Updated on 09/15/2011 1:21PM

How did dead rail disappear for one race?


NEW YORK - Impressions after an unusual, to say the least, Breeders' Cup Day at Belmont Park:

Maybe they should have called this one the "Weird Thoroughbred Championships," because it was a strange day of world-class racing. From the abject failure of favorites in races that didn't seem that inscrutable to Tempera running 1 1/16 miles in the Juvenile Fillies 0.78 of a second faster than the visually impressive Johannesburg did in the Juvenile later in the card, a lot of things seemed out of whack.

But nothing was more out of whack than the main track itself. The rail was not good on Friday, but it was even worse on Saturday, swallowing up many horses who looked like strong contenders on paper and, unfortunately, putting into question how conclusive some of the results were.

And, because of the track bias, the outcome of the Sprint was even more unfathomable. Everyone expected a severe pace meltdown. What we got was Xtra Heat shaking loose early and then entertaining Caller One through an opening quarter in only 22.45 seconds. The horses were running into a headwind down the backstretch, but it looked like one to a million that this field would still shade 22 seconds for the opening quarter. And then we got a top three finish of speed horses Squirtle Squirt, Xtra Heat, and Caller One. On top of it all, Squirtle Squirt ran on the rail behind Xtra Heat, who was on the rail, and Swept Overboard rallied up the rail to miss third by a neck to Caller One.

Who knows? The Sprint was run after the Mile on the turf, so maybe the main track got a double dose of watering and that temporarily evened out the surface. When taken in context with the other main track races, it seemed like the Sprint was run at some remote inside-speed-favoring track, and no one told us about it.

Vindication for Godolphin

I guess it was a lesson on why we should leave the decisions on horse placement to a stable that has dominated racing on a near-global scale. Godolphin Racing was criticized and ridiculed when it decided to run Fantastic Light in the Turf and Sakhee in the Classic. The Turf wasn't the issue. Either Fantastic Light or Sakhee had that race at his mercy. The Classic was the issue, and everyone thought that Fantastic Light, with his dirt pedigree, his better workout over the Belmont main track, and his affinity for 1 1/4 miles, was the far better candidate for the Classic. Instead, Sakhee got an opportunity at unusual greatness and an unofficial "Horse of the World" title by running in the Classic. In retrospect, Godolphin can't be faulted for that, and it took a vintage performance by defending Horse of the Year Tiznow to barely deny Sakhee an unprecedented Arc de Triomphe-Classic double.

Breeders' Cup box score

The European contingent at the Breeders' Cup, which was unanimously agreed to be the strongest ever, indeed had a great day. Johannesburg won, Fantastic Light was the only favorite to prevail in the Turf, and Banks Hill won the Filly and Mare Turf. Moreover, European shippers had four second- and third-place finishes. It's certainly logical to conclude that European horses feel more at home in the cooler New York climate and on the wide expanse of Belmont's surfaces than they do at other Breeders' Cup venues.

But the success of the Europeans should not overshadow a tremendous day for Southern California-based horses. There were four California winners: Tempera, Val Royal, Tiznow, and Squirtle Squirt, who, even though he made his prior two starts in New York, has to be considered a Californian. California also had four second- and third-place finishes. You could make that five if you want to add Bella Bellucci; even though her first two starts were at Belmont, she is trained by the California-based Neil Drysdale.

New York horses didn't win any Breeders' Cup races and managed only five second- and third-place finishes. That was a disappointing showing considering they had the home court advantage.

Performances of the day

Among the subtler efforts were those of Bella Bellucci and Siphonic, who was third in the Juvenile. They both ran on the dead rail for much of the way and deserved better for their efforts, especially Bella Bellucci, who also broke last. Tiznow was the definition of determination coming back on to nose Sakhee.

The most electrifying performance of the day, however, was by Banks Hill. If the teletimer is to be believed, Banks Hill went her last quarter in an incredible 22.67 seconds, or almost as fast as Xtra Heat went her first quarter in the Sprint. No wonder Banks Hill left her field for dead.