Tuesday, December 20, 2016
As the Season Winds Down, Mixed Messages
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 19, 2016---Twas the week before Christmas but my mind was stirring in different directions. To wit:
A public celebration for a great race horse at the smallest venue in California; the tragic death of a 44-year-old jockey whose talents shown brightest in the Golden State, and the continued dominance of a horsemen seeking a 14th consecutive training title at what has become America’s premier winter race meet.
It’s not often that you see a paid public workout for a champion prepping for a colossal event in company with nine other horses, but that’s exactly what the Winter Challenge Stakes was and this time stakes money was not the attraction.
Of the $180,000 available in purses, the great California Chrome earned a mere $50,000 for an effort in which he raced 5-to-6 wide virtually every stride before drawing off in hand to win by 12 lengths in track record time, geared down in the final strides.
The side bar to all this is that the runners which finished sixth through 10th received $10,000 each for getting hot and dirty at odds of 257-1, 112-1, 275-1, 122-1 and 263-1, respectively.
That’s quite rare, too, but that’s what made it possible to see a track lose $58,000 in the win pool on a race featuring 10 starters.
And it was apt and very time when on the following day California Chrome was chosen “The People’s Horse” and the only runner ever to be so honored for a second time as winner of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award.
Of course, the people's voice award is named for another great chestnut champion, the 1973 Triple Crown winner that many regard as the greatest champion of them all. The award will be presented publicly at Santa Anita, January 14.
The Winter Challenge served its purpose well. It didn’t force Art Sherman to keep training on California Chrome to get him at tops for the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 28.
And didn’t trainer Art Sherman looked very determined when he said he was looking forward to a rematch with Classic upsetter Arrogate? California Chrome is scheduled to begin acclimating to SoFla on January 6.
Go-Go Gone Too Soon:
Sadly, we’ve all seen this movie before. Stars of stage, screen, playing fields and the turf, gone before their time because they were no match for the demons that lived within them.
Whatever one’s politics, it is right that alcoholism and drug addiction are regarded as diseases.
I never got to know Garrett Gomez beyond the interview process and after reading all the accounts online, in print, and on cable television, the loss clearly was mine.
I was often around the extremely gifted Chris Antley. Anyone who knew Chris would agree on the one word that would describe him best: affable. Antley won you over with his charm and sense of humor, to the point where you didn’t want to believe the rumors.
I know Jerry Bailey, too, but unlike Antley and now Gomez, his autobiography made his addiction public and he worked hard to beat it. He still does one day at a time. And, unlike Antley and Gomez, Bailey’s family life saved him, thanks to the love and support of wife Suzee.
Regretfully, I never having a chance to visit with Gomez. The closest I can get to him now is reviewing his on-track accomplishments; the top back-to-back Eclipse Awards, the iconic victory aboard Blame in the 2010 Classic that denied the great Zenyatta an undefeated career.
I cashed lots of tickets on Gomez-ridden horses because of his smarts, his courage, athletic ability, timing and strength, a super Hi-Five for great horsemen on horseback. RIP jock.
6 + 7 = 14??
There may be nothing wrong with that math. The significance of the numbers is Javier Castellano currently is seeking a sixth consecutive Gulfstream Park riding titles. Seven is the amount of Eclipse Awards won by one of his main clients, Todd Pletcher. Which brings us to 14, the amount of training titles Pletcher hopes to gain by season’s end.
It is widely acknowledged that Pletcher’s success is, and remains, about numbers. He was one of the first to conduct a huge operation overstocked with expensive, very well bred animals. But when owners place that kind of monetary trust in one barn, it must produce.
Gulfstream’s premier race meet began on December 3rd and as this is written he’s already saddled the winners of seven stakes. And the best of his current stock is very likely to fill three of the 12 starting stalls come Pegasus afternoon.
“Unfortunately, it looks like those two horses are coming from California,” Pletcher quipped after Stanford returned from a lengthy layup to make a shambles of Saturday’s Harlan’s Holiday Stakes.
Happily for the sport, it looks like both will be making their way East--although the Arrogate camp sure is being coy about the whole thing.