Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Where the Big Action Is
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 2, 2010--On Tuesday at Churchill Downs, 11 formidable rivals were officially entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic hoping to blemish the career record of the great Zenyatta in her “Quest for Perfection,” 20 wins without defeat and the first female to win consecutive runnings of America’s greatest open championship event.
“I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say that we all want to win this race but if we can’t that she’s the one who beats us,” said Louisville hometown boy Dale Romans, who entered his two best three year old colts in a quest to win the race that “certainly would be the highlight of my career.”
And then Romans added this: “She is the X factor. You can’t look at numbers, you can’t look at anything. She just finds a way to win.”
When the pills were pulled at Tuesday’s post position draw at Churchill Downs as seen on BreedersCup360.com, Zenyatta drew post position 8 and was installed the 8-5 morning line favorite by Churchill Downs line-maker Mike Battaglia to repeat last year’s history making score in this event.
“Post eight goes pretty well with us,” said owner Jerry Moss who, with his wife Ann, arrived from Los Angeles just in time for the draw. “Eight is considered to be a lucky number,” said Ann, who laughed in agreement when her husband said that “[Zenyatta] shipped better than we did.” “But we got here in time to see her get off the plane, which was very exciting,” she added.
“This race has always been our goal,” answered Ann’s husband was asked about her campaign. “To get her to the championship races undefeated. This is where the big action is.”
If number eight is considered lucky for the Mosses, this venue hasn’t treated the Mosses and their trainer John Shirreffs too shabbily either. They won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with a 50-1 shot Giacomo, the first horse they ever entered in the event.
Moss, the ‘M’ in A&M records, along with his partner, the musician Herb Alpert, named Giacomo after the son of the their good friend, Sting. The named Zenyatta, of course, after half the title of the breakthrough Police hit record album, Zenyatta Mondata. That’s some pretty good karma right there.
But, as Romans said, Zenyatta’s rivals are all in the Classic to win, including second favorite Blame at 9-2, a three-time winner at Churchill including the prestigious Stephen Foster.
Third choice Quality Road (5-1) drew the rail and protem three-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky drew the extreme outside position and was made 6-1 fourth choice.
“It’s not what we were hoping for,” said Todd Pletcher dryly regarding his rail draw. “You have to get position leaving the gate and then hope someone gets aggressive and gives him a target.
“It’s a bit of a negative but less so in a 12-horse field as compared to the nightmare it would be in the Derby. We have complete confidence in Johnny Velazquez and how it all works out is up to him.”
Bob Baffert didn’t make himself available at the dais but he had to be relieved even with the extreme outside draw. Baffert, of course, was quite vocal about the rail position for Lookin At Lucky in his pre-Kentucky Derby draw comments.
From his mouth to the devil’s ear. Lucky was anything but as the Derby field raced beneath the twin spires for the first time.
Pletcher was asked how would handicap the field and the voting for Horse of the Year.
“This is the whole concept for they had in mind,” Pletcher said. A quality field like this, Zenyatta going for immortality, I can’t see a better scenario than this.
“I’m hoping the dirt will help us. On his best day [Quality Road] can run with anybody. It’s perfect. A neutral site; no advantage to the East Coast guys, no advantage to the West Coast guys, and the cooler weather helps the Europeans who don’t have to ship in to a warm climate.”
Then added: I’m a fan of a rotation [scenario]. Have it in California one year, New York the next year, Churchill Downs the year after that, then a wildcard slot. That would be fair for everyone.”
Over the course of the two days, there will be 13 other championship events and all were drawn Tuesday at a few minutes after 1 p.m. Here’s how some of the early line favorites fared at the draw, with attention to positions that could have an impact, either negatively or positively.
Rightly So, 3-1 in the F & M Sprint, must come away running from post 13 to establish early position. If not she might get hung on but some of the speedy inside fillies.
Midday, the co-heaviest early line favorite in the 14 races, drew a neutral 7 slip for the F & M Turf.
A Z Warrior (3-1) must establish early position from post 8 going a mile and a sixteenth in the Juvenile Fillies.
Blind Luck, 9-5, drew #10 of 11 Ladies Classic starters. A rally type, it’s not that detrimental if Joel Rosario can drop her over to the inside before reaching the first turn. With the longer run at nine furlongs, he should have sufficient time to do so.
Girolamo, 3-1, was wrangled back hard at the start of the Vosburgh from an inside post and has drawn #2 of 12 here. Big Drama, 7-2, wasn’t dealt any favors with a pole draw.
Chamberlain Ridge, co-second choice at 6-1 for the Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs, had better break sharply from the pole position.
Uncle Mo, a strong 7-5 favorite for the Juvenile (Boys At Tosconova, post 2 at 5-2), is in post 7. “I love my position with Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty (#6),” said Pletcher. It’s perfect position with plenty of speed inside.”
Goldikova, co-heaviest favorite at 6-5, drew #10 of 11 in the Mile. With the short run to the turn, the draw did her no favors in her quest to become the first three-time winner in Breeders’ Cup history. She did win from the 11 slip last year, however.
Morning Line, a shocking 7-2 favorite for the Dirt Mile, drew #10 of 13 out of the chute. With his tactical speed, that should suit very well.
The Arc winner, Workforce (7-5), and beaten Arc favorite Behkabad (9-5), are alongside each other in the #6 and #7, respectively. Interesting but neutral in the three-turn Turf. What is worrisome for the Europeans is the ground. Trainer Michael Stoute could eventually scratch if the ground on race day is not to his liking.
And, finally, lucky #8 for the Big Mare‘s emotional finale. Said Jerry Moss: “These races are tough, for the fans, the owners and the horses. But we think she’s up to it.”
Said Ann Moss: “She enjoys what she does; she dances, she poses. Every day with her is a celebration.”
Or, as Romans put it: “She came along to help racing when we’ve needed it the most.”
Written by John Pricci
Friday, October 31, 2008
Horse of the Year Requires Deeper Reflection
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 30, 2008--On the shuttle ride back to the media hotel several hours after the curtain fell on Breeders’ Cup 25, the question was put to me this way: “So, who’s your vote for Horse of the Year?”
My response was that I didn’t know, that I needed more time to reflect. That was five days ago and I’m no closer to having a definitive opinion. Several years ago, the Eclipse Award committee decided that split votes no longer would be valid.
Too bad. It might have been a viable option this year.
I could vote for Curlin or I could vote Zenyatta and make a winning case for both. I could also consider Big Brown, strictly a biased opinion of course. First, he’s a very neat animal. Second, the ability he demonstrated winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, in tandem, were the best performances delivered by an American-based Thoroughbred this year.
But, of course, there was Curlin’s consummate Dubai World Cup victory; Zenyatta’s thoroughly comprehensive Ladies Classic to consider. Similarly, I was very impressed by Goldikova’s Mile and, believe it or not, by Square Eddie’s electric turn of foot while dominating Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity.
Or is turf or synthetics or a victory delivered 6,000 miles from these shores out of bounds? When choosing, it’s about mostly multiple variables. But it can also be about one victory in one particular race
But turf and synthetic-surface victories matter, as do victories far from home providing there‘s a local resume, too. And it’s all very subjective, really. And there’s something else: The Joe Hirsch Factor.
The JHF, as defined by a legendary founding member of the National Turf Writers’ Association, is that “the Horse of the Year can be anything.”
Parenthetically, the NTWA is one of three industry groups charged with defining a champion in any given year. Daily Racing Form staffers and Racing Secretaries from America’s leading racetracks are the other groups.
In general, what’s good for Joe Hirsch traditionally has been what’s good for the game. In this matter Hirsch feels there’s no clear delineation between a horse making the most championship-defining victories in prestigious events and a horse, such Big Brown, who despite an incomplete championship portfolio, occasionally demonstrated that he was best in show. Clearly, he did more to capture the imagination of the general sports public on a national level than any other horse to race this year.
Those critical of this notion hold that Horse of the Year is neither a popularity contest nor recognition for racing’s Most Valuable Horse. But why not? After voters finish counting Grade 1 victories, the rest of the process is about subjectivity and politics. On graded value, there is no difference between the Derby and Preakness. But if there were a tie-breaker involving these two races, on what side do you believe most voters would err? Like synthetic tracks, all Grade 1s are not created equal.
In political terms, I am willing to wager any amount there will be more West Coast Horse of the Year votes cast for Zenyatta than there will be for Curlin. Any takers? I am also willing to bet that the converse will be true. Interesting to note, however, that Zenyatta already is ranked #1 atop the weekly NTRA poll.
And some racing secretaries, when given no clear cut mandate, will be even more provincial. They invariably will lean toward those horses or connections who either brought the big horse to their racetrack or whose horses and, by extension, and trainers labor in their barn areas. Human nature.
It is expected that 2008 will mark the 17th season in which a champion will be crowned after winning a Breeders’ Cup event race day. Make that race days: Filly Friday and Sire Saturday.
And that leaves Curlin out, although he did win at Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, in addition to Nad Al Sheba. On the other hoof, Zenyatta remained undefeated, but only once on dirt outside of California. But she did defeat a reigning filly champion, Ginger Punch, at Oaklawn Park, but nary a boy in sight.
Champions have been crowned in the past off singular Breeders’ Cup victories. Eclipse rules say that the only qualification needed is a lone win in North America, which presumably includes Southern California. Hey, then what about Raven’s Pass?
Raven’s Pass beat a horse that beat him twice, Henrythenavigator, winning his previous start and earning a Timeform rating the equal of Curlin’s in the World Cup and better than ‘Henry’ ever earned in his life.
The Classic was his fifth Grade 1 win of the year, he beat elders, including Curlin, at scale weights. Why not Raven’s Pass for Horse of the Year? Right. He “only” won on turf and Pro Ride, but not dirt. Unlike Curlin, who couldn’t win his debuts on turf or Pro Ride, the Classic was Raven Pass’s first time racing left-handled.
I’m not saying I would vote for Raven’s Pass, even though the Horse of the Year “can be anything,” and because he’s arguably the most accomplished horse to run all year. The point is that Horse of the Year often is a subjective exercise. Why should this year be any different?
Written by John Pricci
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Belmont Park vs. Breeders’ Cup: Act II
ARCADIA, Calif., October 28, 2008--The rumors began to surface in Saratoga about a week or two in advance of Breeders’ Cup 25. Racetrack rumors can be especially viral, so my first thought was to place it on my pay-no-mind list.
But when the same rumor resurfaced in California, twice, and from different sources, it deserves an airing.
If it turns out to be untrue, I’m sure it will denied at length and in detail sometime in the near future by an official spokesperson. And so we’ll pose it in the form of a question.
Is the New York Racing Association planning to stage a Fall Championship Day at Belmont Park in direct competition with Breeders’ Cup?
It’s useful to recall that on the final day of the Saratoga meeting in a press box news conference, NYRA President Charlie Hayward revealed that the Breeders’ Cup had backed out of a handshake agreement that the 2010 Breeders’ Cup program would be held at Belmont Park.
Subsequent to that statement, Breeders’ Cup Chairman William Farish was quoted in the media, saying only “that may be [Charlie’s] version of the story. I’d rather not comment.”
At the time Hayward made his statement, he announced that Churchill Downs would be awarded the 2010 Thoroughbred World Championships.
One month later, the heads-up turned out to be fact. In a joint press conference widely attended by Kentucky officials, Breeders’ Cup announced jointly with Churchill that Louisville would be the site of the event two years hence.
Both organizations left the door open for hosting the event back-to-back, as was the case for the first time this year and in 2009 at Santa Anita Park.
The question is was the “agreement” with NYRA a wedge by Breeders’ Cup to bring Churchill Downs back to the bargaining table? Churchill Downs has drawn six of the largest seven crowds in Cup history.
The publicly held CDI made no secret that it wanted a larger share of Breeders’ Cup revenue. Apparently Churchill got its wish in return for lobbying the Commonwealth to waive the tax imposed on outside events held at the Downs, the equivalent of a licensing fee.
The track, in conjunction with the city of Louisville, successfully argued that the fee, approaching six figures, in no way compensated for a projected loss of $50-60 million in tourism revenues. Indeed, the “Breeders’ Cup waver,” about to sunset, needing extending before the 2010 event could be staged in the bluegrass.
The back-story doesn’t end there. HRI sources claim also that Breeders’ Cup management was put off by having to negotiate with Gavin Landry, the NYRA Vice-President of Marketing and former president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, knocking heads over sponsorship issues. Landry recently resigned under pressure.
Landry’s failed marketing policies and personality left the NYRA with little recourse with respect to his responsibilities. Indeed, his departure was deemed imminent late in the Saratoga meet, but didn’t occur until after racing returned downstate to Belmont Park.
Sources tell HRI that the 2009 NYRA stakes schedule, which will be formulated next month and subsequently submitted to the new state mandated Board of Directors will be incomplete with respect to the fall stakes schedule.
It is anticipated that NYRA will counter-program against Breeders’ Cup, either by putting major races in direct opposition on the same weekend, or by scheduling them so close to the event that high-profile Grade 1 horse flesh couldn’t possibly run back on such short rest.
The domination of European and California-based horses at last weekend’s silver anniversary edition of Breeders’ Cup would be a large temptation to have Eastern-based runners remain close to home, next year or any other in which championship races are scheduled on a synthetic surface.
For many dirt horses, all-weather tracks present a tremendous challenge, as Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen would attest. Shipping Eastern horses to West Coast racetracks was a daunting obstacle even before all-weather surfaces were mandated in the Golden State.
This tack would strike at the already tenuous balance of power within a fractured Thoroughbred industry that lacks a central authority. It would seem now that the ball is in NYRA’s court, and Hayward picked it up.
“We have no intentions to schedule against the Breeders’ Cup in 2009,” Hayward said. “There are some interesting questions about the prep races, and we might make some adjustments to our stakes schedule prior to getting it approved by our board in December.”
If the NYRA eventually decides to pay the Breeders’ Cup back in kind, the association would inflict serious damage to an industry on the brink, undermining one of the sport’s defining events. “We‘ve gotten a lot of suggestions to run against the Breeders’ Cup,” said Hayward.
Does that mean it‘s on the table, or off? “We have to make this industry healthy. We don’t root for each other enough.”
Written by John Pricci