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It does my heart good to realize I can still be shocked, stunned, delighted and even disappointed--take your pick--over something as routine as the draw for Breeders' Cup races. It happened Tuesday afternoon for the 26th time.
--I remain shocked and embarrassed that North American horse racing is so feebly represented in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf. Telling won the Sword Dancer fair and square, although he'd lost the 11 races before that after exhausting his conditions. Presious Passion is a grand animal, with a flamboyant running style that is both a blessing and a curse. Monzante, who won an Eddie Read, has never been near 12 furlongs. And Allegre, while not quite the second coming of Ricks Natural Star, may need a flashlight to find Dar Re Mi by the end of the ordeal. This is the same race won by such homegrown heroes as Manila, Great Communicator, Prized, Fraise, Chief Bearheart, Buck's Boy, Johar, Better Talk Now and English Channel. They weep.
--At the same time, I was stunned that the vast resources of Ireland's Coolmore-Ballydoyle operation could not muster a single representative for either the Turf or the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile. After all, these grass races are run for the benefit of Europeans. Aren't they? The least they can do is show up to the party.
--I continue to be disappointed that four of the 14 Breeders' Cup races are populated by 2-year-olds. Even more disconcerting, of the 149 runners in the main bodies of the 14 races, 49 are mere babies. Babies! What is this, the trials for the Rainbow Futurity, or the ultimate pageant of the Thoroughbred breed, in all its great variety? Two Juvenile races might have been one too many. Four is nothing but filler.
--I am delighted that there will be a rematch in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic between Richard's Kid and Einstein, the 1-2 finishers in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Richard's Kid is owned by Arnold Zetcher, the former Talbot's CEO who is at the forefront of a group intent on purchasing Santa Anita Park. Stronach heads the bankrupt company being forced to sell Santa Anita to pay off massive debt. Best of all, in case no one noticed, the race will be run at Santa Anita.
--I was not surprised to see Bob Baffert have such bad luck at the draw (the 2-year-olds Lookin at Lucky and Always a Princess on the far outside, going 1 1/16 miles, and Zensational on the rail in the Sprint). For Pete's sake, the man won the first four races on last Sunday's Santa Anita card. Karma is an evil mistress, and tends to roll in cycles. Baffert is counting on the pendulum swinging back his way by the weekend.
--And I can't wait to watch Zenyatta toy with the boys.
I was also relieved to see Gary Stevens alert and on the job with HRTV during the post-draw interview session. Last Saturday, the Hall of Famer-turned-trainer took the worst of a bizarre chain reaction when a filly in the next saddling stall backed into the heavy wood and metal partition and knocked it to the ground. Valet Manny Avila (who gallops Richard's Kid and Always a Princess for Baffert), was helping Stevens saddle his filly, and was momentarily pinned beneath the partition. The filly shied into Stevens, and banged his head into the another partition. That one held. "This is nothing," Stevens said, pointing to the traces of a nasty scrape near his left temple. "It's what was going on inside my head that had me worried." As for Avila, he escaped with a few scratches and bruises. "Look at this," he said, waving his scratched Callaway sunglasses. "The least they can do is buy me a new pair."
& how many last time on dirt horses won a synth bc race ?
Informed Decision and a few other winners that won a Breeders Cup race have won or run on the dirt; they have not only run on the synthetic and/or they did not have to carry their track with them to win. Summer Bird, a dirt-based runner, ran a good fourth. Also, many of the Breeders Cup races were run on the turf, where it is clear that the Europeans have superior runners. What's interesting, in view of yesterday's Breeder Cup results, is that many of the quality turf horses running on the synthetic – including Mastercraftsman, Rip Van Winkle, and a few others – did not translate their turf form onto the synthetic and win, as many had speculated. I do not recall the handlers who ran their synthetic-based horses on the dirt track in the Kentucky Derby using the surface excuse to explain their horses’ performance. Some of the horses in the Kentucky Derby, who had only raced on the dirt, still could not win. At next year’s Breeder’s Cup that will be run on the dirt surface, will the handlers of those synthetic-based runners that run there and lose use the excuse that it was because of the dirt surface? Zenyatta is a world class runner. It won’t happen but it would have been interesting to see Zenyatta race against Sea of the Stars. The greatest horses do not need to carry their track or track surface with them. For those that see the races through their own lens no doubt they will make their best cases to support their horses. What is more surprising is that some of the East Coast-based horse pundits were quick to qualify and diminish Zenyatta’s record even before the Breeder’s Cup was run. They ignored the historic possibilities, for example, the fact that if she won she would be the first female thoroughbred since the Breeders Cup began in 1984 to win the Classic, the first horse to win two different Breeder’s Cup Divisions -- Zenyatta won last year’s Ladies Classic, (I think she may be also the first undefeated horse to win the Classic). Few gave her a chance racing against the male thoroughbreds in the most competitive race of the year. She answered all the questions and more on the track in her astonishing victory in the Classic, in which she overcame adversity and still trounced a very good group of horses, including at least two divisional champs (Summer Bird and Gio Ponti). Her achievement transcends the sport and perhaps should be viewed as one of the greatest events in all sports this year. No more need to debate horse of the year.
C, My responses below to your comments above relate to a previous blog thread from another column: If there is a need to categorize Zenyatta’s victories, then you need to apply that same approach in describing Rachel Alexandra’s victories. That is, as a speed merchant, she usually has one way to go -- at the front end taking her speed as far as it will carry her. Her highest Beyer (for those that use that as a reference point) was in the Haskell on the speed favoring Monmouth sloppy track. Alexandra has not run at the classic mile and a quarter distance; on a dry track in the Woodward, she had to be whipped about 21 times to hold on to a rapidly diminishing lead to Macho Again, a good runner who later lost by several lengths to Summer Bird. And she avoids the synthetics. It would be easy to categorize Alexandra’s victories and reasonable to think that she needs to run on speed favoring/wet surfaces that have had some positive effect or have been more conducive to her front-running style. It is clear that whether it is to ‘categorize’ or downgrade horses racing on the synthetic surface, Alexandra’s supporters are undercutting Zenyatta’s historic and unbeaten record, perhaps thinking that would bolster Alexandra’s shot at HOY. The track surface discussion no doubt will go on, until the long-term objective data validates one way or the other the effectiveness of racing on the synthetics over the dirt surface. Until that happens, all efforts to equate synthetics with turf racing, or contrast synthetics with dirt racing should be viewed as highly subjective and anecdotal. Whatever it is Zenyatta raced on she had to run around the track against a group of Grade I and Grade II competing horses on that same surface and she beat them all. She did it on four nationally recognized tracks – Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Oaklawn. When Curlin lost 2 of his 7 races last year, some of the pundits also attributed his losses to the track surfaces -- the Man o’ War was on the grass and the Breeder’s Cup Classic was on the synthetic. Did his handlers run Curlin on these surfaces because they thought he was a great horse that didn’t need to carry the dirt track surface? Or did they run him on these surfaces knowing that if he did not win that they would have reasonable excuses, i.e. the different surfaces. How does anybody know that Curlin lost solely because of the different surfaces? One thing is becoming increasingly apparent, with the East Coast and other horse racing pundits, whenever an East Coast dirt-runner loses on the synthetic, as may occur in this year’s Breeder’s Cup races, they will say that it was because of the synthetics. What are they going to say if the dirt-based horses win on the synthetic; this circular argument is a clever win-win situation if there ever was one. Summer Bird and Gio Ponti’s handlers should be praised for running their horses in the most competitive race of the year in the U.S. Consistent top quality horses, either one should win the horse of the year if they win the Breeder’s Cup Classic. They do not need to carry their track surface with them. Though she has run on synthetics, in her one race on the dirt, Zenyatta trounced the Grade I field in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, in only her fourth start, showing that she does not need a particular track surface to win on. The Breeder’s Cup Classic has the highest level of horses to compete in a U.S race this year, with many horses vying for their respective division titles. It is not a given but if Gio Ponti or Summer Bird or Zenyatta wins the Breeder’s Cup they should win horse of the year, precisely because they have gone beyond their track surface and/or divisional competition. Zenyatta has the greatest task, not only because she is running against older males, but she will be running at a distance she has never tried, the 1 ¼ classic distance; both G.P. and SB have already run at the longer distances. The handlers of each of these horses have shown great gamesmanship by running in the Classic. Before the Kentucky Derby, the commentators wrote off Pioneer of the Nile because he had run mainly on the synthetic and was running against many horses that had primarily run on the dirt. However, he came in second to Mine That Bird, who also had won several races on the synthetic; Papa Clem, another synthetic runner, came in fourth on the dirt. These horses were not just categorized as horses that had run on the synthetics, their chances on the dirt were severely downgraded by the East Coast prognosticators. I do not recall reading any follow-up analysis on how these horses that had won on the synthetic tracks ended up in three of the top four slots, probably because the order of finish on the dirt did not fit their half-baked theories. With respect to your comments about the sprint title, Midnight Lute was a better sprinter than Benny the Bull last year and the year before. Midnight Lute won the sprint title in 2007. He was an exceptional racehorse; he won the Breeder’s Cup Sprint in 2007 at Monmouth on the dirt; in 2008 he won the Breeder’s Cup Sprint on the synthetic at Santa Anita. His 10th place finish was his first race off the layoff. BTB won only one Grade I, the Golden Shaheen, the other three were grade II’s. The most competitive horses will win despite not because of the surface. The rankings and other articles that appear in the DRF have impact mainly because there is no other similar competing paper/outlet that covers racing at the national level. Whether intentional or not, the rankings and several of their columnists’ articles have a cumulative effect on public opinion. The Eclipse awards voting process is not clear, but I believe the DRF writers also have a voting block in determining the eclipse awards; therefore, when a handful of DRF writers already show their preferences and biases, you already know the potential outcomes, even before the Breeder’s Cup championship is run. The net result creates a lose-lose scenario, with the paper undercutting the Breeder’s Cup Championship, which presumably undercuts their own potential readership. Your last point seems to reinforce my point. What is the purpose of “reasoned” statements if they are based on faulty or unproven assumptions or personal opinions? The champions should be decided on the race track – dirt, synthetic, turf, sloppy, etc. -- not by the pundits. Alexandra’s 8 wins are admirable, but she never made it to the World Series. As one of the trainers commented about racing in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, "We'd like it to be on dirt, but it is the championships," Mettee added. "You can't win the AFC Championship game and then pass the Super Bowl because you don't like where it's played."
"And I can't wait to watch Zenyatta toy with the boys." Or run a disappointing fourth as she realizes at the three-sixteenths that Quality Road, Summer Bird, Gio Ponti, Rip and a slew of others are just a bit better than Anabaa's Creation, Briecat, and Lethal Heat.
Jay, I just got the PP's for Saturday and, I am worried about Zenyatta. I was hoping there would be a couple less horses and that there would be more speed types to force a fast pace. There seem to be alot of one-run types who will be in front of her and, although Zenyatta has a stronger kick, there will be alot of traffic to negotiate. Maybe, more than a couple of those onerun types will alter their plan and try to stalk the speed. This will thin out the log-jam I am dreading at the 3/8 pole. Could you please mention this to Mr. Solis, Dominguez, Leparoux, and Flores. Thanks, Go Zenyatta.
Zenyatta toy with the boys? Hahahahahahaha. Usually, you can only hope for one "Funny Cide" in a race. (A horse that get wildly overbet because of media coverage and name recognition by a naive public.) In this Breeders' Cup Classic we get two of them. Zenyatta and Mine that Bird. If Zenyatta was 10-1 in the field she would be an underlay. Let's see, she finally has to face legitimate horses in a big field with a surface that doesn't seem to play to her style any longer. I am sure she will make a frantic run to finish ..... sixth.
David, I don't downgrade horses that run on synthetics. I don't think Eclipse voters or racing writers do either. However, I understand why you might feel that way. The dilemma is actually a matter of categorization. As far as Zenyatta's unbeaten streak, it is only reasonable to think that the synthetic surfaces have had some positive effect or have been more conducive to her from-the-clouds running style. That's not a bias or synth-bashing. Beyond the usual and predictable pro-Cup talk, what is Privman really saying? This year's Cup features a bunch of European grass horses and our best turf horse in Gio Ponti. I didn't think the Classic was supposed to be a turf race (I had to laugh that Jay was "shocked" by our lack of a turf star... he's there, but he's in the wrong race). Further, the Grade 1 dirt winners like Summer Bird might as well be running on turf because they won't be running on dirt, where they earned those Grade 1s. Again, it's a matter of categorization, not downgrading. The most competitive race of the year was the Arc and neither ran in that. You are treating ProRide or the other synthetic surfaces as if they are "just another form of dirt". I don't believe that, but some do. To me, a dirt horse running over these courses is no different than asking them to run on turf. I'm not necessarily equating synthetics to turf, but the difference to dirt is quite clear. Concerning the Sprint title, you are confusing years. Midnight Lute won the title in 2007 after his Monmouth win. I was referring to 2008, in which Benny The Bull was 4-for-4, winning the Golden Shaheen, the Sunshine Millions Sprint, and the True North. Midnight Lute was 10th and then 1st in the Sprint in his 2 starts. I would've voted for Benny The Bull too, een if I think Midnight Lute was a better sprinter. He simply didn't do enough on the track during 2008. I didn't know anyone still pays attention to Watchmaker's rankings. Mineshaft just dropped off the list a few months ago. If Gayego or Zensational do anything in the Sprint, they should get the title this year. Again, nobody has "preordained" RA; instead, they have reasoned that Zenyatta cannot catch her even if they spot her a victory in the Classic. I agree. Zenyatta trying to win HoY is like a baseball team trying to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first 4... the last 3 don't matter because it's over at that point.