With the Travers Stakes just a few weeks away, this past week featured a pair of important three-year-old races at Saratoga in the Jim Dandy and the Curlin, as well as Monmouth Park's showcase race, the Haskell.
VERRAZANO ROMPS IN HASKELL
Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth Park resulted in arguably the best performance of the year by any three-year-old. The mighty Verrazano demolished the field with alarming ease and ran nine furlongs in 1:50.68 seconds over an unbelievably slow racetrack.
Trainer Chuck Simon called the Monmouth park dirt surface for Sunday's card "ridiculous." "You can basically throw all form over this track out. It is like quicksand," Simon said.
Quicksand indeed. Earlier in the card, Joyful Victory won the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher by 7.5 lengths over Wine Princess in a pedestrian final time of 1:46.09 seconds. Even the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup for older males was run so slowly that one could have timed it with a sundial.
TimeformUS chief figuremaker Craig Milkowski felt that Sunday's slow Monmouth track sped up somewhat for the last two dirt races of the day, and Verrazano was assigned a speed figure of 124.
Verrazano has now won six of seven starts this year and the Haskell was without a doubt his signature performance to date. His detractors, and there are many, will note that his two Grade 1 victories, in the Wood Memorial and Haskell, have come with extremely easy trips. Others will say that Pletcher-trained horses have a history of fizzling out in the fall or regressing after gigantic performances, as Dreaming of Julia did earlier in the year.
Those points are all fine and dandy right up until the detractors bring the Kentucky Derby into it. The Kentucky Derby was simply not a race that anyone should ever mistake as a representative race for Verrazano.
Verrazano, a horse with no two-year-old racing experience, was up close and wide while chasing a supersonic early pace in the Kentucky Derby.
* Oxbow won the Preakness and paid $32.80 next time out.
* Palace Malice won the Belmont and paid $29.60 next time out.
* Verrazano won his next two starts, the Pegasus and Haskell, winning each race by more than 9 lengths.
* Itsmyluckyday was second in the Preakness next time out.
* Goldencents, beaten almost 50 lengths by Orb in the Derby, finished only a half length behind Orb in the Preakness. He was second beaten just a head in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby against older males over the weekend.
As you can see, the Derby clearly wasn't a representative race for any horse who raced anywhere near the early pace.
In fact, one could even argue that Verrazano ran the best race in the Derby out of all of the pace horses. He was wider than both Oxbow and Palace Malice and, as you can see below, he suffered a nasty gash when Will Take Charge ran into him off the far turn.
Not only was Verrazano's Derby way better than some think, but isn't it possible that Verrazano is a much-improved horse right now? I hated his Wood Memorial win. He beat Vyjack by only one length in the Wood Memorial; he beat him by almost 20 lengths on Sunday.
PALACE MALICE PREVAILS IN THE JIM DANDY
Saturday's Jim Dandy (Race #10 at Saratoga) was won convincingly by Palace Malice in sensational final time of 1:47.37 seconds. By comparison, the only other dirt route that day (Race #1) was won by multiple Graded Stakes winning millionaire Caixa Eletronica in final time of 1:50.91
Before we go any further, I must address one of my biggest horse racing pet-peeves. Contrary to what many people around the racetrack say, and what the great jockey Jerry Bailey has frequently said on TV, as a rule of thumb, one full second equals six lengths, not five.
Mathematically speaking, a length should equal 1/5th of a second only when a horse travels a furlong in 15 seconds. Your average trotters go that fast. Top class thoroughbreds do not.
This means that Palace Malice went 3.54 seconds, or 21 lengths, faster than Caixa Eletronica on the same day, at the same distance, and over the same surface. That disparity in final time seems so unbelievable that all figuremakers will have their work cut out for them on this day. Either the Saratoga main track became significantly faster as the day progressed on Saturday, or several horses in the Jim Dandy exploded to big new career-top figures. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
One thing for sure is that Belmont winner Palace Malice once again performed admirably without the blinkers. It's interesting to think what might have been had Pletcher not added blinkers before the Kentucky Derby. Here's an interesting piece of trivia:
According to information gathered from results charts, in the history of the Kentucky Derby, 74 different horses have run an opening quarter mile faster than 22.80 seconds. Only one of those 74 went on to win the race. That was Bold Forbes in 1976.
Ten beaten post time favorites are among the 74 horses who went faster than 22.80 in the opening quarter. In this year's Kentucky Derby, four horses ran their opening quarter faster than 22.80 seconds. Palace Malice and Verrazano were two of the four.
TRANSPARENT IMPRESSES IN THE CURLIN
Making his first start since April 4th, Transparent crossed the wire first in the Curlin Stakes on Friday at Saratoga. The performance by Transparent was quite good. He ran an excellent 115 TimeformUS speed figure. However, his impressive winning move came after jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. angled him out on the turn and crossed in front of Proud Strike, causing that one to clip heels.
It took Transparent six tries just to break his maiden, but he is finally starting to put it together, and this son of Bernardini will likely become a Travers "wiseguy" horse that contrarians gravitate to.