A closer look at the Pacific Classic and Alabama
There are a lot of tea leaves to read for this Saturday's Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. ARROGATE's shocking loss in the San Diego H. (G2) was so stunning that its pall still hangs over him four weeks later. What the heck happened?
I went back and read Andy Harrington's National Turf Clocker's Report that were posted for Arrogate the day that he ran and nothing in them indicated that anything was amiss. As usual, and rightfully so, Harrington raved about how well he was doing and getting over the ground like no other. Perhaps trainer Bob Baffert didn't have him wound up tight enough and could have used another work or two but that would have meant he ran out of gas in the stretch.
Instead, we saw an Arrogate that had no energy, had no response when Mike Smith asked him, and was not even able to use his huge stride in the stretch to make up ground. It was a listless, and I am being kind here, inscrutable non-effort from a horse that had just run four of the greatest efforts in racing history.
Baffert said he talked to Mike Smith as he brought him back to be unsaddled and was told nothing was wrong. This tea leaf was kind of odd to read since a horse of Arrogate's accomplishment and reputation would usually be given a battery of tests back at the barn before a clean bill of health would be issued. Mike Smith hadn't even gotten off the horse and Baffert was saying he was okay.
His only hesitation would be the Pacific Classic was only four Saturdays away and would he make the race? That was taken care of with three strong workouts at Del Mar, not Santa Anita, to get him ready. And by all indications, he is back to normal and the Pacific Classic should be a walk in the park.
When American Pharosh was upset by Keen Ice in the Travers (G1) two years ago, Baffert was almost relieved the next day. He knew immediately that there was nothing wrong with his Triple Crown winner and the race was lost when he spent too much energy in a nine-furlong gallop the day before when a huge crowd showed up and got him wound up.
Now, Baffert is acting like he knew something was amiss BEFORE the San Diego and would be easily correctable. I watched all three workouts on video since then and each one was better than the next. There is still that lingering doubt about what went wrong in the San Diego since nothing was ever disclosed. It's like going to the doctor's office, they don't find anything wrong, and you are still worried since you still don't feel well. Arrogate looks like he's feeling well but we will know more about 5:30 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday.
ACCELERATE won the San Diego in a career-best performance when blinkers were added. He earned a BRIS speed rating of 111 which puts him the mix and draws inside with Victor Espinoza.
Baffert also sends out the red-hot COLLECTED, who has returned to the races this year with a vengeance. He won the Lexington (G3) last year at Keeneland before running poorly in the Preakness (G1). Off for 10 months, he won a small stakes race at Santa Anita then won the nine-furlong Californian (G2) by almost four lengths in fast time.
Last time out, Collected won the Precisionist (G3) by 14 lengths and earned the same BRIS speed rating of 111 as Accelerate. This colt has good early speed, and while I can't see him being sacrificed as a pacemaker for Arrogate, his entry in the race, which he has earned, will insure a fast pace.
Beaten by 15+ lengths as the 1-20 favorite, it's easy to say draw a line through the race. If you can, Arrogate should win easily. If the San Diego was a sign of something being amiss, he could be very vulnerable. Thanks to the shocking upset in the San Diego, the Pacific Classic, which looked like an easy stepping stone to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at this track in November, now has some intrigue.
The Alabama (G1) that will be run on Saturday at Saratoga has a history as good as any race in America. It will be run for the 137th time at the convenient time of 5:22 p.m. (EDT) and this year's renewal attracted a well-balance field of nine.
Like the Belmont S. (G1), which is the only time three-year-olds, mostly males, will ever go 1 1/2 miles in the dirt, the Alabama now sticks out as the only time three-year-old fillies will ever go 1 1/4 miles on the dirt unless they take on male company. Since the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) was shortened from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles, in 2004, then 1 1/8 miles when the race was shifted from Belmont Park to Saratoga in 2010.
The Saratoga main track has played to inside speed each and every Saturday, and with rain on Friday it should be about the same again. The wild card will be the added distance as none of these have done it before on dirt.
The Jim Dandy (G2) saw a turf horse beat the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winners and now we have a turf filly, NEW MONEY HONEY, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks (G1) on the turf, making her dirt debut. Chad Brown wins 30 percent with this surface switch and she is certainly bred for dirt being by Medaglia d'Oro, who won the Jim Dandy (G2), Travers and Whitney H. (G1) over this dirt track, out of a dam by Distorted Humor that was unraced but a full-sister to Grade 1 dirt stakes winner Any Given Saturday.
There was a theory that the new composition of the Saratoga main track makes it easier for turf horses to get over it and New Money Honey will attempt to do what Good Samaritan did in the Jim Dandy.
Drawing post 1 will enable her to save ground but she will have to deal with the dirt kickback which Good Samaritan did not have to since he was so far behind early then rallied out in the middle of the track. New Money Honey will probably be closer to a slow pace and we will see what part of the track Javier Castellano places her on.
Lockdown was a good third behind divisional leader Abel Tasman in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) going nine furlongs. She came back in the one-turn Mother Goose (G2) as the 2-1 favorite behind the talented UNCHAINED MELODY and rallied for second after stumbling out of the gate. Trainer Bill Mott has won the Alabama twice before.
Unchained Melody benefited from Lockdown's stumble in the Mother Goose as she went from first-level allowance winner to Grade 2 stakes winner. She has brilliant early speed and Brian Lynch has shown he can win the big ones based on the work that he has done with Oscar Performance the past two years. Since her Mother Goose victory, Unchained Melody has trained with a vengeance and gets Joel Rosario back aboard. If we get the typical Saturday main track, she will be hard to catch.
SALTY lost all chance when bumped at the start of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) from post 14 on a sloppy track. She came back and missed by a length behind Abel Tasman in the Acorn (G1) going a one-turn mile then was an even third here in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) when she leapt at the start and lost all chance when forced to race wide. She comes in here off a bullet half-mile breeze here last week and gets Tyler Gaffalione who takes the place of Joel Rosario, who sticks with Unchained Melody.
HOLY HELENA won going today's distance when she beat Canadian-breds on the Tapeta in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine against males. She did not go on to the other races in the Canadian Triple Crown and shows up here for Jimmy Jerkens, who wins at 29 percent off medium rest and 24 percent first start after a win. She did win on the dirt at Belmont Park and can save ground from post two with Johnny Velazquez. Her half-brother, Holy Boss, won the Amsterdam (G2) on this dirt track two years ago.
Finally, a handicapping angle that often works in big races is to go with less heralded runner from a trainer entering two or more. ELATE is trained by Bill Mott and after winning a $50,000 stakes race at Delaware Park, she came back to run second in a game effort in the CCA Oaks when she broke from post 1. Despite some traffic down there, at least she was on the best part of the track and gets the red-hot Jose Ortiz back aboard. Elate is "the other Mott."