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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By Jim Hurley:

Lest the above headline indicate that OXBOW and Gary Stevens did not earn Saturday’s Preakness Stakes win, let me put that to rest right away. They did! But..."We talked about strategy and I didn’t expect to be on the lead. In these classic races you don’t give up anything you get for free. They gave me a free three- quarters of a mile today. I was smiling pretty good midway down the backside.

I actually thought about Wayne (Lukas) up in the grandstand. I knew he would be looking at those fractions and be pleased with what he was seeing. I jumped on (Oxbow) at the quarter-pole and said, ’Let’s go now and just try and last.’ We did more than last today. When we pulled up he wasn’t a tired horse."

It isn’t as though OXBOW had shown himself as not belonging with any of the challengers who "on paper" and "by dint of general consensus" were vying for the runner up honors behind the anointed ORB. His effort in the Kentucky Derby was not horrendous and it was legitimate enough to make the speculative case had he not been seriously impeded when bumped along the inside entering the stretch, might have had a shot at getting one of the minor awards instead of finishing a 9 ¾ lengths beaten 6th. But it is also worth revisiting that the son of Awesome Again had only a second place finish (behind Will Take Charge, who was nowhere to be seen in either the Derby or subsequently the Preakness) in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park since winning the Grade III Lecomte on January 19.

Nonetheless, in years to come, whenever I have the need to give the perfect example of the phrase "Pace Makes The Race" I will refer to... see Preakness Stakes/OXBOW/Saturday 5/18/13.

Yes, give credit where credit is due. OXBOW could not have pulled off the Preakness win had Hall Of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas not entered him. But let us not forget that for all his past greatness (past being the operative word) Lukas had won 8 Graded Stakes races from his last 169 starters heading into the Preakness (ironically he had won his 7th with 24-1 shot Sky Ring in the Grade II Dixie Stakes prior to the Preakness. Nor should will it be lost to this perspective monger that one of the two "Other" Lukas entrants, WILL TAKE CHARGE, was sent off at a shorter price that OXBOW.

I suppose the bottom line it all the veiled kvetching above is that OXBOW needed and got all sorts of help as every single rival in the race that was expected to provide participation regarding an honest pace...was never heard from.

There is no getting around the fact that the Pimlico surface was glib at best and overall quite slow. That in itself is not a problem for this writer because it would be hypocritical for me to complain about a "for the most part" honest race track, given how often I have railed about the maintenance crews working tracks to asphalt-like conditions on big race days so as to get the blistering times that make headlines. 

But how does a colony of riders allow one horse t0 clear the field and "gallop" through a :48 3/5 half mile with a two lengths lead? Kevin Krigger might have a nice smile and be a grateful guy and say all the right things, but did he really believe that by strangling speed runner GOLDENCENTS through a :49 half mile he would enhance his chances later in the race. In fact, if the connections truly believed that GOLDENCENTS wasn’t capable of utilizing his speed well enough to get the mile and three-sixteenths distance, what was he doing in the race?
The connections of outsider TITLETOWN FIVE, a colt who had run a half mile in :46 1/5  and 6 furlongs in 1:11 4/5 (while on the lead) from the 10 post in the Louisiana Derby followed by a :45 1/5 half mile and 1:10 1/5 6 furlongs in the Derby trial is held back in third by Julien Leparoux while negotiating a half mile in (gasp) :49 4/5 and 6 furlongs in 1:13 4/5. These numbers may give you a headache, but it is important to absorb them and evaluate exactly what was going on.

Take the fractions for TITLETOWN FIVE as the perfect example. By the time Leparoux (representing what happened to too many jockeys in the Preakness) realized what Gary Stevens had accomplished during the first half mile, the race was over. Leparoux tried to pick up the pace during the third quarter mile of the race but even though he cruised through a :24 flat split he wasn’t about to make up ground on a leader who had yet to be pressured or needed to extend himself. And given how a horse that should have been a rabbit (TITLETWON FIVE) ran in the race it was sort of hilarious reading after the race how the connections said they will go back to using him as a sprinter.

So no GOLDENCENTS or TITLETOWN FIVE up front and absolutely no effort to move early from Martin Garcia on GOVERNOR CHARLIE, who was actually sent off as the third favorite ahead of GOLDENCENTS (4th Favorite) and MYLUTE (5th favorite), of whom all the talking heads said was going to be over-bet because of the Rosie Napravnik factor...but I digress. Where indeed was GOVERNOR CHARLIE? Hadn’t he broken the stakes record at Sunland in winning the 9 furlong Sunland Derby in virtually wire-to-wire fashion and hadn’t he worked 6 furlongs in 1:11 2/5 on May 7 and 6 furlongs in 1:10 4/5 (breezing both times at CD?) What was the point of him opening up through a half mile in :50 2/5 and 6 furlongs in 1:14 4/5?

By now you must think I’m beating this to death. But I don’t care if it is the Preakness Stakes or a 10K maiden claimer, every race must be evaluated and re-evaluated on its merits in order to move forward in a productive manner. ..this is what handicapping is all about.

When I released my selections for the Preakness I put ITSMYLUCKYDAY on top hoping to maximize profit with a recommended Win/Place Bet and used ORB, MYLUTE and DEPARTING (the most consistent improving fresh horse) underneath.

Given the aforementioned OXBOW’S inconsistency (one win in his last four races vs mostly lesser) I felt he would be in deep when asked to battle early with GOLDENCENTS, TITLETOWN FIVE and GOVERNOR CHARLIE. With that scenario in mind I saw those three battling early with ITSMYLUCKYDAY just behind them and ORB, MYLUTE, DEPARTING and WILL TAKE CHARGE at the back. I calculated that once the field entered the far turn that there was plenty of evidence to suggest that ITSMYLUCKYDAY would get the first run at the leaders as they straightened into the stretch and that ORB, MYLUTE and DEPARTING would make slightly later runs.

With that scenario in place I believed it was well worth taking ITSMYLUCKYDAY at 10-1 who might be able to hold off (the projected 3-5) ORB and get us some value. Indeed ITSMYLUCKYDAY did get the first run, and he did hold off late runs by MYLUTE and the subpar ORB...and of course my projected 1-2-3 finish came in 2-3-4 because OXBOW RAN ONE RACE AND ALL THE REST RAN ANOTHER.

This is not in any way sour grapes or an excuse. But it is another example of how too often; being a serious handicapper that understands how horses should run in any pre-constructed scenario, just isn’t good enough. Now, if we can only find a way to get robots in the saddle...

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