Belmont Park Race Report: Critical Eye Romps

Published in the June 9 issue of The Blood-Horse
As late spring rains continue to fall on the Northeast, Belmont Park proudly shows off her green, green grass of home. But in racing, many times a lush carpet of green comes with a price. And in the case of the New York Racing Association, that price is the havoc being played on recent grass races.

On May 27, the seven-furlong Jaipur Handicap was taken off the soggy turf, washing away seven of the 10 horses entered. The following weekend, the June 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. III), for fillies and mares, also was washed out by all-day rains, resulting in the scratches of two of the seven horses, and a demotion in status from grade II to grade III.

Also gone from the 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay was any competitiveness the race originally might have had, as it left the dirt- and slop-loving grade I winner Critical Eye a towering presence over four overmatched opponents.

Therefore, it came as no surprise when Critical Eye, owned by Herbert and Carol Schwartz, romped by 7 1/2 lengths over Playact.

With the scratches of Aiglonne and Lady d'Jour, five horses went to the post. Facing Critical Eye, the winner of last year's Gazelle Handicap (gr. I), were Playact, a French import with ony two grass starts in this country; California invader Janet, a grade III winner who also had never run on dirt; Unbridled Waters, a filly coming off a $75,000 claiming race on dirt at Gulfstream back in February; and Just a Ginny, who had found a home in allowance races on the grass after racing at Philadelphia Park and Aqueduct's inner track.

Critical Eye, beaten a nose in the Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) in April before finishing fourth in the recent Shuvee Handicap (gr. II), was made the 6-5 favorite, with Playact 8-5, based on her class and consistency here and in France.

Just a Ginny set a snail-like pace over the muddy surface, dawdling through fractions of :25.29, :50.33, and 1:15.03. Critical Eye, under Mike Luzzi, tracked her all the way, just waiting to move in for the kill. When Luzzi turned her loose after a mile in 1:40.29, the 4-year-old daughter of Dynaformer out of the Dr. Blum mare Critical Crew blew the race wide open. She opened up by five lengths at the eighth pole, then coasted home the rest of the way. Playact closed well for second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Janet. The final time was 2:18.18.

"She didn't get too much out of her last race," trainer Scott Schwartz said of the winner. "And with the Hempstead (gr. I) three weeks away, I thought this race would do her good. She ran 14 times last year. This is a filly who likes to run. She had a month off going into her last race, and maybe that's why she wasn't too sharp. I was happy to see the race come off the turf, because that was to our advantage. She'd never been a mile and three-eighths, but she toyed with the field today, and I think she'll get better the longer she goes."

Schwartz said that if Critical Eye doesn't run in the Hempstead, where she could face Beautiful Pleasure, the $200,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Monmouth would be the other option.

(Chart, Equibase)