Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Best Ride Last Weekend Almost No One Saw

Last weekend, while the eyes of the horse racing nation were on Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park ran the Grade 2 Mervyn Leroy Handicap. The race went off at the same time as the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard, so very few saw this race. This four horse race featured multiple graded stakes winner Sidney's Candy. With only four horses in the field, Sidney figured to get an easy lead under rider Alonso Quinonez and go gate-to-wire. But that did not happen. Why?

Many jockeys these days are afraid of going after the lone speed in a race, trying to avoid a speed duel. We even witnessed this in the Kentucky Derby, where all the speed pulled back, allowing Shackleford to get an easy lead and hang on for 4th. They fear that trying to apply some pressure to the speed horse will cause their mount to go too fast and lose the race. But it is that pressure that is key to preventing a gate-to-wire winner. Tyler Baze provides a textbook definition to why this is true on his ride of Crown of Thorns in the Mervyn Leroy.

After Sidney's Candy gets an easy first quarter in 24:05, it looks like this will be another merry-go-round race where they don't catch him. Crown of Thorns is sitting a little more than a length and a half off of him, not applying any real pressure. But as they reach the 6 furlong pole, Tyler makes the tactical decision in moving Crown of Thorns onto Sidney's flank, sitting just a length off.

This causes Sidney to go through the second quarter in a much quicker 23:17. Tyler keeps Crown of Thorns right off of Sidney's Candy through that acceleration for that quarter mile, preventing Sidney from getting separation. Like many speed horses, those easy middle fractions are key to going gate-to-wire. Tyler knows this, and is still on Sidney's flank with a 1/2 mile to go.

By the time they hit the stretch, Sidney does not have that needed separation on his main foe. Tyler is able to grind his way past on Crown of Thorns to an eventual length and a half victory. This tactical race ride is the key to this victory. This blog applauds Tyler Baze for the savvy ride, and hope that his comeback from the DL is filled with many more stakes wins.

Here's the full replay of the race:

This race is a template in showing how applying pressure, but not engaging in a speed duel, is key to undoing the chances of a gate-to-wire threat on paper. In-race tactics are what separate the mediocre riders from those who you can have faith in putting your last two dollars on. Good luck on your future wagers.


  1. I am very pleased that you decided to devote a column to Tyler Baze's ride on Crown of Thorns in the Mervyn LeRoy. As you know from our conversation the day of the Mervyn LeRoy, I rarely get excited about, or attach much significance to, a jockey's ride. Tyler Baze in the Mervyn LeRoy was an exception. Tyler's decision to keep Crown of Thorns right on Sidney's Candy's flank was a winning move.

    Prior to the race, I really believed that Sidney would falter in deep stretch if Crown of Thorns could stay within a length of him down the backstretch. However, I wasn't confident enough in Tyler employing such a strategy to make the wager my gut was telling me to make(Crown on top of Sidney in a straight exacta). You told me that I should trust Tyler, that he was one of what appears to be a small group of riders that gets pace. I should have listened because in what appeared to be a terrible betting race, the Crown of Thorns-Sidney's Candy exacta paid surprisingly decent.

  2. I wonder what your opinion of the Hollywood meet is so far. I've been out there three times. There' hasn't been much on-track buzz from the sparse crowds. However, I think the quality of racing has been solid. Unlike the Santa Anita dirt speedway, the Hollywood Park Cushion Track has been playing very slow, with the positive being that elite horses are better able to put up final times considerably faster than their lower class brethren. The result has been a surprising number of big Beyers, surprising because synth surfaces are known for producing, on average, lower Beyers than dirt tracks.

    One of the reasons that synth tracks typically produce low Beyers is that jockeys ride synth races similar to turf races, with slow early paces and fast, blanket finishes. It's difficult to put up a solid final time if the early pace is slow. Another reason is that many synth surfaces have played very fast(SA Cushion and Pro-Ride), with even low class runners posting fast times. If low class horses are putting up 6 furlongs in 1:09, it would take a stakes horse running 1:06 to get the requisite separation from the lower class horse(as it concerns final times) to warrant a big fig.

    In the past, Hollywood Park Cushion Track produced moderate times, although on some days it could be quite quick. This year, at least so far this meet, the Cushion Track has almost been "dead"; we're seing times in the 1:11-1:12 range for 6 furlongs, 1:46 for 8.5 furlongs.

    But there have been exceptions to these average times. Because Cushion Track has a history of being a little more kind to speed horses than most other synth tracks, jockeys haven't been strangling their mounts early like they do so often on these other synth tracks. Combine jockeys riding something close to "normal" in terms of early pace with the dead track, and the result has been superior Beyers. Jockeys have been riding the top level horses with the appropriate aggression, and a hanful of horses have responded with huge efforts.

    In just 4 weeks of the Hollywood Meet, M One Rifle and Cost of Freedom ran 114 and 112 Beyers in the Cool Frenchy Stakes, Amazombie earned a 108 in the Tiznow, and Coil earned a 106 in an allowance race. In the entire Santa Anita winter meet, aside from opening day, the two top maintrack Beyers were MacLean's Music's 114 and Euroears' 107(The Factor ran a 109 and Twirling Candy/Smiling Tiger ran 108 Beyers on opening day). The top Beyer at Santa Anita for a two-turn maintrack race over a mile was Twirling Candy's 102 in the Strub. Well, for winning the 8.5 furlong Mervyn LeRoy, Crown of Thorns posted a 101 Beyer.

    If one looks at the Daily Racing Form's Leaderboard of top Beyers of 2011, Santa Anita produced a total of 3 horses that earned maintrack Beyers of 104+, while Hollywood Park has already had 5. Twirling Candy was the only horse at Santa Anita in 2011 to run a maintrack Beyer of 101+ at a distance over a mile; with Crown of Thorns' Mervyn LeRoy, Hollywood Park has already equaled Santa Anita. If opening day of Santa Anita is included, the entire Santa Anita meet produced 7 horses with maintrack Beyers of 104+(the 3 from 2011-Maclean's Music, Euroears, and Misremembered's mile and the 4 from opening day-The Factor, Twirling Candy, Smiling Tiger, and Sidney's Candy in the 1 mile Sir Beaufort). If looking at races around 2 turns at the Santa Anita meet, including races at a mile, there were the 106 by Misremebered and the 104 by Sidney's Candy at a mile, and then Twirling Candy's 102 in the Strub(the lone maintrack Beyer over 101 at the SA meet beyond a mile); that's it! The current Hollywood Park meet is well on its to topping the SA meet, at least in terms of Beyers.

  3. For another savvy ride, give a watch to Lester Piggott on Royal Academy in the BC Mile. The colt was covered up, going nowhere and going to be in a pack of trouble, but Piggott was thinking about a furlong ahead of his mount, moved into the right spot, and was able to take advantage of openings to get a winning trip.