11/09/2010 3:21PM

Workforce Scratch the Right Decision


The raceday decision to scratch Workforce from the Breeders' Cup Turf was fit, meet and proper. While the ground was officially described as firm, no one in his right mind would have called it that. The times of the Cup turf races bear this estimation out.
Even off a slow pace, Shared Account's winning time of 2:17.74 for the 1 3/8-mile Filly & Mare Turf resembles a clocking on soft ground. Firm ground specialist Goldikova posted a time of just 1:35.16 for the Mile, 1.38 seconds off Jaggery John's 1995 course record. Dangerous Midge got his 1 1/2-mile Turf in a ho-hum 2:29.40, or 2.9 seconds off Tikkanen's 1994 mark.
All week long American riders, most notably Churchill regular Julien Leparoux, had been calling the turf course "soft." Why then, was it officially labeled firm on both Friday and Saturday?
After returning from his armchair ride aboard Goldikova in the Mile, Olivier Peslier got it about right when he said the ground was "not too firm, not too soft." This would jibe with the idea that the watering of the course earlier in the week had left the base of the track firm, but had loosened the top. Anyone for yielding?
Rough Sailing obviously found the ground slippery in the Juvenile Turf as his hind legs went out from him on the first turn. That incident alone vindicated the decision of Khalid Abdullah and Michael Stoute to withdraw Workforce from the Turf.

The Breeders' Cup Marathon, a meaningless race under its current conditions, was slated to get the Cup off to a boring start but Calvin Borel changed all that. In a twinkling of his beady little eyes, he turned the race into an international incident with his violent antics in the winners' circle. It looked as if Borel's nemesis J J Castellano had struck the first blow, but Borel was in his face before that. Just what, one wonders, was the nature of Borel's comments to Castellano? In any case, Borel's display of violence after the two were separated deserves more than a mere $5,000 fine. He embarrassed racing in front of an international TV audience on its biggest day. A fews days on the sidelines should have been added to his fine. Could it be that the Churchill Downs stewards were loathe to penalize the winner of the last two Kentucky Derbys too harshly?

No sooner had things calmed down at Churchill than the starters got it all wrong in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Nearly the entire field of 14 had been loaded when someone noticed that they had run out of gate space. It seems that instead of loading from the innermost gate, the starters had left that gate empty, as they always do in short fields. The gate crew was clearly unused to a field of 14. They had to unload evrything that had been loaded, and re-load them again.
This reminded me of an incident at Aqueduct on Breeders' Cup Day in 2006. The Cup that day was held at Churchill Downs, but the Aqueduct gate crew displayed the same kind of jitters as the Churchill crew had on Friday. At the Big A they were just about to load eight fillies and mares for the Long Island Handicap when it was realized that the starting gate was in the wrong place. The Long Island is a 1 1/2-mile race, but the gate had been placed at the start for 1 3/8 mile races. The start was delayed 20 minutes as the gate was dragged a furlong further away from the finish line.
You might say that things like this can happen anywhere, and they do. But they happen more often in places where gate crews are unused to large fields and races longer than 1 1/16 miles.

The Life At Ten fiasco in the Ladies Classic deserves a much closer look than it has gotten. She ran like a retiree off her medication. Afterwards, her rider John Velazquez admitted that she had failed to warm up properly, and while he said as much to an ESPN reporter on the way down to the start, he failed to inform the track veterinarian or anyone else at the starting gate. Even trainer Todd Pletcher admitted pre-race concerns about her condition in the paddock.
It was good that the stewards immediately called for an inquiry after the race, in which Life At Ten, a two-time Grade 1 winner, trailed home last of eleven, distanced.
The inquiry continues, but a statement from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) leaves some doubt about their purpose. Their statement reads: "The KHRC takes seriously the safety of horses and jockeys- before, during and after each race. The KHRC firmly believes its veterinarians and racing stewards acted properly in all instances regarding this race."
We concur with the implication that Velazquez and Pletcher were at fault, and are glad that the KHRC is concerned for the "safety of horses and jockeys." But we wish that they had expressed some concern over the money risked by the betting public on a Life At Ten who should never have been loaded into the Ladies Classic gate.

Question: When virtually every single stakes race run in North America, Europe and Japan in 2010 was run in broad daylight, does it serve racing well to run the Classic, the Ladies Classic and the Filly & Mare Turf under the lights?

ESPN/ABC generally did a good job with the Breeders' Cup this year, at least from the point of view of commentary. But the camera work on the races themselves was deplorable. ESPN's directors employed that all too ubiquitous technique of changing angles every few seconds that is seen much too often on both television and in the movies these days. It is a misguided attempt to keep the attention of the slacker generation that cannot concentrate on a single image for more than a few seconds without losing interest.
The first furlong of the Turf Sprint brought four different camera angles. Things weren't quite as peripatetic for most of the other races, but in most cases it was impossible to see exactly where any horses were until shortly before they entered the stretch. Especially disconcerting was the overlong use of the overhead camera.
Overhead shots are very useful as replays but useless during the actual running of a race. Even more distracting was the ground level shot on the backstretch of the horses rumbling by. The use of that angle was completely disorienting. Does ESPN think that it is bringing a race closer to the viewer with such techniques? If so, they are 100 percent wrong.

The great debate over whether Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year has commenced. She will have her legions of supporters, many of them culled form the ranks of casual racing fans, whose opinions must be encouraged. Those who rely on form more than popularity or sentiment may side with Blame, although there can be little doubt that Goldikova was the most impressive winner over the weekend. She will not be voted Horse of the Year in America, however, because she has only run once this year in America, but what a run it was.
I have doubts about both Zenyatta and Blame as Horse of the Year. But there was another American-trained Cup winner whose performances this year were uniformly sensational, and that is Uncle Mo.
The 2-year-old son of Indian Charlie won all three of his races, improving in each start. A 14 1/4-length winner of a Saratoga maiden, he followed with a 4 3/4-length crushing of the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, then annihilated the Breeders' Cup Juvenile field by 4 1/4 lengths, beating six Group or Grade 1 winners from places as far flung as California, New York, Europe and South America.
There is precedent for a 2-year-old being named Horse of the Year. Secretariat in 1972 is the prime example, and while we are not comparing Uncle Mo to Secretariat, we will compare him to the juvenile who was named Horse of the Year in 1997, Favorite Trick.
Admittedly, Favorite Trick was 8-for-8 at two, but like Uncle Mo, he won no more than two Grade 1 races. Voters should give him consideration in a contest in which holes can be shot in all of the other Horse of the Year candidates.