11/09/2010 4:21PM

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.





osmund fretz More than 1 year ago
Mr. Shuback When you stick to the facts, you too are able to "shake off your provincial attitude". Your recent article re why Goldlikova's 2010 campaign was stronger than Zenyatta's cited their comparative records against Grade 1 winners and was, in the main, quite compelling. Regretfully, when you went on to compare Zenyatta's Classic performance to LifeAtTen's unfortunate outing, you sound like a petulant child. (Osmund, you need an English lesson. I in no way compared Zenyatta's performance in the Classic to that of Life at Ten's in the Ladies Classic. In my column I wrote: "The two little hopping steps she (Zenyatta) made passing the stands the first time around made one think that she was about to pull a Lift At Ten." If you are going to criticize, please get your facts straight...or go back to grammar school and start studying the language all over again.) AS
alan More than 1 year ago
With regards to the Life at Ten fiasco, It is difficult enough to win a wager in a horse race with a healthy horse running. Having placed a substantial wager on Life at Ten I feel that I as well as everyone who wagered on her were screwed. THere is a lot of finger pointing going on but who ever is responsible for allowing the horse to run is guilty of gross negligence. If the owner is correct the stewards are to blame. regardless it is their responsibility to protect the wagering public whom after all are the engine that makes this business go. As a fan I feel terribly let down by the supposed guardians of the sport. as a gambler i feel cheated. I suspect the rules and laws are against those of us who lost money on the horse but would like to know if there are any legal avenues available to recover those losses?
christopher lally More than 1 year ago
Dear Alan, I fully disagree with the tone you have taken regarding Calvin Borel's actions and attitude. Ours is a sport filled with passion and danger. The passion is full blooded and the danger is real. J.J., like some others on the NY racing circuit rode, like a punk. Martin Garcia and Calvin as well as their horses could have been killed out there. Calvin was letting the young Mr. Castellano and the rest of the world know that there is no place for riding like a punk at his track nor at this event. This could have been much worse than a few nasty words and bantamweight mash-up. (There is a way to handle such incidents, and Borel declined the use of same. His actions were detrimental to the sport, and to himself.) AS Camera work in this sport is dreadful. The disregard for the odds-board makes ESPN unwatchable.
NellyGCM More than 1 year ago
ESPN was painful to watch. Especially in the Dirt Mile, where it took until Bailey (I think) mentioned the 44 4/5 half mile split at least 2 minutes after the race was over, that there was any mention of a split. Nothing during the video to show in quantitative terms how fast they might be going. That is terrible - obviously for players, but it really is weak for people who don't watch. This was especially important to explain why the deepest of deep closers could win this particular race. For auto racing, they show mph and lap times. Why not for horse racing?
QCDweller More than 1 year ago
I agree with most of what your thoughts are. However from a "..casual racing fan" who can't appreciate the technical aspect of racing, the Calvin Borel, screw up at the gate, and the Life At Ten scandle is what makes horse racing interesting. I say, "hit him again Calvin!"
Marc More than 1 year ago
Alan.. something simple needs to be said here. We are all talking about watering and slipping and field size and tight turns and post positions. For these factors to be irrelevant over three years and 2 tracks and summer, fall and drought conditions, the horse that overcame ALL of these over three visits HAD to not only be the best at what she does.. she has to be MILES the best or luck alone would have beaten her.. Looking again at Goldikova's three races, i am in awe.. we are so privileged to see this mare run and again next year that we cannot forget in the rightful admiration for Zenyatta.. the real freak out there was Goldikova.
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
I couldn't agree more about the camera angles. Save the fancy stuff for the replays.
bob hope More than 1 year ago
the ESPN/ABC coverage was below average. the Bailey interviews were over the top. When Van Clief ran the BC all starters final positions were determined immediately following the race. to not know why, where Quality Road finished along with Haynsfield is ridiculous. Did we ever know if anyone won the pic six et al. Horse Racing is a game of details. let's not have to go to the movies to see the results of our stakes!
Ian Lozada More than 1 year ago
It seems that you're letting Workforce's connections, who never had any intention of running, off the hook for the Rough Sailing debacle. That horse clearly slipped because the ground was too wet, which had a lot to do with all the posturing the Workforce camp had done all week about the ground being too hard. Seems that they share a whole lot of the blame for the death of that horse.
Meghan More than 1 year ago
If the ground was soft, why did Workforce's people keep saying all week that it was too firm? Other than that, spot on with the ESPN camera work. Just as you were finding the horses you were trying to keep track of, the angle changed and you had to start again.
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
The Marathon is indeed meaningless, and in addition a farce. If they want to redefine it and try something a little different maybe it has a future. As is, it's preposterous. That coming from someone who loved the lone speed this year and backed into a nice cash via way of the DQ. To me it's not even mostly about the distance the horses are being asked to run, but rather that the distance is so alien to the US racing scene that jockeys are inept at navigating it. You see this in the other infrequent distance races also. I recall an incident some years ago during the running of a three turn stake (Display?) at Aqueduct when the meets leading rider went to whipping furiously the first time down the stretch. Both the Life At Ten affair and the nature of the TV coverage are symptomatic of the same fault - lack of accountability. My modest punters wager on Life At Ten is inconsequential even to myself. How do a trainer and jockey with such lofty reputations conduct themselves in such a fashion when the welfare of someone's race horse is involved? Can you imagine the story if Life At Ten had been stricken and collapsed on the track? The TV business and their little sophomoric camera angle tricks go on year after year because the people who indulge in them don't have to answer to anyone. It is a very frustrating situation. As to Goldikova - Wow! I was of the opinion that her last race was not as powerful as most thought. I don't know how often I've seen such push button acceleration in 35 years of following racing. As far as the Workforce scratch, have always felt that all decisions regarding such matters should be made with the horse's best interests as the deciding factor. In this case I'm sure it was, and in the Pletcher case I am sure it was not. Many thanks for your perspective on the Euro scene the last several months.
focusedman More than 1 year ago
I wasn't disappointed that Workforce did not participate in the race. I was more disappointed that Churchill watered down the track to entice the trainer to run him. The jockeys were saying all along that the track was just fine, not too hard not too soft. There was no need to water it down to make it yeilding for one horse. What would be done for trainers that like a good firm surface? That decision was a huge factor that led to the injured horse having to be euthanized. Thankfully the jockey escaped injury, but just imagine how awful it would have been if she wasn't. I wish the trainer would have just said that he didn't want to run and shipped his horse back home.
Richard I More than 1 year ago
Alan, Thank you for bringing to light the Rough Sailing situation. The ground was obviously a mess on top, especially for that particular race. The CD staff should be ashamed of themselves for the tragedy that occurred on the track. When you are staging one of the most important events in the sport, the track had better be in pristine shape. I appreciate the fact that there has been a severe drought in Kentucky, but this was not the first time there has been a prolonged dry stretche there. After watching the horse go down, I would not have blamed a single owner, American or European, who withdrew their horse from the turf that day. I too am in the camp that Goldikova had the best performance of the weekend, in actuallity, her 2008 performance is perhaps one of the greatest performance by horse ever, so it makes here 2010 performance look almost ordinary for her. And if that is ordinary then you are looking at the Horse of the Year on any continent, one race or not. As a side note Alan, I appreciate your BC/KY Derby comment above especially when someone is so obnoxious, but you especially should know, that a little upsetter named Arcangue has the distinction of being a BC Classic winner and a winner in France, of course the latter preceeded the former. Richard. (Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly enough. My point was that no American-trained BC Classic winner or Derby winner has ever won a race in France. In fact, no American-trained horse has ever won a race in France. All arguments about European success or failure in North America pale before the lack of American horses even trying in Europe. The few successes we have had at Royal Ascot are thanks to Wesley Ward. Kinsale King and Noble's Promise have acquitted themselves well in England, but they are hardly the best American horses in training. We will never have a true gauge on the relative abilities of American and Euorpean horses until Americans begin running in Europe with a certain frequency. Until then, the frequent victories of European horses at American tracks indicate that the European-trained Thoroughbred is a superior animal.) AS
Naked Banana More than 1 year ago
Alan... what did you think of Pluck's last to first charge to win the Juvy Turf? With his sire an excellent miler and dam side full of turf stamina, do you think he can stretch out? Do you think Team Valor should take a shot and go for one of the Euro Classics? They have Marco Botti ready, willing, and able at Newmarket to train Pluck for a big Euro race. It's one thing to win the Virginia Derby, but would be incredible to snag the 2000 Guineas. (It would certainly be a good idea to send Pluck to the Guineas, and Team Valor has the international perspective to carry it off. I am all for it, maybe Barry Irwin is, too, as there are very few prospects on American turf for a horse of Pluck's apparent quality.) AS
Tim B. More than 1 year ago
Though some of you're comments about ESPN coverage were true,at least the high def picture is stunningly better than any coverage I get from HRTV or TVG on the Dish Network.I find myself more and more watching live video streaming on my computer,as even it is of better quality.Hope our horse channels and more tracks join the 21st century soon.As for the Arc winner,Workforce,the safety of the horse should always come first.Kudos to the connections for acting on their concerns.
Shuvee More than 1 year ago
Agree totally about the camera angles. The blimp shots were driving me crazy. Give me the typical side-angle shots anytime. Some things don't need to be improved upon.
IB More than 1 year ago
That's an interesting theory you have about the too soft course at Churchill this weekend. Of course, the Workforce people said they scratched because the turf was too hard, which is a minor flaw in the theory. Maybe the Churchill Downs turf course is like one of those shower faucet handles that, if you turn it a quarter revolution, the water goes from Arctic to scalding. The turf was probably oscillated between Charmin soft and six-pack hard all weekend, loosening just in time for Europeans to turn in mediocre times, then re-stiffening just in time to cause the best horse Europe has to offer to defect.
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
Alan, Seeing how well your Arc winners have done here in the last how many years, why don't you just tell them to stay home..........we really don't need them. All they do is take up space anyway. (My Arc winners? Where did you get that idea? You really should shake off your provincial attitude. Arc runners have won seven BC Turfs. How many BC Classic winners, or Kentucky Derby winners, have ever won a race in France? Try zero.) AS
steven More than 1 year ago
How many American BC or derby winners have attempted to win a race in France?? Alan, do you really think that Gio Ponti is incapable of winning a race in France?? You are sorely mistaken. (Look at his form. He was beaten at his best distance in the Arlington Million by Debussy, a horse who may be the fourth best 10-furlong horse in Europe. He was thrashed by Goldikova in the BC Mile. Gio Ponti could not win a European G1 based on those two races. He was also beaten worse in the Dubai World Cup than he was in last year's BC Classic. If one of the criteria upon which you are basing your estimation of his talent is the fact that he is trained in the same country in which you live, you are making a basic error in handicapping.) AS
Mark More than 1 year ago
Your comments about ESPN's camera work is spot on. I had no idea what was going on during the race. Espn should stop trying to re-invent the way horse racing is covered and just show people what they tuned in to see.