Linda Moore of Arlington wants more for her money. "The price of the Daily Racing Form has gone up again (recently) to $1.25," she writes, "and they still don't put mud marks behind the horses' names, like they used to. For beginners like, me, it would be helpful, especially at winter meetings such as Bowie when the track is 'off' so much."
It has been nearly a year since the Form dropped its mud markings from the past performances. An asterisk indicated a "fair mud runner," and indicated "good mud runner" and an x with a circle around it was used sparingly to point out a superior mud performer.
"We intend to put the mud marks back in again before too long," a spokesman for DRF said yesterday. "The changes came with more winter racing and the change in composition of race tracks. We're working on it. The marks, of course, merely reflect one expert's opinion as to that horse's ability on a muddy or sloppy strip."
The change in composition of racing surfaces created new headches for the Form's expert. There was a time when tracks were truly deep and muddy after prolonged, heavy rains. A six-furlong time in the old days, under such conditions, could go as high as 1:18 or 1:19.
That is when, up through the 40s and 50s, many tracks were constructed of clay. Now the tracks are made of loam and sand - "quicksand," one wag suggests - with an expensive stone-dust base. Many tracks actually become faster as they initially become wet. The track bottoms and cushions are much better made, and so are the drainage systems.
There was a time when certain bloodlines seemed to just naturally improve on the old-fashioned tracks when muddy. The offspring of Crafty Admiral mares were notable examples. Progeny of War Admiral, Pilate and Challenger II also "moved up" considerably in sticky going. More recently, Round Table's sons and daughters liked off tracks, even though the old man couldn't stand up in thestuff.
Perhaps it has always been more accurate to say that certain horses don't mind the mud as much as others. Many runners don't want to get their feet wet. Yet there are times when horses become downright daring in the slop. They make the early lead and improve their position from there, when on a dry strip they could only prompt the pace.
The Form is to be commended for pledging a return of the mud marks. Many bettors like to refer to them as a crutch in handicapping. But the DRF's man in charge of the markings has a tough task. Does one good race in the mud, for example, earn an asterisk or an "x"? And what if a horse with a superior label fails to fire in his favorite footing? The marks should be reappraised regularly.
That was a parkling effort turned in by Seattle Slew in his 1977 debut Wednesday at Hialeah. Seven furlongs in 1:20 315, a track record, speaks for itself. The first major test for the undefeated colt as a 3-year-old will be the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah March 26.