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Drape vs. Beyer

Joe Drape was awarded the first Castleton Lyons-THOROUGHBRED TIMES Book Award for his excellent biography of jockey Jimmy ‘Wink’ WinkfieldBlack Maestro, The Epic Life of an American Legend. Drape’s cogent articles in the New York Times are always well-considered and well worth a read; his article today about Dominican and Curlin is matter-of-fact and admirably devoid of personal spite. Regarding Dominican, Drape notes:

But each of his victories came on synthetic surfaces, two of them here at Keeneland, and Dominican is a troubling 0 for 4 on dirt, which happens to be the surface at Churchill Downs.

And as for Curlin:

Curlin, the son of Smart Strike, has, indeed, looked untouchable in his three starts, which he has won by a combined 28 ½ lengths. Beyond the question of the quality of competition that the colt has faced in his brief career, there is the matter of some foreboding history. Curlin did not race as a 2-year-old, and the last Derby winner not to race as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882. The last horse to win the Derby after only three starts was the filly Regret in 1915.

Even Todd Pletcher comes in for a reality check:

His horses are likely to fill a quarter of the Derby starting gate, but that guarantees him only a busy time saddling horses in the paddock. Besides Scat Daddy, there is the Louisiana Derby winner, Circular Quay, a colt who will be coming off an eight-week layoff and has not run beyond a mile and a sixteenth.

To reiterate, Drape’s tone always seems to spring from dry facts; by contrast, the latest Andrew Beyer article covering largely similar ground in the Washington Post comes across sounding like little more than spoiled arrogance:

But when four horses reached the finish line at Keeneland almost simultaneously, with 8-to-1 shot Dominican prevailing by a nose, the result revealed almost nothing about their relative merits. It told nothing about what may happen at Churchill Downs three weeks hence. In fact the Blue Grass, which was contested for the first time over the artificial surface Polytrack, bore little resemblance to thoroughbred racing as most Americans know it.

Beyer goes on to complain that racing on Keeneland’s Polytrack has a distinctly European flavor that doesn’t favor ‘American’ speed — but given that American horses had little more to show for their recent trip to Dubai were some good finishes in sprints, shouldn’t we worry that we’re practically blurring the line between Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses in some corners of the commercial breeding market? Rewarding stamina over early speed certainly seems like an admirable goal to me — and as Drape ably demonstrated, it’s entirely possible to highlight questions about a topic without simulating apoplexy. One would almost think Beyer was taking it a bit personally that his speed figures might not be the perfect statistic for Keeneland’s new surface…

2 comments to Drape vs. Beyer

  • Kerry

    I agree with you, especially on three points – first, that book was indeed excellent. Certainly, I have every hope that the synthetic surfaces will encourage breeders to put more stamina in their lines, and hopefully along with it, more bone, stronger legs. And last, I’ve wondered about Beyer’s distaste for the polytrack, for the same reasons.
    (london calling)

  • Warstone

    Hard to tell what Beyer is thinking. I remember reading him a previous article stating that the problem with Politrack is that it would make racing ‘too predictable, like harness racing.’ Now he is complaining that the politrack at Keeneland is bahaving very differently from that at Woodbine. So what is his problem with Politrack? Is it only with the Keeneland track or the rest of them as well?

    The important question he should be asking himself is what did last year’s Blue Grass tell us about the KY Derby? The answer undermine his arguments: Absolutely Nothing.

    That race was run on the dirt, a dirt track that rewarded speed and only speed. Wasn’t that track just as bad? Sinister Minister rode the golden rail to an impressive victory. Did that tell us anything about his chances in the Derby? Absolutely not!

    Beyer should stop his complaining about Politrack His arguments are inconsistent.His goal is to oppose it no matter what. Unfortunatley in the process he has also abandoned all logic and consistency.

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