April 22, 2018

Remsen worth more than its detractors proclaim

Mo Town is one of several recent Remsen winners that have reached their peak beyond the spring classics (Adam Coglianese Photography)

The $250,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct has found a new spot on the calendar for 2017 this coming Saturday, December 2. Run for a number of years two days after Thanksgiving, NYRA officials pushed the Remsen back one week ostensibly hoping some horses that competed in the Breeders’ Cup would be more likely to wheel back with four weeks in between the two events rather than three.

However, among the probable and possible contenders for the Remsen NYRA released at the weekend, only Catholic Boy, who ran fourth in the Juvenile Turf (G1), is returning from a trip to San Diego to compete in the 1 1/8-mile event.

Offering qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to its top four finishers as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Remsen has been on the receiving end of negative feedback from certain quarters regarding its limited recent impact on the following spring’s Derby. The criticisms are not entirely misplaced.

A Grade 2 event traditionally run at a time of the year when most of the the better juveniles have been put away for the season, the Remsen nonetheless at times has benefited from the cyclical nature of racing, whereby certain races turn out to be more influential in the long term than the grade would necessarily imply.

The Remsen enjoyed such a moment in the early 1990s when Pine Bluff, Go for Gin, and Thunder Gulch all won the Remsen in the four-year-span from 1991 through 1994. Pine Bluff went on to win the Preakness (G1) after running fifth in the Kentucky Derby, while Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch each wore the roses at Churchill Downs.

While the Remsen became must-see viewing for quite a while thereafter, results of the intervening two decades plus have left a sour taste with observers hoping to glean significant clues for the Kentucky Derby. Since Thunder Gulch won in 1994, only seven Remsen winners have even made it to the Derby starting gate. Bluegrass Cat (2005) fared best, finishing second to Barbaro in 2006, while Mohaymen (2015) was next best running fourth to Nyquist the following spring.

It doesn’t follow, however, that the Remsen winner will wind up a dud. The temperamental Coronado’s Quest (1997) missed the Triple Crown entirely yet still proved one of the better colts in his crop at three with victories in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Travers (G1). Same deal with To Honor and Serve (2010), who captured the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Cigar Mile (G1) in his sophomore campaign, and Honor Code (2013), who was voted champion older horse at four.

Somewhat surprisingly, the list of Remsen winners since the 1990s include several that ultimately proved more capable on turf. Last year’s winner, Mo Town, captured Saturday’s Hollywood Derby (G1) to stay undefeated in two starts on grass. Before him came Nobiz Like Shobiz (2006), who followed a win in the Wood Memorial (G1) with three graded scores on grass, and Court Vision (2007), who upset Goldikova’s four-peat attempt in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in 2011.

A number of non-winning Remsen participants during that span also made longer-term impacts. Skip Away won three division titles and made the Hall of Fame after running second in 1995. Empire Maker, third-place finisher in 2002, later won three Grade 1s including the Belmont Stakes. Mucho Macho Man, runner-up to To Honor and Serve, captured the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), while the 2014 second and third, Frosted and Keen Ice, enjoyed notable successes throughout their careers.

As the longest graded stakes for two-year-olds in the country, a distinction it’s generally held since 1973, the Remsen may continue to appeal more to horses that will reach their professional peak beyond the first Saturday in May. With that said, whoever wins Saturday will deservedly enter the Kentucky Derby conversation.

The Remsen will be joined by its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle (G2), and the Cigar Mile on a blockbuster Saturday card. This move to the first Saturday in December might prove to be a winning one from a business perspective. With the Kentucky and Southern California action shifting this week to Turfway Park and Los Alamitos, the Aqueduct card will be one of the primary highlights of the weekend along with Gulfstream Park’s winter season opener featuring the Claiming Crown.

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