Justify denied chance to show more

Jul 31, 2018 3:03 AM

Justify’s retirement last week will lead to much speculation as to where he stands in regards to the greats in racing history.

Justify broke the “Curse of Apollo” being the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Justify became the first Triple Crown winner in history to have never raced as a 2-year-old. He beat more horses combined in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes – 35 – than any Triple Crown winner in history. All in a career that lasted less than four months.

Detractors will point out that Justify didn’t prove himself vs. older horses. His speed figures were very good but not great. Justify only raced six times.

My opinion? Justify was a very special horse that as Bob Baffert says “breathes different air.” I believe we never saw his very best, either, due to the compact schedule to get him to and through the Triple Crown. It is a shame the economics of the game make him more valuable in the breeding shed than on the racetrack. How good was he? I guess we will never know.

Collusion at Claim Box?

The claiming game in horse racing is pretty simple. You do your homework. You put up your money. And you take your chances.

Some of the risk in the high stakes poker that is claiming has been alleviated with the voided claim rule. A couple of years ago, a rule was added that voided any claim when a horse that was claimed was determined to be unsound after a post-race inspection by a state veterinarian. It is a subjective opinion that can differ depending upon what state vet is on duty and what he/she uses as a definition for unsoundness.

A new confusing wrinkle came into play in last Thursday’s fifth race. Arch Prince, trained by Val Brinkerhoff for the ownership Page Performance Racing LLC, was dropping out of a couple of Allowance races into a restricted “$20,000 non-winners of three races” claiming event.

As a horseplayer, these class drops can be considered positive or negative depending on the connections and their past patterns with similar moves. As an owner who is active at the Claim Box, I must decipher trainer intention as to whether the connections may be dropping for a win or are simply trying to sell damaged goods.

Arch Prince sat off the pace as usual, made a strong looping move around the far turn and drew off to win nicely. Would there be a red tag attached to the halter of Arch Prince signaling a claim after the race?

Yes. In fact, there were two claim slips submitted. The two envelopes with the separate ownership interests were numbered “one” and “two” and two pills with those same numbers were put into a Yahtzee-like bottle. After shaking the bottle and taking out one pill, the winner of the “shake” turned out to be trainer Bobby Wayne Grayson for owner Bobby Wayne Grayson Jr.

The result drew immediate surprise from many corners.

Restrainedvengence, who won the Oceanside Stakes opening day at Del Mar, is also trained by Val Brinkerhoff for the ownership of Brinkerhoff and Bobby Wayne Grayson Jr.

The same Bobby Wayne Grayson Jr. that claimed Arch Prince from his trainer Val Brinkerhoff!

More confusing is that when Arch Prince was led back to his “new” barn, he was taken right back to his previous location in the Val Brinkerhoff stable.

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has a rule regarding “any agreement with any other person or racing interest for the protection of each other’s horses in any claiming race.”

The ethics of making such a claim seem questionable, and the CHRB is conducting an investigation that could result in a hearing before the stewards. There could be sanctions forthcoming and the ownership that dropped the losing claim slip figures to be watching closely.

Del Mar Week 2

Several observations. The inner turf rails were moved out to 30 feet last Wednesday through Friday and 12 feet last weekend. The result? After early and tactical speed had the best of things opening week, closers dominated on the turf during week two (no wire-to-wire Wednesday through Saturday; there were two wire-to-wire turf winners on Sunday).

Favorites continue to dominate on the dirt and struggle on the turf. Through Sunday, favorites are 29-for-55 (52.7%) on dirt and 6-for-33 (18.1%) on turf. Overall, favorites are winning at a much higher-than-normal 39.7% for the meet.

There has been a steady outside bias on the dirt all meet long except for this past Friday, July 27. The inside lanes on the main track suddenly became the place to be on Friday, with the normal outside bias returning on Saturday. There was a regular bias shift last year on Fridays, too, maybe due to the later first post, cooler temperatures, and possible maintenance performed prior to the later post time. Look for this trend to continue on Fridays.

Trainer Peter Miller’s stable caught fire during Week 2. After going 3-for-20 opening week, Miller was a blistering 7-for-16 with many of those winning by daylight.

Play of the Week: Wednesday, Race 7, Time for Kisses (post 3). Two-year-old filly has shown the ability to pass horses, a big plus for early juvenile races often filled with tons of early speed. Trainer Gary Sherlock usually keeps a bullet or two to fire each year at Del Mar, and this Cal-bred filly appears to be well meant in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes.