It's pretty common. A horse has some success with a certain trip, or fails with another, and his or her career can be dictated by instances. Today in the DRF, trainer of Bolt The Duer, Peter Foley, saw his horse last year get beat a couple of times on the front end, only to come back and win from the pocket. That made him a pocket horse.
And this year a pocket horse he was, until the last two races. One was a world record, wire to wire, and one was a Canadian record. Boom, just like that he's good on the front end.
Reviewing Bolt the Duer's race record one wonders. He won the Hempt elim gate to wire in 148.3. He won a KYSS wire to wire in 150, with a last quarter of 25.3. He got beaten a nose and a head trying to take two other races wire to wire. He's a good speed horse, hell, he's probably a good closer.
A couple of 'bad days' maybe when he had a bad week, his feet were bugging him, what have you, changed the tactics for a career so far at 4.
It's not Peter Foley, it's not Mark MacDonald, it's the way we in racing do things.
I remember even the great Somebeachsomewhere was called a "speed horse" and from people who don't like him (for whatever reason) he was called a "speed rat" for not appearing to settle and dig in while getting beat in the Meadowlands Pace. He was 'unable to race from behind or off a helmet'. Strange yes, because he was on the front end so much because he was two seconds the best. He also won from off the pace at Grand River at two, circling the field. Finally, near the end of the year at Yonkers, he raced first over the whole mile, hooked wheels and still won. That "speed rat" was not exactly a speed rat anymore.
It happens with good horses and with bad horses or with good trainers and bad trainers. We pigeon-hole horses based on one or two races, and it takes time to change the way we think of them.
I remember buying a three year old out of a mixed sale in August of, maybe 2004. He showed a line where he stopped on the front end, and one where he closed on a half mile track. We had him race once off the front end and he stopped. That was my cue - "he's a closer and we want to be nowhere near the front'. It did not matter he was off three weeks before his failed front end effort, that he was not fit and we were figuring him out. He was a closer as far as I was concerned.
His next race he won by five wire to wire (with me mad at the driver for leaving). He raced 141 times for us and got 12 victories - all were gate to wire. We even put him in the 1/8 of a mile sprint at Georgian Downs and with a better post he would've won easily (he had the rail and its almost impossible to come off the turn with speed with the rail for a 11 second race). He was the quintessential speed horse.
I find it is even worse in Thoroughbred racing. At least in harness racing you can wait a week or two weeks or three, and have three races where by a matter of necessity a new trip happens. In Thoroughbred racing a potentially good speed horse can be strangled for four starts that take 6 months. You can't learn a mistake quickly.
We often hear "he needs a helmet" or "he needs the front end". Often times it's simple happenstance and an excuse. The majority of horses that possess world class talent can race from anywhere. It's why they are world class horses.
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