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.