December 9, 2022

Handicapping Insights

Last updated: 3/14/13 6:31 PM


HANDICAPPING INSIGHTS

MARCH 15, 2013

by Dick Powell

So how do we judge Verrazano’s win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby? He showed
he can win going two turns and went slower at the start of the race than he ever
had before. He even settled after letting Falling Sky to clear him from the
outside and was not resentful when Johnny Velazquez had to tap on the breaks
ever so slightly. His BRIS Speed rating of 100 was probably equal to his 104
earned in his last race considering how wide he ran early on Saturday.

So why do I come out of the race with an empty feeling about Verrazano’s
chances to go on. There was nothing that I saw that would indicate he can’t go
on to bigger and better things. And, he certainly raised the bar of expectations
in his first two career starts that will make it impossible to live up to.

The good part of Verrazano’s win on Saturday was that he didn’t have to
expend a ton of energy to do it and should be able to recover in a few, short
weeks. We still don’t know how he’ll handle dirt in the face or racing between
horses but for now, he’s responded to everything thrown at him. At this point, I
hope he wins his next start by open daylight and goes to the Kentucky Derby as
the big, overbet favorite.

***

The Lasix issue will not go away. The Breeders’ Cup announced that they would
not implement phase two of a plan to eliminate it from all their races and are
going to go with the same policy as last year where Lasix was allowed for all
the races except the four, remaining juvenile races.

That said, I was reading The Age newspaper online Wednesday night and
came across an interesting headline. “Small Fields Stifling Racing’s Growth.”

In a story written by Michael Lynch, it chronicled how field size has dropped
in the Victorian Racing (Melbourne, Australia) industry, which has led to less
betting and less revenue for the tracks and purses.

What was shocking about the story was that all along, we have been told that
the reason why field size has dropped in America was the presence of Lasix,
which not only affects individual horses but the breed itself. Now, here we have
Australia, which bans raceday Lasix, having the same issues that we have. How
could that be?

I’ll give you another argument of specious reasoning that I heard at one of
the conferences I attend. A major owner got up and used as one of his arguments
to ban raceday Lasix, the fact that American racing has not had a Triple Crown
winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Naturally, he never mentioned that Great Britain bans Lasix and has not had a
Triple Crown winner themselves since 1970 when Nijinsky II won it. Not even the
mighty Camelot could win it last year, and the presence or absence of Lasix has
nothing to do with it.

***

If you needed more proof about the fragility of the American Thoroughbred,
all you had to do is follow the recent two-year-olds in training sales. Horses
regularly “breeze” a furlong in :9 and change and quarter-miles in 21 seconds
flat. It is only March and young horses, many who are not yet chronologically
two years old, are asked to run as fast as they ever will run and the faster
they breeze, the more the market will pay for them.

Someone forwarded me an article written by Bill Hirsch, the grandson of Hall
of Fame trainer Max Hirsch, about the training of 1946 Triple Crown winner
Assault.

After spending the winter down in South Carolina at the Columbia Training
Center, he shipped to Belmont on April 1. Allowed to settle in for a few days,
he worked three furlongs in :37 on April 5, came back the next day and worked
six furlongs in 1:14 then won the six-furlong Experimental Free Handicap three
days after that.

Now that Hirsch knocked the rust off, he worked him a half-mile in :48 2/5,
three furlongs in :35 1/5 two days later then a mile in 1:43 4/5 the next day.
After resting for two days, he worked a mile in 1:41 2/5 before coming back two
days later to win the Wood Memorial.

A few days after the Wood, he shipped to Churchill Downs and worked three
furlongs in 39 seconds. A week later he was fourth on a muddy track in the Derby
Trial on the Tuesday before the Derby then worked a half-mile in :48 on Friday.
He won the Derby by eight lengths on a sloppy track then shipped to Pimlico two
days later. With only a week between the Derby and Preakness, he worked three
furlongs in :40 on Wednesday and a mile in 1:45 on Thursday.

Assault was given Friday off before going out to win the Preakness by a neck.
The next day, he shipped to Belmont and began a training regimen that while not
out of the ordinary for those times, would probably bring animal abuse charges
against Hirsch today.

On May 16, he worked a half-mile in 52. He came back two days later with
three furlongs in :40 then two days after that a half-mile in :48. Two days
later, on May 22, he worked a mile in 1:43 3/5 then three furlongs in :35 two
days after that. Now that the Belmont was looming in a week, he came back the
next day with 1 1/4 miles in 2:05. On May 28 he worked a half-mile in 50 then
finished up his Triple Crown preparations the next day when he worked 1 1/2
miles in 2:32.

On June 1, Assualt became a Triple Crown winner by three lengths. For the
month of April, his timed workouts and races totaled 7 3/16 miles. For the month
of May, his timed workouts and races totaled 10 5/16 miles.

Bill Hirsch explained all this by saying, “his morning training routine
ensured Assault would develop race-specific bone, ligament, tendon, heart and
lung densities. Plus his frequent breezes developed his ability to recover from
a race in a few days and he was ready to race right back the next week, if
necessary.”

Clearly, they don’t make them like Assault anymore. And, they don’t make them
like Max Hirsch anymore either.