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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Look West, Young Man

The final vote is in on the Curlin poll:

Turf Campaign: 51%
Dirt Campaign: 33%
Synthetic Surface: 10%
Retire: 6%

How much impact the fans will actually have on the colt’s next move is not mentioned in Jess Jackson’s accompanying statement, but what’s most revealing is how many people want to see him continue to race, regardless of surface. Racing fans have an invested interest in their favorite horses, that’s just one of the reasons why we need to run them much more before putting them out to stud.

Need another reason? Exhibit 1: Saturday’s G1 Whitney Handicap. A full field of eleven horses, yes, but with the cream of last year’s 3-year-old crop (Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday) as well as those marginal few who may have improved at 4 (such as Scat Daddy, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Chelokee) now at stud, the East Coast dirt runners are—beyond Curlin—pathetic.

Not to take anything away from Commentator, but the lightly-raced 7-year-old is hardly the second-coming of Kelso. He hadn’t run over 8f since September 2005—nearly 3 years—and yet he had at least enough to defeat this wretched group, winning wire-to-wire in the slowest Whitney since Warhead in 1960! Honestly, this race made me sad. And I'm getting just a little tired of expecting these horses to perform better than they actually do. It doesn't give me much hope for East Coast chances come Breeders Cup time.

Just how bad are the older East Coast dirt runners?

Whitney runner-up Student Council (who most recently finished third to Mast Track and Go Between in the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup) won the G1 Pimlico Special by a neck recently over Gottcha Gold, who was crushed as the even-money favorite in the non-graded Skip Away at Monmouth on Saturday, finishing fourth behind Shopton Lane, Judiths Wild Rush and Sinners N Saints.

Third-place finisher Grasshopper finished fifth behind Student Council at Pimlico, and then most recently was no threat to Curlin, Einstein and Barcola in the G1 Stephen Foster.

When will they accept that Notional is just a miler? His G3 Salvator Mile victory isn’t flattered by runner-up Gottcha Gold’s defeat, and even though he’s “in” for the BC Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, he’s had no real success on all-weather surfaces. Maybe they should aim for those kinds of races so he has a real chance in the BC?

The weakness of the G1 Suburban (and how sad is that?) is glaringly evident in the performances of poor Rising Moon, Merchant Marine, Solar Flare and A.P. Arrow, who finished fifth through eighth respectively. Only A.P. Arrow had previous graded stakes experience, and really—beyond his distant yet impressive fourth place in the G1 Dubai World Cup against Curlin—the last race he won was the G2 Clark last November against old-timers Brass Hat and Diamond Stripes (not exactly the strongest field). He too has never won on an all-weather surface.

Timber Reserve won one big race, the G2 Pennsylvania Derby—not exactly the test of champions. Tasteyville is a mudlark who has never won above a G3, and Cowtown Cat came in with a 7-race losing streak going back to the G2 Illinois Derby last April.

Seriously, why run Curlin again any of these? Where's the challenge? Either continue on turf or starting working him on all-weather surfaces. Otherwise, running on dirt against horses of this ilk will be like shooting fish in a bucket. And what's the fun in that?


dana said...

"When will they accept that Notional is just a miler?"

My thoughts exactly and the damn shame of it was that he looked incredible in the parade! I thought he ran well given the distance, but come on, keep him at a mile and let him dominate!