Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strikeout: Favorite Fabulous Strike scratched from five-horse Tom Fool without physical cause

So much for sportsmanship. And for my friend Brendan O'Meara's Sunday highlight moment.

I realize it's the duty of a trainer and owner to place their racehorse where he fits best and to look after his wellbeing first and foremost. But the connections of Fabulous Strike seem to have taken that a step too far Sunday by scratching the favorite from the Tom Fool H.-G2 at Belmont -- now a four-horse race -- simply because it looked like he was making too many concessions to win.

Trainer Todd Beattie said the decision to scratch was made after consulting with owner Walter Downey and was based on several factors -- none of them having to do with horse-health or even track conditions.

"He's doing great," Beattie said. "We weighed the positives and negatives. I have a lot of respect for Munnings and we were giving him 11 pounds today. We felt the difference in weight, drawing the one-hole and going seven furlongs, we just felt there wasn't a lot working in his favor."

In other words, they figured he'd lose.

I had noticed -- and had almost blogged about -- comments made in the media that Fabulous Strike's connections were undertaking some sort of courageous or unorthodox move by running him back "just four weeks" after he won the six-furlong Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont in 1:07.86, breaking champion Groovy's 1987 track record in the process.

But, what, four weeks isn't enough time between races anymore? Are we serious?

"He ran a monstrous effort four weeks ago," Beattie said. And remember, a "monstrous effort" from which he's come out if it "doing great."

You know what that used to mean?

It meant you had a sharp horse and should be racing him.

Granted, Fabulous Strike was vulnerable. For starters, he seems a six-furlong specialist and is 0-for-3 going seven panels. Munnings is shaping up to be a serious racehorse and they were giving him a heck of a break with an 11-pound difference in imposts -- though much of that is because Munnings is only a 3-year-old and Fabulous Strike is 6. Driven By Success has a pair of show finishes in Grade 1 mile events and could surprise Fabulous Strike at seven furlongs.

But the other two in the race were/are Riley Tucker (record there incorrect) -- a solid 4-year-old with a pair of 2009 non-stakes victories, but winless in stakes company lifetime -- and The Last Wave, a 4-year-old who is 5-for-22 lifetime and has never even hit the board in stakes company.

Fabulous Strike can't beat two or three of those four? Maybe even all four?

There was a time when letting the horse prove himself was part of the point for racing. That proof came when horses were asked to win in good company at distances or on surfaces that weren't their specialty or under what sometimes seemed to be withering weights. Champion sprinter Dr. Fager became the turf champion of 1968 by winning the United Nations Invitational Handicap at a mile and three sixteenths on grass, set the world record for a mile carrying 134 pounds, and won the 1968 Vosburgh in record time under 139 pounds.

I know Fabulous Strike is no Dr. Fager. But proving himself at seven furlongs couldn't get much easier for Fabulous Strike than beating a four-horse field in which the second-favorite is just a 3-year-old and the other three don't have a stakes win between them in 43 lifetime starts.

It wasn't like Fabulous Strike was being asked to carry even 126 pounds (like all 3-year-olds do for a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby), let alone 134 or 139. He was assigned 123 pounds to run 660 feet longer than he prefers.

To quote Dr. Evil, boo-frickety-hoo.

By ducking such an average field of four horses because the distance isn't ideal and the youngster gets a weight break is effectively stating to the world that Fabulous Strike is a one-trick pony; a six-furlong horse.

So tell ya what, Messrs. Beattie and Downey. Next time the thought flits through your heads to enter Fabulous Strike in any race other than six furlongs, let it go.

It'll save us all some time and effort spent caring.

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