11/06/2010 10:21AM

Breeders' Cup Day 2


Rather than looking at the glass as half full, or half empty, I am going to consider the finish photo of the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday as if it were a glass made of pure Baccarat crystal, forever sparkling beneath the artifical lighting of Churchill Downs.

In terms of uniting the warring factions of racing's most nagging argument, it was the perfect result. Hidebound believers in the infallability of Zenyatta have nothing for which to apologize. The margin by which she lost after all the ground she made up gave her race a depth of nobility not experienced since Seattle Slew's desperate second to Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. At the same time, the evangelical skeptics who refused to acknowledge Zenyatta as a world-class race horse, based on the perceived smoke, mirrors and "plastic" of her California-centric career, were moved to receive her into the company of legitimately great racemares. True, 20-0 looks better than 19-1, but the way she did it comes up looking pretty up-and-walkin' good.

Predictably, in this culture of what have we argued about lately, the long knives already have come out in the off-season battle for hearts, minds and Horse of the Year votes. Poor Blame and Zenyatta could not even bask for a week in the glow of the best male-female showdown since Gallorette beat Stymie by a neck in the 1948 Brooklyn Handicap. Those arguments -- cogent and otherwise -- will be entertained in this space, of course. But at the end of the day, it is my fervent wish that everyone will agree at just how lucky we have been to have two such fine animals roaming among us.

The only regret -- and I hope I am not alone in this -- is that Blame, a robust 4-year-old, is going to be retired after a career of nine wins in 13 starts, in order to service mares at Claiborne Farm. One can only hope that his best foals are fillies, and that at least one of them ends up in the hands of people who think more along the lines of Zenyatta's owners, Ann and Jerry Moss, who kept her in the game for three championship seasons.

As for the other Breeders' Cup winners, rumors were swirling that Goldikova, now a three-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, could stay in training in 2011 as a 6-year-old with the goal of winning the race once again. Just hearing her owners, Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, fail to deny such speculation did the heart good, while once again underlining the fact that it will be the mares and the geldings, or the enlightened owner of a colt, who provide the truly transcendant stars of the sport.


As for the dark side of the event, for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park in 2007, "BC" stands for black crepe.

Going into the first turn of the Juvenile Turf on Saturday, Ramon Dominguez heard a "swish" to his right, where Rough Sailing and Rosie Napravnik had been, and they were gone.

"Bizarre," said John Velazquez, who rode the trailing Pluck, and who just missed kicking the fallen Napravnik in the head.

"I've never seen a horse slip and fall like that," said Mike Smith, who has been riding since 1982.

Napravnik, who returned to the jocks' room with grass stains on the seat of her white pants, had reason to believe that Rough Sailing, a son of Mizzen Mast, would be okay, since he scrambled to his feet and trotted off. As it turned out, Rough Sailing fractured his humerus, the thick bone deep in the shoulder, running diagonally from the top of the upper leg to a connecting joint with the scapula. It takes an extremely forceful misstep, torque, or impact to break such a bone, but in the immediate wake of the event Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, the AAEP vet on call for the event, refused to speculate when it happened.

"Usually that kind of injury starts with micro-fractures," McIlwraith said, referring to the microscopic imperfections in bone detectable only by nuclear scan. "Detected early enough, we've had a lot of good luck in bringing horses back. But we won't know about this one until the autopsy results are in."

As for Napravnik, she had no doubt that her colt simply slipped and fell.

"Believe me, I've been on a lot of horses who broke down, and he did not feel like he broke down," said Napravnik, who registered her 1,000th win this year. "The way he got up and galloped away, I was hoping he was okay."

So, like that, the Breeders' Cup has wracked up another fatality. Put Rough Sailing on the wall alongside Go for Wand, Shaker Knit, Landseer, Spanish Fern, Exogenous, Mr. Nickerson, Mr. Brooks, Pine Island, Funfair and George Washington. The difference, if it matters -- Rough Sailing was the first 2-year-old to die in the history of the Breeders' Cup.


As for Friday's action ...

Horse racing under the lights is by tradition, and to some degree definition, minor league. This is not to disparage the good folks at the Meadowlands, where night racing was the only alternative to running in the shadow of New York, or to fuss about the Dubai World Cup, which if it was not run at night, would melt in the desert sun. And the idea of presenting night cards as a marketing ploy to expose the sport to a new crowd in order to goose business is certainly worth the try. But to subject the greatest events in the best of all games played outdoors (IMnotsoHO) to claustrophobic artificiality, as the Breeders' Cup has done this year with its most illustrious races, does the game a disservice.

Louisville locals and the various employees of CDI are rightfully proud of the new lighting system. The lights, they're so bright. Almost like day time. Better than day time, depending upon who's talking. One can almost hear the echoes from those bygone days when the wheel replaced the sled, when plumbing came indoors, and when those first telephones began to ring. One local reporter, obviously in thrall to the night life, actually suggested that with the artificial lights shining down upon Unrivaled Belle, Blind Luck, Shared Account and Midday, live crowd fans had "a better picture than you do during the day time."

Discounting any diagnosis of macular degeneration, this is hooey, or a symptom of the new addiction to an alternate, high-def universe. But let's talk aestheitcs instead. Horse racing, with its fierce, intimate action, also relies upon panorama for its appeal. When people go to the track -- which they do, still, for Breeders' Cup races, Triple Crown races, and the still viable meets of summer -- they step back a little from their urban worries. The idea of eliminating the forests surrounding Belmont, Arlington or Saratoga, the skyline in the distance at Gulfstream, the mountains framing Santa Anita, or the ocean vistas beyond the final turn of Del Mar should turn the blood cold.

When you race at night, the setting is limited to the racing surface and the infield. Only Happy Valley in Hong Kong, and to a lesser degree Hastings Park in Vancouver, provide a night time backdrop that compliments the surrounding darkness. Night racing robs a racetrack of its identity and the sport of its charm. Under the lights, the game looks the same wherever it is played, no matter how many spires are sticking out of the roof.


And a quick word about fights.

Jockeys fight more often than fans think. Usually these are quick, two or three-punch bouts, with little harm inflicted, and questionable justification. Napravnik, who was riding in her first Breeders' Cup, claimed to so far have avoided post-race action, but she did come close:

"There was a guy who gave me a really bad time, all the time, and one day he almost dropped me in a race," Napravnik said. "I was really looking forward to hitting him. And I was ready to do it -- then I watched the replay are realized it wasn't him. I was very disappointed."

There wasn't much doubt about who did what to who at the Breeders' Cup on Friday when Javier Castellano muscled his way to a hole during the Marathon and caused all sorts of havoc in his wake. By now, every little child has seen the viral YouTube and ESPN2 replay of Calvin Borel being restrained by the winner's circle lest he rip of Castellano's head and do something terrible down his neck. This was a side of Calvin we had never seen, contrary to the blue-collar hero who has won three of the past four Kentucky Derbies. But then, going medieval on national TV has its upside. "Horse racing," the WWF version, made all the news shows because of the fracas, and Borel's picture was on the cover of New York's Daily News.

As of Saturday morning, no rulings had been issued. But a knowledgable colleague (we call him Dave Grening) predicted that Castellano would get days for the blatant interference, Borel would be suspended for initiating the brawl, and Calvin also would be offered to lead the NTRA's new marketing efforts, since he clearly knows how to get the game in lights. Grening even offered a new NTRA catch phrase:

"Go Boo Boo Go."