mercredi 7 mars 2012

For Surrey Storm, the handicap might be her size

Surrey Storm's lovely backside, Cagnes

She's a lovely 3-year-old with papers to make one dream, justifiably, but she's small, and that changes how you have to pilot her through the field.

I haven't been following this closely enough long enough to know just how much this is going to figure in the trajectory of her racing career, but it doesn't seem to be irrelevant. On the other hand, I have been following this just closely enough long enough to realize that first impressions have to be analyzed and parsed far more minutely for the information that really matters.

You didn't win, and you didn't place, well, it feels like a loss, even if you weren't the very last one past the post. You placed when you really thought you had a chance to win, and it feels the same way. You placed, but less well than you expected, yeah, the same. It's a horse race. It wouldn't be a race if the outcome were certain before the gate opened, otherwise, you could all just save everyone a lot of time and travel and just stay home, have the check deposited into your account with France Galop. In a race, things happen; what's important is what happened, and how that compares to the past and your expectations, and how you will develop the game-plan to get everything possible out of the horse.

Today, Milly, the yard name for Montjeu filly Surrey Storm, ran against some horses she has met on the racetrack here in France before, and she met some new ones. She did not better her performance against her old friends, Coolita and Tangoka; but, on the bright side, neither set the track on fire, either. Coolita finished some two lengths ahead of Milly and one out in front of Tangoka, but three and change behind the winner, Joly Berengere with Ioritz Mendizabal up for trainer Maxime Cesandri. By no means shaming to Milly.

Incidentally, it was Joly Berengere who delayed the course by several minutes when she broke from her stall before the gates opened, following the track employee who ducked away before the start. Cesandri's explanation of his filly's behavior was amusing: it's a bit of a family trait, not "méchant", or "bad", just a little, he shrugged, "bébête, "silly".

So what happened in this race? What does it signify for the next decisions to be made in training and in racing for the sometimes Fleet Fairy? Not having it from the proverbial horse's mouth, I can only hazard my own semi-educated guesses, but I'll take a stab.

I watched the video, stopping it and moving it backwards periodically to look at details again to try to get a sense of what was happening throughout the race. One drawback with camera angles is their tendency to flatten depth of field at critical moments; it's very difficult to judge distances and see the details, since un cheval en cache un autre, rather like, we are warned at train crossings here in France, trains; one horse hides another and her jockey. It's clear enough from the grandstand to the backstretch, and then when they switch cameras to a side or slightly to the rear angle in a turn, and once again when they are closing on the post, but a lot can get lost in that analysis.

Breaking from the gate, Milly ran easily enough with a nice action, overtaking several horses. Jockey Fabien Lefevbre settled her in behind the front runner and favorite, Zoe, flanked by Shiny Dream on the inside, with Distant Symphony a nose ahead on her outside in 3rd, followed right behind by Aponi in 5th. Coming out of the first turn, she's still in 4th place running alongside Distant Symphony, in "good position", as the announcer says, and a half length in front of Aponi.

The announcer remarks on the relatively easy-going pace of the race with Coolita showing a "brilliant" early effort, and Lady Ohara sitting patient on the outside at the rear of the pack. Joly Berengere begins to make her bid, overtaking Coolita and coming up on Zoe, who is still out in front, followed by Aponi in her wake. Right behind Joly Berengere is Distant Symphony, followed by Milly.

Just before the middle of the race, though, things begin to change, right about the moment that Fabien Lefebvre turns around in the saddle to look over his right shoulder at the horses behind him. There appears to be a jockeying for position. Held against the rail, it looks like Fabien is looking to see if he can move toward the outside without interfering with the horses just behind him and on the outside. It looks like there's a little contact and shuffling with Distant Symphony, whose jockey is looking for a way out, as well. Finally, he holds his place, and Milly drops back to the 8th or the 9th position, tight against the rail, where she stays, unfortunately, out maneuvered by the horses and their jockeys on the outside.

Where, in fact, she is pinned, until it's a moot point, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Coming into the backstretch, it's still Zoe in the lead by two lengths ahead of Coolita followed by Joly Berengere with Shiny Dream on her inside, followed closely by Aponi and Lady Ohara on her outside and Distant Symphony a half length behind. Then come La Jeremiah with Milly on her inside another length back, with Tangoka putting the pressure on them a half length behind.

The field is stretching out, and when the pace picks up 350 meters from the finish line, it's Coolita who makes a bid to outrun Zoe, with Joly Berengere and Lady Ohara on the far outside coming on strong. With 200 meters to go, it's three battling for the lead: Zoe, Coolita and Joly Berengere, followed tightly by Distant Symphony on the inside, Aponi in the middle and Lady Ohara coming up fast on the outside. Milly's still there, just behind Aponi.

Coming down to the post, the leaders continue their drive to the finish and gain ground on the rest of the entries. Milly loses some to Tangoka and Distant Symphony, some five lengths behind Zoe out in front, and then Fabien raises the whip twice as Joly Berengere takes the lead, followed by Lady Ohara on the outside, a nose ahead of Zoe on the inside, Aponi's a half length back, followed by another two lengths by Coolita a length ahead of Shiny Dream on the inside and Tangoka on the outside, just ahead of Milly, Surrey Storm in 8th place. She holds her pace, continues to stretch, and while she didn't overtake any horses, she wasn't passed, either. She simply didn't have it to pose a serious threat to the five crossing the finish line first, while Tangoka still looked to be within her reach. The question is why, because she wasn't exhausted.

The draw of the second position from the rail might have played into it, but she drew the number 1 spot last start and finished fifth, but it was with a smaller, more stretched-out field, in a race in which she was never seriously blocked against the rail and could have made a move to the outside at almost any moment, and did when the hole presented itself in the homestretch. It was an entirely different geometry. The only serious possibility of attack in this race came from the outside, as Lady Ohara demonstrated, and Milly couldn't get there.

The surface might have played a role, as well. Her last race was on the fibersand, whereas today was on a turf track judged soft by France Galop, and, then, there was the distance at 200 meters longer.

And, finally, or perhaps not finally -- I might have missed some things --, weight could be a factor. Little Milly carried an additional kg, equivalent to one place, over the distance, moving up from 56kg to 57kg, the weight most of the entrants was carrying. Only Aponi and Zoe were carrying less, at 54.5kg and 53.5kg, respectively.

The good points to take away were that she didn't give up, she held her own in the final stretch, and she was in the race, and Milly's 3-year-old season is young. She might suddenly become a big, strong filly, but she'll get stronger and she'll draw luckier places in the larger fields, and with each race, her trainer Gina Rarick will know better what to ask of her, and of her jockey, given the way the dice have fallen on race day.

Being the Fleet Fairy that she is, Surrey Storm requires a smaller hole to thread than a larger horse, and can perhaps do it more quickly, even she doesn't get "shuffled back" first.
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