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All long days come with highs and lows.
Saturday's trajectory was remarkably symmetric, a midday apogee of Thoroughbred horse racing enjoyment Telstarred from a flawlessly executed Carnival halfway around the world, and the nadir a half-assed, why-bother attempt at conducting a seemingly important race in the run-up to America's most illustrious equine event. Chicken-egg validated as the national cable channel televising the race chose against even dispatching the award-winning analyst or Hall of Fame jockey to the venue. The center of American horse racing Saturday, just a day's ride from Hawthorne, this capsule couldn't have come near the aircraft carrier if it was on a string.
Dubai World Cup Day, the exclamation point on the Festival of Racing, starts here at 6:30 a.m. That's early, so I didn't get the wagering fired up until race four. But oh what a race it was.
Every player has an angle on every horse he considers. The four-horse in the UAE Derby (Grade II, 1-3/16ths miles, $2,000,000, Dirt) had never run on dirt. Batting .500 on turf and synthetic, he did win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last November. TVG analyst Simon Bray decreed that you never bet a low-priced horse trying something for the first time in the biggest race of his life. Full disclosure, I listened.
Hindsight is everything, so it now appears that trainer Aidan O'Brien, probably the best in the world, feels his Mendelssohn, son of the gone-too-soon Scat Daddy, can make the trip over again and parlay the Kentucky Derby eligibility points he earned into a bed of roses.
Mendelssohn, half-brother to the wonderful Beholder, rushed up to the lead in the two-lane by the time they hit the wire for the first time. Yulong Warrior poked ahead on the first turn, but by the time they hit the backstretch, Mendelssohn had wrestled the lead away. Full of energy every step of the way, Mendelssohn powered the turn, slungshot into the stretch and went and hid. Rayya and Reride couldn't hold on to the leash and Mendelssohn poured it on to win by an expanding 19 lengths.
My first thought was of his ability to make the trip to Kentucky, with the required quarantine at either Belmont or Arlington Park. Then, will he be the Derby favorite? Not unless the mass media touts the hell out of him, and he does not have a Sister Jean-cute hook. Plus, who'd he beat here? Rayya is a filly and the American Reride was only the winner of two minor stakes previously.
But whatever you do, don't forget this one. His race was that good.
Race five, the Al Quoz Sprint (Grade I, straightaway 6 furlongs, $1,000,000, Turf) buoyed my spirits as Jungle Cat, helped by the gate scratch of favorite Blue Point, held off Stormy Liberal for the win.
Mind Your Biscuits repeated in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (Grade I, 6 furlongs, $2,000,000, Dirt). Severe seconditis or worse in America, 'Biscuits apparently has to go across the world to win. But, um, he set a new Meydan track record of 1:10.12.
The undercard is often the most satisfying part of a boxing or racing gala, and we still had the main event, the Dubai World Cup (Grade I,10 furlongs, $10,000,000, Dirt) to go.
Before the race, Bob Baffert, trainer of 4-5 favorite West Coast, winner in the second-fastest Travers Stakes of all time last summer, seemed not in the least confident.
"He appears to have made the trip well, seems comfortable. We won't really know 'til the race." Baffert said. Are you nervous? "I'm always nervous," Baffert said, nervously.
Contender North America was left standing in the gate in the advantageous two-hole at the bell and Thunder Snow, who almost literally took three steps and stopped in last year's Kentucky Derby, and Christophe Soumillon scooted to the rail early on the first turn. He led the rest of the way, setting a new track record of 2:01.38. West Coast might have had a chance to catch him at the top of the stretch, but he never caught up and finished more than five back. Mubtaahij finished his typical third. North America finished last of 10.
At this point, the day's trajectory took a decided downturn. Yes, there were warning signs.
At 10 a.m., TVG, which had been doing just fine with the Dubai feed and all those British accents and Nick "The Sarge" Hines solid and measured in the California studio, burst on the air with absolutely make-it-stop annoying Todd Schrupp blasting the big day at: GULFSTREAM! Site of Saturday's Florida Derby. This is a won't-go-away guy who brings on acid reflux while he gets under your skin and scratches the blackboard and gives you paper cuts while listening to microphone feedback.
Gulfstream, which was a featured track on the old Horse Racing TV channel that TVG bought with British exchange betting money, must have TVG by the short ones like the Russians have the Orange Sherbet just up the coast from Hallandale, Florida.
By now, Gulfstream was playing all its post-time games - more on that later - and TVG lost all perspective.
They would cut immediately from a Dubai race to show a crap claimer race from Florida. Still screwing around with its post times, Gulfstream, for whom racing is nothing more than a rent-paying hole in the Pegasus mall down by the Sam Goody, sets up a $30,000 claiming race to go off at the same time as the $6,000,000(!), 1.5-mile Dubai Sheema Classic. What did TVG do? Showed 'em both SPLIT SCREEN!
I can only thank God I could watch the betting site stream, which has a better picture. But this is wholly indicative of the small insults and amenity deductions American institutions are so good at in pleasing themselves at the expense of all of us.
After a break, I watched but didn't get back into it until the Florida Derby. Lo and behold, NBC Sports Network comes on and analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey are in a studio somewhere. I felt so good that they all saw through the BS and didn't even go to Florida.
Audible won the race, but big effing deal. He hates to train. He's beaten nobody. I can't wait to see 19 other horses pass him by in Kentucky. I don't know how good he will be, but me and my friend the Hof did like Hofburg, and he finished a nice second.
Gulfstream's Post-Time Games
Gulfstream Park has been playing with its post times since I've been playing the horses. This season, it is out of control. A giant middle finger to the game.
I have seen races go off past post times anywhere from 10 minutes to 33 minutes. Also, Fair Grounds, the self-beleagured property from Churchill Downs Inc., ran the Louisiana Derby 31 minutes late last week. I will say I have never seen it at Arlington Park or at Hawthorne.
So what's the big deal?
If you've got a big day going, SPENDING MONEY at various tracks on a summer afternoon, it is absolutely aggravating to have two nice undercard races, or two features, go off at the same time, when one of them messed with the post. Only in America, and I mean that. In a Gulfstream post-parade, you'll see "0 Minutes to Post" for twice as long as the post countdown. How do a horse and jockey get ready?
As often happens, the racing media is not doing enough. Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker has mentioned it in his column, but it's always been a footnote at the bottom.
Jon Lindo at Gaming Today led with it a while back, but it's going to take above-the-fold prominence from the big boys to even start the discussion. Not that these tracks will listen. Podunk is as podunk does.
New York might be the best. You don't mess with Saratoga or Belmont. California is good. Kentucky is great.
The races in Dubai went off like clockwork on a perfectly prepared race course where race and jockey integrity are everything.
To answer your question, Gulfstream did a record handle Saturday.
No Rambler Renaissance
Nobody asked, but.
Fixed is a very harsh word, but I do think it happens by osmosis in many, or maybe most, sporting events.
No, Loyola did not do enough to win Saturday night. I think it's from the depths of the subconscious that the NCAA basketball tournament rises teams that can be called the usual suspects.
When the two Michigan guys nearly grasped hands to keep the middle Loyola guy out of the lane on a possible missed free throw, I thought that's another illegality they allow these days, although the Rambler should have swatted them away (foul!). When the Loyola guy, on the very same play, went straight up for the rebound, with no contact and the Michigan guy falling backwards into him, and the Loyola guy was called for an over-the-top foul, I knew it was over.
I made enough on the ponies to cover my Ramblers wagers, not that you should count on that. But it sure was a lot of fun watching them. They play the game the way it ought to be played. But there will be no renaissance. The coaches and players for the usual suspects are too lazy.
Tom Chambers is the Beachwood's longtime railbird. He welcomes your comments.