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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Control The Bike

Last night, A Rocknroll Dance won the $600,000 Meadowlands Pace.  Perhaps I should say, A Rocknroll Dance crossed the finish line first; it was a spyder which won the race; spyder as in sulky.  Drive Yannick Gingras had recommended to trainer Jim Mulinix to switch to the spyder bike for the Meadowlands Pace and it was a successful recommendation as the son of Rocknroll Heaven and Witchita Hanover went wire to wire to win in 1:48.1.

Ah, the good old days when everyone had the same sulky or at least the program indicated modified sulky or conventional sulky. These days, it is the sulky of the month which matters and not necessarily how a horse trained up to a race.  Here is one advantage the thoroughbreds have over standardbreds.  When it comes to thoroughbred racing, the big question is blinkers on or blinkers off while in harness racing, there are a whole slew of equipment changes which could be made and on top of that, you have the luxury of choosing which type of sulky to be used.  The net result is while not a 100% correlation, it is to some degrees what is behind the horse instead of what is on the horse.

The Meadowlands at least makes an attempt to let people know what sulky is being used on a horse by color coding them and announcing what sulky is being used.  The problem is you don't necessarily know what the horse used the preceding week as there is nothing in the program to indicate which sulky was used the preceding week. 

I know I am in the minority here, but I wish sulkies were standardized.  Not that we should go back to the conventional sulky, but when it comes down to changing a sulky to look for a win, something needs to be done to protect the gambler to avoid the situation of manipulating sulkies in an attempt to get a horse fired up one week for a score and then put back in a different sulky where the chances of winning are less certain.  Program lines should indicate which sulky-type was used in a particular race and when a horse drops in the entry box, the sulky type be declared so it may be printed in the program with no changes allowed after scratch time.  The sulky needs to be considered a piece of essential equipment, so essential that if a horse wins in one type of sulky and they change back to a sulky type which a horse hasn't been that successful with in the past, the judges start asking questions.  

Now for some comments on last night's stake action:

Stanley Dancer Memorial (1st Division)
Uncle Peter clearly showed his class with his victory in the first division of the Dancer Memorial going wire to wire.  However, a horse to watch Hambletonian time as Banker Volo was locked in along the stretch and couldn't get enough room to make a challenge.  I am pretty sure this trotter will not be driven so conservatively in his next start.

Stanley Dancer Meemorial (2nd Division)
I took last week's excuse for Googoo Gaagaa's break at Yonkers Raceway with a grain of salt which is one reason why I didn't play him in the Stanley Dancer Memorial, especially since the press hype ensured he was going to go off odds-on.  My suspicions were confirmed when the trotter jumped off stride in the turns at the Meadowlands.  Obviously, he is not himself so a well-deserved vacation is in order.  As for the winner of the Dancer Memorial second division, Little Brown Fox, you have to be wondering why he paid $49.60 to win.  No, he wasn't my pick as I thought he was tailing off but if you had tossed his two races at Pocono thinking the post positions were bad, you saw a morning line second choice who won his last two races at the Meadowlands going off at 23.80-1 calling your name.  I don't think this division had the Hambletonian winner racing in it.

Misteltoe Shalee Final
I liked Major Look a bit but thought no one was going to beat American Jewel so I keyed American Jewel on top with Major Look and Shelliscape under her.  Well, needless to say, while I admired American Jewel's gutsiness in the stretch, she ended up short.  American Jewel will be back, perhaps the week off didn't help her.

Meadowlands Pace Final 
Sulky types aside, I was right about Sweet Lou and the fact the Pace final winner was not going to be an elimination winner.  It was a great betting race and this year's 3yo pacers are pretty much even.  Why he didn't show much last night,  I still like State Treasurer and think he's going to pop in one of this year's big races, the question is which race will it be?  Probably a race I don't pick him in.  Regardless, I think he will be a future FFAller.

Del Miller Memorial Trot
For those burnt on American Jewel, Check Me Out put the world back in order with her victory in the Del Miller Memorial and the question is now Hambletonian or Oaks?  Right now Schnittker is reportedly leaning towards taking on the boys but it isn't that easy.  No, the boys haven't exactly set the world on fire, but boys are boys and girls are girls.  I am not convinced taking on the boys is going to be as easy as many people are thinking; Oaks bound is where I think she should be heading.  That being said, if she does decide to take on the boys, Win Missy B is my pick to take home the Oaks trophy.

For those looking for a detailed report on last night's stakes action at the Meadowlands, I refer you to this article which also has video replays.

Finally, a Happy Birthday to Bob Farrington, trainer and driver of the famous Rambling Willie.  For those of you who didn't get to see Rambling Willie race, you missed a great one.  As far as I am concerned he ranks right up there with Niatross as the two greatest standardbreds that ever existed.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, your bike commentary makes you sound somewhat amateurish. For years now, at almost every "major" track", virtually 99% of the horses use a "top level" might be an Advantage, Spyder, or UFO, but they're virtually interchangeable. EVERY catch driver has his own bike of preference, with most having several. The rare horse still using an "older" bike generally does so for a specific reason (needs more room, hits his knees, etc.), and in most of the cases, an "upgrade" is often detrimental. In a nutshell, of all the information that goes into a wagering decision, racebike generally counts for the least.

Pacingguy said...

I respect your opinion (see critical remarks which are respectful do get printed), but let me explain.

As you said, if anyone is using an older generation bike, it is for specific reasons and as you said, many catch drivers use their own sulky so often, a trainer that picks a certain driver typically 'marries' the bike.

But in this case last night, it was made clear the driver suggested the bike change so he obviously had a different bike available to him. Is it that major a handicapping decision? For you it is not a big deal (nor for me), but some people do think it is a big difference if they go to a Spyder, UFO, or Advantage bike and for some horses it may be the thing which puts them over the top.

I have always been an advocate of discolosing as much information which can reasonably be made available to the public, even if the majority of the people wouldn't know what to do with it. It is probably more of a perception problem than anything else (though changing equipment when a stable is betting or not has been known to happen, which may have helped for my opinion).

Laatly, there is a philosophical problem I have here. In theory, one is supposed to be improving a horse through training and breeding. I may be old school, but it goes against me to have some aeronautic engineer develop the better sulky to give horses and edge.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you printing my reply (as well as the debate) so hopefully you'll print this as well :-)

A Rocknroll Dance won last night because he's a 2YO champ with over $1M earned that found himself on an uncontested lead (with a 100-1 shot in the pocket, no less), on the FASTEST track of the meet, and with speed virtually untouchable for most of the evening. He was also coming into a big race, and is trained by one of the sharper guys in the business! If anything, his gait looked somewhat hampered by the Spyder bike, although I can understand why the connections were willing to try it (in place of his custom-built Brodeur model).

Are today's "top bikes" much faster than older models...of course! But since they have long been established as "standard equipment" for virtually every starter, I see absolutely no purpose in placing ANY emphasis on identifying them (and charting them) for the player. There are SO many more significant changes that can signal a potential form reversal that I can't for the life of me understand why "bike switches" would matter to anybody.

Now if you want to go back to yesteryear when only one or two horse might be adding the sulky du jour, well, that's a totally different story! Scores were made left and right on horses that were "freshies"...but trying to use that "angle" today is a losing proposition. Anybody wanting to put faith (and money) into meaningless bike switches is welcome to do so at MY window ;)

Pacingguy said...

Yes, most of the bikes have been around, but there is always someone coming out with a new bike and everyone then has to go and get it, which is, as I suspecr you would concur, putting money in the bike manufacturer, making it more expensive to keep racing.

I don't see a need for any new bikes but there is no need to keep reaching for new technological tools to get a horse to go faster, trainers would be better served to just work on keeping their horse fit.

But of course, human nature being what it is, they will continue to buy new style sulkies as long as they think it can be an advantage; sort of remins me of those old patent medicine cures. The only one getting rich are the sulky makers.

Still, enough of this nonsense. Let's stop improving the sulkies and race with what we have. Trainers should try to improve horses the old fashioned way.

Anonymous said...

My dad is the trainer of A Rocknroll Dance and he wanted me to share with you that when Yannick came off the track he said to him that he felt Rock would have won no matter what bike they used. He said the bike does provide confidence to the driver if they feel comfortable with the bike. He also noted that last year, when Rock tied the world record time, he was in a Four-Star bike.

Pacingguy said...

Thanks for sharing that tidbit. Please don't get me wrong with regards to A Rocknroll Dance winning the Pace. I certainly was not trying to take away from his victory.

My point is all these sulkies are the wrong way to try to improve horses; it should be done with good old fashion horsemenship. They also cause a distraction. In no way am I saying we should get rid of the different sulikes we have, but there should be a hold on developing new ones. We should also disclose which sulky people are using; granted it may have little impact but the fact is gamblers perceive it does and by keeping this secret, it provides another reason for these people to walk away from gambling.