EightToFastToCatch getting a work in the slop (Photo: Anne Frederick / Maryland Million Ltd)
When we last left our four-legged equine hero, EightToFastToCatch, a local Thoroughbred named for Alex Ovechkin, he had just won the 2011 renewal of the Maryland Million Classic. Just ahead of puck drop against the Panthers at Verizon on Saturday, horsey Ovi will be looking to score his own hat trick, right up the road at Laurel Park.
Since 2011, ETFTC has had 19 races and found the winners’ circle 7 times, most notably with a repeat win in the 2013 Classic. Where was our coverage in those intervening years? Simple – in the 2012 Classic he ran 5th and we were so gripped by NHL lockout paralysis we could barely get out of bed, let alone play the races. I’m sure we have some other excuse for 2013… maybe we blame Oates, but that’s a bad horse pun.
Now an EIGHT year-old, this gelding (don’t ask!), is wrapping up his career, and has one more race on his schedule after today’s mile-and-an-EIGHTH Classic. And if his engine and the Racing Gods have their way, he’ll cross the finish line first on Saturday, ahead of his EIGHT rivals, and get his 3rd Classic win, a rare racing hat trick. The track odds-maker installed his as the prohibitive 3-5 favorite. It may not make dollars and sense to bet on him at such a low price, but we’re going to cheer for him just as loud (and obnoxiously) as we do his namesake.
For a smart take on ETFTC’s chances on Saturday, PuckBuddy Craig asked Maryland racing expert and blogger, Frank Vespi [@TheRacingBiz and theracingbiz.com] to weigh in. He started by asking about the long layoff from racing the horse has had, before getting into some racetrack fancy stats.
Unlike his previous starts in the Classic that saw him run well, save for 2012, what does his 10 month layoff, with just one tune up race (an EIGHTH place finish on September 6) ahead of Saturday, say to you?
The situation with the horse has been, I think, a bit complicated. Arnie Heft, the owner, died in March, and so I’m sure there were some things to iron out before the horse could run again. On the one hand, the short schedule is not optimal by any means. EIGHT [overused emphasis, ours] of the last nine Classic winners had made at least 5 starts before the Classic, and I think that’s not just a coincidence; conditioning matters, and just as you can skate till your legs fall off and not be in the same shape as you’ll be after a couple games, horses need to race, as well as work.
Trainer Tim Keefe was sort of betwixt and between when he ran ETFTC in the Japan Racing Association on the grass; he had to choose between that race, which is a good distance but on turf (not his best surface), or a six furlong sprint (not his best distance) on the dirt. He went with the longer grass race and was not very happy with how it played out. On the other hand, Tim wouldn’t spot him here if he weren’t fit.
Since he was steadied [his jockey put on the brakes] in his last race, the JRA, finishing rather poorly, do we have any reason to think he wasn’t fit? Was he well meant [racetrack lingo for whether the trainer thought he had a good chance to win]?
I would say he was not well meant. Tim’s been clear that the Classic was the major seasonal goal, and if there’s a secondary goal, it’s the race after, the Jennings, where a win would make him the first 4-time winner of that race. The JRA was merely a tightener. I think it’s fair to question whether the horse has the fitness to win at 9f, but I wouldn’t worry about the last-race result much, if at all.
My Equibase lifetime PPs don’t show recent workouts. How has he been training?
The latest DRF PPs show two works since the last race (5f in 1:02, 11th of 41 on 9/27, 6f in 1:12 1/5, only one at distance on 10/9). More generally, Tim seems happy with how the horse has been doing and seems to believe he will run well in this spot.
What do you think about the morning line odds of 3-5? What price do you think we’ll see on race day and how would you wager the race?
I always hate 3-5, even when it’s deserved! I think the horse will get clobbered at the windows and could end up at that number; he was 3-10 last year, and while his form is darkened, well, who’s going to beat him? So, here’s the thing: ETFTC is best in here, and he doesn’t have to run his best race to beat these. He’s also probably the controlling speed.
Can he lose? Sure, any horse can, and I think the way that can happen is sorta the way it happened last out — he runs off by himself and stops — or the way he’s lost in some previous races, when he didn’t make the lead or was pressed into defeat. Who could do that? Perhaps Seventeenohsix, who led gate to wire last out and will break from the outside, or Excessive Drama (who’s cross-entered in the Turf but had reasonable success pressing the pace sprinting and figures to show speed on the stretch out).
How to wager… hmm… Look, ETFTC is best here, and I think you need to include him in multi-race exotics and in deeper vertical bets where you can load value into other positions. I frankly think his likely odds make him an underlay, and I wouldn’t play a straight win bet on him or use him on top of exactas. In that case, maybe give a look at Seventeenohsix either to control the pace or to last a battle and hang on against a nondescript group of closers.
Want longer shots? A pair of 15-1 shots, Concealed Identity and Wild Louis, have some better form to run back to, which could make them live if 8 isn’t up to the task. The horse intriguing me right now is Irish Lion, who has a terrible (but irrelevant) record on turf and synthetic surfaces but actually is respectable on the main track; he prepped for this sprinting on the grass, and you have to suspect that was only a prep; and he also has better efforts to run back to. He could sit the right trip and make some noise late.
I should add this caveat: My nature is to chase longshots, and I never met a 3-5 I liked or a longshot I hated (well, maybe that…) The prudent thing to do is play ETFTC and pocket your winnings, but what’s fun about that?
THANKS, Frank! For a good read on the horse, MarylandMillion dot com spent a morning with him (and we thank them for the photos) and for a good profile of his rider, Forest Boyce, one of the top female riders on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, check out this Baltimore Sun profile of her and this Daily Racing Form Q&A.
Speaking of female jockeys, racing may be the only sport in which men and women compete head-to-head. It’s cool that way. And since it’s not like us to scribble a few hundred words without at least one swipe, screw dem bums at Bleacher Report for polluting the Internet with a “10 Hottest Female Jockeys Scorching Racetracks Around the Country” slideshow. b/r typical!
But in all seriousness, we were reminded of racing’s risks just this week with the death of an up and coming rider, 17 year-old, Juan Saez. The single most important thing in any horse race is that all the athletes, human and equine make it home safely. Good luck, players. Let’s Go Caps, Ovi and ETFTC!
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