A race horse is born. If you are a cowboy in New Mexico or a gentleman owner in Kentucky, you raise them, you care for them, you teach them their lessons. One day they are old enough to saddle and ride. They are then tested for agility and speed. Thereafter, if the aptitude is there, they are raced. These young horses, like the many thousands before them know nothing about the politics of racing or handicapping. They just accept the man on their back. When the man says; "Yaaaaa", the horse runs in the direction they are pointed. On each and every surface they run. Saddle them, mount them, say yaaaaa, spur them on or encourage them, and they run - on anything.
If the owner of the horse is living in France, the horse will race on the grass. It will rain sometimes - many times - and the horses who have no say in the matter will race on the heavy going, as asked. Whatever the circumstances, these race horses will do what is required of them. Soon, the owner will realize if the horse has the action suitable to firm or off going. After that assessment, he will try and put the horse in a locale that suits, and on a surface the runner handles well. There is some experimenting and many unknowns during this process. Even if the horse is bred to be a champion, one never knows if the horse will act and race like his parents, or if he will have very few of their characteristics. Each day the handicappers of the world bet on first time starters that have no form. They check out the training routine, the breeding, the handlers, and they make their guesses. The horse runs. Some run well, some run poorly. Whatever their ability, their races constitute what is known as their "racing form". If he races on the dirt, his form will be specific to the dirt. If he races on grass, the form is specific to the grass. And when he races on synthetics, his form will be specific to synthetics. When he changes tracks or surface, his form changes - either for the better or worse. When he changes company, moving in with easier or facing tougher, his form changes. Some horses handle all surfaces well, but will prefer one over the other. Some will race over different distances until the handlers decide which is best. Some will show strong inclinations for certain surfaces and certain distances. Nobody knows what the results will be until they are tried.
Initially, before the racing career begins, the horses will not be thought of as synthetic horses or grass horses or dirt horses, they will simply be; Race Horses. If they race a few times over the California synthetics, many of the handicappers will consider them; Synthetic Horses. If some who initially are owned by California interests are sent to New York or sold to New York interests, they will soon be thought of as; Dirt Horses. But always, no matter their locale or the surface they race over, they retain the qualities of the race horse.
In the beginning, if Zenyatta were sold to another owner, her career would have been different. Yes. But to suggest she is a champion because she races on synthetics is *pure unadulterated nonsense*. If you saw her powerful way of going in the last sixteenth in the Classic, that has little to do with the surface and everything to do with her great athletic prowess. One of the riders opposing Zenyatta in her only dirt race at Oaklawn said; "She went by us in two strides." Another rider, Ramon Dominguez, said of Zenyatta in the same race; "She raced wide and blew by us with her ears like this" moving his fingers back and forth emulating Zenyatta's twitching ears. Garret Gomez echoed that statement when Zenyatta flew by the near champion, Life is Sweet, in a synthetic race; In three strides, she (Zenyatta) went on by." So, those who know the action best agree, that Zenyatta is dominant over both surfaces. There is no evidence whatsoever that she loses or gains anything at all moving from synthetic or dirt. Simply, Zenyatta is a champion with an overpowering finishing kick. IMO, she may have been every bit as good if she were bought by English or French interests and raced on grass. She might have been the eqivalent of Zarkava or Allez France. We can all see now that her racing class is at that supreme level.
Let's do a little mental experiment.. Let's move every single dirt horse in the East and move them to California. Will they then be synthetic horses after they have been here a month? Six months? A year? When do they become synthetic horses? When they race over the surface? When they win? Are they synthetic horses because they are here in California? The answer is none of those. They will be race horses whose recent form is synthetic.
When our Western horses go East for next years championships, how they will fare? Will they transfer their form, or even improve like I Want Revenge, or will they decline? The handicappers in the West will be just as clueless as those in the East. I can tell you one thing for sure, we in the West, won't complain. We will race and do our best.
I've been handicapping the horses most of my life, always in California.. and I can tell you unequivocally, there have been very few Eastern Horses who shipped to the West who immediately adapted to the Californa surfaces - dirt or synthetic. Loren Retelle, protege of Jack Van Berg, and a great trainer in his own right, particularly with fast horses (Grenzen, Beira, etc..) told me that Eastern horses have different muscling than Western horses .. as the ground they train over is quite different. He even showed me a few Eastern horses while we sed at Santa Anita and pointed to different areas of the horse for me to note.. Though I had not the skill or the eye to understand all that he conveyed, I easily understood the concept. And IMO, that very same concept applies to synthetic to dirt and dirt to synthetic. My guess is that the Western horses who race over synthetic will not have nearly as much difficulty adjusting to dirt tracks, as the Easterners do to California synthetics for the same reasons mentioned. In comparison, the training over synthetic is perhaps tougher and affects more deeply the horses interior muscling, much like a human athlete training on the beach sand. Therefore, horses training over synthetic may lose some of their brilliant speed... but will gain stamina from their training regimen over the demanding surface. Conversely, horses who train over dirt may be more disadvantaged when sent to synthetics... as their stamina is not quite sufficient to stay over the more demanding surface. There have been many examples in the recent Breeders Cup Championship races of the Easterners not carrying their speed far enough..
This is an interesting phenomenon for me. In years past, from the mid-60's onward, (my years) the Western horses had trouble staying over the sandier eastern soils.. And the eastern horses couldn't quicken sufficiently over the western ground. Now, with synthetics, it appears the opposite is occurring.
But it's always been about race horses racing where we ask them too. In my opinion, most of the synthetic issue is created and fostered by handicappers who WISH that horses were exactly the same racing over synthetics as they are on dirt. But until each horse is given the chance to race and train over the surface, we will not know how good they are... which is no different than a grass horses first outings, or a horse racing over off surfaces.. Until form is established, nobody can know. The best of us will make better guesses than the rest.
But that is the essence of handicapping; It has always been about understanding form with extra rewards for those who guess well.