Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Breeders’ Cup XXV: Hot, Hot, Hot…
Arcadia, Ca., October 20---The San Gabriels are right over there, I know they are, I just can’t see them is all. I’m told that the brush fires have abated, too, but I’m not in town long enough to disagree for sure.
But there is no acrid smell in the atmosphere, and when I was here for previous editions of Breeders’ Cup, and the Santa Ana winds were wreaking their usual havoc during the dry season, the fires were just awful.
One year a brush fire came perilously close to claiming Bobby Frankel’s Santa Monica home. But it wouldn’t dare, falling a block or two short. But that year one could smell the Santa Monica smoke in Pasadena. And it’s a pretty long drive from one place to another, especially in this town.
Beginning Wednesday afternoon, the temperatures, in the pleasant low 70s as this is written, are threatening to rise into the mid-90s, and the Santa Anas will return. A perfect storm threat.
Oh for just a few drops of the rain that fell on Breeders’ Cup XXIV.
Caught up with a few developments on the Classic scene. Curlin, trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the Horse of the Year title since Cigar, continues to do well and that’s just fine with Jess Jackson. “What a stage this is,” the owner said yesterday. “You just want him to run his race.”
Even though Awesome Gem has the Classic as his first preference, trainer Craig Dollase said “we’re leaning toward the Mile.” Huh? Anyway, he said that’s why they haven’t decided on a rider yet. Guess we can all wait until tomorrow when all 14 races will be drawn.
Nobutaka Tada said a light breeze ins planned for undefeated Casino Drive, who comes into the Classic off three lifetime starts. I’ll bet right now you won’t see that ever again. It’s probably a little more than quixotic but you’ve got to admire the people for taking a sporting shot.
At least he has a race over the track, which is one more race than Curlin.
Champs Elysees is adding blinkers for Saturday. This morning, working in company with Grade 1 winning filly Country Star, Champs Elysees went five-eighths in a sharp :59 3/5. “I like the way he responded,” Frankel said. “I think they can move him up. He likes this track and he could run good.”
To underscore that point, he added that Alan Garcia would ride him Saturday.
Colonel John breezed an easy half mile in :49. “He’s easy to keep fit,” said trainer Eoin Harty. “It’s just a matter if he’s good enough and gets a clean trip.” More the first one, we think. Harty will take a prudent tack with Well Armed, running him in the Dirt Mile instead. Todd Pletcher is doing the same with Fairbanks.
Synthetic track specialist Go Between also breezed an easy half at Churchill and put on a plane by the Bill Mott barn, destination Breeders’ Cup Classic. The :48 1/5 half-mile was second fastest of 47 works at the distance. Garrett Gomez, reportedly with a mount in all 14 Cup events, re-rides Go Between. Dynaforce, Mott’s Grade 1 Filly & Mare Turf entrant, leaves from New York Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Steve Asmussen said he would run Pyro in the Classic instead of the Dirt Mile. “As fast as this track’s been playing, they would have to back up considerably [in the shorter event].”
Can’t fault Asmussen‘s reasoning, although we believe the 3-year-old’s best distance is a mile and a sixteenth, or thereabouts. The mile and 70 yards around two turns could hit him between the eyes. But then Asmussen’s the millionaire, I’m your not-so-humble narrator. Asmussen will have a third horse in the Classic, the proficient synthetic track runner Student Council.
Tiago spent the morning hacking about the Hollywood Park training track and John Shirreffs believes he’s going to run really well.
As the I’s were being dotted and the T’s crossed on this blog entry, three formidable Europeans: Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator and Raven’s Pass were scheduled to arrive at LAX. My hunch is that, even without Big Brown, this one’s going to be a beauty.
Written by John Pricci
Friday, October 17, 2008
Breeders’ Cup XXV By the Numbers
The number 25 has a nice, round ring to it. And it sure seems like the stardust of my reverie happened in a twinkling.
(Couldn’t help the reference. The Hoagy Carmichael tune, earning one of my lifetime tops, is playing in the background as I’m filling idle time awaiting the Breeders’ Cup teleconference call to begin).
And, so, those who would participate in the silver anniversary edition of this year’s Breeders’ Cup championships were pre-entered yesterday. All 180 of them, a record, and also a very round number.
Here, then, is a look at other significant Breeders’ Cup numbers. To wit:
8: Number of days until Breeders’ Cup Friday, a.k.a. Ladies Day. Yeesh!
15: Number of minutes I’m now on hold to this point, 1:15 p.m. Thursday.
(New soundtrack playing now: ”Smile…though you’re feeling blue… Smile, that’s the thing to do…” Really.)
38: “Win and You’re In” participants.
6: Number of countries shipping horses overseas to Southern California.
1: Number of neighboring countries to the north shipping south to compete.
7: Champions running to defend their titles.
14: Breeders’ Cup races.
6: Number of winners sired by all-time race-winning sire (Sadler’s Wells).
160: Previous record number of Pre-Entries.
4: Number of visits made by Breeders’ Cup to Oak Tree-Santa Anita.
48: Highest number of offspring by a single sire to start in the Breeders’ Cup (Danzig).
9: Hours of television coverage.
2: Number of networks (sort of).
1996: Last time there were Horses of the Year back-to-back (Cigar).
1: Number of 3-year-old fillies competing in the Mile (Goldikova).
35: Number of foreign horses competing.
9: Age of Turf entrant Better Talk Now.
3: Number of horses that will have five consecutive Breeders’ Cup appearances (Kona Gold and Perfect Drift).
11 x 14: Number of races with the maximum amount of starters.
3 x 12: Number of races with maximum amount of starters.
6-½: Number of furlongs in Turf Sprint.
7,261,150: Number of dollars won by progeny of Breeders’ Cup all-time money-leading sire (Sadler’s Wells).
7: Leading number of starters by sire in a single year (Mr. Prospector, 1988).
4: Greatest number of winners sired by a Breeders’ Cup winner (Awesome Again, 1998 Classic).
3: Number of new races added this year.
23: Number of posted victories by the most popular post position (#2).
35.5: Percentage of winning Breeders’ Cup favorites.
40: Number of odds-on favorites.
82: Equiform figure needed to win the Classic.
17: Number of winning odds-on favorites.
80,452: Largest crowd in Breeders’ Cup history (Churchill Downs, 1998).
11: Number of winners by a nose margin.
13-½: Widest margin of victory in lengths (Inside Information, 1995 Distaff).
4: Number of horses with two Breeders’ Cup victories (Tiznow, Ouija Board, High Chaparra and
5: Number of Breeders’ Cup winners bred by Frank Stronach and Flaxman Holdings Ltd/Stavros Niarchos (Allen Paulson leads with 6).
15: Most Breeders’ Cup winners by a jockey (Jerry Bailey). [Pat Day second with 12, Mike Smith 10].
11,309,930: Dollars earned by leading active jockey, John Velazquez. [Pat Day all-time with $23,033,360].
44: Number of starters saddled by Aidan O’Brien (3 wins).
1: Number of starters saddled by Vincent O’Brien (1 win).
18: Number of winners saddled by all-time leading trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
146: Number of starters saddled by D. Wayne Lukas.
And, the most intriguing stat of all…
58: Number of trainers who won with their first and only Breeders’ Cup starter.
Written by John Pricci
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Racing Is A Business, Big Brown Was Personal
On a scale of 1-to-10 in these interesting times along Main Street, the retirement of Big Brown and its impact on the Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred championships probably wouldn’t even budge the needle. But in the hearts of those emotionally tethered to the spirit imbued in the race horse, its effect is dramatic, even devastating.
For all the brilliance and power and beauty of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, an average of 8,500 race fans witnessed his two most recent races, the prestigious Woodward at storied Saratoga and the history laden Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, a.k.a. the Longchamp of American racetracks.
Now try to riddle why twice as many people showed up at Monmouth Park on a sunny summer’s day at the Jersey Shore to see Big Brown take on a band of three-year-olds that on paper didn’t figure to get his blood boiling much less test him to the max.
For the storyline leading up to the Haskell Stakes was whether Big Brown still was the colt who ripped through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness or the horse that was eased just before the real running in the Belmont Stakes was about to begin. I didn’t speak to a single person during the Haskell run-up who knew what to expect, myself included.
That was the thing about Big Brown; he always seemed shrouded in mystery. I could have watched the race from the air conditioned comfort of the Saratoga press box. Instead, I made an eight-hour roundtrip drive to see it and Big Brown, live and in person.
About once every decade or so a horse comes along to warm the emotional cockles of a grizzled horseplayer. Until Big Brown came along, for some reason, Seattle Slew was my one and only.
I won’t again recount in detail the story of how I had become such a fan of the bay colt. Suffice it to say he’s just a sweetheart of a race horse. He is kind, intelligent and loves interaction with people. What makes him so lovable is that he’s also part clown, part tease and all showoff. He’d put a smile on the face of anyone who’s ever stood on the other side of his stall webbing.
|Big Brown at Play|
Photo by: Toni Pricci
I had no idea what effect a baby maiden turf race around two turns on Labor Day 2007 would have on me personally when I saw this first-time starter take the first turn at such high speed that I thought he would bolt. But Jeremy Rose wisely just let him roll, steering him around the bend and into the backstretch, rating him as best he could, until finally giving him his head approaching the quarter pole.
From there, Rose, the only rider other than Kent Desormeaux to partner with him, encouraged Big Brown to run and, as the chart footnote stated, “he ran away when roused.” He was 14-1 in his debut for trainer Pat Reynolds. The biggest price he would pay subsequently was $6.80 in the Derby. Twice he was sent away at 1-5, once at 3-10. It was as much a reflection of his popularity as it was the level of competition and the popularity of racing’s glamour division.
The career ending injury was the result of his over-striding in a company workout on grass with turf champion Kip Deville, who will defend his Breeders’ Cup Mile title in 10 days. Big Brown “grabbed” the bulbous portion of flesh above the right front ankle with his right hind hoof, ripping away a portion of his hoof and opening a three-inch piece of flesh, according to managing partner Michael Iavarone.
“It was a complete fluke,” said a philosophical and obviously dejected owner on a Monday conference call. “They went around the course like a couple of F-16s in formation,” Iavarone said of the pair having their final serious Cup preparation. “We were all very excited until we got back to the barn and I saw this serious look of on Rick’s [trainer Dutrow] face. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.”
Then Iavarone said something that I had conjured up during the long drive back to Saratoga from Monmouth Park: That he didn’t won the Haskell with the same brilliance he showed in the classics but won with a blend of guts and determination that the game’s practitioners often refer to as class. And he did it again in what turned out to be his career finale, looking an older stakes winning rival in the eye when an embarrassing defeat appeared imminent and unavoidable.
“I don’t think we ever got to the bottom of Big Brown,” Iavarone said. “He came to us with problems that were well documented. Rick Dutrow is a genius around a race horse. What we were starting to see was a changeover from his utter brilliance to his heart. If we could have gotten to the point where he would have put the two together, I think we would have seen something breathtaking.”
What Thoroughbred fans must settle for was his utter Kentucky Derby dominance, from post 20 in only his fourth lifetime start and, from a camera overhead, that explosive sixteenth of a mile in the Preakness. I had never seen anything like it before. It’s highly doubtful I’ll ever see it again.
|Florida Derby 2008: Daylight by Daylight|
Photo by: Toni Pricci
And, so, from his preparation at Palm Meadows for his Grade 1 debut in the Florida Derby, it was always about the promise of an extraordinary equine athlete and the heart of a race horse that made him act more like puppy than colt, touching everyone around him.
Iavarone was asked whether there was any antipathy between the Big Brown and Curlin camps in the run-up to a possible Classic confrontation, a rivalry in waiting and in words but never in deed. Iavarone laughed politely at the question: “The banter that had gone between us was like professional wrestling. Rick and I were having fun with it. We have no problems at all. We think the world of their horse and their people.
“Curlin is great for the sport and if they want to give me a Curlin hat I’ll wear it. Curlin and Big Brown have carried the sport in the media, and we need Curlin to go out in the right way, especially with the Euros coming in. He’s representing America and I’m completely in Curlin’s corner, and in the corner of Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen.”
Jackson responded in kind: “I have always said what an incredible horse Big Brown is and that the bay colt brought energy and excitement to our industry, especially during his run at the Triple Crown. I am equally disappointed that Big Brown and Curlin will never compete against each other. It was a dream of mine and thousands of other fans of the sport.”
Jackson’s certainly not alone in that sentiment. Big Brown’s fans, demonstrably legion, wanted this meeting badly, needing to prove their horse was better in head to head competition. Breeders’ Cup and Santa Anita wanted it for other, obvious reasons. I just wanted to see him run again and visit with him before and after the race. Now I must wait until the Monday after the Classic. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Written by John Pricci