by Jon White
March 17, 2022
Speed figure devotees are up in arms after Classic Causeway recorded a modest Beyer Speed Figure when he won last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby.
Students of pace are knocking Classic Causeway because the only time he was not in front early, he got beat. That was when the Brian Lynch-trained colt finished second to Smile Happy in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.
“Three horses -- Epicenter, Forbidden Kingdom and Early Voting -- all have early speed and they have stamina,” TV broadcaster Andy Serling said during last Sunday’s broadcast of “America’s Day at the Races” on Fox Sports2. “But I don’t know if [Classic Causeway] is as good as any of those three. We’ll see what happens in the Blue Grass.”
According to Lynch, if all is going well, Classic Causeway will be running next in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on April 9.
“I’d love to see Brian Lynch win a [Kentucky] Derby,” Serling continued. “And he’s terrific. But I’d just don’t think he,” meaning Classic Causeway, “is good enough. And I wonder if his best races in front of him are going to be going seven furlongs, races like the Woody Stephens and the Allen Jerkens. I think he’ll be able to compete in Grade I races, I just don’t know if it will be against these horses going long.”
Is Serling right? Maybe. Maybe not. As they say, time will tell.
I do know that Classic Causeway has not exactly staggered home in either of his two races this year. He won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths on Feb. 12 and the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby by 2 3/4 lengths last Saturday, both at 1 1/16 miles. In both races, he led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, then increased his advantage in the final furlong without being hard ridden to do so.
Look, I think it’s fair to say that Classic Causeway has not beaten much in those two races. On the other hand, he was a dominant winner on both occasions while winning with relative ease.
In both of his two 2022 starts, Classic Causeway has exited the gate so fast that it left Quarter Horse trainers from Los Alamitos to Ruidoso Downs to Remington Park drooling.
On a track classified as “good” because of moisture on it from a morning rainstorm, Classic Causeway made every pole a winning one last Saturday. He cruised along while rattling off early fractions of :23.67, :48.17 and 1:13.18. After going one mile in 1:38.40, he prevailed by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:44.90 as the 4-5 favorite in the field of 10.
Classic Causeway’s individual fractional times were :23.67, :24.50, :25.01, :25.22 and :06.50.
I loved the way Classic Causeway looked while galloping out and returning to the winner’s circle. It appeared to me that the race had taken very little out of him, as if it was not much more than a workout. Lynch noticed this, too.
On the radio program “Thoroughbred Los Angeles” last Sunday, Lynch said to Mike Willman: “The gallop out was fantastic, as was the way he came back to the winner’s circle.”
To Mike Henry of Tampa Bay Downs publicity, Lynch said that “there was a very strong headwind going up the backstretch, and he was geared down late [by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.].”
Wind and being geared down late are not factors taken into account when a member of the Beyer Speed Figure team calculates a speed figure.
“I thought his Beyer might have been a little bit higher, but he did is so nicely it’s not something I’m worried about…Visually, to my eyes, he ran a 110 Beyer,” Lynch said.
There is no question anything like an 84 Beyer Speed Figure will not come anywhere close to being good enough to win the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
In the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website, Beyer Speed Figures for the Kentucky Derby go back to Sunday Silence’s 102 in 1989.
Only once has the winner of the Kentucky Derby recorded a Beyer lower than 100. That was when California Chrome received a 97 in the 2014 renewal.
So you can see that not even a 94 Beyer would likely be good enough to get the job done in the 1 1/4-mile classic this year, let alone an 84.
Would most speed figure buffs have a more favorable view of Classic Causeway if he had recorded a 94 Beyer in the Tampa Bay Derby? I would think so. What if sometime down the line the Beyer Speed Figure team decided to boost Classic Causeway’s 84 to, say, a 94? That probably isn’t going to happen. But if it did, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Just this week, Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that “the Beyer Speed Figure for the horses who ran in the Grade III, $250,000 Withers Stakes on Feb. 5 at Aqueduct has been elevated by nine points with the winner, Early Voting (pictured above), having now been assigned an 87.”
What? The Beyer Speed Figure for the 11 runners in the Withers has been raised nine points? This is not what you call a minor adjustment.
Andrew Beyer, father of these particular speed figures and head of the Beyer Speed Figure-making team, takes the approach that if at some point a figure looks like it’s off, it’s best to change it. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with that. It tells me that it’s Beyer’s goal to make his speed figures as accurate as possible. For that, I applaud him.
Grening wrote that the Withers figures have been changed “to reflect the improvement horses who finished behind Early Voting have shown in their subsequent starts following the Withers.”
Un Ojo, second in the Withers, went on to win the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 26.
Grantham, fourth in the Withers, ran second to Classic Causeway in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
Smarten Up, sixth in the Withers, lost by a scant nose when he finished second in the City of Brotherly Love Stakes at Parx Racing on March 8.
“Andrew Beyer, who developed the speed figures decades ago, said there was some discussion among his team early on that the Withers figure might have been too low,” Grening wrote. “Beyer noted the figure was difficult to make in part because it was the only two-turn race on that day’s nine-race card.”
According to Beyer, races are frequently flagged for possible adjustments when the figure was deemed difficult to make due to weather/track conditions or possible timing issues.
“There was enough of a body of evidence to suggest that 78 was too low,” Beyer said. “At the time of the race we wouldn’t have been smart enough to know that. None of the top six finishers in the Withers had ever run a figure of 76. It looked like it could have indeed been a weak field, but when these horses started coming back we boosted the number to an 87 to jibe with the subsequent performances of the horses. There are plenty of times when the two-turn races will have a different character, a different variant than one-turn races. If there had been another two-turn race on the card we wouldn’t have been so wary of this.”
DON’T OVERLOOK THE DEBUT BEYER
While many are down on Classic Causeway for not getting a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 84 in the Tampa Bay Derby, it’s not as if all his figs stink. He was credited with a 90 Beyer for his sparkling 6 1/2-length victory when unveiled in a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga last Sept. 4.
Making Classic Causeway’s debut win all the more impressive was he pummeled 2-year-olds trained by such Hall of Famers as Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen and Bill Mott, plus youngsters sent out by such other successful conditioners as Barclay Tagg, Al Stall Jr., Dallas Stewart and George Weaver.
A 90 is a pretty darn serious Beyer for a 2-year-old. In fact, Classic Causeway’s 90 tied for being the 14th highest Beyer by a 2-year-old in 2021.
There are times when a 2-year-old will get an admirable Beyer or Beyers because they are so precocious. They turn out to be something of a flash in the pan when they go on to not do all that well as a 3-year-old.
But from what you have seen from Classic Causeway in his two races this year, does it appear to you that he has not improved as a 3-year-old? It sure looks like he’s better this year than last year to me. He didn’t win a single stakes race at 2. He’s won two graded stakes races at 3.
Keep in mind that Classic Causeway’s 90 Beyer in his debut was just a bit lower than the highly regarded Jack Christopher’s 92 when he won a six-furlong Saratoga maiden race by 8 3/4 lengths in an excellent 1:09.85 at first asking on Aug. 28.
Jack Christopher then won the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 2. He eventually was credited with a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for that performance. But I have become skeptical as to the validity of that figure. I think it might be too high.
The final time for Jack Christopher’s 2 3/4-length win in the one-mile Champagne was initially listed as 1:37.31, after which he received a 92 Beyer Speed Figure to match his debut fig. But on Oct. 7, a DRF story written by Beyer revealed that the figure had been changed to a 102.
“The final time of the Champagne was evidently in error,” Beyer wrote when shedding light as to what was behind the dramatic change in Jack Christopher’s figure to a 102 from a 92.
Untrustworthiness concerning the timing of horse races in this country has become rampant, which is inexcusable. As I have written numerous times, humans have the ability to control a rover 48 million miles away on Mars, yet the timing of horse races in this country is called into question WAY TOO OFTEN these days.
“After exhaustive efforts to clock the video of the [Champagne], the Beyer Speed Figure team credits Jack Christopher with a final time of 1:36.48, which translates into a figure of 102,” Beyer wrote.
Evidently, Beyer was right that the final time initially was wrong.
The original Equibase chart listed the fractional times as :23.57, :46.49 and 1:11.15, with a final time of 1:37.31.
But if you delve into the historical chart section on the Equibase website and check out the chart for the 2021 Champagne, the fractional times now are listed as :22.92, :45.94 and 1:09.86, with a final time of 1:36.72 (compared to the final time of 1:36.48 arrived at by the Beyer Speed Figure team).
Beyer explained that “Randy Moss of the Beyer Speed Figure team uses sophisticated video-editing software to time races from video replays, and he regularly reviews races where the data is either questionable or entirely missing.”
Regarding Moss’ final time of 1:36.48 and the resultant figure, he told Beyer, “I am confident within one Beyer point, plus or minus,” with respect to the 102 figure.
But it’s looking more and more to yours truly that the adjusted 102 Beyer for the Champagne maybe should be lower.
Boosting Jack Christopher’s Champagne figure to 102 had the domino effect of improving the Beyer for each of the other five starters in the race. Runner-up Commandperformance was a maiden at the time of the Champagne, a fact that does not exactly lend credence to the strength of the race.
And Commandperformance still is a maiden after he lost by 5 1/2 lengths when he finished second as a 1-20 favorite in a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday in his first start since the Champagne.
Based on Jack Christopher’s Beyer being a 102 in the Champagne, Commandperformance’s figures to date are 85, then 96 in the Champagne, then 82, then 79.
Do any of those four Beyer Speed Figures look out of whack to you?
What if we go instead with Jack Christopher’s original Beyer of 92 in the Champagne? Commandperformance’s sequence of figures makes more sense: 85, then 85, then 82, then 79.
Do you see why I’m a cynic when it comes to Jack Christopher’s 102 Beyer for the Champagne being that high?
Jack Christopher’s 102 Beyer in the Champagne ranked as the best figure by a 2-year-old, male or female, in 2021.
The next-highest Beyer of the year was Corniche’s 98 for his win in the Grade I BC Juvenile, followed by the questionable 96 by Commandperformance in the Champagne.
Speaking of the BC Juvenile, the subsequent form by its participants has been, with one exception, dreadful.
BC Juvenile starters are a combined 1 for 14 since. The lone victory came when Pinehurst took the Group III Saudi Derby on Feb. 26.
The far more productive juvenile race last year, as you may well know, was the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27. Runners from that race are a combined 4 for 17 since, but adding to the strength of the KJC is the fact that all 4 of those ensuing victories have come in graded stakes events.
Classic Causeway finished second as the 7-5 favorite in the KJC. As mentioned earlier, he’s won this year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
White Abarrio ran third at 6-1 in the KJC. In his only 2022 start so far, he won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5. Holy Bull runner-up Simplification then won Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5.
Call Me Midnight ended up seventh at 48-1 in the KJC. In his one start thus far this year, he was victorious in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 22.
Smile Happy won the KJC at 9-2. He did not win his 2022 debut, but he gave a good account of himself. He finished second as the 2-1 favorite to Epicenter in Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 19.
IS A BIG FIG BEFORE THE BIG RACE MANDATORY?
Obviously it’s preferable for a horse to be a triple-digit Beyer machine like American Pharoah going into the Kentucky Derby. After a 75 Beyer Speed Figure when defeated in his career debut, American Pharoah reeled off Beyers of 101, then 101, then 100, then 105 during a four-race winning streak going into the Run for the Roses. He got another 105 in the Kentucky Derby.
Can a horse win the roses without recording a big fig beforehand? Yes. As recently as 2019, Country House went into the Kentucky Derby having not recorded a Beyer higher than a 91. He jumped up to a 99 when he finished second in the Derby. Country House was declared the official Kentucky Derby winner after Maximum Security had his number taken down for causing interference.
Pletcher’s two Kentucky Derby winners, Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017, did not post a big Beyer until their penultimate start prior to first Saturday in May.
Super Saver recorded a 93 Beyer when he won the Tampa Bay Derby, tied for his career best until he received a 96 when finishing a close second to Line of David in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. He took his game to an even higher level when he recorded a 104 Beyer in the Kentucky Derby.
Always Dreaming’s highest Beyer was just an 85 before he recorded a 97 for his five-length win in the Grade I Florida Derby. He then got a 102 Beyer in the Kentucky Derby.
The point is, with Classic Causeway expected to have another race before the Kentucky Derby, the opportunity is there for him to do what Super Saver and Always Dreaming did by getting a Beyer in the mid-to-high 90s in the Blue Grass, his final start before seeking the first jewel in the Triple Crown.
MY LATEST KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Following Classic Causeway’s Tampa Bay Derby victory, he moves up one notch to No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
Still at the top of the list is Messier, who recorded a 103 Beyer Speed Figure when he won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths on Feb. 6. The Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt had a marvelous workout last Sunday, five furlongs with blinkers in a bullet :59.40 at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
XBTV did not get video of Messier’s March 7 workout. But XBTV did not miss his work last Sunday, which can be viewed using this link: https://www.xbtv.com/video/empire-maker/messier-worked-5-furlongs-in-59-40-at-santa-anita-park-on-march-13th-2022bob-baffert_sa_220313/
Messier “was spectacular in a Sunday solo breeze from the half-mile pole out to the seven-furlong pole in :59.40 over a deep track that was as impressive as he had done previously in the morning,” 1/ST BET analyst and handicapper Jeff Siegel wrote.
Indeed, Messier was nothing less than poetry in motion last Sunday morning.
Messier appears headed for a clash with speedster Forbidden Kingdom in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 9.
A Kentucky-bred colt by Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Forbidden Kingdom will be going into the Santa Anita Derby off a front-running 5 3/4-length win in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 5. Hall of Famer Richard Mandella trains Forbidden Kingdom, who recorded a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure in the San Felipe.
The razor-sharp filly Secret Oath again is No. 2 on my Top 10 this week. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, via an announcement made last Saturday by retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens on Fox Sports2’s telecast of “America’s Day at the Races,” let the cat out of the bag that Secret Oath will be facing the boys in her next start.
Lukas and Stevens collaborated to capture the 1988 Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors, one of only three fillies to win that race, joining the great Regret in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980.
Secret Oath, as I’ve expected, will be running in the Grade I, $1.25 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Oaklawn Park on April 2 instead of against fillies in the Grade II, $600,000 Fantasy Stakes on the same program.
Owned by Robert and Stacy Mitchell (Briland Farm), Secret Oath has won her last three races at Oaklawn by a combined 23 lengths. Her most recent victory came in the Grade III Honeybee Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
In Robert Yates’ racing news last Sunday on the Oaklawn Park website, Lukas said that even though Secret Oath will be running in the Arkansas Derby, “we have no plans to run in the [Kentucky Derby as of now]. That’s not chiseled in stone, either, but that’s the way the Mitchells feel. They don’t want to run in a 20-horse field. They feel like the Oaks is every bit as prestigious.”
Nevertheless, until the door is slammed shut on Secret Oath running in the Kentucky Derby, I’m keeping her on my Top 10.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
2. Secret Oath
3. Classic Causeway
5. White Abarrio
7. Smile Happy
10. Forbidden Kingdom
Jeff Siegel’s “main players” this week in his Triple Crown rankings are: 1. Messier, 2. Smile Happy, 3. Simplification, 4. Epicenter, 5. White Abarrio, 6. Classic Causeway, 7. Secret Oath, 8. Forbidden Kingdom, 9. Early Voting, 10. Emmanuel, 11. Morello, 12. Zozos, 13. Charge It, 14. Zandon, 15. Mo Donegal, 16. In Due Time.
BUBBLING UNDER MY TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Call Me Midnight
In Due Time
Pioneer of Medina
Rattle N Roll
Slow Down Andy
We the People
STAMINA IN THE PEDIGREE
Classic Causeway is a Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway and the multiple stakes-winning Thunder Gulch mare Private World. While some, like the aforementioned Andy Serling, have doubts as to whether or not Classic Causeway can win going 1 1/8 miles or 1 1/4 miles, there is plenty of stamina in the colt’s pedigree.
Giant’s Causeway had the class and stamina to win the Group I Juddmonte International Stakes at 1 5/16 miles in England and Group I Irish Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles in Ireland.
In the final career start of his career, Giant’s Causeway nearly won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles in 2000, the only time he raced on dirt. He finished second, a neck behind Tiznow, who won a second BC Classic in 2001 while edging another tough European invader in Sakhee. Tiznow is the only two-time BC Classic winner.
Classic Causeway’s maternal grandsire not only had the stamina to succeed in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, but also in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
Much has been made that Classic Causeway is one of just three members from Giant’s Causeway’s final crop -- all colts. And remarkably, two of the three competed in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Giant Game was the other Tampa Bay Derby runner from Giant Causeway’s final crop. Giant Game ran eighth at odds of 12-1. He finished third to Corniche and Pappacap in the not-so-strong BC Juvenile last fall at Del Mar.
What you probably don’t know is that the third member of Giant’s Causeway’s final crop, Monaadah, was “an impressive debut winner” in a 1,400-meter turf race in Dubai last week on March 3, according to Alan Carusso of the Thoroughbred Daily News.
TOP-DOLLAR OFFER REPORTEDLY REJECTED
Classic Causeway is owned by his breeders, Patrick O’Keefe (Kentucky West Racing) and Clarke Cooper. Their racing manager is respected horseplayer Jimmy “The Hat” Allard. It was Allard who introduced O’Keefe to Cooper. I got to know Allard during the many years that I did television commentary from the walking ring for the Santa Anita simulcast network. Allard is one sharp dude.
In a Feb. 18 story for the Paulick Report, Ray Paulick wrote: “Offers have been coming in to buy Classic Causeway, with O’Keefe saying Allard ‘put a $5 million offer on the table’ from a suitor looking for a potential Derby horse.”
That offer was turned down, as have all others so far.
One can only imagine what kind of lucrative offers for Classic Causeway might be being made to O’Keefe and Cooper following the colt’s Tampa Bay Derby victory, regardless of his 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
“When you get to be my age, it ain’t about the money anymore,” said O’Keefe, 80. “I’ve had millions and lost millions. I’d probably blow the money anyhow. Money, with me, has wings. I can make it, but I can’t keep it.”
I was surprised that Classic Causeway was not getting more respect in Kentucky Derby future wagering earlier this year. When I saw how big his future-book odds were in February, I put $100 on him at 50-1 in Las Vegas to win $5,000.
Classic Causeway no longer is a Rodney Dangerfield in Kentucky Derby future wagering. According to horseracingnation.com’s Ron Flatter, Classic Causeway was 9-1 at Circa and 12-1 at Ceasars Sportsbook at William Hill last Monday in Las Vegas.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?
“Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?” is a line from the 1960s Simon & Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson.”
“Where have you gone, Corniche?” is what I am wondering right now in 2022.
Yes, I know, Corniche supposedly is in Kentucky at WinStar Farm. But is he really? Do we have any real evidence of that? Has he gone into the Witness Protection Program?
In a Feb. 4 story written by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, Marette Farrell, racing manager for Corniche’s owners, Peter Fluor and K.C.Weiner of Speedway Stables, said the Kentucky Derby was not being ruled out for the winner of last year’s BC Juvenile and recipient of the 2021 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
“The [Kentucky] Derby is not the be-all and end-all,” Farrell said in the Feb. 4 story. “He’s training away. The tempo of his gallops is speeding up. We’re letting the horse tell us when he’s ready. When he’s ready, we’ll start prioritizing his schedule.
“We’re not rushing him. We’re not forcing him to make the Derby. We’re not ruling out the Derby. We’re aiming for a major 3-year-old campaign.”
Well, if Corniche was training away and the tempo of his gallops was speeding up in early February, then why does Corniche still not have a published workout as of mid-March?
Do you think Corniche’s owners have ruled out the Kentucky Derby yet?
SMILE HAPPY GETS RESPECT AGAIN IN FUTURE WAGER
While the “all others” option closed as the 4-1 favorite, Smile Happy ended up being the lowest price at 6-1 among the 23 individual horses in Pool 4 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future (KDFW), which closed last Sunday.
After Smile Happy, Forbidden Kingdom was next at 7-1. Classic Causeway was 10-1.
Below are the final odds for Pool 4 of the 2022 KDFW:
4-1 “All Other 3-Year-Olds”
6-1 Smile Happy
7-1 Forbidden Kingdom
10-1 Classic Causeway
17-1 Charge It
19-1 Early Voting
22-1 White Abarrio
23-1 Mo Donegal
31-1 Ethereal Road
31-1 Rattle N Roll
36-1 Un Ojo
39-1 Barber Road
48-1 In Due Time
65-1 Major General
68-1 Call Me Midnight
71-1 Pioneer of Medina
Below are the final odds for the 2022 Kentucky Oaks wager:
5-2 Echo Zulu
7-2 Secret Oath
6-1 “All Other 3-Year-Old Fillies”
9-1 Kathleen O.
15-1 Venti Valentine
22-1 Juju’s Map
27-1 Ain’t Easy
36-1 A Mo Reay
37-1 Bubble Rock
38-1 Classy Edition
41-1 Hidden Connection
45-1 Awake At Midnyte
51-1 Goddess of Fire
88-1 Ice Orchid
93-1 Veterans Highway
154-1 Fannie and Freddie
CLELL SHERWOOD AND THE TALE OF ARYESS
The latest Washington Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association (WTBOA) newsletter reported that former jockey Clell Sherwood died on Feb. 17 at his home in Selah, Wash. He was 78.
Shortly before graduating from Selah High School, Sherwood began his career as a jockey.
Sherwood tied with Vern Gibson for the riding title at Yakima Meadows’ spring meet in 1963, then won the title there outright in the spring of 1967.
I was in attendance in 1965 (that’s right, 1965!) at Yakima Meadows when Gibson won the A.E. Penney Memorial Handicap aboard Bilmora. I again was on hand in 1966 when Gibson again won the Penney Handicap, this time with Wilbur (one of my favorite horses at the time). I also was in the crowd when Gibson won the 1967 Miss Spokane Stakes on Quina Reigh at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash., my hometown.
“Clell was the jockey Tom Crawford took to River Downs in 1965 to ride Aryess, where the trainer made several big betting coups with the Washington-bred runner,” it says in the obituary in the WTOBA newsletter.
A while back, Joe Withee produced a terrific video for Emerald Downs about Aryess, featuring recollections from Sherwood and quite a number of photos from the 1960s.
While I was growing up, what Crawford did with Aryess at River Downs was a tale that I heard many times. When I wrote an article about Aryess for the Washington Thoroughbred magazine in 2007, I expected some aspects of the story to have been exaggerated. But much to my surprise, in this particular case, nothing had been embellished from what I had been told.
Crawford was a successful car salesman before turning his fulltime attention to breeding, owning and training racehorses. As a breeder, owner and trainer, his masterpiece was Turbulator, a Washington-bred multiple stakes winner who won 21 races and broke the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs in 1970.
Turbulator was foaled at Crawford’s five-acre ranch near Spokane in 1965. Also in 1965, Crawford decided to take Aryess and six other horses to River Downs. Helping Crawford to get stalls at River Downs was Bob Benoit, who at the time worked in the publicity department at Hollywood Park and was the publicity director at Playfair. Benoit had gotten to know Crawford at Playfair.
“I had tried to get Tom to bring Aryess to Hollywood Park,” Benoit once told me. “He was willing to do it, but they wouldn’t give him any stalls. So I helped him get stalls at River Downs instead. Aryess was one of the horses he took to River Downs in ’65. Aryess was a nice horse.”
Aryess was a five-time stakes winner at Longacres near Seattle. When he won the 1962 Governor’s Handicap at Longacres, he broke the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs.
Aryess was a four-time stakes winner at Playfair, highlighted by victories in two of the track’s most important races, the 1960 Spokane Derby and 1961 Playfair Mile.
The biggest race in the Pacific Northwest is the Longacres Mile. Aryess ran in it three times. He finished 13th in 1961, 11th in 1962 and ninth in 1964.
Even though Aryess was an 8-year-old when he showed up at River Downs in 1965, he was far from washed up, as evidence by his best finish in the Longacres Mile coming just the year before. Crawford’s plan was to sneak Aryess through a $1,500 claiming race on the May 28 opening day of the River Downs meet.
In 1965, hardly anybody at River Downs looking at Aryess’ DRF past performances had any idea how good the races were that he had been running in at tracks with the abbreviations Lga and Pla.
Crawford knew that after Aryess started in that $1,500 claiming race, the horse automatically would become eligible to run in starter allowance and starter handicap races. That would enable Crawford to ram Aryess down their throats in races in which the horse could not be claimed.
The key for the plan to work was nobody claiming Aryess off Crawford for $1,500. The trainer went to extraordinary lengths to try and keep from losing Aryess via the claim box.
When Sherwood first arrived at Crawford’s River Downs barn in 1965, the jockey was surprised to see how Crawford was dressed. Crawford was wearing bib overalls and a big straw hat.
“Tom was sitting on a bale of hay in the back of an old, beat-up pickup truck,” Sherwood said with a chuckle when I interviewed him about Aryess. “Feed tubs and buckets were hanging on the sides of the truck. Tom was talking to a bunch of people about being from Montana. He was saying he’d never been to a real track like River Downs before.”
Crawford told the folks gathered around the truck that Sherwood was from Montana, too.
“Oh, he’s ridden some races,” Crawford said. “But he’s mostly ridden plow horses out in the fields.”
Sherwood had a difficult time keeping a straight face.
“Tom really had them eating out of his hand,” Sherwood continued. “I’m sure they must have thought he was some kind of country bumpkin. I knew he was up to something, but I didn’t know what. He told me it was important not to talk to anybody. He said he’d do the talking for both of us. All I was supposed to do was to show up every morning, work or gallop his horses, then go back to the motel.”
Sherwood was shocked when he saw multiple stakes winner Aryess entered against $1,500 claimers in the second race on opening day of the River Downs meet.
“When I saw that, I couldn’t believe it,” Sherwood said. “I mean, Aryess was a whole lot better than a $1,500 claiming horse. And when I saw that he was 20-1 on the morning line, I couldn’t believe that, either.”
A crowd of 4,730 turned out in 65-degree weather for River Downs’ opening-day card. The DRF chart shows that Aryess started as the 9-5 favorite. The belief is Crawford had a lot to do with that 9-5 price because of how much money he bet on Aryess.
How confident was Crawford that Aryess would not lose that 5 1/2-furlong race? His instructions to Sherwood in the paddock make it crystal clear.
“All he told me was to try and not win by too far,” Sherwood told me.
Aryess went right to the front. Even with Sherwood trying his best to “not win by too far,” Aryess was three in front with a furlong to go. Sherwood could only restrain Aryess enough in the final furlong to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
Back then the only exotic wager at most tracks was the $2 daily double on the first two races. That was the case at River Downs. Aryess, who paid $5.60 to win, combined with Dusty Marble, winner of the first race at 8-1, for a $92.20 double payoff. Considering Crawford knew Aryess was “a sure thing,” it’s quite likely the trainer made some serious money in the daily double.
Aryess did not get claimed. He would not be risked in another claiming race during the rest of his stay at River Downs.
From May 28 to Aug. 14, Aryess won six of nine starts. His victories ranged from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. In one of his three losses, he finished fourth when asked to pack a staggering 140 pounds in a starter handicap race at 1 1/8 miles.
In Aryess’ final start at River Downs, he won the Tri-State Handicap at 5-1, defeating the 6-5 favorite, Aqueduct invader Renepache. With Aryess returning $12.20 to win, one gets the feeling that Crawford once again made a killing at the mutuel windows.
“Aryess returned to the Pacific Northwest, as did Tom Crawford, who no doubt left Ohio with a generous amount of money in his pockets,” I wrote in my Washington Thoroughbred magazine article. “It also seems a fair assumption that Tom Crawford was not wearing bib overalls and a straw hat when he left River Downs in 1965.”
ARYESS’ RECORD AT RIVER DOWNS IN 1965
Date Finish Odds (Race Type and Distance)
05-28 1st at 9-5 ($1,500 claiming race at 5 1/2 furlongs)
06-05 1st at 6-1 (allowance race at 6 furlongs)
06-12 1st at 4-5 (starter allowance at 6 furlongs)
06-19 3rd at 2-1 (allowance at 1 1/16 miles)
06-23 1st at 9-5 (starter handicap at 1 1/8 miles)
06-26 7th at 4-1 (Green Carpet Handicap at one mile turf)
07-24 1st at 5-1 (Hamilton County Handicap at 6 furlongs)
07-28 4th at 8-5 (starter handicap at 1 1/8 miles)*
08-14 1st at 5-1 (Tri-State Handicap at 1 1/16 miles)
*Carried 140 pounds
NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 314 Life Is Good (29)
2. 249 Letruska (1)
3. 190 Express Train (1)
4. 204 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 175 Colonel Liam
6. 139 Flightline (1)
7. 73 Mandaloun
8. 67 Midnight Bourbon
9. 65 Country Grammer
NTRA TOP 3-YEAR-OLD POLL
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 264 Epicenter (8)
2. 252 Forbidden Kingdom (6)
3. 222 Classic Causeway (2)
4. 189 Simplification
5. 176 Messier (10)
6. 142 Smile Happy (3)
7. 118 White Abarrio
7. 98 Secret Oath (3)
9. 75 Morello
10. 57 Zandon