Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Passion of the Steven

Steven Crist is often one of the first and most effective in pointing the finger at some of racing's ills. Even if you disagree with him, his columns and posts are usually informative.

Unfortunately, he also has a tendency to become excessively adamant on some of his pet causes, to the point where his articles on the subject not only become repetitive, but where his passion for the cause gets the better of his reasoning. A particularly egregious example of this could be witnessed in the wake of yesterday's Dubai World Cup. Crist's DRF-hosted racing blog is one of the most-visited on the net, and therefor I think that a post like yesterday's Tapeta-bashing "World Cup Crapshoot" warrants closer examination (quotes from his post are in Italic):

"The winner, front-running Gloria de Campeao, is an admirably durable Brazilian 7-year-old who was beaten 16 1/2 lengths by Curlin in the 2008 World Cup and 14 lengths by Well Armed in the race last year"

Of course he was the runner-up in 2009, beaten 14 lengths by Well Armed, but 4 ½ in front of everyone else. Crist doesn't mention that. Admirably durable he is indeed, but such a characterization seems somewhat understated for a horse that can also be summed up like this: "Gloria de Campeao obviously scored the signature victory of his career, but he has been successful all over the world. He was a Grade 2 winner at a mile on turf in his native Brazil, was sent to train in France with Bary, won the Singapore Airlines International Cup-G1 in 2009, and for the third consecutive year has won or placed in graded stakes in Dubai", the latter characterization is quoted from the Fugue For Tinhorns blog.

"The runner-up, Lizard's Desire, came into the $10 million race with a field-low bankroll of $207,442, having finished 10th and 11th in his two prior starts in Group 1 company in his native South Africa."

True; but the horse had also won a South African G3 by 5 lengths and finished second to Dan De Lago in a South African G2, both on turf. After the latter race he switched into the hands of Mike De Kock, who, they tell me, is quite good at prepping horses for the Dubai carnival. Lizard's Desire went on to win his first two Dubai starts comfortably, then finished 5th, beaten 1 ½ l. in the World Cup's major prep race, the G2 Maktoum Challenge Rd3.

"Allybar, who was third, was 0 for 6 in graded or group races of any kind"

This is flat out false. Entering the gates yesterday, Allybar was 1-for-7 in group races, a winner of the G3 Maktoum Challenge Rd2 over this very course in February. An oversight like this can happen to anyone, but there are other things that can not be explained so easily:

First: Yesterday evening, I left the following notice on Crist Blog:
"Allybar was 1-for-7 in graded stakes of any kind. He won the G3 Maktoum Challenge Rd2 over this course in February. He also finished on the board in 4 of his 5 French group starts on the turf and was beaten all of a length when fourth over this course and distance 3 weeks ago. Yeah, he really came out of nowhere."
It takes a special kind of dickishness to block this comment and not even correct a clear error of fact in the post. Of course, correcting this mistake would undermine Crist's argument, and given that Allybar also finished on the board in 5 of 7 group races, it never was much of an argument to begin with. It is common these days for so called "political commentators" to shamelessly contort reality into the shape that best fits their narrative, but for a racing essayist to slip into this kind of propagandistic rabble-rousing is more than a bit questionable.

"America's supposed synthetic specialists -- BC Classic runner-up Gio Ponti (who finished 4th), Goodwood winner Gitano Hernando and Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid -- had no impact on the finish."

So what's your point? Would Tapeta have been acceptable if Gio Ponti had won? Aren't you just making a circular argument here? Richard's Kid, last seen winning a slow San Antonio Handicap by a neck after being without a chance in the BC Classic, should never have been anywhere near a 5/1 morning line to begin with. Gitano Hernando was the upset winner of last year's Goodwood Stakes at OSA, by a neck. He spent the winter in England, where he won the all-important Winter Derby Trial (Listed) at Lingfield. If you had him rated above Gloria de Campeao or Allybar for yesterday's race, the fault may be with your handicapping rather than the Tapeta. For the record, he's not an American horse. Gio Ponti's 4th place behind three horses specifically aimed at this race is not exactly catastrophic.

"In the past, the World Cup was a true showcase for champions, such as Cigar, Silver Charm, Dubai Milennium, Invasor and Curlin. Now? Step right up and spin the wheel."

Actually, the result matches better with previous forms than last year's edition, but why let reality interfere with our narrative. If your argument is that the 2010 World Cup lacked a superstar or two: the same is true for last year's edition. Well Armed became a superstar for a breathtaking romp on the old dirt track at Nad Al Sheba, but he went into that race a 10/1 shot and off-the-board in two of his last three starts, including a 9th place in the BC Dirt Mile.

As for the other Tapeta races:
The UAE Derby – perfectly true to form; great race
Golden Shaheen – good performance by 7/1 Kinsale King, but if Robbie Fradd had settled into the race half as well as his mount, 7/4-favorite Rocket Man would have cantered home
Godolphin Mile – Desert Party and Cat Junior failed to perform, which made this race a wide-open affair. The top three had all won at Meydan and were 3rd, 2nd and 5th over this course and distance in the G3 Alhaarth on March 4.

Both the Godolphin Mile and the Dubai World Cup were very hard to handicap. But that was because of the depth of the field and the questions surrounding many of the shippers. A tough handicapping task is not the same as a crapshoot handicapping task (go handicap a German Hcp F or a bottom-level claimer at Mountaineer next and you'll notice the difference).

"[The race] was a $10 million advertisement for how synthetic surfaces can make a complete mess of so-called world-class championship racing. For all that it proved about the quality of the contestants either individually or as a group, the results of the Dubai World Cup might as well have been drawn out of a hat."

Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret to announce that Steven Crist's sense of reason had to leave tonight's event early.


  1. As was noted almost eveywhere, this edition of the World Cup races lacked for American entrants. This lack of interest in $20 plus million in prize money astounds me. I wonder if the World Cup had been run at Golden Gate (which is a tapeta surface) would there be such a lack of interest?

    I had G de C to win and the reason I bet him was simple, horses for courses, tapeta or not!!

  2. Malcer, excellent post. I was scratching my head after Steve's rant, too, especially as the track was only one of many factors in the handicapping process, which also had to account for local form, condition of shippers, acclimatization, etc.

    No question, Rocket Man had an unfortunate ride from Robbie Fradd, and he himself acknowledged that after the race. He gave away a position he didn't need too, and then gave Rocket Man too much to do.

  3. John: In the case of Dubai, I go with "horses for regions". Any horse coming out of a UAE or Saudi campaign simply holds a huge base advantage over the shipping competition. I guess it's a combination of the climate and scheduling.

    Sid: I love the camerawork at Dubai. Even though it wasn't a beautiful sight as such, you could clearly see Fradd's almost desperate body languague as he was trying to park RM on the rail (sorry for him; I've also seen a couple of very good performances by Fradd).

    The rail camerawork at Meydan simply allows for a much better and deeper understanding of each race than the conventional far-away view would. I have also seen it used in individual broadcasts of Oz, British and French races, but Dubai seems to be the only track to use it as standard.

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