10/31/2015 8:01PM

Watchmaker: Thanks for allowing American Pharoah to give us a Classic ending

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Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah went out like a champion with his dominant victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bob Baffert said in the post-race Breeders’ Cup Classic press conference that, “We can’t be afraid to run these horses.”

We, all of us in this great game, owe Baffert and the Zayat family a tremendous debt of gratitude for this philosophy.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to retire American Pharoah after he completed his historic Triple Crown. Instead, they shared him with us.

It would have been entirely understandable to retire American Pharoah after his loss in the Travers. Instead, his people persevered, and targeted the Breeders’ Cup, with a good bit of their horse’s reputation riding on the outcome.

And because they believe that you can’t be afraid to run a horse, no matter how valuable that horse might be, American Pharoah was able to punctuate a 2015 racing season few of us will ever forget with a dominating score in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Yes, the Classic lost a little luster when Beholder had to scratch earlier in the week. And it is true that American Pharoah had a tactical advantage as the only true front-runner in the Classic field, an enormous edge for any horse in any race, but especially so for a horse who only a few months earlier accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 37 years.

I don’t care. American Pharoah still had to show up, which he did. He still had to carve out the pace, and the pace he carved out was a legitimate one. And he still had to win, and he thoroughly destroyed the seven opponents who were lined up in the gate with him.

American Pharoah clinched Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old the moment he crossed the finish line first in the Belmont Stakes on June 6. That was almost five months ago. In that regard, there was no suspense in his Classic start on Saturday. But it was especially satisfying to see American Pharoah close his racing career the right way. He left us wanting more.

That’s how the great ones do it.

Saturday Breeders’ Cup notes

* The Classic offered no help with providing any real clarity with the older male division. Even though he finished a distant third in the Classic, I think the title has to go to Honor Code on the strength of his wins in the Whitney and Met Mile, and Gulfstream Park Handicap, if you will. Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map might get some support, but he lost his head-to-head meeting with Honor Code in the Whitney, albeit narrowly, and he ducked the big dance.

* I don’t want to hear anything about an Arc-Breeders’ Cup Turf jinx. I think it’s a lot of baloney. Arc winner Golden Horn ran very well finishing second in the Turf – he beat the best the U.S. had to offer – he was simply bested for the win by Found. Found also ran in the Arc, finished ninth, then ran back 13 days later and finished second in the British Champion, and was coming back again Saturday in just 14 days. If anyone had a reason to regress off a demanding fall campaign, it was Found. And she didn’t.

* The hope was the Turf would clarify this year’s male turf division. It did not. Golden Horn can’t be champion off a loss in his only U.S. start. Flintshire, who produced the singular best performance in this division all year when he won the Sword Dancer in his only U.S. start, finished second in the Arc to Golden Horn. I really don’t know if that should count against him. Big Blue Kitten, who finished third in the Turf, had a good, consistent, season-long campaign. But you know he isn’t quite as good as the Europeans we saw, and I’m not good with voting an Eclipse Award to a horse you know wasn’t the best you saw in his division. I’m glad I have time to think about this one.

* Also, Found’s Turf victory had an impact on two Eclipse Award divisions – the female turf, and the 3-year-old filly division. No 3-year-old filly in North America this year beat a horse as good as Golden Horn. Not even close. But can you give Found the 3-year-old filly title off one U.S. start, on turf, in a division that has historically been the property of dirt performers? You can if so compelled. But I also have to think a while about this one, though my inclination right now is to go traditional, and lean toward dirt fillies who raced here all year.

* The female turf Eclipse Award is equally problematic. Mile winner Tepin and Filly and Mare Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten are the other logical candidates. Tepin, like Found, beat males in the Mile, although not a male as accomplished as Golden Horn. However, Tepin and Stephanie’s Kitten were multiple Grade 1 winners here in the U.S. this year, which Found was not. This is yet another division that will generate real debate over the next two months.

* Songbird’s 5-3/4- length margin of victory in the Juvenile Fillies only begins to speak to her domination of her division this year. She’s 4 for 4, has still yet to be tested, and won three straight Grade 1 stakes far easier than how Grade 1 stakes are supposed be won. Songbird should be a unanimous divisional champion.

* It’s difficult to reconcile Nyquist’s win in the Juvenile as he looked as shaky as an undefeated Grade 1 winner can look when he held on in the very slowly run FrontRunner last time. And it’s especially hard to do so considering Nyquist was about six wide on the first turn and three to four wide on the far turn. One thing that did compute is Nyquist’s final time was 1.03 seconds slower than Songbird’s in the Juvenile Fillies.

However, no matter how horseplayers feel about him, the fact is, Nyquist is now 5 for 5, a three time Grade 1 stakes winner, and the obvious 2-year-old male champion.

* Runhappy is going to be the champion male sprinter of 2015, as well he should be after his professional score in the Sprint. Runhappy, who has broken poorly in most of his races, broke well Saturday. But instead of blitzing his field with his awesome speed, he rated off a pace battle and wore down a very tough and dead game Private Zone. Runhappy is now 6 for 6 at distances of seven furlongs and under, and a three-time stakes winner. He is also very, very, very good.

* Tepin was razor-sharp in the Mile, just like she was when she romped in the First Lady over the course last month in faster time than males went in the Shadwell just one race later. But Tepin is the poster girl for how some horses (like her) absolutely love Keeneland’s sandy-based turf course, and how others – many others – won’t act on it whatsoever.

That isn’t to say Tepin is a horse for the course. She’s not. She has run big at several other tracks. It is to say Tepin also handles Keeneland while others do not.

* Man, I was wrong about Stephanie’s Kitten. I thought she was done dealing last June after her dull fourth in the New York Stakes, and was sure of it after her fifth in the Diana. And I attributed her more competitive third under the wire in the Beverly D. and her win in the Flower Bowl (again) last time to a combination of weak fields, and catching the forgiving ground Stephanie’s Kitten so adores.

Well, the footing might have been to Stephanie’s Kitten’s liking again Saturday, but there was nothing weak about the field. And while heavily favored Legatissimo was off to a tricky start, Stephanie’s Kitten simply had a much better turn of foot through the stretch than that highly accomplished European rival.

* Many Breeders’ Cup horses get perfect setups in their races and are still unable to capitalize. The vastly improved Wavell Avenue got a great setup for her late run in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and did not squander it. And her going away victory is probably good enough to land her the female sprint title.

* Congrats to Mongolian Saturday, but this Turf Sprint was just too random for my liking.

Friday Breeders’ Cup notes

* Liam’s Map deserved every accolade thrown his way for his miles-the-best victory in the Dirt Mile. But I don’t think he’ll get an Eclipse Award, or even merits one.

As for the Dirt Mile itself, I think retiring it would be addition by subtraction for the Breeders’ Cup.

When the Dirt Mile is run around two turns, it cannibalizes horses from the Classic, with Liam’s Map being a prime example. When it is run around one turn, at tracks like Churchill and Belmont, it cannibalizes horses from the Sprint. Moreover, the Dirt Mile has failed to generate even a semblance of a coherent yearlong series of noteworthy one-mile stakes events. The Breeders’ Cup doesn’t need a cipher that potentially weakens two other Breeders’ Cup races.

* If the Dirt Mile were eliminated, the Breeders’ Cup would be down to 12 races, which means the event could be run all in one day. I think the Cup would have more impact that way, and you could still have a great Friday card with a bunch of supporting stakes.

* Stopchargingmaria’s decision in the Distaff added to a resume that is more imposing than many realize, but it had little impact on the older dirt female championship. Beholder clinched that last August when she thrashed males in the Pacific Classic.

* A big question after this Distaff: Was  Stellar Wind’s game second-place finish enough to push her past I’m a Chatterbox, and hold off Turf winner Found, for the 3-year-old filly title? Does Stellar Wind’s win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, wins in one Grade 2 and two Grade 3 stakes, and a second against elders in the Breeders’ Cup surpass I’m a Chatterbox’s win in the Grade 1 Cotillion, wins in a Grade 2 and Grade 3 stakes, and seconds in two Grade 2 events? This is not an easy call, made all the more complicated by what Found did on Saturday.

* I know the Juvenile Turf fell apart late and right into Hit It a Bomb’s lap, but still, how good is Ryan Moore?

* Taking nothing away from Catch a Glimpse, but I sure didn’t expect 49.20 seconds and 1:14.35 for fractions in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I would have felt very different about Catch a Glimpse had I dreamt they would go that slow early. And props to third place finisher Nemoralia for rallying from as far back as she did into that pace.

* This was my first visit to Keeneland in 34 years. I love this place.