Handicapping Insights -- July 30
by Dick Powell
2015 Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) will make his first start since the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on Sunday against five rivals that have been attracted by the $1 million purse of the Haskell Invitational (G1) going nine furlongs. In a real racing oddity, Monmouth Park officials announced on Wednesday, the day before entries are drawn, that they are raising the purse of the Haskell to $1.75 million, with $1.05 going to the winner. Why they waited this long for the announcement is anyone’s guess.
Three of the expected starters in the Haskell – UPSTART (Flatter), TEKTON (Bernardini) (who ended up not entering the Haskell) and COMPETITIVE EDGE (Super Saver) are cross-entered in Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga, where they will only be racing for $600K but do not have to face American Pharoah, who has trained brilliantly since the Belmont for Bob Baffert.
As of Thursday morning, Upstart and Competitive Edge are expected to go to the Haskell and Tekton will stay in Saratoga for either the Jim Dandy on Saturday or the Curlin Stakes on Friday.
Saratogians are keeping their fingers and toes crossed hoping that American Pharoah has such an easy win in the Haskell that a trip to the Spa four weeks later for the Travers Stakes (G1) – name your purse if you come – would be in the cards. I am on record that it will not happen but who knows; stranger things have happened up here. As we speak, I am inquiring about seating arrangements at Parx Racing for the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) on September 19.
Footnote: When Bob Baffert ships to New York, his horses are stabled in the barn of John Terranova. The other day, someone was smart enough to ask Terranova if he had heard anything from Baffert about reserving a stall and he said he had not.
There is talk from NYRA that if American Pharoah comes for the Travers, the crowd would be capped at 60,000. The ironic thing is the biggest crowd ever to attend the Travers was in 2003 when Kentucky Derby (G1)/Preakness Stakes (G1) winner FUNNY CIDE (Distorted Humor) and Belmont Stakes winner EMPIRE MAKER (Unbridled) both did not enter that week and 66,122 people still showed up.
American Pharoah continues to train brilliantly for Baffert and even looks like he has taken his game up another notch. There were worries about his soundness earlier in the year but they have passed by the wayside as the Triple Crown winner seems to thrive on a strong workout pattern. Baffert has won the Haskell a record seven times and the Monmouth Park dirt oval should be perfect for him on Sunday.
From the absolute pinnacle of the sport, we go to the rock bottom. On Sunday, Ellis Park ran a maiden $7,500 claiming race for fillies and mares. The race only attracted five starters and one was an 8YO first-time-starter named SEALAND GIRL (Stylish Senor). She was the longest shot on the board but still was just under 16-1, so there was a decent amount of money bet on her.
But even if there were only $2 bet on her, there is no way that Sealand Girl should have been allowed to race. An 8YO mare making her career debut against rock-bottom maidens used to not only never happen but that type of horse would not even be allowed on the grounds. Now, she is breaking behind the field and distanced before going around the far turn in the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint.
The official Equibase chart says, “pulled up, vanned off” and I pray that she did not get hurt. Besides being an 8YO first-time-starter, she was foaled in Indiana on July 28, 2007, by her owner/breeder/trainer Tom Callaghan.
July 28 foaling date eight years ago and nobody saw red flags? Hard to believe. Is anyone paying attention?
Opening Day at Saratoga saw a very slow main track that directly contradicted what I had predicted regarding the red clay that had been added to the track. I thought it would yield faster running times on the dirt but definitely not last Friday.
Since then, the main track has played faster and faster, even without getting any rain in the first five days of racing. On Friday, there was a warning from the National Weather Service that set off smart phones regarding a possible tornado touching down in the area. The sky on the far turn was dark with lightning and swirling wind starting to gust.
But like the last two years here, it did not rain as the storm headed south down the Northway. Later in the day, there was a storm to the Southwest that did not hit the track but when I drove home, there were some serious rain puddles where I live.
Belmont Park just finished a 59-day meet and there were only two days when the turf racing was washed out. Considering how wet June and most of July up here has been, I usually do main track selections for my picks just in case. The way to make it rain is for me not to make them and we would be guaranteed a storm.
The fastest turf courses are not the ones that are bone dry but the ones that have dried up from recent rains. When turf courses go too long without rain, the ground the grass grows in gets brittle and breaks away more when the horse’s hooves go into it.
But when a turf course gets rain, it will be softened up some but there will a point while it drying out that the ground is extremely firm and will yield fast times. Last Saturday, there was a 2YO maiden special weight for males going 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon Turf Course. The winner, SITE READ (Tizdejavu), was one of six Bill Mott-trained winners in the first four days of the meet.
Dismissed at 21-1, he flew home to win going away by 4 1/2 lengths in the outrageous winning time of 1:40.84 seconds. When you realize that it is still in July of their 2YO season, it was a huge effort but also an indication how firm the turf course is. Later on Saturday, HARD NOT TO LIKE (Hard Spun) won the Diana Stakes (G1) in course record time of 1:45.22 seconds for nine furlongs on the Mellon turf course
To give you a reference point on how fast Site Read’s race was, BIG BROWN (Boundary) broke his maiden first time out in 1:40.33 seconds but it came on September 3, 2007, when he had six more weeks of development.