Handicapping Insights: Stewards got it right
By Dick Powell
Does it count when the stewards get it right using the wrong process? Saturday’s $1 million Cotillion Stakes (G1) for 3yo fillies was a perfect example of the stewards eventually making the correct call but if it was up to them, there would not have been a correct call. Uh?
This year’s renewal of the Cotillon had a terrific field as it was the last big-money dirt race this year for strictly their age group. The divisional leader, Monomoy Girl, was going for her fifth straight Grade 1 win and left the starting gate as the 1-2 favorite. She was followed in the betting by 4.20-1 second choice MIDNIGHT BISOU, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) earlier this season; Test (G1) winner Separationofpoweres at 4.30-1; and 6-1 Wonder Gadot, who captured the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown.
The Parx Racing main track usually favors outside paths and all day the riders did their best to avoid getting stuck down on the inside. When 153-1 longshot Jump Ruler went to the front, Albin Jimenez kept him far off it which was the right thing to do. Jose Ortiz wound up even wider aboard Separationofpowers and Florent Geroux took the bait and sent Monomoy Girl up the inside. She seized command around the far turn and the only horse mounting a challenge was Midnight Bisou, who was ridden by none other than “Big Money Mike Smith.”
Smith took a peak to the inside as the duo straightened out in the stretch but Geroux took it away from him. Think Dale Earnhardt Sr. taking away the inside from Jeff Gordon. Smith then went to the outside so Geroux responded and started carrying the divisional champ out. The two sophomore fillies battled gallantly and every time it looked like Smith might be able to get Midnight Bisou up in time, Geroux drifted out even farther. They hit the wire and Monmoy Girl was the winner by a neck over Midnight Bisou. It was 10 lengths back to Wonder Gadot.
So we had the leader in a million-dollar race weave in and out all through the stretch and it was just a matter of time when the “Inquiry” sign would be lit by the stewards. But, it wasn’t! Coming off what we saw at Saratoga, why would I be surprised but I’m always surprised! I must have some kind of unwavering belief that they will get it right. It wasn’t until Mike Smith filed an objection did the light of the unofficial winner start to blink. What if Mike didn’t claim?
It’s not a rhetorical question since Midnight Bisou is owned by a partnership that includes Madaket Stables (Sol Kumin) and Monomoy Girl is owned by a partnership that includes Monomoy Stables (Sol Kumin). Not that losing the Cotillion will affect the Eclipse Award race but many riders may have thought twice about claiming foul against an owner who seems to owns a piece of every big horse in America.
But, the stewards were bailed out by Smith’s objection and now had to take a look at the race. Pan shots, head-on replays and back-on replays were shown over and over until it was finally announced that Monomoy Girl was disqualified from first and placed second behind Midnight Bisou. Even though there was no contact between Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou, Geroux should not be allowed to drift all over the track unless he was more than a length clear. He was not in the clear when Smith engaged him at the eighth pole and I agreed with the stewards’ decision even though they got it wrong because it is inexplicable that they waited for a rider to file an objection.
Had Smith not filed an objection, it would have been the typical “nothing to see here; move along” scenario that we get all too often. This was not a subtle possible infraction; it was an obvious incident that needed closer inspection.
Smith was at it again in the next race, the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) for sophomores. Despite a 196-day layoff, Bob Baffert had MCKINZIE ready to rumble and rumble he did. Smith used his speed to race close to the pace and despite still being green, he thoroughly dominated by almost two lengths as the 2-1 favorite.
Axelrod finished second at 10-1 and pacesetter Trigger Warning held third at 81-1. As good as he looked, McKinzie made the rest of the field and their form look terrible. The son of Street Sense earned a gaudy BRIS Speed rating of 112 and now has plenty of time to get ready for the Breeders’ Cup. Which race, I do not know since the class of 2015 is starting to look pretty weak and none of them look ready to take on older rivals in the Classic (G1).
There was also some revisionist history after the race indicating McKinzie was in the same breath as stablemate Justify and would have stayed at Santa Anita and forced Justify to the Arkansas Derby (G1) if he hadn’t been injured. But it made sense to wait an extra week for the Arkansas Derby since Justify didn’t make his career debut until February 18. Baffert did alter his initial plans after McKinzie’s injury but in no way do I think McKinzie was the barn favorite. He’s a nice horse but no Justify.