There is a saying in Thoroughbred racing: "Pace makes the race." If a horse goes to the front early and gets an easy, uncontested lead, it is likely to win "wire to wire."
If the pace is too fast, the front runners often fade, and the winner usually comes flying by in the last furlong (1/8 mile). This saying held true in several big races this past weekend.
In the six furlong, Grade One (G1) Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga on Sunday, the two early front runners sped away from the rest of the field, setting fast early fractions in the process. They were later passed like two "street signs" by 36-1 longshot, "Poseideon's Warrior," who held off the late closers to pull off the shocker at the "Spa"!!!
Poseidon's Warrior had won only four of 16 lifetime starts prior to his first Graded Stakes win. A Maryland bred, he had done most of his running in Pennsylvania, including starts at Penn National (in Hershey), Parx (near Philadelphia), and Presque Isle Downs in Erie. Although Poseidon's Warrior had four non-graded stakes wins on his resume, he was taking on the likes of "Shackleford", who had two G1 wins to his credit, including the 2011 Preakness Stakes. Shackleford had the misfortune of drawing post position #1 on a muddy track, and was cutting back in distance after most of his races were run at distances of a mile or longer.
This type of win can only enhance Pennsylvania racing, which has been gaining stature across the Country over the past several years. Horses like Havre De Grace, who was 2011 Horse of the Year, and Blind Luck, Champion 3-year-old filly, are among several outstanding Thoroughbreds who have recently run here.
On Saturday at the Spa, "Fort Larned" won the G1 Whitney Handicap, winning from a "stalking" position in the 1 1/8 mile race. In doing so, he put a nice feather in the cap of his Sire, E. Dubai, who stands at Northview, Pa, next to Smarty Jones and Jump Start, among others. The Lancaster County farm is currently the leading Stud farm in the mid-Atlantic region, due in no small part to the efforts of owner Robert Golden, as well as Bloodstock agent Carl McEntee.
In West Virginia, 2011 Juvenile Champion Hansen was looking to keep his white coat in front of the rest of the field in the G2, West Virginia Derby. Although the short priced favorite was on the lead most of the race, he could not get the 1 1/8 mile distance, finishing fourth to Macho Macho in the process. Although the early fractions were reasonable, Hansen could not "clear", as he always had another horse breathing down his neck. This proved to be Hansen's Achille's heal, as the constant pressure caused him to fade in the last 1/8 of a mile, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind at the wire.
On Friday at the Spa, C C's Pal won the G2 Honorable Miss Handicap. This marked her second G2 win among her six stakes and nine lifetime victories. Sitting in a stalking position, C C's Pal was initially fourth, well off the wicked early fractions of 21.1 seconds for the first quarter mile, and 43.7 for the half of the six furlong ( 3/4 mile) race.
In the last sixteenth of a mile the tough little mare closed like a freight train, getting up by a neck for the win. Her Sire is Alex's Pal, who as recently as 2010 stood at stud in Pa.