Fifteen days ago the $200,000 Shuvee Handicap, the feature race on today’s 10-race card, closed with just 10 nominations. When entries were taken Thursday, only three were entered.
The trio, in post position order, are Grade 2 Fleur de Lis runner-up Apologynotaccepted, Grade 2 winner and recent Grade 1 Ogden Phipps runner-up Paid Up Subscriber and four-time Grade 3 winner and Grade 1 Apple Blossom runner-up Terra Promessa. The trainers of the three are some of the best in the business, Bill Mott, Chad Brown and Steve Asmussen. Same for the jockeys, Luis Saez, John Velazquez and Jose Ortiz.
A three-horse field for a graded stakes race, or any race for that matter, is essentially a riders’ race. Pardon the cliché on that, but ask around.
We asked three retired jockeys, all winners of the Shuvee, to analyze the race and look back on their personal experiences in short fields. Richard Migliore, Robbie Davis and Ramon Dominguez, collectively the winners of more than 12,800 races and $467,564,858 in purses, told us what to expect.
Robbie Davis won 3,382 races, including the Shuvee twice when it was run at Belmont. The Idaho native retired in 2013 and remains in the game as a trainer based in Saratoga. After walking back to his barn on the harness track Friday morning, Davis cleaned his tack, looked back on his own ride in a three-horse race and analyzed the 2017 Shuvee.
Davis: "Worst races to ride. If you get in trouble you might be the dumbest jockey on the face of the earth to get in trouble in a three-horse field. You take back off the two of them and you’re boxed in, they’ve got you sitting there, they’re not going to move until they have to. It happened to me. I was riding for Allen Jerkens. I was like, ‘how does that happen?’ They trapped me. I can’t take back and I can’t go forward and they just had me in a box in a three-horse field.
It was a pretty good race, I forget, it was up here in Saratoga. I just scratched my head all the way home and was like, ‘how did I fall for that?’ I was thinking those two would hook up, burn each other out, I’d sit behind, pick them up and win the race. Well they had other ideas. It was Cordero and Jorge Velasquez. They said something in Spanish, I wasn’t sure what it was but they just kept slowing the pace down and slowing it down and I just kept checking and checking and checking. It was something.
The Chief yelled at me pretty hard. He was not happy. He said, ‘you’re the dumbest jock on the face of the earth, you got in trouble in a three-horse field. You’re the only jock I’ve seen get in trouble in a three-horse field.’
The race Sunday is a mile and an eighth, it’s a jockey’s race. Completely. I see Johnny Velazquez is in the Hall of Fame so I put my money on Johnny. He’s riding Paid Up Subscriber, he’s really smart, he’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason and he’s riding for a Hall of Fame trainer. My money’s on him.
Billy Mott though, he’s got Apologynotaccepted and you can never count him out. It’s one of those things, you have to break out of there like you’re going or if nobody goes you take it and slow it down as much as you can and hope the guys next to you choke their horses down and are out of the race. If he makes an early move you’ve got to go with him, there’s no taking back. So it could end up in a match race where two of them go out as hard as they can and run the other one off their feet trying to catch them.
Apologynotaccepted on the rail has speed, he’s going to go and Johnny’s not going to let him get too far in front of him. He’s going to breathe on him, grab him by the throat, he’s going to have to keep him soft. He can’t let him go out there and just gallop. He’s got to breathe on him a little bit. It could be all three of them going down the backside together. Terra Promessa, she’s got speed, too.
It’s an interesting race, it really is. May the best horse win, hopefully. It makes it fun though; I don’t like to see three-horse fields but it is a jockey’s race.
Hopefully there’s not a scratch in the race, that would make it worse. Match racing is just not fun, especially after Ruffian and all that. Who knows, there could be a couple scratches and there’d be a walkover. I’ve never seen one of those. Spectacular Bid did it once. I’m surprised there isn’t somebody in there going for fourth money. I would have put my horse in there for fourth money. They didn’t call me. I mean, hey, fourth money is huge. That’s like winning one. And if it’s a scratch in the race you’re stakes-placed, blacktype. It’s hard to believe these big guys, they know the races are coming up. Where are they? It’s unbelievable. Maybe they’re running too many female stakes too close together.
I’m going to be an interesting race, I’ll definitely be watching it.
Ramon Dominguez looked at the first page of the Shuvee, with two entries, then turned the page to see one. “Get the heck out of here…three horses. You’ve got to be kidding me. For real, you want me to look at this?” Nobody could read a race and adapt to a race better than Dominguez, a member of the Hall of Fame and the winner of 4,985.
Dominguez: It’s one of those things where logically, less horses, easier handicapping but it’s actually quite the opposite, it can get extremely complicated, to anticipate what is going to happen is nearly impossible. With only three horses, it’s sort of the time, regardless of the trainer, that there is so much pressure that they feel that they fall into giving instructions. Even as a jockey, as much as you prepare and try to foresee the scenarios, you need to go open-minded and be willing to improvise as the race develops.
On paper it seems like Asmussen and Mott will go at it and it should set up beautifully for Paid Up Subscriber, who is versatile and there is absolutely no reason to go to the lead so she should sit in third. There should be pace but who’s to say that one of them doesn’t say, ‘Maybe I’ll sit third.’ It’s just one of those races, you play close attention to the other two but as far as positioning, it’s almost where you can close your eyes and put your horse where your horse needs to be. At the same time, if you sense that the pace is too comfortable, let’s say you’re sitting second, you are more willing to go and put pressure way earlier than you would in a larger field, because you’re not as concerned about doing the job for somebody else.
It’s one of those races, as a jockey, you hated to ride. If you go out there with a plan, because there’s only two horses, it’s usually ends up being a disaster. It’s so easy to understand your opposition, what they like, what they don’t like, the other jockeys, what they do, where they are but at the same time there’s a huge gray area of improvisation that’s needed, you need to be open, alert about pace, more so than in a regular race. Silly stuff, for example, you’re in front in a large field, you have pressure on both sides, you don’t really care if you’re dead on the rail, but in an evenly matched race, you want to make sure you don’t open the rail. Then again, if you’re third, do you go up the rail or around, they always say don’t ever go inside one or around two…
The toughest part, the one who has to make decisions the quickest is Jose. His horse does have quite a lot of speed, the first two strides out of there determine, ‘Do I go or do I let Apologynotaccepted go?’ Based on what I see, this is a filly that can absolutely sit second off the other one or she can go. Do you establish the lead, do you go with Apologynotaccepted if she goes and risk going too fast? But, who’s to say, typical Asmussen, she might break on top and it won’t be his choice, then it’s just a matter of finessing her and trying to slow her down.
Quite honestly, if you’re riding a filly who just got beat a length by Songbird, regardless of your plans, if she breaks on top, you put your hands down and you might have to say, ‘Let’s go for it?’ If you break on top, why on Earth would I take back?
Let’s just say that three of them break evenly and the outside filly is committed to go and the inside filly is going at it, hypothetically speaking, if Johnny’s filly is relaxed enough where he can sit just a length or two off them, that’s perfect.
I rode some smaller stakes in Maryland with three horses, when it happened, I said, ‘Great, less horses,’ but the choices are magnified, there is little room for error.
Richard Migliore won 4,450 races, including the Shuvee four times when it was run at Belmont. The New York native joined XBTV as a racing analyst before the meet started. Behind the Morning Line Kitchen Friday morning, Migliore leaned over the past performances and analyzed Sunday’s feature.
Migliore: Terra Promessa is the main speed, she resents being rated anyway, she’s the most naturally fast, they all have some speed but she actually has real speed, look at her earlier fractions, she’ll go in :23, these go in :24. She is naturally the fastest, you look at her best races they’re on the lead, they’re legitimate fractions, she’s rolling and going on with it.
I think Paid Up Subscriber will be laying third, the inside filly will leave from the rail just to make sure that the outside filly goes on a little bit and I think Johnny winds up last in a three-horse field, he’s going to come out, Johnny’s always going to come out forward.
Jose Ortiz is definitely on the lead, the worst thing he can do is try to slow her down, her best races are when she goes fast and she keeps going fast. He’ll just let her get in a good rhythm, he’ll try to get away with a :47 and change half, this is a deeper track, it would be a mistake to try to make her go any slower than that, you wouldn’t want to get in the way of her natural gait, whatever she’s doing well, let her do. Basically you want to suck these guys into the race with you, you want to keep them off the bridle chasing you.
It’s not a match race because it’s three horses, but you have three horses who usually have some semblance of speed, I think I would approach it like a match race, I’d let mine bounce along, they’re all going to try to keep up with me so they’ll get just as tired as I am on the lead. This race will get real ugly the last eighth of a mile, but I’d want everybody drunk if I’m on the lead.
The outside filly is going, she’ll probably clear, the inside filly will be on the hardest chase and Johnny will be pecking at his filly, I think Terra Promessa outlasts them, that’s who I want to ride, if you’re in front, don’t keep a straight path, meander, throw some dirt where you can, keep them guessing.
You want to go from the rail. If I’m Johnny, I want to hope that the 1 goes hard and entertains the other filly, of course I’m going to come out running, angle in, make Luis make a decision, he’s that way anyway, he can beat Jose’s filly but he’ll need some help.
Come out running, try to create enough separation from this filly, he clears, you hop her heels, you’re laying second, but Johnny is a guy who wants to be forward too, what psychologically happens, when you see that, you go, that plays right into the outside filly, the other two are chasing you and probably having some body contact which is even better, that’s a perfect world.
Johnny has the toughest decision and the most decisions to make. Johnny’s got to hope they take some initiative, either way, he’s in an unenviable position because he’s got to take up the task of being the chaser.
Luis is agressive, he’s a strong finisher.
Johnny is the most complete rider out there today, there’s nothing he can’t do. He always wants to get his position.
Jose Ortiz is from the same cloth as Johnny, he’s not at that level yet, but he’s comfortable on the lead, comfortable from off the pace, comfortable on the grass, comfortable on the dirt. Great hands, horses run for him.
People don’t realize how much harder it is to ride in a short field than a big field. Get a five or six-horse field and be on the overwhelming favorite and you’ll find out how many friends you don’t have.
For a three-horse field, it’s an interesting race.