By Dennis Miller
Put a field of nine horses in a sprint stakes, on a track where front-end speed can be a huge advantage and you have a race of different strategies.
If there are a number of speedy horses in the field, taking back at the start and saving for a punishing kick may be the best option. Then again, if you are the speed of the speed, getting loose out front in a six-furlong race may give you the chance to go wire-to-wire.
In the end it presents a quandary for the connections of each horse, and in the end, it is the jockey that has to make the split second decision at the beginning of the race.
Monday in the $50,000 Oak Tree Sprint for the Oak Tree at Pleasanton meet during the Alameda County Fair on the Fourth of July holiday card, this is the question facing the jockeys of the nine horses that went to post.
In the end, it was Ricky Gonzalez, the jockey of Outside Nashville, that made the right decision and ended up winning his second stakes race of the meet in the final weekend in Pleasanton.
A couple days before the race, Gonzalez had a chat with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer about their plan for the race.
“Jerry told me not to worry about the speed,” said Gonzalez, who won the Oak Tree Handicap for Hollendorfer on Bronze Star in the middle weekend of the meet.
And he didn’t. He appeared to break slow, but it could have just been part of the overall plan. What the riders see in the (Daily Racing Form) is not always the way things play out.
“On paper, it looked like there was a lot of speed in the race,” said Gonzalez. “But there are times when the jockeys see that and they might pull back some. Not today – they went out.”
Gonzalez was drawing reference to Cartoonist and He’s a Tiger, both of who shot out of the gate and went through some quick early fractions. The brisk early pace set it up for horses like Outside Nashville and Kochees.
At the top of the lane, Outside Nashville was sitting third and poised to pounce. Gonzalez knew he had plenty of horse, but wanted to wait for the right time.
“I felt like I was loaded,” said Gonzalez. “But I swung out and swung back in for a bit.”
When it was time, Gonzalez went back out and cruised home for the win by almost two lengths. Cartoonist held on for second, with Kochees finishing third. He’s a Tiger – a Jeff Bonde runner – was fourth.