By Bill Finley
There will no doubt be a tendency to dismiss Next (Not This Time) as a novelty act, even after his 25-length romp in Saturday's GIII Greenwood Cup on a sloppy, dreary day at Parx. That comes with the territory when your speciality is marathon-distance races of 12 furlongs or more. But to do so would be a mistake.
While it's true that he does not face the best of competition in these races, Next is obviously a seriously talented race horse. You have to be to win a graded stakes race by 25 lengths–no matter the distance or the level of competition.
Next was claimed for $62,500 by trainer Doug Cowans out of a seven-furlong race in April of last year, but the story really begins five months later. Cowans was running him on the turf, but stayed in when the Cape Henlopen S. at Delaware Park was rained off the grass and run at 12 furlongs on the dirt. He won by 18 1/4 lengths. Then it was the GII Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance S. at Keeneland, which he won by 6 1/4 lengths. He didn't run his race in his 2023 debut when third in the Isaac Murphy Marathon Overnight S. at Churchill Downs, but has been nothing short of sensational since. He won the GII Brooklyn S. by 2 1/4 lengths and then the Birdstone by 11 3/4. Then he turns the Greenwood Cup into a laugher.
Yes, comparing him to the top horses in training is somewhat a matter of apples-to-oranges, but the Beyer numbers indicate that he's fast enough. He got a 104 Beyer Saturday and has twice run a 105, in the Thoroughbred After Care Alliance and in the Birdstone. Arcangelo (Arrogate), who could be the favorite in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, ran his top number in the GI Travers S., where he got a 105.
But Next's connections remain committed to a schedule that includes only more of the same. When asked after the Greenwood Cup if they might try to drop back in distance and try tougher competition, Cowans said that wasn't the plan.
“It has not been a thought process up to this point,” he said. “At the beginning of the year there was a five-race plan for this horse and we have made every one. Lucky enough, he has stayed sound and healthy and has made every race.”
He said the plan is to run again in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which will be run this year at Santa Anita.
That certainly makes sense and you can't really fault Cowans and owner Michael Foster to sticking to what has worked so well since the Cape Henlopen. With $915,672 in career earnings he is closing in on the $1-million mark. Not bad for a horse who was claimed for $62,500.
But what if? Could Next duplicate his form in a mile-and-a-quarter race? Is that type of race, just two furlongs shorter, really that different than what he's been running in? It's certainly not out of the question that he could be competitive in some of these races, maybe even in the Classic. Even if he were to run second or third, that would be a huge accomplishment, result in a payday much bigger than anything available to him in the marathon races and open up all sorts of doors. A 5-year-old gelding, if he stays sound he has a lot of racing in front of him.
So why not run in the Classic? There is absolutely nothing to lose, especially when you consider that the alterative, the Thoroughbred After Care Alliance, is worth only $250,000. If he doesn't run well, you can always go back to Plan A.
“We've got a hell of a horse,” Foster said.
He's right. They do. Now let him go out and prove it–in the Classic.
Parx Stewards Need to Come Down Hard on Paco
The other story in the Greenwood Cup was Paco Lopez's ride aboard Ridin With Biden (Constitution), who finished third as the 7-2 second choice. He chased Next for the first nine furlongs or so and was obviously going to lose and lose by a wide margin. But it looked like the horse was going to be second and easily so as he was eight lengths clear of everyone else in the field at the eighth pole. But in the final 40 yards or so, Lopez just gave up.
Here's how the Equibase chart caller saw it: “RIDIN WITH BIDEN prompted the winner to midway on the final turn, proved no match then was eased in the final stages costing the place.”
That's exactly what happened as Ridin With Biden wound up finishing third, beaten a nose by 84-1 shot My Imagination (Lea). The difference between the place and show money was $19,000. Then, of course there's all the money that went down the drain in the exactas, where the Next-Ridin With Biden combo was the favorite. The irony is that Lopez is often accused of being too aggressive.
Maybe he thought he had the place position wrapped up, but that's no excuse. His job was to ride the horse out to the wire and he didn't. The Parx stewards shouldn't take this lightly. An appropriate suspension and fine is called for. Send a message.
Turf Paradise's Demise
It's sad, but hardly surprising to see that Turf Paradise will not re-open. The sport keeps losing racetracks and now will no longer have a track in another major market. With a population of 1.6 million, Phoenix is the fifth biggest city in the U.S.
But this is also a story of how casino gaming has changed the sport. I don't know what the bottom line details were at Turf Paradise, but trying to make a racetrack go without help from casino revenue is a battle that few tracks can win. That's especially true at a place like Turf Paradise, where the handle is small. And there was nothing on the horizon in Arizona in the way of the track getting help from Historical Horse Racing Machines (HHR) or anything else.
It's no coincidence that the other track about to close, Golden Gate Fields, was also trying to get by without help from a casino, slots or HHR. The list of places where there is an operating racetrack that gets nothing in the way of casino revenues or a subsidy from the government has dwindled to just a handful. Of all the U.S. tracks racing over the weekend, Los Alamitos was the only one. Even Monmouth, which has been fighting a losing battle against the Atlantic City casinos for decades, gets $10 million a year from the state to fatten the purse account.