West Coast stars thrive on dirt tracks

OK, so I am detecting a pattern here — West Coast thoroughbred, successful on synthetic race tracks, travels east to run on dirt and thrives when it gets off the artificial surfaces.

Case in point No. 1 is the 3-year-old colt Lookin At Lucky, who won the Del Mar Futurity, Norfolk Stakes and CashCall Futurity over synthetics as a 2-year-old en route to an Eclipse Award as top male Juvenile yet didn’t really have a chance to show his true talent because he likes dirt better.

In his first try on the real stuff, he won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, followed that up with a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in which he was eliminated at the start while breaking from the dreaded rail in a 20-horse field and then took the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course before trainer Bob Baffert decided to freshen the Smart Strike colt for the late summer and fall campaigns.

He made it 3 for 4 on dirt in the Haskell Invitational, turning in probably the top effort of his 11-race career, romping home by four lengths at Monmouth Park while leaving Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, First Dude and Trappe Shot in his wake through the stretch.

Case in point No. 2 is the 3-year-old filly Blind Luck, who is now 4-0 on dirt following a convincing victory over the East Coast darling Devil May Care in last weekend’s Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Wasn’t even a contest.

Of course, there’s also the unbeaten Zenyatta, who’s managed to compile an 18-0 record despite running 16 of her races over artificial tracks that are far from her preferred surface. She obviously loves dirt more than artificial tracks, having scored her two most powerful victories in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in 2008 and 2010.

You might want to think twice before diminishing California horses’ success over synthetics. Turns out many of them are even better on dirt and the synthetics have been dulling their brilliance.

Just ask Lookin At Lucky, Blind Luck and Zenyatta.

Better yet, just watch how they run at Churchill Downs at this year’s Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5 and 6. Belittle their resumes at your own risk.

12 thoughts on “West Coast stars thrive on dirt tracks

  1. There’s a jump in logic here, no? “Just as Lookin at Lucky, Blind Luck, and Zenyatta”? You mean last year’s champion juvenile who raced on nothing but artificial surfaces as a two-year-old, an Eclipse finalist who is a three-time Grade I winner on synthetics and registered her widest margin of victory on the surface (7 lengths in the GI Hollywood Starlet), and a mare who registered her lone victory against males (in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic) on synthetics? Yes, these horses have clearly had their brillance dulled on synthetics. Good call. Could it be that good horses are just good horses (and who, exactly is belittling their resumes?), regardless of whether they’re running on synthetics or dirt? Could it be there is less difference in the surfaces than people would like to think?

  2. The point being made is that the synthetic horses either transfer their good form over to dirt or get better. Dirt horses don’t do the same thing when going to synthetic. In the last 2 Breeders Cups, dirt horses went 0 for 43. Just a coincidence? I think not Lucas.

  3. Lucas – It’s not just those three horses, they are just three of the latest examples. Look at the Derby Preps the last 3 years. No east coast horse has won a West Coast dirt prep yet West Coast horses have shipped east to win the Gotham, Wood, 3 Arkansas Derbies, 2 Rebels, etc. to go with many placings in east coast Derby preps. “Synthetic horses” have no problem extending their form to dirt most of the time.

  4. Just read Bill Casner comments in Hovdey’s DRF colummn explain the benefits of synthetic eloquently for those that are a little confused. He acknowledges Well Armed is a better dirt horse, however horses such as him with conformation flaws can not withstand training on dirt and would never make it. I find it humorous how people who dont know a thing about horses pretend to have an opinion on racing surfaces.

  5. Thorograph numbers (Speed figures) and its owner Jerry Brown have studied the topic at length. Horses that run and train on synthetic move way forward and run much faster their first race on dirt. Then however if they run back too soon (within two months) there is a huge regression in their next race if its on dirt, then even more so in the 3rd race. The reason they feel is that the horses get over the dirt easier than synthetic, however that it almost feels like running on concrete to them. This hard jarring from their first race has been shown to cause soreness and lingering pain in the horses body and one can expect a horses performance to begin to deteriorate. From what I have seen I strongly agree with his thesis

  6. Markinsac and Tiznow, I agree wholeheartedly that horses coming off synthetic tracks are a danger on dirt tracks, especially since handicappers discount their synthetic form. But that’s just my point: there most often is very little difference between the two form-wise, despite all the noise to the contrary. Tiznow, the races you mentioned were won by I Want Revenge (Gotham & Wood), Gayego, Papa Clem & Line of David (Arkansas Derby) (the last of whom was actually coming off wins on the turf), and Lookin at Lucky and Sierra Sunset (?). What all these horses had in common is that they had top synthetic form…then carried that form to dirt. If synthetics were such a different animal, wouldn’t their form alter dramatically? Of the group, I’d say that only I Want Revenge seemed to really jump forward on dirt (and I mean visually; Beyers Figures are routinely lower on synthetics, just as they are on turf, so judging by that metric is pointless). The rest generally proved equally adept at both surfaces.

    But all this wasn’t the point of Mr. Wilson’s article. He stated that “synthetics have been dulling [the] brilliance” of horses like “Lookin At Lucky, Blind Luck and Zenyatta.” Again, a champion, a two-time Grade I winner (on synthetics) with a 7-length tally over synthetics in a Grade I, and an unbeaten all-time great. There is nothing to suggest their brilliance was dulled.

    In any case, good chat.

  7. Also Tiznow, as regards East Coast shippers having success in West Coast preps: I honestly can’t think of one legitimate contender who shipped west for So Cal’s Derby preps. More often it’s West Coast trainers shipping east to give their horses experience on conventional dirt.

  8. Regareless of what anybody says, here are some facts: Once Aqueduct’s slot machines start spinning, it will mark the end of parity between NY an SoCal. NY purses will skyrocket, and NY will steal away top talented horses, jockeys and trainers. And I don’t blame them. The horse industry in Calif is hurting REAL bad. They have resorted to raising the takeout to raise purses. A move that will only alienate the bettors that they have left. If your product isn’t being bought, you don’t raise the price. The problem is that the Indian Casinos in the golden state heavily contribute to the campaigns of the California politicians. Those politicians will protect the Indians monopoly. THERE IS NO RELIEF IN SIGHT. Prediction: 5 years from now, Calif horse racing will be below: Indiana, Philadelphia, Delaware, Presque Isle, Oaklawn, Fair Grounds, and certainly New York. Let’s face it, the good horses will go where the purses are the biggest. And they should go. Unless Calif can muster a great lobbying campaign or team up with the Indians, Calif racing will be a class 2 league.

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