Eclipse Award snub & a hidden gem in the turf jockey ranks

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TwinSpires Staff

January 21st, 2016


As far as Eclipse Awards shows go, Saturday night’s was not bad. The event seems to have found its stride and flows smoothly.

As expected, it was the AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) show and, rightfully so. I thought the highlight was when he was awarded Horse of the Year, Ahmad Zayat’s wife Joanne, spoke on behalf of her family and lo and behold, she’s a Jersey girl. Simply put, she was fantastic.  

Early in the program, it was announced that the champion Female Sprinter was LA VERDAD (Yes It’s True). Her owner, Sheila Rosenbaum, spoke eloquently about what it means to her and heaped praise on her trainer, Linda Rice. It was a real “Women in Racing” moment but it didn’t last long.

Next up was the Male Sprinter and, as expected, RUNHAPPY (Super Saver) won easily. Now this was going to be a moment of truth and there was plenty of time to prepare. We have seen many awards shows where the winner gets up and forgets to thank key people, including John Elway forgetting his wife, sitting right in front of him, when he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But owner James McIngvale had months to prepare his remarks since there was no doubt his colt was going to win. He walked up to the stage with Cordell Anderson, a key member of Runhappy’s team, but when he thanked the people that helped Runhappy become champion sprinter, McIngvale never mentioned former trainer Maria Borell.

Someone pointed out that it might have been for legal reasons since Borell is suing McIngvale but I don’t buy it. All he had to do is include her in the list of people and it would have been fine. Nobody expected effusive praise from McIngvale about the job that Borell did with Runhappy. But turning her into a non-person was in stark contrast to Sheila Rosenblum’s genuine appreciation for the job Linda Rice did for her.

During the winter, my choice is between betting Aqueduct or Gulfstream Park. I go for Aqueduct since I follow it religiously and the inner dirt track, without turf racing and only a few distances that the races are run at, provides us with a harness racing-like consistency.

But, Gulfstream Park does have turf races and they can be quite seductive. Big fields, sometimes chaotic, can lead to big prices. So far this season, the results have been terrible but I keep telling myself why do you bet on the hardest races to win?

On Monday, racing was cancelled at Aqueduct due to high winds so Gulfstream took over for my wagering action. Last season, I had a great meet down there since there were so many cancellations in New York, it made me follow the races down there more than I normally would.

One angle that worked wonders was rider Rafael Hernandez on the turf. He was an absolute revelation on the grass courses at Gulfstream and consistently returned big prices with his mounts out running their odds.

 So there I was on Monday, no Aqueduct and Gulfstream as the only track I would focus on. And there was Hernandez with a live mount in race two. A couple of things.

In the past, most 7 ½-furlong turf races were run on the inside part of the turf course and speed did pretty well. A short run into the first turn, the field gets strung out and the leaders are hard to catch. For some reason, this year’s 7 ½-furlong turf races are being run on the outer part of the turf course and despite the shorter distance, they are dominated by horses coming from behind.

The speed bias this year for 7 ½-furlong turf races is only 28%, the average beaten lengths of the winner at the first call is 4.3 lengths and only 10% of the 29 races run at the distance were won going gate to wire. Who was telling you about counter intuitive situations?

Hernandez’s mount in race two, IMPERIAL JACK (Imperialism), had just broke his maiden against maiden $16K claimers going this distance at Gulfstream and he did it from post 11. Now, he was facing $16K non-winners of two lifetime from post three and Hernandez was back aboard. Listed at 15-to-1 in the morning line, he took little money in the betting and drifted up to almost 21-to-1 at post time.

A quick sidebar about post times at Gulfstream Park. Do these people own a watch? Every day, the first race goes off at least three minutes late. I know there is an effort to make sure their races do not run on top of Aqueduct’s but the first race post is something they determine and is not subject to what other tracks are doing.

Okay, back to Hernandez. He took Imperial Jack back to 11th in the field of 13 and then began to pick up horses. Very wide on the far turn, he sacrificed ground for a clear trip and wound up winning by almost two lengths and paid $43.40. If you did not have access to the BRIS Track Bias stats found in the Ultimate Past Performances or their detailed jockey records on turf, you might have let this one go by.

At the end of the card in race 11, Hernandez had the mount on 10-to-1 morning line shot ROCKIN RONDA (Harlan’s Holiday). This one was dismissed at 15-to-1 odds. Hernandez took him back in the 1 1/16 mile turf race and then began to rally three wide around the turn. He surged to the lead and held on by three-quarters of a length.

So if you are a Rafael Hernandez fan on the turf at Gulfstream Park, you were rewarded with a $33.40 and a $43.40 winner on Monday. With bad weather expected in New York this weekend putting both Saturday and Sunday’s racing in jeopardy, guess where my focus will be?