You know that part toward the end of this column where it says …
Racing notes and opinions?
This week the whole thing is racing notes and opinions – with some bold type thrown in to heighten the illusion of importance.
Authentic could be ‘1 1 1 1 1’ again. Since he lost the Santa Anita Derby in June, Authentic has not trailed at any call. Thus the string of 1s in his past performances both last month in the Travers and this month in the Kentucky Derby. That would appear to be the strategy all over again for jockey John Velázquez next Saturday in the Preakness Stakes. In a narrative that was supposed to hold true before he got hurt during Derby week, Blue Grass winner Art Collector could try to go with him. So could Ny Traffic and Swiss Skydiver – if they show up. If Authentic could lead the whole way through 10 furlongs, why not over 9½? It seems only a poor start could mar trainer Bob Baffert’s plan from being repeated. If that is still the plan.
Tiz The Law ’twas the bet. I lost count of how many times the Twittersphere red-boarded about poorly thought out bets on Tiz The Law for the Preakness when there seemed little chance that he was going to be entered. The truth of the matter is that lead owner Jack Knowlton really wanted to go, but he deferred to trainer Barclay Tagg’s belief that it was more prudent to race the Belmont Stakes winner every two months. So the Breeders’ Cup Classic is next. Taking a shot that Tiz would go to Pimlico might not have seemed worth the more than 9-2 odds (plus 475) at Circa Sports. But when Tiz was bet down right away to about 4-1 (plus 410), Authentic went to more than 5-2 (plus 260). Once the news broke that Tiz was out of Preakness consideration, Authentic’s price plunged to 8-5 (plus 160). It would seem then that anyone who held both tickets before that was sitting pretty. And still is.
The answer is yes. The question repeated to me so often on social media the past couple weeks: Will the Preakness be available for full betting here in Las Vegas? Thankfully, all the horizontal and vertical wagering menus will be on offer with no limits, because the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association’s agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club covers Pimlico and Laurel Park. None of the patchwork mess that was present for the Kentucky Derby will be necessary. And for anyone wondering, the impasse between Nevada and Churchill Downs turns one year old around this time next month. The intractable stubbornness on both sides persists.
Two Bafferts. No waiting. It may as well be a match race Saturday at Santa Anita, where Maximum Security (3-5 morning line) and Improbable (8-5) come out of the Baffert barn to absorb most of the money being bet on the $300,000 Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes. And well they should. The ever hard-to-figure Midcourt (6-1) should be the best chance for an upset in the whopping five-horse field, especially after he gave Maximum Security everything he could handle before losing by a nose in the San Diego Handicap. But that was more because Abel Cedillo inexplicably took Max back early and was nearly too late making a late charge. Cedillo did better last month winning the Pacific Classic, but he is out. Luis Sáez is back in, giving Max his regular rider from when he was still in the barn of accused felon Jason Servis. Improbable has looked like his old self winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and then the Whitney. The obvious play is to box these two on top and then put, say, Charles Town Classic winner Sleepy Eyes Todd (12-1) underneath in the trifecta. But it seems wiser to take a position and bet the whole thing cold. Maximum Security over Improbable over Sleepy Eyes Todd. If the 50-cent tri pays more than $10, celebrate with an upgrade to a bottled import.
Injury? What injury? When a horse is retired before the Breeders’ Cup or a big race, the question is less about why and more about where. As in “Where does it hurt?” The sudden retirements of Grade 1 winners Honor A. P. and Volatile were accompanied by pro forma news releases that did more to tout their successes than to describe the physical failures that ended their racing careers. The scant details led to calls for transparency. As stallion prospects they leave big questions about whether they will pass genetic weaknesses to their progeny. When they graduate from numbered entries to sire lines in past performances, will Honor A. P. and Volatile produce sound foals? I have had three conversations in the past week about this with racing insiders, including one who is prominent at horse sales. Unprompted they all said there was an obligation for horsemen to be forthright with the condition of their would-be stallions. Alas, they also accepted that it was an unrealistic dream.
Run of the mille Paris crowd. Trying to get its arms wrapped around a forecast spike this fall in coronavirus cases, the French government is capping attendance at next Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at 1,000. That is about 39,000 fewer than Europe’s richest race normally draws. This is an event that I have attended every year since 2007. But not next Sunday. When the Preakness was moved to the same weekend, I knew I could not be in both places at once. Now I will be in neither. As someone who lived in Manhattan for 10 years and made the bon voyage every year to the Bois de Boulogne, I cannot imagine either place without the energy they possessed before the pandemic. It is even more fearsome to think that they may never again be the way they were.
Let’s change the subject.
Asmussen makes the pod. When Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen picked up the telephone Monday morning, I was pleasantly surprised. Ten minutes later we had a podcast interview in the can. Or on the digital editor. Asmussen has a tough reputation among the racing media, but once he decides to do an interview he is an easy listen. His reflections on his 9,000th career win last week were revealing. But that is no surprise. He is smart, incisive, sometimes pointed, candid and always thought provoking. He and Chad Brown are two of the toughest interviews to score in the business, and partly because of that they seldom disappoint. What made this particular conversation especially memorable was the way it ended. Asmussen said he had to take an urgent call. Within hours Volatile had been retired. It is too bad, because he almost certainly would have helped Asmussen add to now 9,009 victories (at least when now was Thursday evening). Here is hoping it is not the same time next year, when he is due to break Dale Baird’s record of 9,445, before we get a chance to hear from him again.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. In a rare interview, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen discusses his 9,000th win. Also, handicapper Bob Ike focuses on the Grade-One races at Santa Anita, and Duane Colucci has his own forecast of weekend cards. The RFRP is sponsored by 1/ST BET.