All too often we see the term “freak” thrown around in horse racing. If we truly had as many freaks as horses the term is used to describe, this would be one heck of a game. People love to throw the label around off one sole performance, especially when it is a debut or easy victory. Often these winners are not only not “freaks”, but not even the best horse in the race. To go a step further, many times the winner is not the best horse in the race and wasn’t the one who ran the most impressively. The above is one of many reasons why I like to take a step back. By taking a step back, I will watch the replay a week or so after the race so all the hype, excitement, and wagering influences die down. I have found over the years, this gives you a much better perspective of what you actually witnessed.
Let’s look at some examples. We saw an awful lot of freaks this summer at Del Mar. Instagrand, Roadster, Brill, Mother Mother, and the list goes on. Has any won another race? Just one, Instagrand, I believe and then he went to the sidelines. Just last weekend we saw the debut of Improbable and It’sjustanillusion. Both heralded off of their debuts. This is not to say or even imply these are not really nice horses, or to knock their races or the connections in any way. It is more of a reality check about the over used term freak in our game. I think it should be reserved for well, freaks.
In last week’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Discreet Lover upset the field and paid $93.00 to win. He was so improbable the track announcer, Larry Collmus, called his name wrong more than right. He was calling Discreet Image who wasn’t in the race. In fairness, Larry doesn’t make many mistakes of that nature, and he was more focused on the blistering pace for the distance, practically insuring a closer would get the victory. Lost in the hoopla was Mendelssohn who ran the best race of all. While recovering from a virus, and after missing some training, and running in the Travers as a prep of sorts, he was close to the suicide pace. He fought gamely for third, while Diversify hit a brick wall. If you go back and re watch, you’ll see Discreet Lover benefited from the pace and trip, and Mendelssohn ran against it.
On Sunday, Rocketry ran for the first time on dirt, and at a mile and five eights. He looked impressive to watch and broke the great Man O War’s track record. Let’s keep it real. First the track was blistering fast, not biased, fast all weekend at Belmont. Second, he beat a mediocre bunch. Last, and most significant, he broke the record at a distance they do not race on all that much on US soil.
The point is, we have been extremely fortunate over the last decade or so to see some truly great racehorses, who had some extraordinary campaigns over all surfaces and distances. This includes two triple Crown winners in Justify and American Pharoah. Justify knocked off that whole Apollo thing in the process. Wise Dan, Beholder, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Arrogate, Gun Runner, and others all would be considered great by any measure or standard in any era. I’ll reserve the term freaks for true freaks and always measure a performance after watching it a week later. I’ll also never listen to the hype, unless I am the one doing it.