Social media have only reinforced the age-old idea that two or more people can look at something and come up with two or more versions of what they saw.
With the Kentucky Derby chase on a break last week, a pair of 4-year-old colts — Maximum Security and Volatile — ran to odds-on victories Saturday that fueled Twitter arguments over how good they actually were. Nowhere was the debate more telling, though, than in foreign futures markets for the Breeders’ Cup.
Even though he won the Grade 3 San Diego Handicap by just a nose, Maximum Security’s best price in England shortened to 5-1 to win the $7 million Classic, according to the monitoring website Oddschecker.com. After his 1¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, Volatile was cut to a 6-1 co-favorite to win the $2 million Sprint.
Bookmakers and bettors were apparently convinced that both horses lived up to expectations, even though the immediate online reaction was much more divided than the opinions that came with dollars attached. (Actually pounds, since no domestic futures are open yet for the Breeders’ Cup.)
Since he was lauded as perhaps the best thoroughbred in the world last winter when he won the $20 million Saudi Cup, Maximum Security was supposed to be better than the bob of the head against Midcourt, who has never won a Grade 1 race.
The razor-thin margin at Del Mar and a winning time of only 1:44.16 for 8½ furlongs stoked the theory that Maximum Security’s previous success was the result of cheating. The belief was already emboldened by the federal indictment nearly five months ago of former trainer Jason Servis and 26 other defendants on charges of illegally drugging racehorses.
On the other hand, it was the first race in five months for the three-time Grade 1 winner, who was the 2019 champion 3-year-old male. It was the first time he had raced for trainer Bob Baffert, who put Maximum Security through much more relaxed workouts than Servis had. And despite what appeared to be a slow time, the win on what was regarded as a deep, testing track was worth a Beyer Speed Figure of 101.
“I actually thought he was pretty good right after the race, being that I only had him about 80%,” Baffert told Del Mar public relations. “I didn’t think he’d have to do a stop-and-go movement, but he showed what a great horse he is.”
That might have been Baffert’s way of saying substitute jockey Abel Cedillo was not expected to stalk the lead and then take back before making a final push turning into the stretch. With Maximum Security’s regular rider, Luis Saez, committed to staying inside the Saratoga bubble, Baffert’s decision on the next race might also signal who gets the next ride.
“The Pacific Classic (Aug. 22 at Del Mar) or the Woodward (Sept. 5 at Saratoga), but I like the Pacific Classic,” Baffert said. “He brings his racetrack with him. He’s courageous and a smart horse. There’s just something about him. He’s got a lot of will to win.”
Volatile’s victory in the Vanderbilt was the model of what a front-runner is supposed to do — take it slow early, then hit the gas late. Facing only three other horses, Volatile cruised to 23.46- and 46.67-second fractions for the first half-mile. Then jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. started scrubbing on the way to a 1:09.61 winning time for the 6 furlongs.
Critics armed by Twitter said it was not very impressive. But it still earned a 102 Beyer, not to mention the respect of the futures market.
“We saw the first two races from him this year, and they were absolutely brilliant,” Volatile’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, told the New York Racing Association communications team. “I feel very good about getting those races into him before he met accomplished horses like this. From an ability or a speed level, he has it all.”
Asmussen did not have a next race in mind right away for Volatile. The Grade 1 Forego on Aug. 29 at Saratoga is a possibility, although it is 7 furlongs whereas the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is 6. The Grade 1 Vosburgh, a 6-furlong race normally held in late September at Belmont Park, might be a better fit, especially since it is traditionally a Breeders’ Cup qualifier.
“We obviously feel the Breeders’ Cup is where we want to be with him at the end of the year,” Asmussen said. “How we get there from here is going to be the plan.”
Now for the intrigue that brings at least part of this story full circle. Volatile’s odds to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint are the same now as 2019 runner-up Shancelot, another 4-year-old who has yet to race this year. After more than four months off, he resumed workouts this summer for Asmussen, who got him only in March. Volatile’s old trainer was Jorge Navarro, who was indicted at the same time as Servis.
As if horseplayers did not have enough angles to consider with the pandemic, now they must factor in an indictment. To paraphrase New York gossip columnist Cindy Adams, only in 2020, kids. Only in 2020.
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Uncle Chuck (8-1 Circa Sports, 25-1 William Hill Nevada). Wait. 25-1? Really? William Hill made the baffling move to drift him from 10-1 in its Kentucky Derby futures. That made for a terrific piece of betting bait during an otherwise quiet week. Even though Uncle Chuck was drawn into Saturday’s Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar, Baffert is leaning toward scratching him in favor of an ambitious run against Derby favorite Tiz The Law next week in the 1¼-mile Travers at Saratoga. The $250,000 Uncle Mo colt’s past performances — all two of them — are like a magnet to a horseplayer’s eyes. He won his debut by four lengths and the Los Alamitos Derby by seven. Who but Baffert would dare to test a would-be phenom in the Travers? He dared with Arrogate in 2016, and that worked out rather well.
Caracaro (45-1, 55-1). One good Uncle Mo colt deserves another. Upon further review, his second-place finish to Country Grammer two weeks ago in their mano-a-mano Peter Pan duel at Saratoga deserved more praise. Both horses had strong finishing times, and both were awarded Beyer Speed Figures of 95. That is significant since 25 of the last 28 Derby winners had at least a 95-plus Beyer sometime beforehand. What made trainer Gustavo Delgado’s horse all the more impressive was that he had not raced in the six months since his maiden victory. He also had never raced around two turns or in a stakes race. In only his fourth start, the Travers will make or break his hopes to be in the Derby.
Shirl’s Speight (unlisted). Well, he is unlisted in Nevada. An English bookmaker opened him at a paltry 20-1 to win the Derby. That was after his 2¾-length victory Saturday in the 8½-furlong Grade 3 Marine Stakes on the synthetic track at Woodbine. That is where he is 2-for-2, including an eight-length turf victory in his debut this month, and he has been racing without Lasix. Owner Charles Fipke bred Speightstown to his Breeders’ Cup winning broodmare Perfect Shirl to produce this late starter. Trained by eight-time Sovereign Award winner Roger Attfield, the colt was an early nominee for the Triple Crown. It looks like his only way into the Derby would be if the race is undersubscribed, and it would be his dirt debut. So why bet now? He would be every bit of 20-1 at post time — and then some.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Country Grammer (45-1, 30-1). This is a bit of a stretch to call him “not” hot, since he was almost in lockstep with Caracaro in the Peter Pan. Trainer Chad Brown is also aiming him for what is shaping up to be a quality-laden Travers. The only reason this Tonalist colt fell onto this list is that he was the only horse that drifted in both the Circa and William Hill futures. Even then it was by only $5.
West Sider (unlisted). Here is another Uncle Mo colt. This one most recently finished fourth in a turf allowance last month at Indiana Grand. He was dropped last week from both Nevada futures markets after it became evident that new trainer Bret Calhoun would keep him off the dirt and out of Derby preps.
Sole Volante (45-1, 40-1) and Ete Indien (80-1, 45-1). The two graded-stakes winners trained by Patrick Biancone have not raced in more than a month. They have not been seen in the morning either. Sole Volante was sixth in the Belmont Stakes only 10 days after an impressive win at Gulfstream Park. That was in an allowance race in which Ete Indien finished fourth as the odds-on favorite. Sole Volante has not had a workout since the Belmont, and Ete Indien had one breeze on the Palm Meadows turf June 28. Biancone said he planned to work both last week, but that did not happen. So for these two, no news cannot be regarded as good news.