When the three-year-old filly Acapulco made her return to the races on February 19th at Turfway Park, many fans were expecting a spectacular and easy victory. After all, Acapulco had been fantastic in Europe last year, dominating the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot before finishing second in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (Eng-I) against a top-notch field of older horses–yes, older horses, and she beat the veteran multiple group I winner Sole Power!
As a result, the February 19th race–a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race–was expected to be a walk in the park for Acapulco. Although the race would mark her first start on a synthetic track, Acapulco had trained well at Turfway for her return, culminating with a bullet five-furlong breeze in the time of :58.80 on February 6th.
So it came as a surprise when Acapulco, after settling a couple of lengths behind fractions of :22.91 and :46.82, had to work hard to reel in the front-running Sweet Ruth E. to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in the time of 1:11.37 seconds, which translated to a Beyer speed figure of just 69. At first glance, it wasn’t a very impressive performance, but there are a number of reasons to think that Acapulco’s comeback effort was much better than it appears.
For starters, Acapulco was switching surfaces, and although turf and synthetic tracks are considered to be somewhat similar, they are definitely not identical. It’s worth noting that Acapulco opened her career with a third-place finish on dirt at Churchill Downs, so it’s possible that she is simply a turf specialist that doesn’t care for other types of tracks.
Secondly, although her final workout before the allowance race was achieved in a fast time, it was also posted nearly two weeks before the race, and it was only her fourth workout since January 9th, meaning that she probably wasn’t anywhere near peak fitness for this race. This makes sense, since it’s only February and this was only an allowance race–it’s only logical to try and have Acapulco peak later in the year when the stakes are higher.
But even more impressive is the fact that Acapulco had to overcome a tricky pace scenario to win. A :46.82 half-mile isn’t very fast for a six-furlong race, and after getting away with such a modest fraction, Sweet Ruth E. was still running strongly on the lead with Acapulco 1 1/2 lengths back in third. In fact, Sweet Ruth E. ran the fifth furlong in a rapid :12.09 seconds, and since Acapulco gained a length during that timeframe, she ran her own fifth furlong in about :11.89, and excellent fraction.
Acapulco did slow down a bit in the final furlong, getting the distance in about :12.36, but that was still a strong fraction that carried her to victory. Overall Acapulco raced at a fairly steady pace throughout the race, an accomplishment that wasn’t overlooked by a friend of mine, who creates his own pace figures by analyzing race fractions in feet-per-second fashion. According to his calculations, Acapulco was traveling fastest during the first part of the race–covering 56.63 feet-per-second–and slowest in the final furlong, covering 53.33 seconds. But the difference between these two measurements–just 3.33 feet-per-second–is relatively small, especially for a sprint race. Being able to run at a relatively steady pace is a very valuable asset for any horse, and bodes well for her chances of success down the road.
Where the road will lead is hard to say–perhaps a return trip to Royal Ascot is in the cards?–but in any case, I think Acapulco’s comeback race was better than it appeared, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can accomplish this year!
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