Joha won the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (G1) with a ground-saving trip on October 6 at Keeneland Race Course. (Keeneland Photo)
When Spring in the Air got shuffled on the far turn in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades Stakes (G1) last weekend, it might have been easy to get worried. Then again, that’s exactly what happened to her in the Natalma Stakes (Can-G2), and she bolted home, almost catching stable companion Spring Venture. The Trakus blog from mid-September covered the data from both juvenile turf races at Woodbine and was keen to note that the fillies in the Natalma seemed to outshine the colts in the Summer Stakes (Can-G2). That hypothesis was confirmed with this weekend’s results. Spring in the Air covered more ground than the next seven finishers, but it would not matter as she ran off with the Grade 1 score after having strong finishing data from the Natalma.
Below, we review some of the key data from some recent key Breeders’ Cup prep races.
Joha, under Rajiv Maragh, broke from the rail, raced forward from there, and never was headed to win the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (G1) on Oct. 6. Dynamic Sky, who broke from gate ten, covered 77 feet more than Joha, and finished second, beaten a length. There is no denying that a horse asked to cover 77 feet more than the winner in a race at Keeneland is at a significant disadvantage, equating to covering about an extra nine lengths. As a previous blog indicated, ground loss at Woodbine does not seem nearly as detrimental as ground loss at Keeneland. What is interesting is that Luis Contreras partnered Dynamic Sky in his wide-running effort, very typical to Contreras’ style that suits him so well at Woodbine. I’m often asked how one can apply the jockey efficiency data published here in the Trakus blog. While Spring in the Air’s Alcibiades win under a wide ride would apply in a similar respect, the Breeders’ Futurity seems a potent example given the rides received by the winner compared with the second-place horse.
Contreras, while one of the leading riders at Woodbine, often plots a wider course. Our recent study indicated that races run at the most popular two-turn distance at the Ontario track, 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Polytrack surface, saw winners cover more ground than any other finishing position. Last season, Contreras won 44 of 205 (21.5%) mounts studied at the distance, and on average, covered 5.29 feet more (about 0.62 lengths) than the average ground coverage expected from mounts that started from the same gate as Contreras’ mounts. However, the opposite trend exists at Keeneland – winners covered the shortest trips. So while a wide trip was expected for Dynamic Sky, the presence of normal rider Contreras, so accustomed to riding wider on Woodbine’s Polytrack, suggested the horse would face some added challenges in the Breeders’ Futurity. Dynamic Sky covered 5,752 feet in running, which was 44 feet more than the average for horses breaking from gate 10 going 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface.
While the son of Sky Mesa was notably green in the stretch, potentially inhibiting or at least impacting his late kick, the extra ground traveled did not help. Dynamic Sky wasn’t the only runner in the Breeders’ Futurity to lose significant ground, especially considering winner Joha rode the rail throughout. Third-place finisher Java’s War went 36 feet more than Joha while fourth-placer Pataky Kid covered an extra 48 feet. Those translate to about 4 ¼ and 5 ½ lengths, respectively. Hightail, who broke from gate 13, covered 85 feet more that Joha, and was beaten 2 ¾ lengths; 85 feet of extra ground approximates to 10 lengths.
Groupie Doll was never going to be caught in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G2), but Strike the Moon may have run better than her 6 ½-length margin of defeat would indicate when second. Sent wide around the far turn, Strike the Moon covered 28 feet more than Groupie Doll. Adjusting Strike the Moon’s margin of defeat when considering the extra ground covered, 28 feet equates to approximately 3 ¼ lengths, halving the deficit.
In Santa Anita’s Arroyo Seco Mile Stakes (G2), Japanese import Trailblazer always looked to be running over a trip much too short for his style. While a clear prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Trailblazer showed he had no issues in getting over the very firm going at “The Great Race Place.” Running into Obviously’s strong fractions, Trailblazer recorded the fastest final furlong in 11.28 seconds, which was 0.29 seconds faster than both Obviously and Mr. Commons. Later on Saturday’s card, Capital Account managed a similar superlative in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1), recording the fastest final one- and two-furlong splits. Defeated by a head, Capital Account did cover six feet more than winner Coil, which was enough to make up for the margin at the finish.