11/06/2010 11:21AM

Breeders' Cup Day 2

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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." 

Jeff T. More than 1 year ago
I agree with you wholeheartedly Jay about night racing. This is absolutely the most disruptive change to any horse's schedule. Anyone that has watched the night racing at Hollywood Park on Friday nights knows exactly what I'm saying. The horses simply don't "run to form" when raced at night. I have never seen so many illogical outcomes... except for Friday night at Hollywood Park. I am still of the belief that the later start of the 2010 BC Classic made for an even bigger home court advantage for Blame.
Gary Lynn More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta article 11/18....craftily put Mr. Jay....been a while; best wishes to you and yours.
ClockerDan More than 1 year ago
Completely agree with Kram. I understand the sappy romance of young kids falling in love with horses, as glorified in the movies and TV ("National Velvet", "The Black Beauty", "My Friend Flicka", "The Black Stallion", blah blah blah), but for grown adults to be head-over-heals over a race horse is kind of pathetic. I'm a HUGE Zenyatta fan, was heartbroken to see her final rally fall a head short to the better horse that day (Blame), but to insist she's the greatest of either sex of all time is outrageous. She's a great, great mare who provided oodles of thrills for sure, but to flatly insist that she was the greatest horse ever implies a lack of knowledge of the game's history, or a childish refusal to deal with the reality that she got a nice smooth trip in her last race that was set up perfectly for her, and an outstanding horse like Blame simply would not let her get by. That's it. Many people, especially throughout Europe, arguably feel that Goldikova was the star mare of this year's Breeder's Cup. So maybe Goldikova is the best horse ever since her resume and the horses she has beaten in her career, is arguably much more impressive than Zenyatta's. In the words of Zenyatta's connections, "how can you beat perfection"? Answer: you can't. Therefore, we must conclude that Personal Ensign is the greatest race mare of all time. As for greatest horse of all time, Zenyatta can be invited into the discussion by virtue of her near-flawless record but when you drop the childish emotion and really take a hard look at what the likes of Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, and Man O' War among others did and the competition they ran against, to defiantly insist that Big Z is the greatest ever is just plain silly. For those who won't budge from the "only Zenyatta, Zenyatta only" stance, I strongly suggest you buy the book "Champions" on drf.com and educate yourselves. Better late than never to understand what truly great horses ran before the year 2005.
kram More than 1 year ago
Wow!! There must be a disease going around called Zenyatta-itis. It's symptoms are delusions, hallucinations and a tunnel vision. Sounds a little like an LSD trip from the 60's. How else to explain claims like the "best female horse ever" (she wasn't even the best on BC day- that goes to Goldlikova) and the funniest is the "fastest horse". In what universe? The time of the Classic was a rather pedestrian 2:02 and change. Fast? I think not. I also like the claim that she ran great (which she did) on a surface she had not run on or trained on prior to the BC. Well, who's fault was that? Did Churchill have some sort of "ban" on Zen working there prior to the race? Bottom line. Zen is a great horse. She is certainly not the "greatest of all time". As a matter of fact one would be hard pressed to include her in a list of top ten of all time with the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew (help me here Curt) and Spectacular Bid, Kelso, Man O' War etc. For three years she beat up on suspect fields in slow times. When called upon against the best field she had faced to date, she came up a head short. No disgrace and as a matter of fact it was probably the best performance of her career. But can we please stop with the greatest of alltime nonsense?
Marty More than 1 year ago
Could you suggest to Zenyatta's connections that they run her in the Dubai World Cup before retiring her? She doesn't seem to have missed a step, or show signs of wanting to become a mother yet, and it sure would be good for racing to capitalize on the enormous attention she's brought to our sport. Friends who have never watched a race tuned in to see her, and unaware of her racing style, were totally captivated by her incredible run from so far behind.
flyingsinger More than 1 year ago
Are you kidding me? Too many times as an owner and a breeder I have seen horses run into the ground because the public (and sometimes the trainers) want more and more out of a great horse. My hat goes off to John and his owners for making the best decision to retire this great mare. Come on, she has done her job, how does this person know if she is showing "signs of wanting to become a Mother" too many times alot of owners and fans don't know squat about these horses. I had hands on experience with my horses on the track and my brood mares. Yes she is an incredible horse, but I am so happy that she is retiring in one piece and not being hauled off the track by the dreaded horse ambulance. She still will go down as an incredible mare with a huge heart! End of story.... Let her legacy live on in her foals!
Jeff Morris More than 1 year ago
I'm with you, Jay. Hearing that Blame is to be hurried off to stud duty is depressing. It's hard to cultivate new fans when the game's stars exit the stage just when people are getting to know their names and care enough to actually follow their careers. As for Zenyatta... she answered all the questions and then some. On top of her top of her looks, charisma, and scary talent, she showed that she has the most noble trait of them all - heart. She couldn't have tried harder.... the wire just came up too fast and there was just way too much left to do considering the first half of her race. Had she been even slightly more forwardly disposed in the early going, she wins the race going away... racing can be so cruel. But the main thing is she's healthy and happy! Can't wait to see her babies run.
Shawn Murray More than 1 year ago
I may be spoiled because of the beauty of Keeneland but CD needs to be under the lights. For all of the history at CD it is in a terrible part of Louisville...just saying you don't miss anything at CD cause of racing under the lights..
markinsac More than 1 year ago
Jay, Zenyatta's performance was the most spectacular defeat in history and clinched HORSE OF THE YEAR AWARD. GET READY FOR MANY EAST COAST DERRELICKED WRITERS TO HOLD ON TO BLAME. THEY WILL SAY "BUT IT'S NOT IN THE RULES TO VOTE FOR HER!". But before you do, consider these things: THE LAST TWO BC CLASSIC WINNERS DIDN'T GET HOTY (ZENYATTA BEING ONE OF THEM). OFF THIS FINISH, ZENYATTA WILL BE VOTED THE GREATEST MARE IN HORSE RACING HISTORY, AND NO HORSE OF THE YEARS? GIVE ME A BREAK! ZENYATTA BROUGHT MORE PUBLICITY TO OUR SPORT THAN ANY OTHER HORSE SINCE SECRETARIAT. SHE PUT PEOPLE IN THE SEATS, SHE MADE PEOPLE (NON HORSE RACING PEOPLE) WATCH. SHE WAS ON 60 MINUTES, SHE WAS IN OPRAH'S POWER LIST. I GOT CALLS FROM MANY FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS SAYING SHE RAN SPECTACULAR. DID BLAME DO ALL THAT? DO THE HORSE OF THE YEAR RULES SAY YOU CAN'T VOTE FOR THE "BEST" AND "FASTEST" HORSE IN AMERICA? ZENYATTA IS THE "BEST" AND "FASTEST" HORSE IN AMERICA
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
Alison: With regard to the Classic being run under the lights (as well as the Filly & Mare Turf and Ladies Classic on Friday), it's something you better get used to, because I suspect next year's entire Breeders' Cup will be at night to tap into the Asia-Pacific region (as noted in the first post of this thread), with the Oaks and Derby very possibly also at night, as especially for the Derby I would think NBC (which has a new deal for it) would want the Derby telecast in prime time so the TV rating from it (which the past two years was the highest since 1992) counts in the prime time ratings (had this year's Derby been in prime time, the 10.3 rating would have been good enough for the overall #1 program for the week of April 29-May 5 I believe). Zenyatta did more in losing this race than she did in ANY of her wins this year. It's a shame Hollywood Park decided to run the Hollywood Turf Cup (Grade 1 at 1 1/2 Miles on turf) this coming Saturday (11/13), because if it had been me, I would have scheduled it for Saturday, December 4 with provisions to jack the purse from $250,000 to $2 Million provided Blame and Zenyatta (who would both be making their turf debuts) started in it in what could have been billed as a rematch on a new surface, possibly also facing Gio Ponti and some of the horses from the BC Turf. Such a race could have then aired LIVE on ABC at halftime of the Big 12 Championship game on 12/4 and also at the same time on ESPN at halftime of the ACC Championship Game (which are scheduled to be played simultaneously that night), exposing such a rematch to an audience watching those conference championship games in college football in what really could have been a real "Championship Saturday." It's the kind of forward thinking this sport is truly lacking to pull something off like this.
Blackseabass More than 1 year ago
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA is the greatest horse of either sex EVER PERIOD