Handicapping Insights

HANDICAPPING INSIGHTS

SEPTEMBER 7, 2012

by Dick Powell

Todd Pletcher had 23 juvenile winners at the recently concluded Saratoga meet but the one that might have been best didn't even win.

On closing day, Pletcher had WinStar Farm's Revolutionary in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race for two-year-olds. Like many of the Pletcher-trained Saratoga juveniles, he was working very fast with back-to-back :59 and change five-furlong works from the starting gate. He drew post 3 and had Johnny Velazquez in the irons.

By first-crop sire War Pass, he had every right to come out running being by a sire that was an undefeated, champion juvenile. Revolutionary's dam is Runup the Colors, who won at two and went on to capture the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes going 10 furlongs. Runup the Colors is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner and Broodmare of the Year Prospector's Delite, who is the dam of Horse of the Year Mineshaft and multiple Grade 1 queen Tomisue's Delight. So, there was class galore in Revolutionary's pedigree, the betting public agreed and he was sent off as the 7-5 betting favorite.

At the start, Stage Street took a right-hand turn when the gate opened and forced Clawback into Revolutionary. Revolutionary was wiped out at the start and by the time the field unsorted itself, he was at least 14 lengths behind after the first quarter-mile was run. It was as rough a start as you could have and for a first-time-starter, it had to scare him witless.

With the first quarter in :21 4/5, Revolutionary's first quarter was around :24 3/5 and in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint, he was hopelessly behind. Going into the turn, Revolutionary was running strong and his stride was eating up ground while racing well off the rail. He began to pass horses and moved into a distant fourth at the top of the stretch as Velazquez drew the whip. The leaders ran the second quarter in :22 4/5 and Revolutionary had to run his below 22 seconds. Always in a Tiz avoided the early jam up and put away the front runner but Clawback, who was impeded pretty hard at the start also, was not giving way.

As those two battled for the wire, Revolutionary kept on coming and, when Always in a Tiz hit the wire a half-length in front, he was only another three-quarters length behind in third. It was a remarkable effort that had to be seen to be believed, as was the gallop out when he was five lengths ahead soon after the wire.

It was as good a debut as I saw all season. Unlike many of the highly touted juveniles who break on top and win by wide margins, Revolutionary's third-place finish was as good as any maiden winner. Watching him run the last half-mile, I couldn't help but think that had he ran in the Grade 2 Hopeful Stakes at seven furlongs later on Monday, he would have had a shot to win. He was that good.

Another Pletcher juvenile that I was very impressed with was Violence, who broke his maiden first time out going seven furlongs on August 18. On a main track that favored speed, he didn't have to overcome the adverse circumstances that Revolutionary had but he still had to run down a quality foe all on his own.

Titletown Five had already started twice and ran extremely well both times before reappearing in Violence's maiden. He was the classic speed horse on a speed track and trying to run down this kind of quality opponent going seven furlongs was not going be easy but Violence did it in style.

Rajiv Maragh sent Titletown Five to the lead but only had to go :45 for the first half-mile. Velazquez had Violence on the chase every step of the way but was still a length behind with a furlong to go. Usually horses that have to do the chasing get tired late but Violence kept on coming and got up to win by a neck. The final time of 1:22 4/5 was excellent.

The third-place finisher, Orb, returns to the races at Belmont on Saturday and it will be interesting to see how he does. Unless he breaks poorly again, he should break his maiden and confirm the form of the August 18 maiden special weight race going seven furlongs.

By Medaglia d'Oro, Violence does not have any black-type in his first two dams but the third dam is Hall of Famer Sky Beauty and this is the female family of her half-sister Our Country Place, who has established a breeding dynasty for the Phipps' family. As devoid of black-type was Violence's pedigree page was, he sold for $600,000 as a yearling and was the co-second highest of 86 Medaglia d'Oro yearlings sold at auction last year, so he must have been quite the looker. Can't wait for he and Revolutionary to make their next starts.

*****

Remember the good old days, when a $20k claimer was a $20K claimer?

Now, you need to be a graduate student of race office methods and policies to figure out all the conditions that are now attached to races. Now, not all optional claimers are created equal since there is a new condition to some of them that needs to be understood.

During the Belmont spring meet, the NYRA race office started to right what was, in effect, a starter optional claimer where all the runners had already entered for a specific claiming price -- usually $50K. These were continued at Saratoga and they cause some confusion since the past performance lines do not separate them from a normal optional claimer.

The first clue is that the purse is lower for the starter optional claimer than the normal optional claimer but you have to either look up the chart or have the original past performances of the race to know that. The meaningful handicapping difference is that the normal optional claimer could have a recent maiden or allowance winner that has never been exposed to the claim box in the field while the starter optional claimer has only horses in them that have been exposed to the claim box.

All things being equal, the normal optional claimer is a better race and we are going to have to change past performance lines that now show "OC50N" to "SOC50N" to let us know it was a starter optional claimer.

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