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Jeff Siegel: Five Takeaways from the Week Concluding December 5, 2021

by Jeff Siegel

December 10, 2021

“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding December 5, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper

1 - The sudden passing of Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit following a workout at Santa Anita Monday morning was the subject of reactions on social media that, as expected, ranged from a small minority containing statements of grief and sorrow for the colt and his connections to the overwhelming majority expressing raging condemnation of the sport itself and blame to trainer Bob Baffert, who has become the scapegoat for all that is wrong with thoroughbred racing and therefore must be unequivocally responsible for this tragic occurrence even before a necropsy is conducted and completed by the University of California-Davis School of Veterinarian Medicine.

The cause of death from the postmortem examination most likely will be cardiovascular caused by an undetectable condition, but until the results are released – probably not for several weeks if not months – the industry again will be under severe attack.

An equine fatality under this type of circumstance is extremely rare, but when it happens to the Derby winner from the barn of a trainer that has been responsible for several bad tests and unexplained deaths in recent years and who has been barred for two years from entering horses in the most famous horse race in the world – the Kentucky Derby – the game’s critics are provided with an enormous amount of fuel to spread their agendas. In the coming days and weeks, they most certainly will be heard from and promoted by mainstream media. Brace yourself.

As an owner of a filly who suffered the same fate after pulling up following a race at Del Mar 20 years ago, I can relate to what the people involved in this magnificent racehorse are currently going through, and it has nothing to do with money. Most participate for sport, and almost all have deeper feelings for the animal than they can truly express. If a human is at fault or in some way contributed to the death of Medina Spirit, it will be determined, but I suspect that isn’t going to be the case. Tragedy happens. Though the anti-horseracing groups and even some within the industry surely will rush to judgement, it might be prudent to just wait for the findings.

2 - Irad Ortiz, Jr. is a terrific jockey, a three-time Eclipse Award winner, but colleagues who watch him on a day-to-day basis on the New York circuit say he’s morphed into a modern day version of Manny Ycaza multiplied by 10 and use as evidence incidents such as what occurred at Aqueduct in Friday’s eighth race. His thoroughly unacceptable actions resulted in a month-long suspension that surely would have been far more severe had both the horse and rider that he fouled not escaped without harm. Ortiz, Jr. technically was suspended for “careless riding.” But after viewing the video of his over-the-top aggressiveness aboard Gran Cacique when he recklessly came over sharply to the rail and literally dropped bug boy Omar Hernandez Moreno, “careless” appears to be a considerable understatement. “Premeditated” might better describe it.

That wasn’t all. On the following day, Ortiz, Jr. surprisingly survived a stewards’ inquiry after piloting Mo Donegal to a narrow victory in the Remsen S.-G2 despite shifting in a couple of lanes (premeditated, for sure) approaching the wire and throwing an elbow above the head of runner-up Zandon, ridden by Johnny Velasquez, which very likely impacted the result for at least as much if not more than the official margin (a nose) of victory.

The elbow trick may be part of the act in the WWF, but I'm going to assumed it is frowned upon in this sport.

Surprisingly, the suspension encompasses 30 calendar days – not racing days – and won’t be appealed, which means Irad will be off until just after the New Year. Hopefully, he’ll utilize the time off for some self reflection.

3 - Somewhat lost in the Remsen controversy was the outstanding performance turned in by the first two finishers in a race that earned a strong 89 Beyer speed figure. Mo Donegal was third in his debut sprinting at Belmont Park in late September but now won two straight, including a strong maiden middle distance affair at Belmont Park last month. Since he’s already shown he can handle a mile and one-eighth, there shouldn’t be any questions about distance as he prepares next winter for the spring classics.

The son of Uncle Mo brought “only” $250,000 as a Keeneland yearling last year – the really good ones by this stallion usually sell for considerably more – but there only two Stakes winners listed in the first four generations of his female family, so perhaps a relatively light page kept the auction price reasonable.

Zandon is a son of Upstart that brought $170,000 at that same Keeneland sale. He has even less pedigree on the bottom side than Mo Donegal and showed only a debut maiden sprint win on his resume prior to the Remsen but galloped out considerably stronger, so trainer Chad Brown has plenty to work with. The two promising youngsters likely to cross paths again next winter at Gulfstream Park.

4 - Two significant races for juvenile fillies last Saturday, one on each coast, reaffirmed what we’ve known for more than a month, that Echo Zulu remains pounds the best in the juvenile filly division and seems certain to be the Eclipse Award winner by a unanimous vote. This isn’t to detract from Eda, successful in the Starlet S.-G1 at Los Alamitos by a half-length from Cairo Memories, or Nest, victorious in the Demoiselle S.-G2 at Aqueduct, by a neck from Venti Valentine. They’re nice fillies for sure, and Nest, a daughter of Curlin, deserves extra credit for being forced to race wide every step of the way before staying on bravely to get up close home.

However, when the final time is so dreadfully slow – a mile and one-eighth in 1:55 flat – it’s difficult to embrace the Demoiselle as anything more than a showcase for a plodder. Yet, the Beyer number, adjusted for the deepish, testing racing surface that negatively impacted the performance of the two-year-old fillies much more so than the older horses, came up a not-too-bad 76, so we remain bullish on the Pletcher-trained filly and anticipate that she’ll likely develop with maturity and seasoning.

5 - Caught a glimpse on Saturday of what we believe will be a slam dunk future stakes winner next winter when Chad Brown unveiled Marketsegmentation in a maiden special weight middle distance turf event for juveniles at Aqueduct. She’s a daughter of American Pharoah that was purchased as a weanling at Keeneland for $200,000 but RNA’d at last year’s September sale for $120,000. The first two dams are empty, but the third dam produced Irish champion 2-year-old Fasliyev, so it wasn’t surprising to see her debut going long on the lawn, even though she had never trained on grass and was ignored on the tote, leaving at 8-1 in the 10-runner affair.

She settled beautifully in a stalking position to the head of the lane and then quickened easily when giver her cue to win going away by more than two lengths with a ton left in the tank. While this might be comparing apples to oranges, her Beyer figure of 76 was the same earned by Nest in the Demoiselle. Wouldn’t mind owning either one.