The idea of sport at its highest level is to win while the whole world is watching. It�s why they play the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals. Final Four weekend with its Monday night championship defines our college hoop heroes and why, despite its occasional shortcomings, the BCS bowl format, exists.
Twenty four years ago, the late breeder John Gaines and Hall of Fame horseman Johnny Nerud figured it was about time for racing to jump into the championship pool and thus was the Breeders� Cup foaled. And until horse racing comes up with a point system, ala Nascar, titles will be won via a series of prestigious history rich fixtures culminating with the Breeders� Cup World Championships.
This year, the best American older horse in training book-ended the Saratoga Grade 1 calendar, running the Whitney faster than any horse in history ever had. The three-year-old class was distinguished. The unforgettable Derby winner, one that would win in Midsummer, too, was beaten with an unforgettable run rally by the Preakness winner. A filly won the Belmont and the Preakness winner would return to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
It is no wonder that Classic XXIV is in the conversation when the most competitive race of all time, much less Cup history, is referenced. And, once again, a champion was crowned.
All hail Curlin, Horse of the Year 2007. It was to be the glorious celebration of a great day, until George Washington sustained a catastrophic injury and had to be euthanized. Ironically, George Washington was bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson�s Lael Stables, owners and breeders of the ill-fated Barbaro.
In the race, to paraphrase race caller Trevor Denman, it was all Curlin in the race of the year for the horse of the year.
Hard Spun, as is his custom, assumed command, shadowed closely by Lawyer Ron, who once again was too keen to rate, refusing to settle, chasing the leader around the first turn and into the backstretch. They in turn were chased by Monmouth�s Haskell winner, Any Given Saturday, as favorite Street Sense and Curlin bided their time.
As Hard Spun opened ground approaching the far turn, Cajun riders Robby Albarado and Calvin Borel matched strides with Curlin and Street Sense. Calvin was riding the rails, as is his custom, and Albarado was content to let him do that. Curlin had the momentum, out in the better footing, and his surge carried him past the remarkably fast and tough Hard Spun, and into racing history.
Street Sense floundered in third, remaining on the rail through the stretch, and was passed by eventual third finisher Awesome Gem in the shadow of the wire.
Seldom do performances equal the hype. But a 4-1/2 length victory in 2:00.59 when everything's on the line vindicates hyperbole. It was a good time for Steve Asmussen and Albarado to break their Breeders' Cup maidens. Both trainer and jockey made a memory in Classic XXIV, one they'll never forget.
It didn�t take long to crown a champion. Indian Blessing flaunted her noted speed, laying down the gauntlet and daring any challengers to test her. Break? She didn�t even bend. A To The Croft tried another tack, the late running filly chasing the pace on this day. Indian Blessing broke her spirit, leaving the entire field in her wake midway of the second turn.
Formerly undefeated Proud Spell led the second wave and she did better than �Croft.� Surging into second at headstretch, she continued very gamely but could not serious threaten. Backseat Rhythm, second to the winner in the Frizette, was a good third. The serious contenders breaking from outside posts were compromised. The victory was the fourth for Bob Baffert in the Breeders� Cup and was the third for jockey Garrett Gomez. One major event down, seven more to go.
Different sex; same result. A second champion was crowned when War Pass, taking a page from his own book as well as that of the Juvenile Fillies winner, led throughout under thrice winning Breeders� Cup rider Cornelio Velasquez to give trainer Nick Zito his second Breeders� Cup victory, his first in this race. Now, War Pass, undefeated in four starts, is certain to be named juvenile champion and--as of this minute--is the early favorite for the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Pyro finished second to War Pass for the third consecutive time, daylight in front of stablemate Kodiak Kowboy, who gamely withstood the late stretch challenge for third from Futurity winner Tale of Ekati. Seven in front at the eighth pole, War Pass cruised under the line by 4-� lengths in 1:42.76. By comparison, the fillies ran the same distance in 1:44.73, Indian Blessing�s winning margin was 3-� lengths.
FILLY & MARE TURF:
You�d think that these older turf horses would know better than to act like two-year-olds! But not Simply Perfect. It was the second, not the third turn, that took her by surprise. she bolted beneath John Murtagh and Arravale and Precious Kitten followed suit, effectively eliminating all three. The damage done, Simply Perfect was pulled up out of the race as Arravale and Precious Kitten got back into it, or tried to, anyway. While this nonsense was taking place, Argentina was leading the pack closely stalked by Lahudood. Briefly split by Timarwa at mid-turn, suddenly Passage of Time was appearing on the scene. But Lahudood found more, opening two lengths in midstretch before reaching the wire in 2:22.75 for the 11 furlongs. It was the first Breeders� Cup victory for young Alan Garcia, threatening to join the ranks of elite riders this year and did so here with his first ever Breeders� Cup ride. Kairan McLaughlin got his second. He trained a horse called Invasor to a Horse of the Year championship in last year�s Classic.
Bullet Bob on a roll! And now I know this. I had some concerns about his horse in the Sprint: too big I thought; drawn inside not a good thing I reason. Now I know something else: Midnight Lute, Super Beast. Yes, I was aware that he won the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga as easily as horses win races. How could I miss that? I live across the street. But he�s more seven-eighths than three-quarters. Truth is, he�s everything he wants to be. He had no chance in midstretch. I was about to cash my first win ticket on Idiot Proof. Midnight Lute took the lead from the middle of the sloppy track with about 100 yards to go. Amazing that he won by nearly five! Midnight Lute, Super Beast. Bullet Bob, victory number two on the day; Gomez, ditto. Idiot Proof held second over a very game, hot-pace setting Talent Search. The winner�s margin was 4-� lengths, getting the distance in 1:09.18. All hail Midnight Lute, Super Beast; Sprint division champion of 2007!
Trips make the difference in turf races, as most fans know. But you knew it would be critical in the always contentious Mile--especially on soft ground. It�s just too tough to come from far off the pace--especially from post position 13 on a seven-furlong turf course. More than anything, it was position and trip that beat the Mile favorite, Excellent Art, and position and trip that won it for arguably America�s most accomplished miler, Kip Deville, who loved the soft ground. You thought maybe Rick Dutrow would get shut out at Monmouth Park on the big day? Or, for that matter, that Cornelio Velasquez would get his double? (Just kidding, wanted to see if you were paying attention). But you know something, he gave Kipper the perfect journey, getting the jump on the talented European favorite. Meanwhile, Johnny Velazquez, rode Nobiz Like Shobiz because Cornelio didn�t go down to Delaware to ride him in the Kent Stakes. (JV attempted a five-wide sweep on the soft, narrow course; never a good idea). For his part, Dutrow just keeps adding to his favorable Breeders� Cup mark; now 3-for-7. Enviable, indeed.
In this classic, it wasn�t so much post position as it was the going. Ginger Punch and Lear�s Princess closed as co-favorites at exactly 4.50-1. Ginger Punch loved the going, otherwise she wouldn�t have come again on the inside to outfight Hystericalady to the finish. Lear�s Princess hated it; dropping back with high climbing action first time by the stands. She was done before they had gone a quarter of a mile. But not Ginger Punch, who would not have run here if she had won the Beldame for her third consecutive Grade 1 score. It would have given her the championship. So Bobby Frankel rolled the dice, entered Ginger Punch, and it came up all good. Hystericalady was a game rival, battling the winner--actually bumping with the winner before getting bumped back--all the way to the line. Octave had the most difficult trip, coming from far back with a strong rally for third, eventually running out of racetrack. For Frankel, it was his fifth Breeders� Cup win. Rafael Bejarano was winning his second Cup race, both of them for the trainer of Ginger Punch.
Think English Channel likes the Monmouth course? Think Dylan Thomas, the only odds-on favorite on the day, hated the ground and doesn�t like to ship? That would be The Turf trifecta. Very seldom are 12-furlong races virtually over before the leader negotiates a half mile, but that was the case here. Tucked in neatly behind dueling leaders with Johnny Velazquez taking a strong hold, it was a matter of when the winner of the Grade 1 United Nations in his only two prior Monmouth starts would make his run. It came in earnest on the third turn of the marathon as he opened ground willingly into the stretch and never was in serious danger. Arc winner Dylan Thomas raced one-paced throughout in a poor performance that was not altogether unanticipated. A notorious poor shipper, he wants firm ground and an oval wider than seven furlongs. His effort extended Aidan O�Brien�s futile Breeders� Cup record to 3-for-43. Shamdinan was a remarkably game and surprising runnerup, holding off last year�s Turf winner, Red Rocks. The victory broke an 0-for-34 horse losing streak for Todd Pletcher. It was his first victory since he won with Ashado and Speightstown in 2004. English Channel, a 7-length winner of the 24th Turf, is certain to be voted champion turf horse at season�s end.