On Track with Johnny D: Start at the Beginning

When people who do such things recap the racing summer of 2016 they undoubtedly will include as a memorable moment Frosted’s record-setting, 14 ¼-length, Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap victory at Belmont Park. In fact, it probably will rank right up there as the summer’s most memorable moment, right alongside Arrogate’s annihilation of a 147-year-old Spa standard in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes.


Not nearly as impressive as the Met Mile, but likely to make any Saratoga 2016 highlight reel, was Frosted’s early August domination of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney Stakes. That afternoon, he went wire-to-wire to win at 50-cents to the dollar, setting solid fractions of :46 2/5, 1:09 3/5, 1:34 2/5 en route to a final time of 1:47 3/5.


So, when Frosted returned about a month later in the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward at a mile and one-eighth—at the same track and distance as the Whitney—nearly everyone risking disposable and not-so-disposable income expected him to succeed. At just 40-cents to the dollar, Fosted’s post-Woodward appearance in the Spa’s charmed circle seemed nearly as certain as the next-day arrival of the sun.


But, in racing, as often is the case, a funny thing happened on the way to the cashier’s window. Frosted lost. Or, more accurately, he didn’t win. He finished third—a mere two heads away (which, according to the adage, is better than one).


In today’s participation-award society the effort probably should have earned Frosted a hearty round of applause, a certificate, trophy or ribbon, at least. Unfortunately, since the 4-year-old was competing at the racetrack and not at a scout jamboree, the only post-race attention directed his way was negative.


The good news for the grey son of Tapit, however, was that few were inclined to blame him for the loss. Jockey Joel Rosario, instead, assumed the brunt of the abuse.


Immediately after the race, Twitter erupted (relatively speaking, that is, and not quite at the same level as when Taylor Swift jettisons another boyfriend) with critics fingering Rosario for a cornucopia of pilot error. They chastised him for not whipping Frosted, for riding overconfidently and for losing too much ground. While they were at it, they also found Rosario somehow responsible for approaching tropical storm Hermine.


One of the most uncomplimentary reviews of Rosario’s ride will be etched into history as part of the official Equibase chart footnotes for the 63rd running of the Woodward:


FROSTED broke awkwardly tossing his head a bit and brushing the off side stall, raced just off the inside through the first turn before taking to the four path and settling in hand, remained confidently handled advancing mildly five wide through the far turn under his own power, angled eight wide into upper stretch, lugged in straightened away not switching leads immediately, had the rider apply the mildest of hand rides rallying to latch on the top trio a furlong from home the outermost of the quartet, drifted in under overconfident handling and light cross reined encouragement and was outgamed to the finish by a pair.


For the most part that’s a pretty accurate description of what happened to the Woodward favorite in the 1:49 4/5 seconds after 5:48 pm last Saturday evening. What bothers this writer is use of the terms ‘overconfident handling’ and ‘light cross reined encouragement,’ which suggests on Rosario’s part either a lack of effort or gross incompetence.


The word ‘overconfident’ is a tricky beast. If a competitor succeeds, it’s often because they were ‘confident.’ If they lose, it’s partly because they were ‘overconfident.’


There’s a description for that in racing, it’s called ‘past-posting.’ In other words, picking the winner after the race is declared ‘official.’


No doubt about it, Rosario rode Frosted confidently. Why wouldn’t he? One of the highest-ranked runners in the entire world, Frosted loomed into contention in the Woodward stretch without being asked. Why wouldn’t his jockey exude confidence?


Previously, Rosario had ridden Frosted eight times–nearly half of the colt’s 17 lifetime starts. He had learned that Frosted, not unlike many horses (and yours truly), detests being whipped. Top jockeys realize that when a horse is giving them 100% effort, whipping does not increase the number. In fact, it’s more likely to cause a horse to actually slow down!


To objectively understand why Frosted lost the Woodward, one must start at the beginning where, as stated in the Equibase race chart, “Frosted broke awkwardly tossing his head a bit and brushing off the side stall…”


That tardy-to-the-party arrival (or, more accurately, departure) set the wheels of defeat in motion. Frosted and Rosario no longer controlled their fates. From that moment forward, the jockey was forced to keep his mount wide, avoiding any chance that the odds-on favorite would be trapped inside. This undesirable-but-required tactic cost Frosted valuable energy as, according to Trackus, he raced 40 feet more than Shaman Ghost—race winner by a head!


Into the stretch, from the far outside, Frosted swerved inward, several paths to the left. That maneuver, sudden and severe enough to cause horses inside of him to shift ground, cost Frosted valuable time and energy as Rosario was forced to grab and steady his mount to correct his path. Frosted also drifted in later in the stretch and Rosario, again, needed to react and straighten his mount. Obviously, when horses are running sideways, they’re not moving forward as efficiently as they should be.


Even after all of that, in the final yards of the Woodward, it still appeared that Frosted might rally to win. But he didn’t. He just didn’t have enough. Perhaps, since Frosted has as many runner-up finishes as victories—six–the near miss actually may say more about him than anything else.


Credit Shaman Ghost–a head better than Frosted’s stablemate Mubtaahij–for a winning run. In the aftermath, shock and blame for the favorite’s failure has clouded an outstanding performance by the winner. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who must find it difficult beneath the humongous, Hall-of-Fame shadow cast by late father Allen, gradually is these days warmed by the direct sunlight of his own accomplishments. He had the Ghostzapper colt, owned by Stronach Stables, ready to run a winning race and they carpe’d the heck out of the diem.


When people who do such things recap the racing summer of 2016 they ought to include Frosted’s stunning Woodward defeat by Shaman Ghost as a memorable moment. It qualifies for a spot in the venerable collection of upsets that define Saratoga as the Graveyard of Champions. Hopefully, though, when the story of the summer of 2016 Woodward upset is retold it starts at the beginning and not at the end.


Race On!




On Track with Johnny D: Start at the Beginning

On Track with Johnny D |

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>