Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Zenyatta Loses Big on Saturday

I debated a week before posting this, and decided to go ahead and risk looking like an idiot. First of all, I hope she wins and cements her HOY and status as one of the best ever. But that won’t happen on dirt.

Politics aside, synthetic and dirt are different, not good or bad, just different. Many of her rivals in the Classic have prepped the last few months on the hard surfaces out East, while she has remained in CA racing and training on the synthetic. Now if she was out there breezing a mile I would be happy, but 6F on synthetic is like 4F on dirt in what it takes out of a horse – not enough in my opinion.

Imagine taking batting practice against fastballs for a month, then all of a sudden seeing a curveball. Unless you are supremely talented, you likely need some practice in order to hit the curve as well as the heater. Different neurological coordination is required, different firing and relaxing of the muscles, different eye/hand coordination, etc.

Granted, she went to Oaklawn and won on dirt this spring, but none of those females have won a G1 this year and the Beyer pace figs rated the Apple Blossom as the slowest in 26 years.

Furthermore, she has a one dimensional running style not suited towards a speed favoring track. She has made her living walking out of the gate, laying 10 lengths back, and coming home strong. Essentially she runs a negative split, where her final quarter or half mile is faster than her first. Physiologically, that is the most effective way to maximize her effort – but she will not be allowed that luxury in the Classic, she will have to battle the lactic acid buildup in the final eighth like everyone else – only this will be the first time in her life having to deal with that pain.

Other trainers out West have started to see this perspective, after synthetic babies went something like 0 for 50 in the Kentucky Derby the past few years. Bob Baffert, for instance, took Looking at Lucky to Oaklawn for the dirt in March, and again took him to Hoosier Park last month for his final prep before the Breeders Cup.

Why did Sheriffs not do the same with Big Z? She won’t even get to Churchill until Tuesday, a few light gallops over the track and boom, it’s racetime.

At some point, the Mosses seemed to indicate that Zenyatta would travel East in 2010 and make the rounds on the dirt circuit, but that never happened. Why not, at the very least, bring her to Louisville a month early and get in several works over the surface?

Her handlers seem to think she is 10 lengths better on dirt, but I bet you there are 100+ trainers who think their charges are ready to excel next weekend, and only about 10 of them will be correct.

She is extremely talented of course, and if she can overcome the handicap of spending 99% of her life on a surface different than that at Churchill, she deserves the accolades she will surely receive with a rousing victory.

But, I see her running out of time to make that patented move and finishing out of the money.

Come November 7th I will either be a prophet or a bozo. Put your vote in the comments below, along with any suggestions about something embarrassing I can post as punishment should she win by 5.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nafzger's Secret with Unbridled

"The Derby is a day away. It's Friday. Time for me to use what I considered a small secret weapon with this particular horse. I had done it with him in nearly every race of his career, but had kept it secret from the press.

A day prior to each of his races, instead of just galloping him for exercise, I would have the rider gallop about a mile and then quicken the pace to do the last half in 52 and change - a light breeze.

I kept that a secret race after race because if he would have thrown in a dull effort, the critics would have said it was because he'd been breezed the day before.

But, Unbridled could do a half in 52 and change and not really be extending himself. Instead of squeezing a drop from the lemon, I was merely adding to the potency of the contents."

-from Traits of a Winner, by Carl A. Nafzger

Very smart fellow, he may not know why it worked, but it did and he kept it quiet to avoid the media onslaught of second guessers.

Now, if you are reading this you likely don't have Unbridled in your barn and a half in 52 the day before a race will be way too much. Try a quarter instead, or 3F 2 days out, etc.

The key is to empty the spleen and fill it with new, oxygen rich blood cells just prior to raceday.

Many, many such 'uncharted' works are taking place out there every day - not too mention routine gallops ending in a few 13sec furlongs. None of this makes the DRF, so don't read the form and think you know everything that goes on behind the scenes to condition a horse.