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TrackNotes: Cryotherapy

The old saw is that after a spill, the only thing to do is get right back on the horse.

Although when the horse is going 43.4 miles per hour, you have to try a lot harder.

2017 was that kind of year in Thoroughbred horse racing. Dull, chalky, expectations not met. Arrogate rocketed to wins in the Pegasus and World Cup, but fell prey, hard, to The Dubai Curse and was never the same back home, appearing to tell everyone by the end of the year he didn't want to run anymore. He's retired to stud now.

The good news is that in my last race of the year, I had Breeders' Cup cookie-jar dollars wagered on the Classic and hit Win/Place/Show and the Exacta ($6.80/$4.40/$3.20/$34.00) every which way but loose to boost the bankroll quite nicely for the new year.

But last season was so crummy I've been in cryotherapy. And let me tell you, at almost half a G, it's a ripoff. For a lot less money and the same amount of pain, a beer slushie and sharing a pint of Aristocrat brandy, straight, no apricot, with my little brother, we went nearly all four furlongs of a Bears-Packers game in a sub-freezing blizzard decades ago at Lambeau, outlasting all the rest of the family scattered around the bowl, which is all it was back then. Jim Jr. wasn't close to legal, but dammit, it was cold. You do what you have to do, including a newspaper on the aluminum bleachers so you don't die from the ass up. After his third hit, he didn't wince anymore like the drifter in Miss Kitty's saloon on Gunsmoke. Hmm.

If you're going to do it, go to to get the best price.

Tears wiped away, I'm back up on Old Paint, getting reacquainted, clip-clopping to the next gallop.

But I don't trust him cuz up ahead in the clearing Saturday is the second Pegasus World Championship Invitational (Grade I, nine furlongs dirt, $16,300,000) from dubious Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.

There's argument about whether these horses are just about the smartest animals you'll find, or if they're dumber than rocks. But this I know: The people who vaingloriously think they can create the instant spectacle are some of the real knuckleheads of racing.

Track owner Frank Stronach's (he also owns Santa Anita, a real racetrack) original concept was to charge any owner $1 million to buy an entry. Shares of an entry could be sold, or two owners could combine two entries and share any winnings, you get the idea. It's a buy-in, not an invitational. At first, the bravado was winner-take-all, like on Bonanza, but they did break down the purse for order-of-finish in last year's inaugural, won by Arrogate.

This year, it's much more complicated, which will make watching the race quite hinky. We'll just have to see who's sitting in what chair when the music stops.

While Stronach said just before Christmas that negotiations were "vigorous" for the last three leases, The Stronach Group ended up buying all three after the January 14 deadline, reach your own conclusions. Owners who put up the cash before the deadline grumbled, so organizers turned state's evidence.

If any of those three entries, represented by Giant Expectations, War Story, and Giuseppe the Great or Game Over (both Also Eligibles) earns over $1 million in purses, Stronach gets his million back and any additional winnings are distributed to everyone. What a guy!

But it's down on the track where things really get ugly. The Gulfstream track, rebuilt in 2006, is supposed to be 1-1/8 miles, nine furlongs around. But it's actually 17 feet longer. To further the screw-up, the track can't get right the calibrations of it's timing when a race is run at that distance - even with Trakus, a GPS system with transmitters tucked in each horse's saddle. But Gulfstream is happier as a casino and shopping mall, and I heard that if you do a day at the races, there are about 13.65 seats where you can actually see the horses run.

There is a "run up" from the gate to where the clockers start timing. Where is that? It caused all kinds of problems last year in Arrogate's win, which was eventually called a track record. You can't trust split times in those races at Gulfstream. Add in chronic timing ineptitude at Gulfstream anyway and you have a real cluster . . .

But wait, there's more. The run from the gate to the first turn in a nine-furlong race is almost instant, in racing terms, making an outside post extremely disadvantageous to horses breaking from the outside. They either empty their gas tanks to get to the front on the turn or are left hopelessly behind.

The Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker explains the ramifications:

There have been 223 horses to break from posts 9 through 14 at the same distance (from 2006 up to 2017's Pegasus), and only 10 of them won. And at the current Gulfstream meet, posts 8 through 14 going two turns on the main track are 0 for 25.

So I'll give you one guess.

Gun Runner, named 2017's Horse of the Year at the Horsey Oscars on Thursday night and 4-5 favorite as of now, drew post 10! Is he so much better that he'll pull a Big Brown and overpower them all? And at what price? 'Runner may conceivably go off at value better than even money or 3-2, but he'd still be a false favorite. Keep an eye on the pools, but I don't see a bridge jumper scenario. Just tasty odds on bums delicious enough to run away like a greyhound from a lucky post, that's all. Watchmaker likes Gunnevera, so after I tossed him, now I have to take another look.

So who do we like? Notice how I said we when it really is just me? Like those hacks who predict 10 wins for the Bears every August.

Your Glamour Profession includes West Coast (post 2), the mare Stellar Wind (3), Sharp Azteca (4), Collected (5), Gunnevera (6) and War Story (8). If you believe the post voodoo, which will affect my bets, this about covers it.

Bob Baffert's West Coast, coming in 6-for-8 including second to Gun Runner's terrific Breeders' Cup Classic win last out, seems to have everything going his way. I like the fact Sharp Azteca ran a little over a month ago in winning the Cigar Mile over the respectable Mind Your Biscuits. Stellar Wind, a daughter of the mighty Curlin, is past her best days but she knows how to win and is new to the barn of Chad Brown, who is, that's right, 24 percent with transfers into his posse.

Collected, who was faster than Paladin coming in, was beaten handily by Gun Runner in the BC Classic and finished third last out in the Grade II San Antonio the day after Christmas. All together now, scratch your heads.

Watchmaker sees Gunnevera closing, but I don't see how. His last win was in a $107K non-graded here and, like a one-hit wonder, he's been living off a Fountain of Youth win 10 months ago. BUT, he seems the closest thing to a horse for the course and does have two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures coming in so he might be one of those improving four-year-olds that we love so much, as long as we can find them. I'd still like to get more than his 15-1 morning line.

Post nine's Toast of New York is an interesting story, having run just once since 2014's BC Classic, sandwiched in Place between Bayern and California Chrome. But he won a minor stakes at Lingfield in England in prep for this race and has the legendary Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori aboard. OK, I will.

Gun Runner? He' not a great horse. Strike one. I'm not really impressed with the company he's kept. Strike two. He's got that horrible post. Strike three. He'll still be a horrible price. Strike four. Is that too many strikes? Yeah, that's too many strikes.

Out in the Everglades in post 12, the ageless wonder Gary Stevens, the heartthrob of millions after playing George "The Iceman" Woolf in that real horse racing movie Seabiscuit, promises that his Giant Expectations will come huntin' for bear, ready to run. I believe him, he's earned it, but he's no dummy and Mama always said if you don't have anything nice to say about your post position draw . . . But, c'mon! Did you see how he rocked that hat (free horse tip if anyone can tell me specifically what kind of hat that is) before piloting Seabiscuit against War Admiral, and . . .? Aw, go watch the movie. The 'Biscuit knows.

Your Tee and Vee is the big peacock NBC, 3:30. I can't confirm if Bob Costas is going to be there, and the suspense is in no way killing me.

The Pegasus doesn't really have much impact or context on things, but I'm looking forward to it and, as always, my eyes will be big as saucers on the handicapping roller coaster, without even having to make a wagering account deposit. And, they're off!

* * * * *

You never want to end on a sad note.

So I'll do this: Call it heartwarming and heroic, inspiring, even though there is sadness involved.

When California's Lilac Fire literally swept through northern San Diego County, in its way was San Luis Rey Downs, a vital horse training facility close to Del Mar Race Track and serving Southern California and points outlying.

There are so many stories, even though it happened so fast. These are just things I heard.

In the time it took to run from the front gate, or get out of your car, the flames attacked. The stable workers only had enough time to open the stall doors and get the horses out, if the horses agreed to it. Some didn't.

When you watch the race Saturday and they have video of Gun Runner in his stall munching on a tuft of hay, you'll see how happy he is. That's his home, his safe room, his.

Some of those San Luis Rey horses wouldn't come out, some ran back in to "safety." Many horses died, some, by many accounts, nearly instantly. Many people were badly burned. Trainers Joe Herrick and Martine Bellocq kept going back in, kept going back in, and were severely burned. They wouldn't have done anything else.

The strategy was to depend on the horses' instincts, out of their stalls, to get to the training track, gather on the track, in the infield. Thankfully, many of them did. Some just kept running and had to be found.

The horse racing and horse care community, of America, really, and other people who only love the horses, mobilized faster than a 21 and 2 first quarter split.

Del Mar opened its barns to take them in. Horse vans poured in for transportation. Hay and feed and straw for the stall beds made its way there. Everything from food to money to water to diapers was sent to help the notoriously underpaid and poor backstretch families. Veterinarians with their medicine came in to help the horses, who most definitely needed it.

My impression is that all these people thought about was saving the horses, and then taking care of them afterwards. Famous trainers called in their favors, used their own resources, and tangible assets were tapped into. They knew what they had to do and where the stuff they needed was to do it.

I'll mourn what this did to those horses and I'll keep the best thought I can for the people who helped them to recover.

Yes, there is a lot of sadness. We know we love all the four-leggeds, and it's up to us to take care of them.

But how good do you feel when you see people selflessly rise up to such occasions, with no designs on the idolatry that so many smaller people - we know who they are, but they don't of course - demand these days?

With requisite restraint, that's a really happy feeling.


Tom Chambers is our correspondent on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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