Monday, March 7, 2011

Big Cap Full of Controversy

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.


  1. >> Miss Sutherland required a four-guard escort back to the jocks room.

    Hope you got a pic of that to save for posterity. LOL

    DQ all the way - Dime.
    I don't see how anyone can utilize Twirling Candy's "brush" with another horse as the catalyst for the two blatant bumps by Game on Dude.

    The first bump occurs at the end of the sequence of whipping - that what was the key to it all. The fact that he was straightened out - he veered right and bumped again! That's a tiring horse/weak jockey right there that altered the outcome of the race.

    A 'mere brush' with a Game on Dude should not have caused a Game on Dude to veer out sharply as he did. That's why I am led to believe it was the whipping that started it.

    By not DQing the stewards put themselves in a dangerous position where they'll have to allow for more rough riding at Santa Anita.

  2. Dime man-I have to respect your comments on this, especially since you were there and I was not. From my vantage point watching on TV I tend to agree with you and I thought Candy started it all, and think the visual effect you speak about slanted viewers to think Dude and Chantel was the problem. Thanks for your take.

  3. I was with you all the way Ten Cents. Then I read The Knight Sky and have been watching the replay of the stretch run for the last 10 minutes. Game on Dude lugged out terribly, which I hadn't focused on before. Lugged out twice. I don't think it affected the outcome for Setsuko at all -totally agree hge lost ground coming in to the 2 path. And assuming TC was already too tired, then it didn't affect him either. But ... if TC had some more get up and go in him, he could have finished higher than he did had he not been bumped by Game on Dude. Interesting situation to make a ruling on for the stewards!! Really tough call!

  4. Hey Chris!
    It just seems to me that Setsuko was playing nice, minding his own business, got bumped TWICE, ( and banged up,as we found out later)and still almost won.
    I think that Victor encouraged him to get closer as he was closing in on GOD, ( right handed ) so he could SEE him, I don't think he was lugging in. I truly think that all the craziness, NOT ANY of it caused by him ( but by horse of the world TC and left handed Chantal...just kidding... I think Chantal is a very good rider and TC is a very nice horse but...) but I think that DQ could have /should have been allowed. After all, Scott Chaney said it was a 50-50 deal, then why go one way and not the other.
    It must have been interesting being there.

  5. TKS,
    My friend Zach has footage of the escort.

    Twirling Candy made contact as Chantal was whipping Game on Dude. That is why the first bump looks so bad. As for the second contact, it makes perfect sense that he would keep lugging. Using the NASCAR example, when the car gets spun from contact in the quarter panel, the front end of the car turns towards the car that hit it. If that driver saves the car from spinning out, he isn't back in the same path he was before the contact. He is in a lane either in front or to the opposite side of the car that made contact with it. Same thing with a horse. G.O.D. needed some strides to correct from the contact. That is why he continued to lug.

  6. Dime,

    Thanks for the link. Methinks we could watch this together and still see the race differently.

    The more I watch it, Sutherland race rode off the turn to tighten up TC/Rosario. G.O.D. was already drifting in coming into the stretch to take up the space left by AGGIE and FD backing up. Take a gander at my picture again, they were clearly in the 2 path, TC 3 wide, SETSUKO 4 wide.

    She sensed the race was happening outside w/SETSUKO charging hardest, just like Rosario did. Joel brushed SETSUKO to raise TC's fight instinct believing G.O.D. was done. Now the outside pair were in the 4 and 5 paths. Mike Willman stated that paths aren't established until they straighten away for the stretch. Okay, that's how Chantal would have argued. At this point, no real harm was done, just the usual turn stuff we see in nearly every race.

    Sutherland whacked G.O.D. twice coming off the turn left handed, which is rare because it causes a horse to corner wide (see '05 Preakness, SCRAPPY T into AFLEET ALEX). She got away with those two strikes this time.

    Then, she whacked him hard twice more straightening for home. That's when the big incident occurs...the winners came out severely and even Trevor called G.O.D. "shifting out" instead of TC coming in.

    That's because what you believe was TC's fault, the slight move down toward the rail, happened because SETSUKO cornered tight and straightened faster as he'd already switched to his right lead. That bumped TC onto his right lead at the 4:17 mark, still without contact to G.O.D. Simultaneously, G.O.D.'s rear came out in response to the first of the two rat-a-tats (also seen at 4:17).

    The second of the two strikes shoved G.O.D.'s hind into TC which caused the pinball into SETSUKO, forcing TC back onto his left lead and causing him to tire. SETSUKO, on his right lead the entire stretch and bumped/injured, succumbed to G.O.D. in deep stretch.

    I believe you are seeing the second incident, TC's hind pushed out causing his fore to overcorrect at the same time the second strike occured.

    I also believe, no whip in this instance for any jockey, hands and heels only, the trouble never occurs.

    I guess we'll be left to debate this, as you said, for years.

    Thanks for the link.

  7. Amateurcapper wrote:

    I also believe, no whip in this instance for any jockey, hands and heels only, the trouble never occurs.

    You go man!

  8. If TC was so much horse, why not take hold and swing wide for the final drive, instead of attempting to barrel thru between horses with a rank and headstrong animal?