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Flag on the Play

by Johnny D

March 15, 2018

Saturday at Santa Anita going a mile and one-sixteenth, two of the nation's top-ranked 3-year-olds met in the San Felipe Stakes. Bolt d'Oro, runner-up in 2017 voting for top 2-year-old honors, and McKinzie, an unbeaten Grade 1 winner, put on a show worth of the price of admission. Eyeballing as if one owed the other money, the pair and their jockeys exchanged hip checks, elbows and enough 'high sticks' between the turn and finish to satisfy a hockey fan. McKinzie ultimately proved a head better.

Yours truly celebrated. Not so much as a McKinzie fan, but more as the excited, proud owner of a seemingly mature $5 Cross-Country Pick 4 wager that figured to return over five grand! 

Unfortunately (don't you hate it when there's an 'Unfortunately'), the party was short-lived. There was a flag on the play. The San Felipe result was subjected to both a stewards' inquiry and a jockey's objection against the winner. High-fives froze in mid-air. Smiles evaporated. 

Replays of two incidents played as if on a loop. One occurred off the turn, where the pair first came together. The second happened in the stretch run to the wire. It seemed clear to yours truly that both horses and their riders had contributed in kind and, therefore, shared blame. In short, 'No Change!' 

Bolt d'Oro and Javier Castellano's indiscretion off the final turn--bumping McKinzie and Mike Smith in an effort to discourage them--would balance the latter's drifting out in the stretch. You know, Fifty-Fifty. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Turnabout is fair play. Tit for tat. And a sibling's fabvorite, 'He/she started it!' 

When red-boarding such decisions, in order to claim impartiality, experts often declare that they 'had no dog in the fight.' This time, for me, it was different. I not only 'had a dog in the fight'…it was a $5,000 dog. And he didn't fare well. The stewards disqualified McKinzie from victory and declared Bolt d'Oro winner of the 2018 San Felipe Stakes. 

According to California Horse Racing Board chief steward and former jockey Darrel McHargue, "The shots that were shown were inconclusive as to who initiated the contact at the head of the stretch. So, they (stewards) couldn't be clear on any one horse. The incident inside the sixteenth pole was clear. McKinzie, number four, came out under a left-handed whip and shifted number one, Bolt d'Oro, out, off his path and cost him a better placing. The margin of win was only a head so therefore, McKinzie was taken down."

That it took stewards between 10-15 minutes to render a unanimous decision is puzzling and suggests much hair-splitting in the judges' stand. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson or Henry David Thoreau, 'those that steward best, steward least.' Ask any professional athlete: preferred officials are the ones hardly noticed. In other words, let the boys and girls (equine and human) settle things on the racetrack, unless and only when a clear and indisputable foul occurs. 

No matter which side of the San Felipe verdict is endorsed, racing fans must be impressed by the combatants. They ran fast, determinedly and without excuses. They are the two best runners we've seen on Kentucky Derby trail so far this season. Certainly, the extraordinary Justify, who impressed again Sunday in an allowance race around two turns for the first time, deserves attention, but he's got to out-foot both history and the calendar, as well as other foes. He closed Sunday at 6-1, shortest-priced single choice in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3.  The entry representing 'All Other 3-Year-Olds' checked in as the actual favorite at 4-1, with Bolt d'Oro third choice at 7-1, followed by McKinzie at 9-1.    

Two other important races in the Kentucky Derby Champion Series worth 50 qualifying points each to winners were decided Saturday: Enticed won the Gotham in New York and Quip took the Tampa Bay Derby. Neither of those displayed the quality of Bolt d'Oro or McKinzie.

Enticed galloped home ears-pricked, easily clear of longshot pacesetter Old Time Revival. Distance seems no issue for the Godolphin runner, but the waters will get much deeper in subsequent starts. In future engagements he'll be required to run, not to gallop, the final quarter. Firenze Fire and Free Drop Billy, two popular choices in the Gotham, finished third and fourth, but never really threatened. They seemed to 'get in each other's way' a briefly down the backstretch, but it's not productive to invent excuses. 

At Tampa Bay Downs, Quip stalked favored pacesetter World of Trouble through comfortable fractions, sparred briefly with that one in the stretch and then drew clear for the win. Flameaway closed a bit after the fact for second, but raced a bit too greenly in the lane for my tastes. Not much else in there.

As demoralized as yours truly was following Saturday's Cross-Country Pick 4 disqualification in the San Felipe, he gamely rebounded Sunday with a concerted effort in Gulfstream's growing Rainbow Six. With the jackpot around $3 million, payoffs for correctly selecting all six winners are attractive at 20-cents a throw-even if a player holding a perfect ticket has company. 

 The first leg of the wager Sunday was a typical Gulfstream maiden, full-field, turf grab bag. Yours truly could make a case for just about everyone in the field, so I used 'em all. That's a move many can't do with a $2 pick six minimum. Lalibela rocked the board at $65 for trainer Michael Matz and leading jock Luis Saez! Miss O'Hara ($23) took the next for Rusty Arnold under Jose Lezcano-one of a quartet on the ticket. Milbra ($17.80), for Aubrey Maragh and Saez, won the third leg as part of a trio. First-time starter Miss Mimosa ($17.40), under Irad Ortiz from the rail for Bill Mott, took the fourth leg as part of another four-spread. The Hardest Way ($5.20), a single, scored next for James Kirk under Tyler Gafflione.  Finally, Capital Carol ($6.40) took the finale with Irad Ortiz for Joe Orseno as winning half of a two-ball play.

Six of six on a $230.40 ticket returned $30,870.  This time the result stood. No flag on the play. 

Race On!