May 22, 2011
While there were a lot of short-priced winners during the day at Simulcast, such was not the case at Pimlico in the Preakness. Instead it was Shackleford, a speedball, who pulled a "Rachel Alexandra" and led from wire-to-wire, holding off the Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, to get the honors in the middle jewel of racing's elusive Triple Crown.
Animal Kingdom went from being a big-time longshot to the 23-10 favorite in just two weeks, the result of his win in the Kentucky Derby. After Shackleford and Flashpoint blitzed through the opening quarter in tandem in :22.3, the half-mile time of :46.4 and three-quarters split of 1:12 appeared to show that the early action was doing just as expected, setting the race up for the stalkers and come-from-behinders. Instead the easing of the pace allowed the Derby pacesetter, Shackleford, to have some gas left in the tank and allowed him to repel the late challenges of the likes of Animal King, Astrology and an unthreatening Dialing In. Arkansas Derby third place finisher, Dance City, appeared poised to be a factor in the middle of the track coming off the final turn, but failed to sustain any kind of threatening move and had to settle for fifth.
I'm sure the fans of Animal Kingdom had to think that they were in great shape a furlong out, when the Kentucky Derby winner was rallying down the middle of the track and Shackleford was due to back up. It just didn't happen. Kudos to Shackleford. He ran to his good looks and pulled off something of a shocker at $12.60-1 odds.
The next time the top three-year-olds gather, it will be for the Belmont Stakes on June 11. The mile-and-a-half Belmont is a totally different challenge and trainer Graham Motion has already signalled that he probably bring Animal Kingdom back for that one. Since there is significant bonus money attached to his appearance, one can expect to see Shackleford as well. Add to that twosome the likes of Nehro and Alternation and you have a race which will have plenty of attraction for Simulcast fans at Oaklawn.
As it was a Standing Room Only crowd jammed into the first floor Simulcast area at Oaklawn on Saturday and, even though there were less than standout performances from Oaklawn-raced horses in most of the day's major events, the crowd seemed quite upbeat and sincerely interested in racing at all levels. When you have so many great races at Pimlico added to such popular tracks as Churchill Downs, Louisiana Downs, Arlington, Lone Star and Delaware, you have a menu of racing to which the local horseplayers can identify. It made for a fun day and whetted the appetites for such big days as Memorial Day and Belmont Stakes Day. Even without an Oaklawn superstar on the national scene this year, the genuine interest of the Arkansas racing fans is evident.
As for our handicapping, there were plusses and minuses. Including our pick of Dance City in the Preakness, there were a total of 21 selections for the day with seven winners. That .333 percentage is good. The problem is that a $2 win ticket on each one yielded only $38.10, for a loss of $3.90 for the day. Like I said, it was a "chalky day". That makes us 26 for 87 for the Summer Simulcast season, or just below the 30% required of a professional handicapper to keep his integrity. The 87 choices have yielded winnings of $196.80 for a $2 win wager, which is still an 11% profit. The profit margin is dropping somewhat. As a handicapper I feel my back to the wall. I was only 3-11 in stakes races this week. It makes stakes races look like my weakness right now. They need more work and I have until next Saturday to improve on that number. Unfortunately next Saturday may not have the appealing stakes events which will be offered on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30. However, I'll make an effort to contribute to your financial success on Saturday, nevertheless.
My last thoughts for this week center on the three-year-old group. Naturally I'm disappointed that thus far the group which raced at Oaklawn has not taken down one of the big prizes. Nehro has come close and will have significant followers in the Belmont, as will Alternation. But more importantly, the class has really not produced a likely champion. Animal Kingdom has a leg up on the title, but Nehro could easily take that away with a win in the Belmont. We will have to wait for the important three-year-old races of the summer, like Monmouth's Haskell or the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga to come up with a real leader of the crop. Then it might be the fall, when three-year-olds have to start taking on older horses or opt for the Super Derby as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic in order to establish a true champion.
I am still of the opinion that the best three-year-olds may still be in Europe. Runners like Frankel and Carlton House are European names which may steal some of the thunder from this year's American class. They bear watching. Even though the Europeans are making their reputations on turf, we only have to go back a couple of years to see how the invaders can swoop up the big honors from the American group at Breeders' Cup. This is one year where there's some real suspense. Too bad the American sports public is so absorbed with NFL, NBA and MLB that it can't get into this discussion. To those of us who have dedicated our passion to racing, it's every bit as compelling as a sports story.