Clearly Now impressed when he won the Belmont Sprint Championship. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
The importance of a new track record is often blown out of proportion. Many are often established in particularly extraordinary conditions – a rock-hard turf course, a particularly “souped” dirt track with some easily identified bias.
Comparing individual performances to those records can be troubling as they stand as an emblazoned example of superiority, often without the required asterisk. Last year at Jebel Ali Racecourse in Dubai, a whipping tailwind in excess of 40 miles-per-hour aided horses up the steeply inclined homestretch. Almost every record on the dirt course fell that day, and the competition establishing these new Aeolian-inspired marks were comparable to low-level claimers. Belmont Park’s dirt track was obviously fast last Saturday.
That said, Clearly Now’s win in Saturday’s Belmont Sprint Championship, a new track record, was an impressive effort. Supporters of the Brian Lynch trainee have been patient as the colt has endured a host of trouble in each of his last four efforts. His emphatic march in the $400,000 race is deserving of the accolades, trouncing eight rivals by 6 ¼ lengths. While Trakus’s timing methods differ from the official times (1:19.96 – track, 1:20.11 – Trakus), both were clear of the esteemed Left Bank’s course mark. Unlike many dirt sprints, often an effort in late-race futility where horses run fast early and slow considerably, Clearly Now bucked that common occurrence.
Based on Trakus timings, Clearly Now’s final two furlongs were faster than his first two furlongs (22.71 v. 23.15). Want crazier? The son of Horse Greeley clocked his final quarter faster than the leader’s opening quarter mile (22.71 v. 22.77). While these instances are frequently witnessed on grass, this is an extreme rarity in an American dirt sprint. Early leader Moonlight Song was tracked by the other logical pace presence in the race, Dads Caps, but neither went ridiculously quick. This compact early section of the race left Clearly Now with plenty in the tank.
Interestingly, sixth placer Central Banker also managed the rarity, running faster final splits than his early race sectionals. While somewhat more understandable given that Central Banker was nearly eight lengths adrift of the early pace, his final quarter in 23.34 seconds bested his first quarter in 23.64, a remarkably slow early split for a graded stakes sprint on a quick dirt track.
From a future handicapping standpoint, how one properly assesses this race seems incredibly challenging. While the Belmont dirt was playing fast last Saturday, to see a horse like Central Banker, a winner of a Grade 2 dirt sprint stake in his previous start, run the first two furlongs of this race almost as slow as the first quarter of the Suburban (a 1 ¼-mile affair, with the first two furlongs run exclusively on a turn), is just vexing.
Saturday’s card was a stellar one for Jose Lezcano, who partnered Clearly Now to the Belmont Sprint Championship win, then added wins in the Belmont Derby with outsider Mr Speaker and the Suburban with another longshot, Zivo. The ride on Zivo was particularly special, with Lezcano covering the shortest trip around Belmont’s odd configuration for the 1 ¼-mile event. Second place finisher Moreno covered 36 feet more than Zivo, equating to roughly 4 ¼ lengths of extra ground. Moreno was drawn widest in gate eleven and beaten only three lengths.
Lexie Lou has endured wide trips in her last two starts but they didn’t hurt, taking the Woodbine Oaks and North America’s oldest continuously run race, the Queen’s Plate. Favored We Miss Artie missed the break and ran credibly but faded after chasing wide. The Ken and Sarah Ramsey colt ran the fourth-fastest fourth quarter-mile of the Queen’s Plate before plateauing in the stretch, finishing fourth. Ami’s Holiday, who broke from the widest gate in fifteen, recorded the fastest final quarter, home in 26.69 seconds, 0.18 seconds faster than Lexie Lou.
PATRICK HUSBANDS CELEBRATES AFTER LEXIE LOU'S VICTORY IN THE QUEEN'S PLATE
Could 65.20-to-1 longshot Awesome Eclipse have been best in Woodbine’s Highlander Stakes on Sunday? Granted, this rank outsider was running into a swift tempo set by a very game eventual winner Something Extra, but Awesome Eclipse covered the widest trip in the field, going 33 feet more than the winner around the one long, sweeping Woodbine turn. Beaten just 1 ½ lengths, it was a mammoth effort in the Grade 2 event for a 7-year-old gelding making his first start in stakes company. Awesome Eclipse had made just one start in nearly three years between September 2010 and August 2013. Something Extra did have that after running with the hot pace in the Highlander, but the connections of Awesome Eclipse must have felt like a winner given the long road they’ve traveled with this old warrior.