Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Glenn & Glenn, Part 1: Or, 'How Take the Points winning the Secretariat boosts Grand Slam of Grass'

It seems that Glenn Petty and myself have more things in common than just knowing the right way to spell our first names.

Petty, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, was the man who posted on the VTA's blog that perhaps it's time to end the Grand Slam of Grass. He has a point that nobody seems all that interested in the series -- particularly trainers, and they're the ones who would need to care about it the most. And Petty wrote that he'd like to see the money that has been devoted to the Slam by Colonial Downs owner Jeff Jacobs instead be passed along to a race for older horses, such as the track's Kitten's Joy Stakes.

I took issue on both counts. Through the power of the Interwebs, Mr. Petty subsequently read my thoughts, then posted responses for all to see right here on Fugue for Tinhorns. And he wrote to me at even greater length privately.

"In short," Mr. Petty told me, "I was running my mouth for the sake of debate. ... So mission accomplished on that one."

And that's the other something we have in common, the desire at least to have a good discussion or debate on subjects important to horse racing. Not that any of the comments I post here are anything other than what I really believe or happen to be thinking at the time. But those thoughts could be subject to change considering I'm not privy to every piece of information when I form an initial opinion -- like, what Jeff Jacobs himself might be thinking, or what discussions are carried on behind closed doors at the VTA.

No, I'm not changing my mind about whether the Grand Slam of Grass is under-appreciated, nor about how the VTA (and the Virginia Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association and other interested parties) need to take steps toward reviving the Old Dominion's breeding business. But it was very interesting to read Mr. Petty's responses and to understand the thought processes of himself and others, a thought process he also suggested I should feel free to share with readers here.

"Yes, a very good horse like English Channel or Kitten's Joy has a shot at the Slam, but my opinion was shaped by conversations or comments from trainers who have actually won one or both of the races (the Colonial Turf Cup-G2 and the Virginia Derby-G2)," Mr. Petty wrote to me privately. "They don't think the schedule works and most aren't looking to run a 3-year-old 12 furlongs against the best turf horses in the world (in the Breeders' Cup Turf-G1, the series' final leg)."

But crushing the training community's aversion to the series' early schedule is (or should be) Take the Points' win on Saturday in the Secretariat S.-G1 at Arlington Park. The gray colt was fourth in the Colonial Turf Cup and third in the Virginia Derby -- both won by Battle of Hastings, each time narrowly over Straight Story.

Battle of Hastings' connections, including trainer Jeff Mullins, apparently decided that 21 days just wasn't enough turnaround time for their Cal-based gelding to make the Secretariat; that the race came up "probably too soon." They waved away the chance their horse had earned at the Grand Slam's reward ($5 million in total purse winnings and bonus cash) like a calorie-conscious diner shooing a waiter who is trying to sell him on dessert. And then a horse that theirs beat twice in a row heads to Chicago in their stead, on the same schedule, and wins the Grade 1 race on which they took a pass.

Regrets, I wonder?

As for the aversion to running a 3-year-old against older horses in the Breeders' Cup Turf, I understand that isn't the simplest of tasks. Still, as I noted prior, nearly three in 10 winners of the B.C. Turf have come from the 3-year-old ranks so -- historically speaking, anyway -- had Battle of Hastings run and won in the Secretariat, Mullins and Co. would've positioned themselves for a roughly 30 percent chance of cashing that Grand Slam bonus.

Of course, it's possible that the Battle of Hastings camp doesn't believe their horse can even get the 12 furlongs of the B.C. Turf, considering the horse is sired by devout sprinter Royal Applause.

But stranger things have happened in horse racing. And taking the first two legs of a four-race bonus series then not even trying in the third (provided the horse is healthy) either because you don't really like the three-week window between races or you doubt the horse's worth in the fourth is defeatism.

Drawing wisdom from the world of golf, 100 percent of putts that are left short will never go in the hole.

Coming soon: Follow-up on Virginia's breeding industry from Glenn Petty's perspective from within and mine from, more or less, without.


  1. Your reasoning that Take the Points or Battle of Hastings would have a 30 percent chance of winning the BC Turf is laughably specious. The 3yo's who have won the Turf in recent years are top-class Euros like High Chapparal, Red Rocks and Conduit, who would never run in third-rate races like the Colonial Turf Cup or Virginia Derby. Do you really not understand that repurposed dirt failures like Take the Points are 1000-1 to win a race like the BC Turf and that this is why everyone outside your neck of the woods laughs at the ludicrous idea of a Grand Slam of Grass?

  2. What would really be funny is if you cared to read closely enough to argue against my point. Which clearly you don't.

    I made no argument -- NONE -- that Take the Points could win the Breeders' Cup Turf. I didn't REALLY even make the argument that Battle of Hastings would or could, although if he ran and won in the Secretariat he'd have three straight graded wins (G2, G2, G1) on grass at distance and wouldn't exactly be a "laughable" hopeful.

    I noted that Take the Points was beaten twice by Battle of Hastings, and thus inferred that Battle of Hastings probably could've won the Secretariat had his connections not been scared off (apparently) by a 21-day turnaround since the Virginia Derby. If anything is laughable, it's that modern trainers think three weeks between races isn't enough.

    At that point, I note that the 30 percent chance of a 3-year-old winning the B.C. Turf is only "historically speaking." Clearly each race and each horse is different.

    Certainly a foreign-based horse such as the great High Chapparal is unlikely to run in the Colonial Turf Cup, although it's just flat stupid to make the claim that it is a "third-rate race" considering its Grade 2 status and $500,000 purse. But a U.S.-based horse like Kitten's Joy could've swept all three of the 3-year-old-only races (had he been asked to try) and then, again, would be far from a "laughable" shot to beat elders in the B.C. Turf.

    Kitten's Joy was second in the Breeders' Cup Turf. If more trainers weren't so afraid of racing against older horses (in late-October and November, no less), perhaps another U.S. horse will make a big run at that race in the future, too.

    Clearly you think you have a deeper or better understanding of horse racing than I do. But I invite you to go back over the list of winners of the Virginia Derby before declaring that it (or its prep) is a third-rate race. Five straight winners of the race went on to win Grade 1 races, and two of them (the aforementioned Kitten's Joy and English Channel) eventually became Eclipse champion turf horses. Red Giant is now a world record-holder on grass. Losers of the race include Artie Schiller and Kicken Kris.

    Perhaps you should pay more attention to this "neck of the woods" before being so dismissive of its racing.

  3. As a postscript, while Red Rocks might certainly be considered a "top-class Euro" today -- and though he was G1-placed in both the U.K. and France when entered in the Breeders' Cup Turf -- he had only a maiden score and but a single, modest stakes win to his credit before annexing the B.C. Turf.

    That win was in the Fairway Stakes, a 10-furlong event for 3-year-olds at Newmarket that is restricted to horses that have never won a graded race. Only six ran, and the other five have compiled a lifetime 1-3-4 record from 29 stakes starts.

    So dubbing Red Rocks a "top-class Euro" when he was entered in the Breeders' Cup Turf would've been remarkable foresight. Considering he was the only 3-year-old, not to mention who he was up against (English Channel, former winner of the race Better Talk Now, Hurricane Run, Cacique, Scorpion, etc.), it remains a wonder to me that he only paid $23.60 to win.

    Had Battle of Hastings run and won the G1 Secretariat, his resume would almost inarguably be stronger than that of Red Rocks at the same stage of their careers, i.e., going to post in the fall of age 3 for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

  4. It finally dawns on me why the above commenter thinks that I have suggested Take the Points could win the B.C. Turf off his Secretariat win: The headline.

    I wasn't stating that Take the Points was proof the Grand Slam of Grass could be won by Take the Points. Rather, he is proof that a 3-year-old can run in all of the first three legs; the schedule isn't too tight, as the connections of Battle of Hastings believe.

    If a horse that Battle of Hastings beat in the first two legs could come back and win the third in his absence, it seems feasible that Battle of Hastings could've been pointed to -- and quite possibly have won -- the Secretariat on the same trail.

    Then it would be up to Battle of Hastings to win the Breeders' Cup Turf. Which, historically, has been won 28 percent of the time by a 3-year-old.

  5. A couple notes on the Grand Slam that I think are relevant. Mike House is a Southern California resident that wanted to race his big horse at his hometown boutique meet, Del Mar. I think that was as big as factor as the 3 weeks between the VA Derby and the Secretariat. He also had to (or choose to) ship from the West Coast and narrowly won both races by a nose. If this was a Maryland (or Virginia) horse, and he would be won by 3 easy lengths, a potential Grand Slam candidate's owner might have thought different.

    There was no Colonial Turf Cup for Kitten's Joy. However English Channel won both Colonial legs, was ambushed at Arlington and was the leading American finisher in 2005 in the Breeder's Cup, beat by 4 Europeans. Not a bad run.

    When the Grand Slam was first introduced, it was a guaranteed a payout of $10 million not the current $5 million which basically lowered the added bonus from some $7.5 million to about $1 million. (When the Grand Slam was introduced, the Breeder's Cup was $2 million, not the current $3 million.)

    I think the Grand Slam should continue but should be modified, perhaps making the 3rd leg optional, that is choose the Del Mar Derby, the Secretariat, the Hall of Farm at Saratoga or maybe any Grade I or II between the Virginia Derby and the Breeder's Cup.

    I'd like to see some recognition for simply taking Colonial's 2 legs.

    I'm not saying what I've written is 100% correct, but the current format is not working and needs tuning, whether fine or major.

    Nick Hahn


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.