Murmurs of discontent about track maintenance are circulating.
An unfortunate incident occured in October 9’s ninth race when Primal Fear broke down (reportedly fractured a leg) 600 metres out. As his jockey desperately tried to pull him up, Uncle Vernon was brought down and apprentice Richard Henry fell from Nevada. This only added fuel to an already smoldering fire of speculation that the track was to blame.
But, before wielding swords or sending fire-breathing dragons for the Promoter’s track maintenance staff, let’s consider alternative explanations. As a four year old in October, Primal Fear had run only 22 races lifetime. Of those to run in that fateful race, only importee Stranger Danger (19 lifetime starts; Atlantic Blue (14 lifetime starts); and Lalala Bamba (19 career starts) had raced fewer times than Primal Fear.
The eventual easy winner, Duke, was running for the forty-second time. Clearly, something has been amiss with Primal Fear for some time. I welcomed his return to 2020 form after months in the doldrums and accurately predicted near-at-hand successes in two recent columns Pace makes every race (August 6)and Backing favourites is a mug’s game (August 20). In an industry where any longer absence than two months is suspicious, Primal Fear wasn’t seen at the races between March 4/June 20, 2020 (3½ months); then, after one bad run, not again until August 22 (two months); after which he produced a purple patch of form until flopping miserably on December 23 then was missing in action for more than two months. He was slowly into stride on December 23 and again on his return in late February.
This is a horse with problems that cannot be blamed on a poorly maintained race track.
Another consideration is apparent only to those of us who understand the handicapping science of track variants which are used to produce accurate speed figures that allow us to compare performances at different distances and at different tracks. The science was “discovered” by iconic American horse player Andrew Beyer whose 1994 book “Picking Winners” is a must read for anyone wanting to learn how to bet on horses. Lazy Americans have used his technique to produce speed figures for all distances despite Beyer’s stern warning they are best for sprints and definitely of no use at races longer than 1600 metres. Still, track variant computations remain applicable to all tracks including Caymanas Park and will clinically expose a poorly maintained track. Whenever Track Variants show a track faster than one-fifth of a second per 200m, it needs attention. Tracks slower than that benchmark need proper grading.
Track Variants for the last seven race days (starting September 15) don’t suggest any such abnormality. Per 200m numbers (scroll down to the Clockwise Department for a detailed explanation of how to read these numbers) are +0.1; +0.1; -0.1; -0.3; -0.5; -0.1; and -0.3. The complaints are not supported by science.
One last thing (said Lieutenant Colombo): We have a dysfunctional connect between the Breeding and racing industries resulting in two-year-old races starting to be run later and later every year. Breeders don’t break yearlings nor are they trotted at the farm. So owners buy expensive yearlings in November and pay excessive training fees for horses to do nothing for months and then be taught to wear a saddle. By August of their 2yo year, owners’ outlay is in the millions without even a run to show for it. Some trainers, for myriad reasons including trying too hard to satisfy anxious owners, push unready two-year-olds to gallop resulting in tendon and ligament damage.
No matter which way you look at it, the track is not to blame.
Abbreviations: CT = “Corrected Time”; TV = “Track Variant” (a calculation of track conditions’ effect on official times to arrive at “real/corrected” times); TVs are expressed in fifths of a second; “minus” (-) means a fast track; “plus” (+) a slow track (e.g -2 is fast by 2/5th second). Variants beside horse’s names represent the difference between its official time and the grade standard.
OCTOBER 2, 2021 [TV-0.1 per 200m (Round)]
UNRULY BOSS (-11) looked like something special (Race 1; 3yonw2; 1200m; TV-0’) drawing right off final 200m to beat a decent field by 9½ lengths in 1:12.1 which is only 1/5th second slower than the time clocked over the identical trip by She’s A Wonder four hours later. His CT (1:12.1’)is 3/10th second faster than Open Allowance standard. He’s one to follow.
APHELIOS (2nd)/IT’S A BOY (3rd) (-5) were separated by a neck (nose behind winner) so all clocked 1:13.2 (Race 6; 3yonw2; 1200m; TV-0’). Their CTs (1:13.2) is 9/10th second faster than the grade so both have one of these to win. The first-named remains one to follow.
KHOLBEAR (-6) was a neck second to High Diplomacy in what could be a KEY RACE (Race 9; 4yonw3; 1400m; TV-1). His time (1:26.4) converts to CT (1:27.0) which is a full second faster than non-winners of three. He’s nailed on for one of these.
SWEET N SMART/TOMOHAWK/AJITA (-4) finished 3rd/4th/5th respectively jointly clocking 1:27.1 (CT 1:27.2) which is 3/5th second faster than the grade. The 3rd, an importee, remains unexposed especially over 1400+ and ran in first time visors so should have more to come. The 4th needs further (should be best around two turns) while the 5th has the least scope for improvement but is best suited by around 1400 and, as a filly, can be depended upon to continue to blossom in 2021.
Overseas Betting Opportunities (OBOs)
It’s Champions Day at Ascot tomorrow with the prospect of the Jockeys’ Title (defending Champ Oisin Murphy leads William Buick by five at time of writing) being decided on the day. Although I must write before final declarations/post positions are known, we’ll take an early flutter or three:
Race 1: Long Distance Cup (Group 2; 3yo+; 1m7f209y; 1325GMT; 7.25am JT)
Despite Stradivarius being everybody’s sentimental favourite, ante-post markets are headed by Alan King’s Trueshan who beat Stradivarius impressively by 4½ lengths in the Group 1 Prix du Cadran (October 2; Longchamp; very soft; 2m4f). Old boy Stradivarius likes to hear his hooves rattle these days so is unlikely to reverse that form but, over this shorter trip both could be vulnerable to a progressive 4yo like BARON SAMEDI who won the Belmont Gold Cup (2m; yielding) then was 2¼ lengths 3rd to Sonnyboyliston in the 13f Irish St. Leger.
Race 2: Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1; 6f; 1400GMT; 8.00am JT)
Starman has been retired so Dragon Symbol (100-30) heads the betting but, despite his sensational Royal Ascot win (then disqualification) in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup (heavy) he has only won once on turf while his record on synthetics is a perfect 3 for 3. Lots of likely front-runners here so we should look for seven furlong types with the speed to win at six like Kinross and CREATIVE FORCE 1st and 2nd respectively (separated by a neck) in Glorious Goodwood’s Lennox Stakes (Group 2; 7f; soft). The latter is the more progressive type so gets the nod.
Race 3: Champions Fillies & Mares (Group 1; 1m3f211y; 1435GMT; 8.35 JT)
The Gosdens had several strings to their bow for this race so the decision to send out only FREE WIND, winner of four of her five lifetime starts, is a hint that should be taken. She has won on varied ground but did show marked progress on good to firm last time out.
Race 4: British Champions Mile (Group 1; 3yo+; 1m; 1510GMT; 9.10am JT)
PALACE PIER ((BANKER BET) is the best miler in Europe. Full. Stop. Whatever beats him wins!
Race 5: Champion Stakes (Group 1; 3yo+; 1m1f212y; 1550GMT; 9.50am JT)
A thrilling race in the offing as impressive Juddmonte International winner Mishriff takes on Derby hero Adayar (4th in the Arc de Triomphe). The race isn’t confined to these especially as the former seems best left-handed and the latter might be feeling the effects of a tough race 13 days ago. Last year’s winner ADDEYBB has been kept fresh for this (only three races in 2021) and looks a mouth-watering bet.
Race 6: Balmoral Handicap (Class 2; 3yo+; 1m; 1630GMT; 10.30am JT)
A massive cavalry charge as usual but ALDAARY (NAP) is a progressive and unexposed three year old who loves it at Ascot and on soft (three of his four losses have come on good to firm) so he fits the bill perfectly.
The jumps are upon us so let’s try a Notebook Horse from that discipline:
THYME HILL [7yo b.g. Kayf Tara-Rosita Bay (Hernando)] is a lightly-raced hurdler (5 wins from 7 starts) who signed off last season with a neck win over Roksana at Aintree in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle (3m½f). He has schooled well over fences but Philip Hobbs is likely to give him another season over the sticks which means there’s no limit to what he can achieve. One to follow!