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Monday, April 8, 2013
Give us a break

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

Here's one thing you have to like about Revolutionary in the Derby.

He'll be easy to spot in the white silks, back there wondering where everybody went.

Breaking bad is a trouble line.

Breaking bad is also oftentimes a trait.

Frequently it's strike one. Strike two is getting trapped on the rail halfway around. Strike three is having to swing extra wide on the turn and run 40 yards farther than anybody else while finishing around third, fourth, somewhere in there.

The break and run from the gate is so important that is should be listed in bloodline reportage: Bred to pop.

Revolutionary wins the 2013 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
Can Revolutionary get off to a good start in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs?
Revolutionary breaks like the opening of the gate interrupted a snack. He breaks like it's no big deal, which it hasn't been so far. But put 18 or 19 horses in front of him, not five, and see how good your futures tickets look. The problem with being a double deep closer in the Derby is that, besides having to duck and weave, you're going to have to pass four or five really good stalkers with some run left in them. When a horse breaks around last in a race with a gigantic field, it doesn't come close to controlling its own destiny. Early on, its future could rest on a former claimer wondering what all the racket was about. To win, near last to first, a horse has to get lucky and then be far and away superior to the rest of them.

There's no more exciting moment in sport than a horse moving from the back of the pack toward first, demonstrating that winning power move on the turn, making the field appear to be moving in slow motion. Most often this happens during $5,000 claiming races at Dust Bowl Downs.

You'd think there was a cure for breaking bad, that a stern talking to and repeated gate work would surely help.

A friend of mine had a race horse that broke almost exactly the same way every time: like he had ochlophobia, the fear of crowds, or rupophobia, a fear of dirt. He would almost step from the gate, as though testing the temperature of water. Then he would settle into a spirited run along the rail and would close with the promise of better things to come, and finish third, fourth or fifth.

This horse was worked repeatedly from the gate under varying conditions.

Sometimes the gate would be opened quickly, other times after a lengthy delay.

When working out of the gate alone, sometimes the horse would break with the best of them.

Then back on the track for a race, surrounded by noise and strangers and guys at the rail yelling, "Get out of the gate for once in your life, you bum," the horse would seem to look both ways before crossing into the competitive world.

The one time I recall this horse breaking really well, it had the outside gate spot in a sprint and more or less took off sideways, to the right, something like a quarter horse; and closed well to run fourth.

Most heartbreakers have this in common, they're late.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.