May 15, 2011
All hail to Alternation. He went from the horse who was crazy in the starting gate, to the horse who started in a walk in the Arkansas Derby, to the grinding winner of Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. He's come a long way and now appears to have a bright future.
No such luck for this handicapper, who would have been shut out had there not been a track called Delaware Park on Saturday. Delaware yielded three winners of yours truly, all Oaklawn-raced horses, and saved what would have been a total disaster.
First things first. Alternation had given a good accounting of himself all spring until the incident in the starting gate on Rebel Day at Oaklawn. He had faced two allowance fields and won both in come-from-behind style. His Rebel experience clearly had more impact on him than even trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel could have expected. In spite of numerous trips to the starting gate, he virtually walked out of the starting gate in the Arkansas Derby and had the simple consolation of finishing fifth in that 13-horse field.
What struck me, watching the race on TVG, was how the reporters kept returning to the idea that the Arkansas Derby this year is a "key race". That is a terminology which means alot to serious handicappers. Alternation only enhanced that theory with his grinding win on Saturday in Belmont's Peter Pan Stakes and now he looks like a serious Belmont Stakes contender. A mile-and-a-half at Belmont, the distance he would be required if he is spotted in the Belmont Stakes, is a race often won by a grinding sort. It often lacks real pace and goes to the horse which can grind out the ten furlongs best. Alternation could very well be that kind of horse.
Alternation is now 4-6 in his career and still in the hunt for three-year-old honors. Animal Kingdom's win in the Kentucky Derby obviously puts him at the head of the class, followed closely by Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky Derby runnerup, Nehro. Alternation could easily take the third spot in that category off the style of his win on Saturday.
Next Saturday's Preakness will certainly impact the standings. It appears Dance City and Sway Away, from the "key race" Arkansas Derby will be certain starters at Pimlico. Nehro has an outside chance of ending up in the field as well. From that group will come the likely candidates to meet up with Alternation at Belmont on June 11. Oaklawn horses have enjoyed great success in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes over recent years, so the chances are very realistic that Simulcast fans at Oaklawn will be visiting the cashier's window backing their own horses in the next two legs of the Triple Crown.
While we celebrate the success of Alternation in the Peter Pan, we want to assess what we saw with Uncle Brent in the same race. Trainer Lynn Whiting is a smart veteran and the right man to be handling the talented Northern Spur Stakes winner. But Lynn has seen two occasions now where his charge has not handled rating successfully. Blessed with good speed, Uncle Brent would appear to have some limitations as to how he can be ridden and probably to the distances he runs.
It would be nice if he were to race effectively at a mile-and-an-eighth, since there are so many nice derbies around the country for which he would be a tough competitor. However Whiting and owner Charles Cella have never been the sort to dodge tough competition, so my guess is that they will try to find graded stakes competition at a distance that will suit both his pedigree and running style. I'd be surprised to find him far back in his subsequent races. He's too good a horse to be back in the pack when they go under the finish line.
Also back in the pack yesterday was my handicapping. Were it not for Oaklawn-raced horses at Delaware Park, I'd have pitched a shutout on the day. Fortunately three of my 13 picks (one was scratched) managed to win and all at Delaware. It makes the Simulcast Season record 19 for 66, or under the 30% minimum grade for success. The picks have scored for a total of $158.70 for a $2 win ticket on each, so we're still playing at a profit. But that is a small consolation when we get the chance to pick our favorites from the many great horses which race on Saturday afternoon. It's little consolation that there were three seconds and two thirds in the picks. You're looking for winners and we need to be doing a better job for you.
We can look for some great racing with top runners coming out in the next few weeks with the Preakness this coming weekend and a series of Grade I races peppering the schedule right through Belmont weekend. Some of our favorite horses are running and that should improve our scorecard.
In the meantime I notice that this is starting to be the season for the real stars to come out in Europe and England at the same time. It reminds us that those horses have major impact on Breeders' Cup events in November. The great mare Goldikova will be back in action and you'll hear names like Canford Cliffs, Frankel, Workforce, So You Think, Snow Fairy and Black Caviar alot in the next few weeks. Keep them in the back of your mind, because they will come into play when Breeders' Cup is presented at Churchill Downs in November.
I also want to make sure you know that you are invited to join up with a group of us going to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe race at Longchamp in Paris in early October. If you're interested in our trip, contact me at Oaklawn through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'd love to have more racing fans with us on that Sunday in Paris. I'll be happy to send you the details. But don't wait too long. We have to make a commitment in the next month.