Keys to a Horse Reversing its Racing Fortune

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Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

It’s not unusual for horses who finished 1-2 in a race to meet again. And it’s not unusual for the runner-up to gain a measure of revenge in the rematch.

Yes, Affirmed beat Alydar in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Yet there are plenty of times similar to the day when Easy Goer finally defeated Sunday Silence in the 1989 Belmont Stakes.

An example at a much lower profile came on Feb. 28 in the third race at Gulfstream Park when Captain Gaughen and Gran Malbec squared off again.

On Dec. 27, when the two met previously, it was Gran Malbec who set the pace and then Captain Gaughen surged past in the final furlong to win by two lengths as the 2-1 favorite.

So, when they met again on Feb. 28 at the same distance of five furlongs on the turf, why would the circumstances be different?

For one, in looking at Gran Malbec’s past performances, the fractions for the Dec. 27 race were inordinately fast for him. He led through a first quarter-mile in 21 seconds and half-mile in 43 4/5 seconds after averaging fractions of 22 1/5 and 44 4/5 in his three previous starts – all of them wins.

He also faced nine rivals that day and tackled only six now, giving him the potential for less pressure on the front end. Also, a check of those rivals found no one who was a determined front-runner that would assuredly force him to once again carve out blazing fractions.

In addition, in a five-furlong turf sprint, speed horses have an inherent advantage because if a closer like Captain Gaughen encounters the slightest bit of a problem, it leaves him with little time to catch up.

Finally, since that Dec. 27 race, Captain Gaughen finished second in a Jan. 18 race while Gran Malbec was given a rest. In this day and age, trainers give their horses longer periods of rest than they did a few decades ago, and horses often respond well to a brief freshening.

Considering all of that, Gran Malbec was an inviting play at 9-2 and he did indeed turn the tables on Captain Gaughen.

After setting fractions of 21 4/5 and 44 4/5 seconds, the fresher Gran Malbec had enough energy left over in the stretch to hold off his rival, who was the 4-5 favorite, and prevail by three-quarters of a length.

The payoff was $11 for a $2 win bet and if you flipped the exacta and put Gran Malbec over Captain Gaughen, the return ballooned to a nice $25.60, provided you focused on Easy Goer rather than Alydar.

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