If nothing else, Tuesday’s San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park gave bettors a reason to trot out the oft-repeated phrase: “That’s the reason they run the races on the track and not on paper.”
Sent off as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite, Collected was never a factor, finishing third behind Giant Expectations and Accelerate, respectively, in the compact field of five. But as surprising as the San Antonio finish was — I would argue that the winner is a pretty good horse and shouldn’t have been 13-1 — it was the way the race was run that left many, including me, scratching their heads.
Collected, who had been among the top three at the first call in nine of his 12 previous races and had never trailed by more than three lengths after the opening four furlongs in any of those affairs was dead last after a half-mile in the San Antonio. Worse, the half was clocked in 49.19 seconds, earning the leader, Giant Expectations, a +3 early speed ration (ESR) — about 7 lengths slower than expected.
“It looked like we were going to see a sub-:23 first quarter,” Gary Stevens, the rider of Giant Expectations said, “and we covered the first quarter in :24 and change and the half at almost :50, and the race was pretty much over.”
Watching the race unfold, I surmised that, perhaps, Collected’s jockey Mike Smith was instructed to take the horse back in an attempt to prepare for the upcoming Pegasus World Cup, much like Super Saver was throttled down, albeit to a much lesser degree, in the Arkansas Derby prior to his win from even farther off the pace in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. I even tweeted as much.
Of course, some will argue that such a strategy would never be planned. They will point out that the San Antonio Stakes is a Grade II event with $180,000 to the winner. Collected, just like those plucky kids of East High School, was in it to win it.
Well, I’ve got 16 million reasons why I think such a strategy might be tried… but apparently, none of them were compelling to Bob Baffert, who seemed genuinely surprised — and, frankly, a little annoyed — that Collected played Zenyatta on Tuesday.
“He should have been on the lead,” Baffert said of his heir apparent to Arrogate.
Smith agreed with his employer (wise move), blaming Collected’s strange journey on a “bad ride.”
“It was my fault. I slipped leaving the gate. We should have been on the lead. Then they were going too slow and we couldn’t get there in the end,” Smith explained.
Whatever the reason for Collected’s disappointing performance — and it must be remembered that he was beaten just a neck for second — the San Antonio result does cast doubt on whether or not the son of City Zip will continue to pursue plans to compete in the Pegasus.
Baffert was noncommittal when asked about it on Tuesday, but Rocky Balboa was much more positive about the situation.
Look, all levity aside, it is disconcerting — even given Smith’s explanation — that Collected was unable to rally in the San Antonio. After all, a poor start sure didn’t hurt Arrogate, also ridden by Smith, in the 2017 Dubai World Cup. But Arrogate and Collected are different types of horses.
In his prime, Arrogate used his early speed as an asset — a means of establishing position. Collected wields his as a weapon. Like other great frontrunners — Rachel Alexandra comes readily to mind — Collected is one of those horses with a high galloping speed and he relies on it to create separation turning for home. When he is unable to do that, he’s vulnerable, just like Rachel was later in her career.
In fact, it might surprise some to learn that the -2 late speed ration Collected earned in the San Antonio Stakes is the highest (best) of his career. However, without a cushion to work with, it was all for naught.
But it does emphasize, at least to me, that the San Antonio was not a bad performance and I would not discard Collected should he show up for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 27.