Traditionally a “last-chance Lexington” type of prep for the Queen’s Plate, which is in two weeks, the Victoria Park has attracted a herd of American invaders, two of which competed on the Keeneland Polytrack in the dramatic Blue Grass Stakes.
The Blue Grass hero, of course, was Brilliant Speed, who rallied from the clouds into the teeth of a strong late pace to prevail by a nose at 17-1. Brilliant Speed was nearly the one responsible for the pari-mutuel fireworks in the Belmont – drawing even with the leaders in the stretch but grudgingly having to settle for third when the dust, or slop rather, had settled.
Fast-forward to today at Woodbine, where Michael Maker trainee Twinspired, the runner-up to Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass, is listed as the 8-5 favorite to take the Victoria Park. Also in Toronto for the $150,000 feature is Newsdad, who was fourth in the Blue Grass, by a margin of just 1 ¼ lengths.
With the Belmont drama fresh in everyone’s consciousness, there’s a strong possibility that Twinspired will be much more heavily favored than 8-5. That’s a mistake.
In the Kentucky Derby, his only race since the Blue Grass, Twinspired was never a threat. Look at his running line. He was in the back third of the field throughout. He checked in under the wire in 17th over 18 lengths behind Animal Kingdom.
Whether there are excuses or not, this is still a comeback race of sorts for him. He still has to show he’s back in form. Accepting a low price isn’t reasonable under those circumstances.
Since he’s being fancied off his frame of reference to Brilliant Speed, it’s worth taking a look at the circumstances behind this comparison and not just the result at face value.
He may have finished a nose behind Brilliant Speed, who tagged him in the dying yards of the 1 1/8-mile race. The pace scenario makes this performance somewhat sketchy. The fractions were slow in the Blue Grass (:50 1/5 and 1:14 3/5). Having sat no more than two lengths behind throughout, Twinspired held a huge positional advantage turning for home. Superior horses always capitalize on these types of advantages, drawing off in the stretch by many in a stylish manner.
What did Twinspired do? He squandered the advantage. He opened up a 1 ½ length lead at the eighth pole and coughed it up to Brilliant Speed. He almost lost second to King Congi, who was just a head back.
The chart will only credit him with a win by a nose, but the three-year-old that proved most superior that day was Brilliant Speed.
At face value, it is a very dangerous approach to look at Twinspired and Brilliant Speed and assume they are equals. If you’re at the track, listen closely and count how many times you hear these two names in the same sentence in an argument favorable for Twinspired. It’s a set up for disaster because they’re not in the same league.
For the same reason, it would be more beneficial to back Newsdad in the Victoria Park. He attempted to rally late in the Blue Grass and wound up a close fourth. His final three-eighths was impressive: a time of :35 1/5. It wasn’t as fast Brilliant Speed, but much quicker than Twinspired.
Newsdad also returned since the Blue Grass, competing in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. There, he once again, that conventional dirt racing isn’t going to make him any headlines. Hence the trip North to Woodbine, where the Bill Mott trainee is quoted at 4-1 under Alan Garcia. He might be significantly higher. He’s only ever won one race, a turf maiden at Gulfstream Park. He likely won’t receive his fair share of the Brilliant Speed steam.
Two other intriguing shippers have journeyed to Woodbine from U.S. headquarters. From the potent Chad Brown stable is the talented, but unseasoned first-out winner Code of Conduct, a bay son of Tapit. On May 5, over a yielding Belmont turf course, he closed from eighth to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden event by 1 ½ lengths. He’s worked four nice half-miles since. At this juncture, he could be any kind and is ambitiously spotted in an out-of-town stakes event on a surface over which he has yet to race or publicly work.
Perhaps the most interesting of the invaders is Irish-bred Burj Alzain. He’s never raced in Ireland, but has competed in England, France and the United States, making Canada the fourth different country in which he has showcased his talents. The son of Marju holds the distinction of being the first U.S. starter for the new Arlington Park string of trainer Gerard Butler, who is 2-for-6 since arriving. His main operation is at Egerton House Stables in Newmarket (England). Butler is no stranger to Woodbine, having won last fall’s Maple Leaf Stakes with Packattack, a mare he had brought to Canada for the E.P. Taylor Stakes on October 16 when she was fifth. Also part of the North American squad, Patchattack has since won the Arlington Matron on May 30.
Burj Alzain was shuffled back early and forced to rally five-wide at the quarter pole to be second by a nose in the one-mile allowance event on May 20, earning an 89 Beyer.
Prior to shipping to North America, Burj Alzain finished third in Lingfield’s one-mile International Trial Stakes on synthetic (April 9) finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind Dubawi Gold, who went on to the 2000 Guineas, three weeks later, to be second to sophomore superstar Frankel. He was six lengths back, but clearly best of the rest.
According to his past performances, all of races have come on synthetic surfaces. He kicked off his career with two straight victories at Kempton last fall. He followed up with a narrow loss at Deauville in a 1 3/16 mile event. This is a colt that could easily be 4-for-5 were it not for a bit of bad luck. At anywhere above his morning line quote of 3-1, Burj Alzain is worth a play.
Pender Harbour, an Ontario-sired runner making just his second start of 2011, provides the Victoria Park with a slight Plate plot twist. The Mike DePaulo trainee ended off 2010 with two smashing victories at Woodbine, including a 2 ¼-length score in the Kingarvie Stakes on November 27.
The son of Philanthropist (a Kris S. line sire) posted a non-descript 10th place finish in his comeback tilt, a six-furlong event on May 13. He has trained strongly since the opener, blazing five furlongs in :59 3/5, breezing, and one mile in 1:40-flat.
There is another Ontario-bred that is also worth a second look. Fresh off an impressive maiden score in which he made up a 14-length deficit, Seawatch sports the colors of the Donver Stable, the same outfit that won last weekend’s Woodbine Oaks with Inglorious. Could an impressive showing by this son of Woodman give them a potential two Plate candidates?
Interesting tidbit: Seawatch broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles on May 15, which was the same day that Inglorious won her final prep before winning the Oaks, the La Lorgnette Stakes, also at 1 1/16 miles. Seawatch’s final time was only 0.73 seconds off the time of his more accomplished stablemate. But for some reason there was only a one point difference in the Beyer Speed Figures attributed to each race.
Seawatch -- 1:44.92 – 78
Inglorious -- 1:44.19 – 79
While a 0.73 second difference isn’t huge at 1 1/8 miles, it is the equivalent of about 3 1/2 lengths, which on the Beyer scale would be around six points – not one.
More unable than most to resist the urge to speculate on this minor conundrum, it would seem there are three possible reasons.
A) Seawatch’s race received too high a figure.
B) Inglorious received too low a figure.
C) In the 90 minutes between race five and race eight, the track sped up three lengths, necessitating some sort of split variant approach to allocating speed figures
Some would call it splitting hairs, but over the years, these kinds of discrepancies happen from time to time and it’s always prudent to question that big bold number in the past performance line located just to the left of the post position. It’s prudent because if you’re clever enough to spot something out of whack it might give insight that other bettors don’t have.
In this case, the train may have already left the station, since it’s more likely that Inglorious appears to be the one of this pair that was cheated out of a higher fig. Obviously, she came back and won the Oaks, earning an 83 Beyer (more on the meaning or lack thereof of this number in a later blog!).
Then again, Seawatch may have received a number a touch too high. If that’s the case, then the speed chasm widens between him and the fastest horses in this race. In order to like him, even at 15-1, you have to project him to improve even more to be competitive, assuming the top dogs maintain their speed levels.
The Victoria Park shapes us as an interesting event boosted by a couple of rising American stars looking to build momentum and a European three-year-old that should appreciate the Woodbine surface. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Canadian-breds – a third-place finish in this event may be a strong enough showing to earn a trip to the Queen’s Plate.