When juveniles finish slowly in sprints, be careful betting them in routes

December 6th, 2023

How can you predict whether a lightly raced juvenile will thrive or struggle while tackling route distances of one mile or longer? Pedigrees, coupled with how fast they finish in sprints, can provide clues.

Two prominent examples occurred on Dec. 2, 2023 at Gulfstream Park. The FTBOA Florida Sire My Dear Girl S. for fillies and the FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality S. for colts and geldings each featured odds-on favorites stretching out over 1 1/16 miles for the first time. To the surprise of many bettors, both were beaten.

However, there were signs beforehand that the favorites would struggle over longer distances. Consider R Harper Rose, the 7-10 favorite in the My Dear Girl. She’d won all three of her sprint starts by a minimum of four lengths, but in the seven-furlong FTBOA Florida Sire Susan’s Girl S.—her longest race prior to the My Dear Girl—R Harper Rose was slowing down sharply in the homestretch, running her final furlong in :14.33.

My Dear Girl runner-up Honey Dijon managed to gain a bit of ground on R Harper Rose through that final furlong, and pedigree analysis suggested Honey Dijon could turn the tables over 1 1/16 miles. The pedigree of R Harper Rose (by Khozan out of True Bliss, by Yes It’s True) hinted sprints would be her strong suit. In contrast, Honey Dijon’s bloodlines (by Girvin out of Archangelus, by Empire Maker) suggested she’d relish route racing.

So what happened? In the My Dear Girl, R Harper Rose set the pace for six furlongs, but weakened in the homestretch to finish second while Honey Dijon rallied to win by 2 3/4 lengths as the 3-1 second choice.

The situation in the In Reality was much the same. Bentornato started as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite off four consecutive sprint victories, including three stakes. But as a son of Valiant Minister out of the Put It Back mare My Special Way, Bentornato had the pedigree to shine in sprints, not necessarily routes. And when he won the seven-furlong FTBOA Florida Sire Affirmed S., Bentornato slowed down meaningfully as the race went on and ran his final furlong in a modest :13.38.

Coming up with Seminole Chief as the most likely In Reality upset candidate off his distant sixth-place finish in the Affirmed wouldn’t have been easy. But his pedigree (by Girvin out of Secret Song, by Dunkirk) suggested 1 1/16 miles wouldn’t be an issue, so bettors willing to oppose Bentornato and consider longshots with decent route pedigrees had every chance to catch a 12-1 win payoff when Seminole Chief won the In Reality by half a length and Bentornato finished third.

The next time you see a juvenile stretching out in distance off a slow-finishing sprint win, consider the possibility they’ll falter over the longer trip. If the horse is favored and has the pedigree of a sprinter, perhaps they’re worth opposing with a stoutly bred longshot.