09/14/2009 12:53PM

Weekend in Canada



There were maiden-special-weight races at racetracks in the seven most populous metropolitan areas in North America this past weekend, and I saw the richest of them all:


Okay, the comparison is a little unfair, but only a little. When Saratoga and Del Mar were running last month, there were MSW's in the $50k range, and the Woodbine purse above is stated in Canadian dollars. But at a current exchange rate of $1.00 CAN = $0.94 USD, last Saturday's purse still translates to $71,346, substantially bigger than any American maiden race.

Canadian racing and its gaudy purses remain one of the best-kept secrets in North America. There weren't any NY, LA or Chitown shippers in the Woodbine maiden race. Horseplayers, though, are warming up to Woodbine racing, as the track has successfully expanded the availability of its signal in the east in recent weeks. Next weekend, Woodbine will put on four of the continent's five richest stakes races, including the $1 million G1 Woodbine Mile (Bribon and Ventura are expected) and the G1 $750k Northern Dancer (whose namesake is immortalized in bronze at the track's main entrance:)


Woodbine is often cited as a model for a happy marriage between racing and slots, or at least as happy as such a shotgun arrangement can ever be. The slots are not creating horseplayers, and there's the same concern there as anywhere that the government could someday alter the revenue splits and stop subsidizing racing. But at Woodbine the racing is treated as king rather than being hidden out back as some sort of necessary evil to enable slots, and the entire facility is plush and immaculate.

--The weather was clear and sunny in Toronto all weekend (and I made the under on my flight out of rainy New York, but not by much.) Heavy rain affected the weekend's only two Grade 1 events, Saturday's Ruffian and Garden City at Belmont, with odds-on favorites losing both. Seventh Street was 3-10 in the Ruffian but couldn't hold scond choice Swift Temper, who surged past her to win by 1 3/4 lengths. In the Garden City, Gozzip Girl was 0.45-1 but was off porrly, stumbled and clipped heels early, and never recovered, flattening out to run fourth. There apparently was some birdgejumping in the show pool, as 1-2-3 finishers Miss World, Shared Account and Keertana, paid $13.20, $9.30 and $10.00 to show respectively as the 5th, 3rd and 4th choices in a field of eight.

--Finally, the Breeders' Cup may have set a dangerous precedent with its hollow and self-serving offer to enrich purses by $1 million if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were to meet.

Clearly this was more of an effort to make a public statement than anything else. They could have contacted Rachel Alexandra's owner, Jess Jackson, privately to see if a purse increase would have any effect on his months-old decision not to run her on a synthetic track. He would have told them privately precisely what he instead had to say publicly less than 12 hours after their "offer" was announced -- that she's done for the year, and wasn't going to run on a synthetic track in any case.

Cup officials already knew that, so the point here was for them to be able to say, when the general media starts asking next month why the likely Horse of the Year isn't running in the Cup, that they tried everything they could to get her. Cynics would say that the Cup, operating at a $5 million to $6 million deficit this year, didn't really have $1 million to throw at a race anyway.

The dangerous part is the precedent: Never before in 25 years of Breeders' Cups has there been any offer to enhance an announced purse to attract a particular horse. Now what happens the next time a superstar is iffy for the Cup -- will there be an offer to jack up the purse? Will his or her owner demand a purse hike, citing the 2009 offer to attract Rachel?