most recent start. Only two horses in the field possessed a higher last-out figure, Door's Open (98) and Got Even (106), with the latter coming in off of a 310-day layoff.
Race 3: After what happened on Thursday, and what happened in the first dirt race Friday, all hell finally broke loose on Twitter after 47/1 longshot Better Bet won the day's second dirt race. He stalked the impossible 65/1 pace-setter while racing a clear second after a quarter mile. The always- aggressive jockey Martin Pedroza sent Better Bet to the lead with five furlongs to go, and he opened up off the far turn and lasted late to pay $96.00
This was yet another race that had "speed bias" written all over it. The 6/5 favorite, Tamarando, a Grade 1 winner on synthetic two starts back, had finished 10 lengths in front of Better Bet over the same track last time out. This time, the stretch-running closer could not catch Better Bet and had to settle for third.
Race 4: The day's third dirt race, the $200,000 Golden State Juvenile Fillies, was more fuel for the speed-bias fire. The eventual winner, Swiss Lake Yodeler, had a wire-to-wire debut win at the distance of four furlongs. She finished second at six furlongs, while forcing the pace in a starter allowance race, last time out.
This daughter of Swiss Yodeler out of a Meadowlake mare has a hardcore sprint pedigree. So having to break from the extreme outside post position, post ten, with a very short run into the first turn, and see out a mile distance, seemed to be quite the task.
It wasn't. Never more than a length and a half off of the pace, while always racing very handily under a reserved Julien Leparoux, Swiss Lake Yodeler was caught wide around the first turn while chasing a hot 22.78 first quarter. However, it didn't matter. She carried her speed and stayed the mile and drew off to win easily at 8/1 odds.
In this ten-horse field, the horses positioned 4, 2, 3, 1 after a quarter mile all stayed on to complete a Superfecta payoff of $4,677.70 for a $1 bet. Not only did they all stay on, but it was more than three lengths back to the fifth-place finisher.
Race 6: The Marathon is a unique race. It is run at the distance of 14 furlongs under our Classic weight conditions. Older males must carry 126lbs.
American dirt horses are so ill-suited to this distance that the race needs to be evaluated according to different standards. Some will use this race to argue against the speed bias. Commander and Ever Rider were sent and hooked up together through a 46.71 half mile under those 126-pound imposts. They both faded. For a fleeting moment, it appeared as though the stalking Blueskiesnrainbows, a horse who faded to fifth as the 3/5 favorite in a small nine-furlong stake race at Fresno last time out, would get the job done. However, the European raider London Bridge persevered under a busy ride and "surged" late to win an eyesore.
The New York-bred, European stayer London Bridge had at least a partial dirt pedigree. Sired by Arch (sire of Blame) and out of a second dam who was sired by Easy Goer, there was a chance he would handle dirt, and if he did, he seemed as good a candidate as any to stay the distance, as he was actually cutting back off of a 15-furlong race in France last out, while most of his rivals were stretching way out in distance.
Race Eight: Whatever the Marathon did to cool the fire of the speed-bias talk, that fire started to rage again after the Dirt Mile.
The brilliant Goldencents, who many respectable handicappers picked to win the Kentucky Derby off of his Santa Anita dirt form, reaffirmed his love for Santa Anita in a big way. Breaking from the extreme outside, post position number eleven, Goldencents looked like Dr. Fager as he took no prisoners through a 22.12 opening quarter mile, run partially around a turn, and engaged in a breakaway speed duel with the hard-ridden Broadway Empire through a 44.75 half mile.
Quality horses like Verrazano, Pants on Fire, and Fed Biz were under a ride through the far turn, but they were struggling as Goldencents drew off through the stretch.
It should be noted that well-backed deep closers Golden Ticket and Brujo de Olleros both closed an exceptional amount of ground to finish second and third behind runaway winner Goldencents.
Race Ten: The Distaff was an absolute runaway win for Beholder: her fourth Grade 1 victory of the season (all four came at Santa Anita). This performance was so dominate that it will probably be enough to help her snatch an Eclipse Award away from fan favorite Princess of Sylmar.
All the credit in the world goes to trainer Dick Mandella, who has done a tremendous job getting Beholder to relax and use her speed more efficiently. As a two-year-old, Beholder ran an unbelievably fast speed figure going six furlongs at Santa Anita. Her lifetime top TimeformUS speed figure is a 123 --and it came in a six-furlong allowance race, not in any of her Grade 1 scores over distance.
Beholder is a daughter of the brilliant sprinter Henny Hughes. Beholder's dam, Leslie's Lady, won 5 career races, and at an average win distance of 5.70 furlongs. She was on the lead before fading in the stretch in the five and a half furlong Debutante at Churchill at age two. Beholder's 2nd dam, Crystal Lady, had only two career wins, and both came going just five furlongs at Fort Erie.
There are different schools of thought about speed bias. I think people get a little too caught up on running positions when assessing speed biases. To me, speed-biased surfaces help horses carry their raw speed farther.
As sensational as Beholder was yesterday, I'm in the camp that believes the bias helped her carry her brilliant speed farther than a fair track would have.
Royal Delta was the disappointment of the race. Once again, she had none of her old sparkle. No visible excuses could be found.
Royal Delta does posses very good early speed, even though she was a closer early on in her career. A daughter of Empire Maker out of an A. P. Indy mare, Royal Delta would be poorly suited to sprinting. She had no response at all, even when ridden, when the much more fleet-footed Beholder attacked down the backstretch.
Stretch-running Princess of Sylmar also possessed none of her usual sparkle. This race was an afterthought by a game owner. The plan was never to run her here. However, she never had a chance over this racetrack. Princess of Sylmar sprinted only one time in her career, and she finished fourth at Penn National that day. Her TimeformUS speed figure was a lowly 39 in that race. Even at her best, she was poorly suited to a surface that allowed horses to carry their speed and showcase their brilliance.
Race Eleven: I've never bet an Arabian race in my life, and I would feel about as confident betting on an elementary school spelling bee. However, So Big Is Better blew the field away from well off the pace to win going away at 11/1 odds.
Had an Arabian race just clearly undermined my belief that a speed bias was present yesterday? I don't know, but there are a few who tell me so!