The 74th Santa Anita Handicap had it all: drama, action, controversy, and in the end, a ground-breaking victory. A four-year old won the race as expected, and a horse who is eligible for a non-winners of two lifetime was second, but neither spot was filled by the horse expected to fill it. The favorites were off the board, and a parade of longshots filled the superfecta. Instead of the sweet coronation of Twirling Candy, the other "Dude" from the Bob Baffert barn hit the wire first over the horse who everyone last year was gaga over not being in the Kentucky Derby. Let's break down this scrum of a race.
First, here is the replay:
This blog watched the race from the walkway that separates the two levels of box seats on the finish line. The fractions were quick early on, with First Dude and Aggie Engineer on the lead after a half-mile, with Game On Dude just off. A tugging Twirling Candy and Setsuko (right) sat right behind them. After three-quarters, Game On Dude had moved up on the leaders, and Twirling Candy was four-wide a length back, with Setsuko on his outside. As they turn for home, First Dude and Aggie Engineer back out of it, with Game On Dude taking the lead four-wide. Twirling Candy and Setsuko made their move even wider out, and that is where the drama begins. The bumping that ensues will lead to a decision that will be debated for years. At the wire, Game On Dude just hangs on over Setsuko, with Quindici Man finishing third, Soul Candy fourth and Twirling Candy fading to fifth.
The inquiry light went up, and the replay repeated over and over on the jumbotron. The crowd buzzed with people arguing whether or not someone should be DQ'ed. This blog engaged in a lively discussion with several of his friends and some complete strangers about the incident, including one man who offered a proposition of $100 that the horse would be taken down. (This blog declined) After a lengthy inquiry, the stewards decided in a split decision that there would be no change to the order of finish. A cascade of boos rained down from the grandstand as Game On Dude (right) entered the winner's circle. Miss Sutherland required a four-guard escort back to the jocks room. The post-race interviews were drowned by the continued jeering of the crowd.
But this blog feels that the lack of a DQ was the right call. Why?
First, let's establish the runners at the 1:49 mark of the video. Game On Dude is on the inside, Twirling Candy is in the middle and Setsuko is on the outside. As the trio turns for home, Twirling takes a wider arc coming out of the turn than expected, causing him to push Setsuko slightly out. This kind of move happens in racing every day without disqualification. However, it is important to point out. Game On Dude takes the turn normal, and there is about a path of separation between him and Candy. As they straighten out in the stretch (4:30 mark on the video), Setsuko is bumped slightly by Twirling Candy. Rosario then pulls Candy towards the rail (and Game On Dude) to straighten out the horse and more importantly, to get Candy to change leads. This causes Candy to slowly drift to the right. When Rosario attempts to switch leads and Twirling Candy's back end comes around slightly, he and Game On Dude make contact at the exact moment G.O.D. is being whipped left-handed by Chantal, at the second whip strike. This leads to Twirling being pinballed between the two and backing out of the race.
Now, the fact that Twirling Candy had been pulling for most of the race up until that point lends to the belief that he was already giving his all when they turned for home. This is reinforced by Candy floating wide through the turn, with the subsequent bump with Setsuko as they straighten out, aiding this belief. When Rosario attempted to initiate the lead change, Candy's body reacted by drifting more than normal, causing his back end to lean further towards Game On Dude. This meant that when the contact was made, it caused G.O.D. to spin out more than normal. This exacerbated the visual effect of the bumping for the crowd, leading to the obvious negative reaction. Candy backed up, but this blog believes that too much of his problems were caused by him to warrant a disqualification. While this bump did affect Setsuko, he had every chance to win the race after the incident. If he maintains a straight course, he probably beats G.O.D. to the wire. But he lugs in from the 6-7 path all the way to the 2-3 path by the time they reach the wire. This ducking in cost him more ground than what he was beaten by at the wire.
There is my take. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below. For a different take on the race from someone else who witnessed the race live on track, please visit my fellow TBA blog member Amateurcapper, who states that G.O.D. should have been DQ'ed all the way to 5th, behind Twirling Candy.