Thursday, 08 November 2018 15:44

Horses Humble Everyone

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October 17, 2018

Timing is Everything

By: Jonathan Stettin


If you are in this game at any level, at some point you are going to be humbled. There are two types of horse players; those that have been humbled, and those that will be humbled.

As with many aspects of life, it comes down to how you respond to these types of things. I suggest picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back into the fight.

If you backed Abel Tasman in the recently run Breeders' Cup Distaff, it was a humbling experience. While after the race she was easy to knock off the last poor performance, but to do that prior to the race, with conviction you'd have to believe two things. First, that Bob Baffert brings horses to big dances at less than their optimum. Second, that you are smarter than he is at accessing a horses' chances. Both not likely, the latter especially, when it comes to one of his runners.

Having watched the Distaff, it is hard not to compare Abel Tasman's poor performance to her race last out in the Grade 1 Zenyatta. She trailed beaten double digits in that one and never seemed interested in running. It is a safe assumption she trained well enough to convince her Hall of Fame trainer she'd bounce back and show up in the Distaff. Of immediate concern after the break in the Distaff, was how Mike Smith had to quarter horse her along the inside, in an attempt to get her in the game and interested. It looked very briefly like maybe it worked, but that proved not to be the case. Once again, Abel Tasman trailed by double digits and has now been retired. From a top racing mare to a horse practically distanced in her last two starts in a matter of weeks.

Looking at this on paper it resembles the rapid decline of another Bob Baffert trained star, Arrogate. At his best, he could run with just about any horse. After his huge win in Dubai, he was never the same and seemed almost disinterested when he ran. Many waited for him to return to form, as we looked for Abel Tasman to rebound, but in both cases it didn't happen. It is a reasonable conclusion both horses trained well into their last starts, so this had to be even more humbling for their trainer than the bettors who backed them.

We have all heard the saying "morning glory." This refers to a horse who trains well, works fast but does not duplicate that in the afternoon under race conditions. Neither Abel Tasman or Arrogate were morning glory types of horses. Both accomplished a lot on the racetrack.

We have also all heard the term bounce. This is when a horse regresses off a peak effort and is a real and pretty common occurrence. Trainers are aware of this, they watch for it, and yet they get humbled by horses who bounce or regress off big efforts. They will fool you even when you know what to look for. Most times, a horse will return to form after a bounce but not always. Look at Rachel Alexandra. She was never the same after her win in the Woodward. She suffered what I call a permanent bounce, or being "gutted." You see all horses, no matter how great, are not machines and only have so many of "those races" in them. To expect more is unreasonable. I offer that trainers are not always the best judges of when this will occur. They can be biased about their horses, as parents are when accessing or talking about their children. As bettors, we are afforded the chance to be objective and analytical in looking at these things.

As bettors how can we recognize in advance when a horse has been gutted and take advantage of it?

Fortunately, there are often clues. You just have to train yourself to look at things like a seasoned pro as opposed to just a horseplayer. A horseplayer looks at a race and sees it as this horse should do similar to what they did last time. A pro looks for why they won't do what they did last time. This thinking goes against the grain but leads to scores.

I believe Rachel Alexandra, Arrogate and Abel Tasman were gutted.

Rachel had an epic and very demanding three-year-old campaign which saw her race the boys several times. The Preakness, the Haskell and eventually the Woodward against older males on a very humid day. How many should we have believed she had in her?

Arrogate broke a historic record in the Travers running the fastest one ever. He went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Pegasus and then travel to Dubai to win the World Cup in the desert without Lasix. The Dubai race alone has gutted a fair share of horses but look at what we expected of Arrogate. He broke slowly that night and overcame it, albeit on a closers track, but had to dig in and run-down Gun Runner. That would empty most tanks.

Abel Tasman ran huge in the Ogden Phipps. She then ran tremendous in the Personal Ensign, where she had to dig in and hold off a very well meant Elate, who was full of run and momentum. They all have just so many of those in them.

The bounce is real. So is the "gut." Believe them both.