Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Nightmare in the Daytime by PAUL MORAN
Courtesy of Steve Byk of "At The Races" on Sirius Satellite Radio, and originally published in Newsday, a reprint of Paul Moran's Eclipse-winning piece on Go for Wand's tragic breakdown in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park, written on deadline.
Wish I wrote this:
A clash of champions unfolded in magnificent fury. Two memorable female thoroughbreds: unbending will and granite courage doubled, four nostrils flared, four eyes bulging, muscles rippling rhythmically in the sunshine beneath the leather whips of frantic riders. Poetry in flight. They raced together into the stretch, everything on the line, a crowd of 51,236 cheering wildly, millions of others frozen before television screens. What was developing was the quintessential confrontation of thoroughbreds, each carrying a jockey and a share of history. What was happening was the Breeders' Cup personified, the essence of the game.
Go for Wand, sublimely brazen in the face of her greatest challenge, had taken the fight to Bayakoa in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Distaff yesterday on a long-awaited Belmont Park afternoon that was painted in sunshine and washed in tears. And while giving herself completely to the pursuit of victory, Go for Wand lost her life in the most tragic moment in racing since the immortal Ruffian gave her life to a match race on this track more than 15 years ago.
You could almost hear the bones snap in the last row of seats in the grandstand. And the gasp seemed to hang in the crisp October air before melting into sobs for the New York heroine.
In full flight coming to the sixteenth pole, she reached forward with the legs that carried her to the most important moment of her career, the race in which she would secure a Horse of the Year title with victory, the race in which victory would have placed Go for Wand among the best fillies ever to grace American racing. She reached out in wanton singlemindedness toward what seemed her destiny, a half-length in front of Bayakoa and on her way to victory when time stopped as if electrocuted and the seventh Breeders' Cup was transformed instantly from a celebration of the thoroughbred into a wake.
Go for Wand's right hoof hit the ground at the sixteenth pole and her ankle snapped. She fell, headfirst, catapulting jockey Randy Romero over her neck, and somersaulted, her legs flailing at the sky as she rolled on her back. The filly, who a year ago established herself as a 2-year-old in the Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream, was mortally injured in pursuit of the moment for which she was destined since conception. She stood again, clumsily, instinctively, on her shattered leg. She struggled wild-eyed in terror toward the wire on a stump of shattered bone, her hoof swinging below the fracture when she lifted it from the ground. By now, she was at the outside fence, looking out imploringly over a crowd with a fist-sized lump in its collective throat, indeed over a world of racing enthusiasts struck dumb by what they watched. Unable to understand that the fragile thoroughbred legs that had carried her to greatness had betrayed her, she limped onward, as if searching for help, as if she had not yet conceded defeat.
They ran four more races at Belmont yesterday after Dr. Neil Cleary administered the fatal injection that would relieve Go for Wand of her misery. One was worth $3 million. But the seventh Breeders' Cup was over at the moment she fell. Racing stopped, at least in spirit, as though it had been stabbed in the heart by a hot knife. Trainer Billy Badgett left the side of his wife of three weeks and rushed to the side of the best filly he ever trained, the best filly he may ever train, for she was truly a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Rose Badgett, who was Go for Wand's exercise rider, stood near the rail at the finish line and wept the tears of one who has seen a friend killed, unable to follow her husband to the filly. She took a few tentative steps toward the crowd of men at the rear of the horse ambulance, stopped and lowered her face into her hands. There still was weeping to do in the midst of turmoil.
The group at the rail before which Go for Wand stood in the final moments of her life fell into shock, which yielded to almost a tear-stained, speechless anger. How could a fate so terrible befall a filly so special, a New York filly performing before those who appreciated her most, who sent her to the post a 3-5 favorite against an older champion from California? And why on this day? Why on this brilliant autumn afternoon graced by the ultimate in equine competition?
"She was going great," said Romero, who was not injured but was shaken visibly by the loss of the filly he rode in each of 10 victories in 13 races. "She was giving it her all. She was in front and when I slapped her she was digging in . . . and her leg just snapped. She was a great filly, one of the best of all time."
There was no triumphant celebration for Ron McAnally, who trains Bayakoa. Tears were in his eyes as he awaited his mare's return to the winner's circle. His lower lip quivered. The words that his wife, Debby, spoke before he left their box for a hollow observance in the winner's enclosure haunted him. "They give their lives," she said, "for our enjoyment."
"I can't cope with this," McAnally said, choking on the words. "That other filly . . . "
Badgett returned, his stare fixed straight ahead, his eyes red, and with his wife strode purposefully past television cameras, photographers and reporters, through the tunnel that leads to the saddling paddock and through the gate. "I just can't say anything" were the only words that came from the man who felt the loss most deeply, even more than Jane duPont Lunger, who owned and bred Go for Wand. Badgett had guided the filly from greenness to greatness, virtually lived with her, and lost her forever in the Belmont stretch. There were no words.
The record will show that Colonial Waters ran second, 6 3/4 lengths behind Bayakoa. Valay Maid was third and the time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:49 1/5. Bayakoa paid $4.20 and earned $450,000 for owners Frank and Jan Whitham. She is the first repeat winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff and secured her second Eclipse Award as champion older female. In every respect, she is a deserving champion. She saw what would have been her finest hour virtually erased by the outpouring of emotion for her fallen rival.
"I'll remember her winning the Alabama at Saratoga, the Maskette and the Beldame," someone said in the winner's enclosure as the ambulance carrying Go for Wand's corpse passed. "Not this way."
Written by John Pricci
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Track Bias Unfair to Horses, Horsemen and Bettors Alike
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 4, 2013— “Apparently, bias is not limited to extremist wings of political parties. The inside portion of [the track], especially lane #1, has been carrying speed horses to victory in an aberrant fashion…
“A bias is unfair to horsemen who are powerless to meet such challenges and to bettors who often are forced to guess which horse(s) will be sent to the lead at all costs, badly skewing race dynamics and taking horses out of their best game...
“Some jockeys are quick to recognize a bias, [some just the opposite]. The point, however, is that horses should determine the outcome of races, not track superintendents…”
The italicized precede, edited for brevity and context, first appeared in this space October 19. The racetrack was Belmont Park, where too many races on too many fall racing days were dominated by front-end speed horses racing on or closest to the rail.
The description, however, easily could have been referring to Santa Anita Park on Breeders’ Cup weekend.
At the Great Race Place, the California sunshine helps to keep the racing surface very dry and very fast, the winter rainy season notwithstanding.
It’s bad enough when post positions on the one-mile main track and 7-furlong turf course lend themselves readily to a logistical bias. Outside posts in two-turn dirt races, for example, are extremely difficult to overcome. For those horses and their connections, call it the un-luck of the draw.
But when an extreme speed-favoring surface is in play, the task of outside runners becomes doubly tough to overcome. Post positions are what they are, an unlucky fact of life for some that’s apparent as soon as the overnight comes out.
A track bias, especially one with a predisposition to inside-speed, is correctable--not always easily, but certainly do-able. Consequently, there certainly were no good excuses for the condition of the main track for Breeders’ Cup 30, especially Friday’s.
The NBC Sports Network broadcast team discussed the fact that jockeys were complaining about the dry kick-back. It went beyond stinging, they said. “It hurts,” said one, adding that the chances of the trailing horses were being severely compromised.
As a practitioner who makes the game go, you choose a Breeders’ Cup race for your good horse(s) in January and you plan a racing schedule working backward from the first weekend in November.
So you manage your horses, train them, prep them against other top class horses hoping for optimal results from minimal effort if possible, then you train your horse some more, careful not to go over the top of peak condition.
On race day, you load your best mid-race mover or late runner into the starting gate for a race in which a lively pace, especially at Santa Anita, is almost guaranteed, and your horse is beaten even before the latch is sprung.
How is that fair to the owners and trainers who make and mares and the horses go and who have worked diligently to get their animals right on the day only to see it become an Abbott and Costello comedy routine: “They’re off. You lose.”
And it’s not like anyone would seriously consider how this affects the horseplayer whose betting dollars pay for all this. It’s not like one is being born every minute anymore, although the player is often treated that way.
Surely, there must have been some evidence of the stinging nature of the kickback in, say, the 48 hours leading up to the event.
Why didn’t somebody, a racing official, exercise rider, jockey, trainer say something to somebody about the condition of the surface?
And why wasn’t the betting public, those who didn’t have Friday afternoon free and could tune into the broadcast, informed via other forms of media? Twitter was all abuzz Friday night, but only after serious consequences had become apparent.
The Breeders’ Cup is a monumental betting event not for the faint of heart or those handicappers who think they can get away with a quick perusal of a set of past performances before they plunk down their cash.
For any serious fan or bettor, it’s a lot of hard work jammed into a relatively short period of time. Not that any consideration is given to that part of the process, either.
I never have made this known publicly but one reason Breeders’ Cup races are drawn a day earlier could be due to a serious discussion I had with a Breeders’ Cup official re the plight of the handicapping horseplayer. The official was empathetic and informed those above his pay grade that if bettors had an extra day to study past performances, betting handle might increase.
An aside: Since almost all practitioners are virtually certain they will run after the final round of preps are run a fortnight before the event, maybe the pre-entry stage could be moved back to Monday instead of Wednesday, allowing for two extra days of research. Is there an obvious reason why this cannot be?
Following Friday’s races, the Twittersphere was abuzz with comments and pictures about the bias and the heavy maintenance to correct the situation. According to a representative from the Horseplayers Association of North America, Breeders’ Cup officials weren’t pleased and asked Santa Anita to put on a full court press to slow down the stinging main track for Saturday’s races.
Parenthetically, no mention was made whether that included turning up the water sprinklers on the rock hard turf course that was producing record fractions all weekend. If this was an example of further honing the home track advantage, someone forgot to tell the Europeans.
As a result of the heavy maintenance, the surface was better on Saturday and Sunday, giving non-speed horses a little better chance.
Subsequently, HANA rightfully chided Santa Anita and/or Breeders’ Cup officials for not informing anyone
interested in betting their money that measures had been taken to correct the problem, what they were, and that the track condition would be a little more honest.
As one prominent HANA member stated in a widely circulated e-mail after the problem was addressed, “fairness to gamblers outweighs any potential embarrassment… from too much kick-back/sandblasting.”
Atmospherics aside, the principles of solving the problem of track bias are fairly straightforward: Add a lot more water, harrow a little deeper, more uniformly.
And as far as keeping bettors informed about the surface over which their betting choices will race, whether it be Santa Anita, Belmont Park, or Wherever Downs, next time see if Keeneland will lend you a page from their Polycapping handbook.
FOR THE RECORD, A CORRECTION
Due to a miscommunication, my post-Breeders’ Cup ballot is incorrect in the polling section on the NTRA website. Below is my final ballot as it was intended to be tallied. What appears in its place is a poll that currently ranks this year’s 3-year-olds. Mea culpa to all for any inconvenience.
(The following cut and pasted below was the original confirmation received from NTRA)
Voter: John Pricci
Your Thoroughbred Poll vote was received at Nov 4, 2013 9:18 AM.
Your votes are shown below:
TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
1. Wise Dan
2. Mucho Macho Man
3. Will Take Charge
4. Groupie Doll
6. Secret Circle
7. Game On Dude
8. Princess Of Sylmar
9. Royal Delta
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Hollywood Ending Written in Arcadia
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 2, 2013
Whether you consider yourself a thoroughbred racing fan or grizzled gambler, if the result of Breeders' Classic 30 didn't put a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye for the cosmic karma of it all, then you might want a mate to check your pulse.
Kathy Ritvo, the first female and heart transplant survivor to win America's biggest horse race, ridden by a 50-year-old unretiree who booted home a baby huey of a late June foal who, at 5, had finally become a man, a Mucho Macho Man.
The race went according to Hoyle, as the speediest of the speed; Moreno, Fort Larned and Game On Dude, dominated the Breeders' Cup's crowning event from flag-fall to that's-all. The best of the three, Mucho Macho Man was allowed to take charge of the race by the brilliant Gary Stevens from the three-path in the middle of the final turn.
Urging his mount intermittently in early stretch, Stevens allowed the Macho Man to sneak away in mid-stretch, the daylight opened between himself as his charging rivals just enough margin to insure a victory. In the end, the largest horse in the field defeated a horse of equally large proportion two years his junior.
Will Take Charge can now be considered the budding handicap star of 2014, coming thisclose to adding a Classic trophy to a collection that includes a Travers and Pennsylvania Derby bauble; Will Take Charge, trained by an ageless legend of 78 years who did the near impossible--again.
Perhaps the best line ever spoken about the runner-up's trainer came when NBC Sports Network reported that a rival trainer said of the Hall of Famer: "If you're looking to kill Wayne Lukas, you had better use all six bullets."
The Macho team did everything right. After some niggling issues followed his Gulfstream Park debacle, he was placed in the equine protection program located in Fair Hill, Maryland and rather than chance the wet tracks of New York, which the huge colt clearly cannot handle, they decided to ship to SoCal, where it never rains, as the song says.
After deciding to prep him in the Grade 1 Awesome Again, as he continued to chase the illusive Grade 1, they made the wisest decision when they put the reins in the hands of Gary Stevens. Two mounts; two Grade 1 victories, and a 10-gallon hat to be thrown into the Horse of the Year ring, a consideration for another day.
If the victory by Mucho Macho Man turns out not to be enough for a Horse of the Year title, his five-year-old resume certainly has earned him older male Eclipse title. The runner-up's narrow defeat probably will be good enough to earn Will Take Charge an Eclipse in the year-long topsy-turvy world that is this year's three-year-old campaign.
And, so, it was a job well done by all who labored in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, but turned into a story better suited crosstown, an L.A. neighborhood that elevates fanciful dreams but after this fall horse racing will live no more.
For those of little faith, not to worry. Wise Dan, despite a bobbling break, a bit of a wide run chasing a world record pace, the 2012 Horse of the Year threw his four hooves into the ring for a consecutive Best In Show title. Until the results of the Classic are made official, it's his title to lose.
Brillliantly ridden by Jose Lezcano, replacing the injured Velazquez, was thrown heavily when his mount Secret Compass fractured her ankle in the Juvenile Fillies, Wise Dan repeated last year's victory, running the fastest Mile renewal ever, this event one of the original seven carded at Hollywood Park in November of 1984.
At this moment, it's 38 minutes to post time for the Classic, in which Game On Dude opened the 2-1 favorite with Mucho Macho Man a close second choice at 3-1.
* * *
Godspeed to Johnny Velazquez, who suffered internal injuries in a spill. He is currently in the operating room having his spleen removed.
Bob Baffert, who broke his Breeders' Cup maiden in the Sprint two decades ago, won his second race within an hour when Secret Circle came roaring off a red hot pace to capture the Sprint and withheld the flying finish of improbable longshot Laugh Track--that's if any runner can be considered a Breeders' Cup improbable beneath Mike Smith, a yard away from working on his next 20 Breeders' Cup mounts.
When the Brits created their Champions Day program to be contested in October, it was feared that it could have a negative effect on the Breeders' Cup. Well, Europeans finished 1-2 in the Turf, a classy 3-year-old, Magician, pulling some magic out of his hooves to defeat highly regarded The Fugue in the very last stride.
That would give foreign interests their sixth victory in the two-day event--and they might not be done yet.
Seems that the speed-biased racetrack is forcing riders to react to the prevailing conditions, sometimes overreact and moving a bit too soon. There probably was very little Gary Stevens and Joel Rosario could do, especially from the outside posts with the short run to the first bend for the Juvenile.
But the track carried Strong Mandate, used hard on a fast pace throughout, and he earned a good chuck of the purse. And it appeared that Havana was home free, Stevens moving to the lead at what looked like the opportune moment. But the track didn't carry him all the way, the ground saving New Year's Day surging late for the win. Perhaps Havana has distance limitations after all--but more evidence is required.
Well, Mizdirection, with Mike Smith getting his 3rd win in BC 30 and 20th in history, made it 7-for-7 on grass and 6-for-6 on this course. And trainer Mike Puype, having the mare sitting on ready off a six month layup. Amazing.
Another feel good story, a filly beating colts--the first ever to repeat in this race--and interesting, too, that the two feel-good story fillies are shipping to a horses of racing age sale on Sunday. And with Reneesgotzip dead-heating for place with Tightend Touchdown, it's fillies going 1-2 against the boys. Greatest show on turf, indeed.
At the moment Mizdirection is the 2-1 favorite in the Turf Sprint. Considering no horse has repeated in this event, she's an obvious underlay. Unbridled's Note is bet smartly at 5-1; Chips All In is very fair at 7-1 and Capo Bastone, no turf experience, never mind on the downhill course, is 8-1, which I would categorize as interesting.
Even if the Pletcher sprinter takes to the grass, he will need the pace to melt down completely for him to run them all down. Very interesting contest indeed.
If Groupie Doll's gutsy repeat in the F & M Sprint is not the feel-good story of the day then I'm not sure what could challenge the notion.
Of course, a case can be made that Dance Card might have been the best horse, given the speed nature of the surface. Joel Rosario had no choice but to go wide at head-stretch, so he is not to blame.
Now turf racing is a European specialty, as everyone knows, but as many turf races as are run in this country, you'd think the home team would be a little more formidable. Circumstances took Dank out of her game and she still won. Through the stretch, it looked as if Romantica would be very hard pressed to hold the place late. She was, and she did, Euros going 1-2.
The fillies have put on quite a show in the first three events of the day, now we'll see if the boys can match the distaff fireworks.
Awful news regarding Secret Compass who was euthanized after suffering a condylar ankle fracture and Johnny Velazquez, seem clutching his left arm after landing heavily, was taken to the hospital. In the upcoming F & M Turf, Javier Castellano replaces Velazquez aboard Alterite.
Tough decision but SA stewards absolutely made the correct call--killing my Pick 4 play, incidentally--when they disqualified She's A Tiger from first and placed her second in the Juvenile Fillies.
Clearly, 'Tiger' drifted out several paths, making enough contact only jumps before the finish to make a difference in what turned out to be a nose photograph. Further proof it was correct came later when Ria Antonia galloped out ahead of the filly that finished in front of her.
I don't know enough to say for sure, but I'm aware that the California stewards take a lot of heat. However, they got this one right.
* * *
For those who purchased my "Breeders' Cup SCOREcard" there is an egregious omission in the Classic.
As indicated in today's Feature Race Analysis on HRI, FORT LARNED was meant to be an inclusion on the top of your betting mix.
Mea culpa, but stuff happens. As all know, this is a monumental event to cover and this one fell into the cracks.
I could have saved some embarrassment and not mentioned this and rooted against; sorry but I don't roll that way.
Please inform any of your friends and colleagues that might have purchased the product.
It might not matter but I've learned when handicapping or betting, it's the mistakes of omission that are really costly.
Juvenile Fillies post time in 9 minutes. Win or lose, Scandalous Act is too big a price at the moment
Written by John Pricci