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Hovdey: Milers way out in front
By Jay Hovdey
Don’t look now, but the two best horses of 2012 in North America and Europe were milers.
We’ll pause for a moment to let the hide-bound foundations of the game stop shaking . . . .
Over there Frankel ruled, ending a perfect 14-race career with five wins this year, while in the U.S. and Canada it was all about Wise Dan, beaten only once in six starts. Frankel is a cold cinch to win his second straight Horse of the Year honor at the Cartier Awards ceremonies on Nov. 13 in London. Wise Dan, on the other hand, must wait until Jan. 19, 2013, when Eclipse Award for 2012 Horse of the Year will be handed out in Miami.
It won’t be unanimous, since Royal Delta and I’ll Have Another have ardent fans. But just the chance of an accomplished miler as Horse of the Year made John Nerud smile, even though he was smiling though the anxieties of nine days without power from local utilities for his Long Island home.
“We’re in a helluva mess here,” Nerud said Wednesday morning. “The lights went off a week ago Monday. I’ve got a big generator, but it eats gas like a Hummer. I guess I’ve got about 400 gallons left, but that won’t last long.”
Nerud is 99. He trained his way into the Hall of Fame with Dr. Fager, Gallant Man, Intentionally, and Ta Wee, and he got this far in large part because he never did so much as brush his teeth without a plan. If the man who promised a fuel delivery does not come through, Nerud will be on a plane to Saratoga Springs, where he’ll wait things out at a hotel.
The power crisis cut into Nerud’s ability to enjoy the Breeders’ Cup as much as he would have liked. As an original director of the organization, Nerud was ground floor on everything from race choice to marketing. It was Nerud who insisted that the Breeders’ Cup program include an event at one mile on the grass.
“I said you can’t have a Breeders’ Cup without a mile, because a mile usually indicates the sires,” Nerud said. “That’s what I bred – milers. I like to think I left a mark on the breed.”
Let’s go ahead and agree that he did, if only because Nerud was responsible for the breeding of the greatest American miler in history, Dr. Fager. He also bred Fappiano, winner of the Met Mile, and champion sire Cozzene, winner of the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Aqueduct.
It was Dr. Fager, though, who set new standards for the ability to carry sprinter’s speed a distance of ground, and it was Dr. Fager mares whose influence was still pervasive long after his untimely death in 1976.
In a career of 22 starts, Dr. Fager had five races at a mile. As a wild-running 2-year-old he finished a rank second to Successor in the 1966 Champagne. In the 1967 Gotham he beat Damascus by half a length, won the Withers by six and the Arlington Classic by 10. In 1968, six races into his perfect Horse of the Year campaign, Dr. Fager carried 134 pounds to a 10-length victory in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, stopping the clock in 1:32 1/5. No horse has run a faster mile on dirt in the 44 years since.
Frankel, with family to die for, should follow the Nerud theory into stud. Wise Dan, on the other hand, is a gelding who will need to be content making a considerable mark on the racetrack. Between them, Wise Dan and Frankel ran seven races at a mile in 2012 and won them all.
On May 19 in the Lockinge Stakes, run at Newbury race course, Frankel made light of the left-to-right straightaway to win his season debut by five.
On June 19 in the Queen Anne Stakes, on the first day of the Royal Ascot meet, Frankel uncorked a beauty over the right-to-left straight course, winning by 11.
Then on Aug. 1 in the Qipco Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, in what was destined to be the final mile of his career, Frankel banked smoothly around one clockwise turn to win by six.
Across the pond 10 days later, on Aug. 11 at Saratoga, Wise Dan got into the act with his first mile race of the season over a yielding, seven-furlong inner turf course in the Fourstardave Handicap. He won by five lengths.
On Sept. 16 at Woodbine, Wise Dan went international to take the Woodbine Mile in Toronto by 3 1/4 lengths over a firm, one-turn, counterclockwise layout that ranks as North America’s finest.
On Oct. 6 at Keeneland, in the Shadwell Turf Mile over a sand-based, seven-furlong course, Wise Dan swept to the lead and won geared down by 2 1/4 lengths.
Then last Saturday, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita over seven-furlong course that played like Wimbledon, Wise Dan’s 1:31.78 to win by a length and a half was the fastest eight furlongs since turf miles were first run there in 1986.
For those who would wring their hands in anguish, moaning that milers devalue the classic dimensions of the breed, know that both Frankel and Wise Dan proved they can do other things.
While Frankel was gearing up for his 2012 debut, Wise Dan went to work in April, winning the nine-furlong Ben Ali Handicap over Keeneland’s all-weather main track. Three days before Frankel’s Queen Anne, that was Wise Dan at Churchill Downs finishing a troubled second in the nine-furlong Stephen Foster, beaten only a head by Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek. And while Wise Dan was concentrating on his season-ending string of fabulous miles, Frankel was stretching a point to make a point, winning the Juddmonte International at York on Aug. 22 and the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on Oct. 20, both at a testing mile and a quarter.
“I don’t know how the classic distance in this country got to be a mile and a quarter,” Nerud said. “It once was a mile and a half. I suppose the Kentucky Derby had something to do with it, and a mile and a quarter is a real test. But it doesn’t point out the best horse like the mile does – and do you know why?”
“They have to tiptoe a mile,” he said. “There’s not much of ‘coming off the pace’ to it. You’ve got to be in the hunt, which means you’ve got to have a horse with speed that can carry it.
“I think eventually we’ll get around to seeing a miler who’s champion,” Nerud said, and by champion he meant Horse of the Year. “I guess we’ll see what they do with Wise Dan.”
Whether milers makes the best sires is debatable but what is not debatable is that the classic distances worldwide are the most prestigious and have the highest purses. When we stop breeding towards the Secretariats and the Citations, ManOWar we have lost the battle. These are the truly rare great thoroughbreds that can sprint and stay.
Meanwhile, I should have added, "Hallelujah!" that an American turf miler may win HOY for a change. There has long been too much of an attitude that the leading handicapper/dirt router should be the default HOY.
I've heard this old line about how the milers make the best sires for so long that I've almost taken it for granted. When I actually think about it, though, I'm not even sure what it means. By what criteria, based on what data? Is this based on money won? I suspect this notion took flight because milers, as sires, are versatile, ie., you can get 'either or" from a miler - sprint speed or middle- to- longer distance endurance. Doesn't it depend what you want, though? If a breeder wants a sprinter, a miler sire might work, but the breeder would have better luck with sprinter speed on top and bottom. If the breeder wants a European-type Classic horse that excels at 12 furlongs, the miler sire occasionally succeeds at that, but one would have a far better chance with Classic winners on top and bottom. If "better" means that milers will match with more kinds of mares and pass on ability to more kinds of runners, then one could say that they make better sires. Or if everyone is trying to breed milers, likewise. Otherwise, it seems like too much of a blanket statement.
Actually, i do not get what Mr. Nerud is saying as far as coming off the pace. Why does it have to be a mile? why not 6f or 7f or 9f?
Just have to laugh at the pathetic breeding..let's see we got Frankel - a miler who never attempted a single prestigious 12 furlong race in europe, even ducked their own derby at Epsom Black Caviar - a 6 furlongs sprinter from a country whose most prestigious race is the 16 furlongs Melbourne Cup Wise Dan - a miler and leading contender for HOY in USA None of these sprinters and milers horses are comparable to the greats like a Mill Reef, Ribot, SeatheStars, Dancing Brave, Secretariat, ManOWar, Seattle Slew, Forego, Kelso, Phar Lap, Tulloch, Makybe Diva. How did the breeding go to short fast horses.....Sure we can see a champion miler in Wise Dan but that is about as far as he can run and last I look our triple go from 10-12 furlongs. Great Britains triple go from 8f - 16f. No wonder the horses running in our triple crown look so bad, they can only run up to a mile.
Describe "best races". The Met Mile is not a "best race"? i think HOY should be the horse that dominated whatever competition he/she encounters at grade 1s, or the horse that came the closest. As pointed out in the article, the mile and a quarter "classic" distance has evolved arbitrarily, prbably due to the Kentucky Derby (which is a shameless meatgrinder of young horse talent and an excuse for D through Z list celebrities to get some national TV face time). Sorry, but running in the Triple Crown is NOT a criteria for winning HOY - thank God!!!
I would like to see a match race, Wise Dan vs Frankel
As long as I'll Have Another doesn't win Horse of the Year we will have yet another HoY who had limited/no 2 year old races and/or didn't run in more than one Triple Crown race. Why is that? Curlin ran in all three Triple Crown races but didn't race at two at all. Rachal only ran in one Triple Crown race (the Preakness). Zenyatta didn't run at 2 or in a Triple Crown race. Havre de Grace didn't run in the triple Crown. The list goes on and on. Game on Dude only raced in the Belmont. Wise Dan, Point of Entry and Fort Larned have a grand total of zero Triple Crown starts put together and none have much of a 2 year old resume if they even raced at 2 at all. The evidence is overwhelming.
Being just a miler automatically means you weren't the best. The best races aren't at 1 mile in America or in Europe. Being a miler means you didn't run in the best races. Wise Dan didn't run in the best races in America (well he did run in the Stephen Foster) and neither did Frankel. Were Citation, Man O War or Secretariat considered milers? Didn't think so. The reason why is because they ran in the best races of their day and like today those races were not at a mile. If Wise Dan was that good he would have won the Turf or Classic. Too bad Wise Dan has a trainer who didn't test him enough against the best. Same goes for Frankel. Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom would have beat Wise Dan with a clean trip or more ground off an 8 month layoff.
I am not saying Animal Kingdom, Power Broker, and Game on Dude would have won their respective races but Bejarano never put them in a position to win. Bejarano is a top jockey but his rides over the weekend were worthy of the Hall of Shame not the Hall of Fame.
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