Breaking down the Breeders Crown elimination numbers

What did we learn from the Crown elims in preparation for next weekend’s rich finals? Plenty.

by Jerry Connors

It took exactly one Breeders Crown elimination on Saturday to show that when handicapping for the Breeders Crown championships next weekend, you better have two “mindsets” – a “Friday night mindset” and a “Saturday night mindset.”

The temperature descended from the upper 60s near post time to just below 50 by the end of Friday night (Oct. 23) and the first round of eliminations. The winds were strong – according to the Internet, they averaged 15 mph, gusting to 25+. And it rained. Steadily, resulting in an off track and miserable conditions. (Hoosier’s timing was unlucky, as on Thursday night they set two track records and had four miles in 1:49 or better.)

Saturday (Oct. 24) started off at 50 degrees, and was scheduled to descend to near 40 by the end of the night. So it was cooler a bit, but the wind forecast was only 7-10 mph, and in early races the flags did not seem to be standing out as stiffly as during the night before. And there was no rain. A night much more conducive to speed.

As they used to say about top driver Alfred “Bucky” Day in New England, “What a difference A. Day makes!”

There was no second quarter during Friday night’s Crown elims, straight into the howling wind and rain, that went faster than :28.4. (And that was from a 2-year-old trotter.) There was no third quarter faster than :27.4 (by a 2-year-old pacing filly).

Cattlewash went wire-to-wire in the first Crown elim of Saturday – with fractions of :26, :54.1, 1:20.3, 1:47.2. Second quarter in :28.1. Third quarter in :26.2 (1 2/5 seconds faster than any Friday third split). The end quarters were very good, not as extreme, but no strong tailwind. And the 1:47.2 equaled the all-age Hoosier record of Sweet Lou, Lather Up, and Little Red Man, who set their marks as older stock.

(Admittedly, Tall Dark Stranger, who made his patented move to the lead down the backstretch, was in a mile which had splits of :25.4, :28.4, :28.3, and :25.4. But if you were racing a horse who attracted $21,768 of a $24,578 show pool, you wouldn’t be too anxious to go up against him, would you? And Shartin N went :27.3 in the third quarter, and was caught by the megasharp Kissin In The Sand only very late.)

On Friday night only one horse went wire-to-wire, the impressive 2-year-old trotting colt and Mohawk Million winner Venerate, who came home in :27.1 to win in 1:52.2, the only track record on that wet and windy night, and demolishing it by 1 3/5 seconds at that! (You may not want to give up on Captain Corey just yet: it was only his second race in 49 days, and he threw a boot in the stretch – he could well be better for his final, and he’ll need to be if Venerate trots back to that mile).

Only two other horses on that night were on the lead at the half, and they were completing backstretch brushes – the heavy 2PC favorites Southwind Gendry and Perfect Sting. In fact, until the last overnight race of the night, no other horse who was on the lead at the three-quarters went on to win, either.

Cattlewash went in race five on Saturday – and his WTW win meant there would be more gate-to-wire winners on Saturday than there were all of Friday.

Favorites won four times in Friday’s 15 races. The victory with Bettor’s Wish in race seven was the fifth favorite to win Saturday – the night ended with the chalk taking 10 races, in one fewer race. And all of those winning favorites were either pacesetters or first-over.

Final proof of the effect Friday’s weather had on the racing – how many races do you remember seeing that had TWO quarters under :26 AND
a :30.4 quarter? Look up Party Girl Hill’s charts. Wind-aided vs. wind-hindered. Give extra points to those who did well going against the rough weather.

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Post four has a slight advantage over post five in the Hoosier seasonal statistics, with one and six tied next in line. Post nine’s percentage is less than half of post four’s percentage – and the trailing post 10’s ratio isn’t much above post nine’s.

Which made Friday night’s post position stats somewhat confusing in an analysis of post five. Fifteen races including overnights – zero wins, one second, zero thirds. One night can always be a fluke, of course. Post five didn’t win in the first 12 Hoosier races on Saturday, either – but the 28thtime was a charm, as Amigo Volo set a track record of 1:51.2 for sophomore geldings in his Crown elimination, and missed the overall track trot mark by a tick.

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On Friday night, admission to the winner’s circle in the Crown elimination races was VERY tight. Tim Tetrick won four elims, David Miller won three, Dexter Dunn and Yannick Gingras won twice and Andy Miller won once. In fact, in the three overnights that rounded out the Friday card, the winning drivers were David Miller, Gingras, and Dunn.

And stop me if you’ve heard this before: Breeders Crown elim-winning drivers Saturday were Dunn (twice), Gingras, David Miller, and Tim Tetrick. Dunn won four on Saturday and seven in two nights; Tetrick and David Miller won five overall; and Gingras four.

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There are going to be a lot of tough driver decisions to be made before next week, at least based on the post draws after these division’s two eliminations:

2PF: Gingras, Matt Kakaley, David Miller and Tim Tetrick all qualified a horse in both eliminations.
2PC: Again, Gingras and Tim Tetrick have two “early calls” here.
2TC: David Miller qualified a horse in each elimination.
2TF: No doubles, although there are two Millers (Andy and David), two Tetricks (Tim and Trace), and two Yoders (James and Verlin).
3PF: Dexter Dunn, Gingras, and Tim Tetrick advanced one from each elim.
3TF: Dunn, Brian Sears, and Tim Tetrick got both their drives into next week.

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It’s pretty well known that most of my work is in and with Pennsylvania horses. That having been said, did you notice that 14 of the 17 Breeders Crown elimination winners were Pennsylvania-sired, including four of five Saturday? (I counted twice – I hope that’s right.)

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Who was impressive? The horses that were supposed to be impressive, I guess is the best answer: the 1-2-3-5-6-7-9 horses in the Top Ten all raced, and all won; Shartin N, #8, was a good second. The baby trotter, Venerate, caught the eye, but let’s see what price he is next week. (He’s post five; Captain Corey is post seven.) Other than that – I’m just providing the context here. One of the best satisfactions in life is NOT cashing a ticket, but cashing a ticket where YOU made the correct picks.

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Hall of Famer Dave Magee, now presiding judge at Hoosier, did a great job on the microphone explaining judges’ decisions.

When Somethingbeautiful broke nearing the wire in a 2PF elim, Magee explained the reasons why the horse was not placed: not lapped-on, was tried to be brought back on gait, caused no interference. Later, when Cuatro De Julio ran on the lead in a 2TC elim, Magee said the primary reasons the horse was placed was his not being tried to be brought back on gait, and the extended break rule – even pointing where in the program that the extended break rule was printed! (The “extended break” rule is to me the best explanation, better than a “failure to lose [sufficient] ground,” which is nebulously gray — of course the horse lost ground if on the lead while breaking and was fifth under the wire, and “sufficient” is a tough judgment; better the clear “continuous break” rule. But Dave has driven 11,869 more winners than I have, so maybe his word is a little better.