THOROUGHBRED TIDBITS you might have missed in all the Triple Crown excitement:
Some impressive race times were rung up at Fort Erie last weekend, including several clockings which earned speed ratings in the 90s. (The track record for the distance equals 100. To get the speed rating, subtract a point for every 1/5 second slower than the record.)
On Monday, Finger Lakes shipper War Dust earned a speed rating of "97" by coming within 3/5 of a second of equaling the 5-furlong track record when he took the feature race in 57 4/5 seconds under Steve O'Brien. On Saturday, Travels Alone (Mike Ujfalussy) scooted 6 furlongs in 1:10 3/5 , for a "92" rating.
Other best-at-the-distance Fort performances this year have been: 5 1/2 furlongs -- Ossian Greene, 1:05 2/5 (93); 6 1/2 furlongs -- Tantalar, 1:19 4/5 (76); 8 1/2 furlongs -- Just Steady, 1:46 1/5 (80).
Speaking of clockings, handicappers are still scratching their heads trying to explain how Sunday Silence's Kentucky race could be the slowest Derby in 31 years while his Preakness turned out to be the third-fastest ever.
One obvious difference, of course, was the track surface: muddy at Churchill, fast at Pimlico. The Daily Racing Form track variant for Derby Day was a 17, meaning the average race on the card that day was 3 2/5 seconds slower than the track record for the distance. According to the Happy Handicapper's calculations, the variant on Preakness Day was 10, indicating the average race was two seconds slower than record time.
Sam-Son Farm's trainer Jim Day has decided to "shorten up" Regal Intention and turn the 1988 winner of the Queen's Plate and runner-up in Fort Erie's Prince of Wales into a sprinter.
So far, the effort has been pretty successful as Regal Intention has finished third, by a neck and 1 1/2 lengths, in both his short distance efforts. On the Preakness Day card at Pimlico last Saturday, he was in the same race in which Play The King, Canada's 1988 champion sprinter and Horse of the year, was fatally injured.
Regal Classic, Sam-Son's other top 4-year-old, finally saw the winner's circle again last Monday when he took the Eclipse Handicap at Woodbine. He had lost eight straight since winning the Prince of Wales last July. He's still the richest Canadian-bred ever with earnings of $1,443,297.
Gallant Mel, winner of last year's International Turf Cup at Fort Erie, turned in a good effort to be third behind Equalize and Yankee Affair in the Early Times Handicap on the Churchill Downs turf course the day before the Kentucky Derby. Equalize, the handsome gray who ran second in the Arlington Million at Woodbine last year, stands at No. 4 in the latest weekly national media poll, behind Sunday Silence, Easy Goer and Open Mind.
Here's another reason to kick yourself if you bet against Sunday Silence: According to Bloodstock Research Information Services Inc., the Kentucky statistics giant, trainer Charlie Whittingham is a master at getting horses to run long distances. From 1986 through 1988, Whittingham's horses started 195 times in races between 9 1/2 and 12 furlongs. He won 22 percent of them and finished in the money 46 percent of the time. A $2 wager on each one would have resulted in a profit of about $50.
From a strictly historical perspective, if he makes it to the starting gate, Sunday Silence has a 50 percent chance of winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown. There have been 22 horses before him who have won both the Derby and Preakness and then run in the Belmont. Eleven won and 11 failed. Four of the losing nine -- Pensive (1944), Tim Tam (1958) Forward Pass (1968) and Majestic Prince (1969) -- finished second in the final race, three ran third, and four were out of the money.
If Sunday Silence wins the Belmont and the Triple Crown bonus money, his lifetime earnings would total $5,406,100 and he would become -- with all of nine races under his girth -- the third richest thoroughbred of all times, behind Alysheba ($6,679,242) and John Henry ($6,597,947) and ahead of Spend a Buck ($4,220,689).
In the last two years, only two owners -- the Phipps Stable in 1988 and Eugene V. Klein in 1987 -- won more than $5 million a year with ALL their horses. If he wins the Belmont, his career earnings would average $580,520.80 per mile.
Mercedes Won, the Florida Derby winner who spends his non-racing time in trainer Arnold Fink's barn at Finger Lakes Race Track, skipped the Triple Crown but is expected to return to action today at the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park in Cicero, Ill. Kentucky-bred Mercedes Won, last year's top 2-year-old in Canada, has won $753,502 in 16 starts.
Remember Wind Splitter, the 11th place finisher in the Derby? He reappeared two weeks later at Pimlico and was hammered down to a 3-10 favorite in the first race on Preakness Day. He finished fourth with Pat Day aboard.