11/05/2011 11:12AM

Breeders' Cup 92011



9:00 a.m. (PDT) Saturday

I tried to get to the Breeders' Cup this week but I was stopped at the Kentucky/Tennessee border crossing and turned back. Apparently I was on some sort of wiseguy elitist West Coast watch list, or I didn't have my shots, or I was carrying both fresh produce and livestock. Anyway, it's home and dry for today's spectacular, strapped onto the laptop, delighted to be among the throng plugged into the 28th Breeders' Cup Sort-Of World Championships. It should be a great day. The dachshund's good eye is bright with anticipation. I will be kibbitzing to beat the band.

First off, may I compliment the Weather Gods, which are different from the Racing Gods in that they do not have either a DRFBets account or an opinion about Lasix. It was waved in my face yesterday that "if the Cup had been in California it would have been raining" -- read with a "nyah-nyah-nyah" inflection -- which is absolutely true. And thank goodness. California needs the rain a lot more than it needs the Breeders' Cup.

Ah, but today dawned in both Louisville and L.A. with azure skies and ambrosia in the air. I wondered, though, about holding the event elsewhere and took the thought to its limits. What if the 2011 Breeders' Cup had been presented today in one of the several places it has been held in the past? Like ...

Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas, 72 degrees and sunny, 10% chance of rain...Hallandale, Florida, 79 degrees and partly cloudy, 20 % chance of rain...Chicago, Illinois, 57 degrees and sunny, 10% chance of rain...Oceanport, New Jersey...50 degrees and sunny, 0% chance of rain....Toronto, Ontario, 0h Canada, 44 degrees and sunny, 0% chance of rain...Elmont, New York -- 50 degrees and sunny, 0% chance of rain.

Looks like it was going to be a fine day wherever the dice were rolled for an early November date. Memo to Cup lords regarding future sites, however: it was 73 in Bermuda today and 82 in Maui. Just saying.

80 minutes to kick-off. Oh boy.

10:03 a.m. (PDT)

Oops. Forgot there for a second that today's telecast commences on TVG/Betfair, for the Breedres' Cup Marathon. I was sitting here watching ABC like a good boy, wondering how "Everyday Health" would segue into a replay of last year's post-Marathon brawl between Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano. Then the light went on, dimly, and I switched to Friday's host, ESPN2, but there was this guy saying "Gentlemen start your engines" for something called the O'Reilly Auto Parts Championship from the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (72 and sunny for NASCAR). No luck on ESPN either, on which Iowa was dealing harshly with Michigan, but it was early. TVG was where I belonged.

To review, for me mostly: TVG for the Marathon right now. ABC coverage begins at 2 p.m. EDT, then hands off to ESPN at 3:30 p.m. EDT. Fifteen races, four television channels. Is this a great event or what.

And a word about the name of this race. The original "marathon" was run by the Greek soldier Pheidippiddes who raced more than 24 miles to deliver the news that a battle had been won, then collapsed and died. In Europe, a horse racing marathon is more like the Ascot Gold Cup, at 2 1/2 miles, or the 4,000-meter Prix du Cadran ("pack a lunch" in French). America, which like things to be done with quickly, settles for a mile and three-quarters. Good luck to all.

10:58 (PDT)

As the field goes to the post for the Juvenile Turf...

There were 68 horses running in the seven races of the first Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park in 1984. Of them, 21 were 2-year-olds running in two races, the Juvenile and the Juvenile Filles, or 30% of the participants.

This weekend, if there are no scratches this afternoon, there will be 173 runners compete in 15 Breeders' Cup events. Five of those 15 are for 2-year-olds, in which 66 (with no scratches) will compete. That's 38.3%.

The trend is clear, and perhaps even disturbing. I know plenty of sensible horse people who resist the extreme position of avoiding 2-year-old racing altogether. They feel it is perfectly okay to race 2-year-olds, just not to the extremes required of a Breeders' Cup appearance. No one ever dreamed, though, that 2-year-old racing would become the rock upon which the Breeders' Cup is built, and yet here we are -- a third of the festival, nearly four out of every 10, many of them April foals.

The economics are clear, so let's be up front about it. Owners who buy your horses hope for quick return and breeders hope to be able to advertise such success. What better way to do it than with a home run in a Breeders' Cup event? Given this reality, I wouldn't be opposed to a name change for the festival, to the Commercial Breeders' Cup.

And now, we switch to ABC ...

11:08 a.m. (PDT)

Bravo Wrote, but did anyone notice that game runner-up Excaper was ridden by a woman from Canada not named Chantal? Emma-Jayne Wilson gave the colt a great trip at 29-to-1.

11:58 a.m. (PDT)

Did you hear Mike Smith just now: "He was pricking his ears at the wire." Amazombie is that rare piece of work -- the laid back sprinter, and congratulations to all.

There have been only five California-bred horses win Breeders' Cup races -- four sprints and two Classics (by Tiznow) -- and all of them since 2000. Lest anyone forget, however, a Cal-bred filly finished first in the very first Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, in 1984 at Hollywood.

Fran's Valentine, bred in Southern California by Earl Scheib, defeated Outstandingly that day and then was disqualified to 10th for interference. Joe Manzi, who trained Fran's Valentine, eventually got over the disappointment -- he won the Kentucky Oaks with Franny the following year -- and did a lot more winning before his death in 1989, at age 53. Today's BC Sprint summons Manzi's memory, if for no other reason than his assistant, back in the early 1970's, was Bill Spawr. That's Spawr up there on the winner's stand, Amazombie's part owner and world-class trainer.

12:29 p.m. (PDT)

Trevor Denman saw it coming. Wheee! Blow that turn. But what does anyone expect, sending 14 horses at 40 m.p.h. into a hairpin turn on a turf course still damp from Thursday's rains? The justification for a Turf Sprint hinged on participation by Europeans. They were missing in action this year, but that's not a knock. Just because the race is run on the grass does not mean it's their game. If there is ever a culling of Breeders' Cup events in favor of true championship competition, the Turf Sprint should go.

Still, got to hand it to Regally Ready. He has mastered this season three of the most disparate turf layouts in North America, beginning last winter with three wins down the hill at Santa Anita and then last month over Woodbine's never-ending stretch.

And now it's over to ESPN ...

12:50 p.m. (PDT)

If ever a race deserved a better name ...

It took four runnings before the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile was actually run on dirt at one mile. I blame the names for the original seven Breeders' Cup events, which wrapped themselves in generic labels, with the exception of the Classic, which pretty much has lived up to its name.

Instead of catchy handles like "Sprint" for a sprint race and "Turf" for a turf race, it was proposed, at the time, that the races be named for seven great horses. Alas, most of them -- Citation, Man o' War, Secretariat -- already had been taken by other races. I went and suggested a whole 'nother direction, naming the races for great American literary figures. Who would not want to win the Faulkner, the Hemingway, the Fitzgerald, the Elmore Leonard? 

This is by far the best Dirt Mile field in its five runnings. Too bad it will be run over what TV sideline reporter Caton Bredar describes as "gummy peanut butter." Mmm, peanut butter.

2:20 p.m. (PDT)

Yes, Joseph O'Brien (left, with the legs) is a shade taller than my wife. Here's Julie with the jocks before the St. Leger at Doncaster in September. That's Olivier Peslier, Goldikova's jockey, who won't let go of her hand.

3:55 p.m. (PDT)

For those who feel Goldikova was treated too kindly by the Churchill Downs stewards, who left her third-place number up after her move to daylight in the stretch, you've got a gripe. It did not look good, but the suggestion that any amount of sentiment was a factor is probably way off the mark, even though it was her final race, and she was such a sweetheart.

Churchill Downs stewards, by tradition, tend to let the game be played without official intrusion. They have disqualified exactly one horse for interference in the 137-year history of the Kentucky Derby, a race that is the gnarliest run event this side of Italy's rough and tumble Il Palio. In seven Breeders' Cups at Churchill Downs, there have been two DQs -- last year when runner-up Prince Will I Am was demoted from second in the Marathon, and in 2006 when As Siempre, who had a nightmare trip anyway, finished second in the Distaff and was demoted to fourth.

California stewards lowered the boom early. On the same day they took down winner Fran's Valentine in the 1984 Juvenile Fillies they disqualified Gate Dancer for running a ragged second in the Classic. At Aquedut in 1985, on their way to finishing second, Jean Cruguet and Palace Music laid all over Laffit Pincay and Tsunami Slew in the Mile and were DQed. Down at Gulfstream in '89, Sam Who and Pincay were held responsible for an ugly start and moved from their close fourth to dead last, behind a cut and bleeding On the Line. And who could forgetthe 1997 Classic at Hollywood, in the wake of Skip Away's runaway, when third-place Whiskey Wisdom was dropped for fouling fourth-place Dowty. Actually, it was noticed primarily by those playing the trifecta.

Ancient history now. Let's enjoy the Classic ...

4:55 p.m. (PDT)

What goes around ...

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to May 30, 2011. Inglewood, Calif. Hollywood Park racetrack, where Mike Smith and Amazombie were disqualified from victory in the Los Angeles Handicap. The stewards brought the inquiry, but the chief witness for the prosecution was Chantal Sutherland, who took exception to Smith's move in the stretch during which some contact was made with her mount, M One Rifle. There was vigorous debate afterwards, mostly pointing out that M One Rifle made his own bed by drifting out then in before finishing third. Smith was hot for days afterwards and threatened to pull out of the novelty match race -- "Battle of the Exes" -- being arranged between him and Sutherland later at Del Mar. But he cooled off, relented and hit his mark.

 Never mind reality shows like "Jockeys," during which we found out waaay too much about their relationship. Real life has 'em beat every time.

A deep bow to both riders, though, for their work in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Neither Game on Dude nor Drosselmeyer will go down in history as memorable names. But they were best on the biggest day -- a Belmont winner and a Santa Anita Handicap winner -- and that always counts for something.

In the wake of the race, I will stick to my guns regarding Havre de Grace as Horse of the Year. Her record going in was a nose from flawless, and she was fourth in the Classic, beating Flat Out in the process.  Game on Dude gets my vote as top older male horse this year, and he will wear the trophy well. As for top 3-year-old, Ruler on Ice made fans with his Classic third, but why not Caleb's Posse, who was so impressive in a very deep running of the Dirt Mile, campaigned since January, and won four other solid stakes besides?

Cape Blanco will be champion male turf horse even though his Irish stablemate, St. Nicholas Abbey, took home the Breeders' Cup Turf. And Stacelita should not be penalized for her troubled loss in the Filly & Mare Turf the day before, nor should Turbulent Descent for her loss in the Filly & Mare Sprint. About the 2-year-olds I rarely concern myself -- My Miss Aurelia, of course, and Union Rags I guess.

Mike Smith proved there is life after Zenyatta, while Bill Mott verified his ownership of Churchill Downs, just as Richard Mandella took the Breeders' Cup to school at Santa Anita in 2003. In a close one, as close at the Classic finish, Mott should get the Eclipse Award by a nod over an equally deserving Bob Baffert.

There's still daylight out West. Time enough to walk the dachshund.