Monday, October 27, 2014

Guest Post: The Case for Flintshire in the BC Turf

--Mark Cramer

There are three essential reasons why Flintshire (GB) (Dansili {GB}) should be able to win the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf: track condition, the level of competition he's confronted, and the André Fabre cycle. It is often noted that horses coming from the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe face the constraint of a peak race plus short interval. However, both of Fabre's BC Turf winners, In the Wings in 1990 and Shirocco in 2006, came from the Arc, where they each finished fourth. So we can call it a pattern match for Flintshire. Call it the Arc de Triomphe as prep race.
Fabre's Arcangues, winner of the 1993 BC Classic at 133-1, "prepped" the day prior to the Arc, finishing 10th on a heavy track in the Prix Dollar.

Like Arcangues, Flintshire figures to improve on a dry surface. Given his record, Flintshire should relish drought-stricken California, where he will be delivered a firm surface. His record on tracks listed as soft would not warrant a trip to the BC: four races with a second-place finish, two fourths and an eighth. On tracks listed as good, he's won three and finished second three times. His seconds in the Epson Coronation Cup to Cirrus des Aigles (Fr) (Even Top {Ire}) and to Treve (Fr) (Motivator {GB}) in the recent Arc put him in the most elite company. Several of the horses that finished behind him in the Arc could have ended up favored in the BC Turf.

The problem is that Flintshire's win payout, that is, if he wins, figures to be less than the generous place return I got from him in the Arc. He is currently listed as race favorite in both Britain and the USA. Much more often than not, the heavy Euro favorite finishes behind a higher-odds Euro horse in BC races.

Such was the case in last year's BC Turf, when the even-money The Fugue (GB) (Dansili {GB}) got caught by Magician (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), trained by Aidan O'Brien, who was 7-1. Like Flintshire, Magician does his best racing when the surface gets firmer, but needs a patient ride.

Similarly, Michael Stoute's Telescope (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) has excelled when the surface is listed as good-to-firm. Telescope was defeated by the filly Taghrooda (GB) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) at his best distance of 12 furlongs at Ascot. The difference was three lengths. If you believe in "who beat who," then Flintshire looks good by comparison, having finished a length and a quarter ahead of the wide-racing Taghrooda in the Arc. The who-beat-whoers would also have to consider the horse that defeated Magician in the Arlington Million, Hardest Core (Hard Spun).

At this writing in the British books, Flintshire and Telescope are vying for favoritism between 7-2 and 4-1. You can get as much as 6-1 on Magician. Hardest Core is 12-1. The former European horse Main Sequence (Aldebaran) has followed the pattern of horses that have underachieved in Europe because they have craved firmer surfaces. He has thrived for Graham Motion on firm surfaces in the USA and his odds have been coming down to around 6-1. The American odds thus far have Flintshire at 7-2, Telescope 5-1 and Magician at 6-1, with Main Sequence, distinguished for winning photo finishes, also at 6-1.

Most factors still give Flintshire the edge, except for one: the odds. Can the man who has produced Breeders' Cup winners in double- and triple-figure payoffs do it again when he's got the favorite? Fabre faces multiple BC Turf-winning trainers Stoute and O'Brien, as well as the former Euro now longtime American, Graham Motion, who's also won a BC Turf.

Let's see the odds. Backing heavily bet Euro horses in the BC is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. With all the contention, we should demand a double-figure payoff.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Few Lessons from the Arc

by Mark Cramer
By now, everyone knows that Trêve (Fr)(Motivator {GB}) has scored an unprecedented repeat victory in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
But what happened in the three weeks between Trêve’s disappointing fourth in the Prix Vermeille and the convincing win in the Arc?

Alec and Criquette Head at the post race press conference
If you check the sanitized press release from France Galop, it would appear that owner Sheikh Joann Bin Hamad Al Thani knew in his heart that Trêve would be able to do it again. But Madame Christiane Head-Maarek told the press conference audience that “It was not easy to tell Sheikh Al Thani to not rule Trêve out of the Arc. In fact, she asked him to “just have faith in me”.
She was under pressure from others as well. Following the Vermeille, rider Thierry Jarnet said to the trainer, “Maybe you should retire her.”
To take what would seem to be such an extraordinary risk, Madame Head would need someone to encourage her. Her father and breeder of Trêve Alec Head never stopped believing in both the filly and his daughter. “I was certain she was going to win,” he said. “I’m crazy with joy for my daughter Criquette.”
One of the thousands of Japanese fans takes a picture
In the winners’ circle, Madame Head shed profuse tears of joy. She later told us that this victory was even sweeter than last year’s Arc. There was no secret that Trêve suffered from foot and back ailments. “After all the problems I went through with her, this was my best day ever,” she affirmed.
If a persistent and loving hands-on training led to this victory in the Arc, the story of the second half of the Arc exacta also involves perhaps the most underrated trainer skill of all: patience. As I hadmentioned in my previous article, “If the track is still dry, Flintshire becomes an in-the-money longshot inclusion.”
Flintshire (GB)(Dansili {GB}), trained by André Fabre, had been hounded by bad weather. As we noted, all of his poor performances occurred on soft or heavy tracks. But if you edited out those occasions, you ended up with a near perfect horse.
Mr. Fabre cannot control the weather, so he simply had to wait, scratching the horse on occasions when the track would come up too wet or grudgingly running him. Here in France we try to read the mind of Mr. Fabre, because unlike Madame Head, he does not talk to the press. But the word was out that Flintshire much preferred a firm surface. Still, he went off at 20/1. Even though Madame Head announced before the race that Trêve was much better now, her odds were up to 14/1.
It is highly unlikely that Trêve will come to the Breeders’ Cup. Sheikh Al Thani told Madame Head that he’d be “scared that something could happen to her”, and he’s said that Trêve would be retired.
On the other hand, Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, the representative of owner Prince Khaled Abdullah, Flintshire’s owner, announced that “He could now run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”
I’m not sure I can handle next year’s Arc. Once again, I had to observe the disappointed faces of the legion of Japanese race lovers when two of the three Japanese stars made their gallant moves too late.
Both  Harp Star (Jpn)(Deep Impact {Jpn}), sixth, and Just a Way (Jpn) (Heart’s Cry {Jpn}), eighth, finished within a length of fourth place.

From Criquette Head and indirectly from André Fabre I learned a few lessons about patience and persistence. From the Japanese racing fans the lesson is to never give up. They will be back.