Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Macho Man by Day, a Wise Dan by Night

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 18, 2014—Who would have thought that the period spanning 2004 to 2007 would, in Breeders’ Cup Classic/Horse of the Year terms, be regarded as the good old days?

Dean and Patti Reeves
Photo by Toni Pricci
Dean and Patti Reeves have much to smile about
At that time, it was possible to secure racing’s ultimate prize by parlaying a Classic win into a Horse of the Year title. After all, the achievement was good enough for Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Invasor and Curlin, the last horse to win consecutive Horse of the Year championships.

But sorry, Raven’s Pass, your Classic score wasn’t good enough, even though you beat eventual Horse of the Year Curlin and avenged your only 2008 defeat to Henrythenavigator at Santa Anita. And the G2 score before that? Small potatoes, apparently.

Zenyatta? The Classic belonged to the behemoth filly but the year belonged to Rachel Alexandra. Blame? Sorry, again, but the voters apparently felt that they owed Zenyatta one.

Drosselmeyer? Even though he won the Belmont Stakes and the Classic, I’m not sure I know anyone who marked their Horse of the Year ballot that way.

Fort Larned? Ever hear of girl power? How soon we can forget a filly named Havre De Grace.

Mucho Macho Man? Sorry, but where’s your turf resume?

Should the Breeders’ Cup folks scrap the 2014 Classic due to a lack of respect?

Of course, Wise Dan had a deserving Horse of Year resume, limited and turf specific as it was, But in repeating last year's feat, he became only the sixth horse Eclipse history to win consecutive Best In Show titles, the seventh to win multiple Horse of the Year championships.

Wise Dan was also honored with older male and turf championships, the only horse to win three championships in consecutive years. This year, Wise Dan might shoot for the three-peat, especially if a very humble Morton Fink successfully can convince his trainer, Charlie LoPresti, "to run on dirt and to run long," first reminding those in the audience and watching on HRTV that 'Dan' owns a track record at nine furlongs.

Two words, Mr. Fink: Whitney and Woodward.

As far as the Florida Millions feature was concerned, it was as if the Macho Man know that the Sunshine Millions Classic would be the only prize he would win this day, so off he went to obliterate five seriously overmatched rivals by 14 lengths with partner Gary Stevens appearing not the least bit interested in running up the score.

The Big Hoss is back
Photo by: Toni Pricci
The Big Hoss is back
How do you like me now, the proud six year old might have thought? When the first poll for America’s leading horse is released in March, Mucho Macho Man’s should top that list off his Millions Classic performance.

Winner of the 2013 Vox Populi Award as America’s most popular race horse, an appreciative crowd followed the gigantic colt’s every move around the walking ring and out on to the fast Gulfstream Park surface.

“I’m gonna’ need a friggin’ ladder to get up on this guy one day,” Stevens, more passenger than pilot, quipped as he dismounted in the winners’ circle after guiding ‘Macho’ through nine furlongs in a snappy 1:48.76, a bit more than a second off the track record.

A fourteen-length smile from trainer Kathy Ritvo
Photo by: Toni Pricci
A fourteen-length smile from trainer Kathy Ritvo
But if the day belonged to Mucho Macho Man, the night, and the 2013 racing season, belonged to three-time champion Wise Dan; Javier Castellano, whose $26-million in earnings and win percentage of 22 was good enough to eclipse the remarkable comeback of co-finalist Gary Stevens.

Castellano’s acceptance speech, honoring the forcibly retired Ramon Dominguez, was perhaps touching moment of the night, followed closely by Pletcher’s emotional tribute to his parents and tragically injured barn favorite, Caixa Electronica.

And, of course, there were the characteristically upbeat words of “the coach,” Merit Award winner Wayne Lukas and his owner, Willis Horton, whose unforgettable speech went on longer than Jacqueline Bisset’s at the Golden Globes but no one seemed to mind. In fact, the crowd loved it.

The saga of the Comeback Kid continues
Photo by: Toni Pricci
The saga of the Comeback Kid continues
Congratulations to all remaining winning practitioners; Pletcher, who stands alone as the sport’s only six-time Eclipse-winning trainer; Castellano; the Ramsey’s, the sport’s outstanding owners and breeding; and apprentice Victor Carrasco.

Juveniles Shared Belief, undefeated in three starts with nary a win on dirt or turf, and She’s A Tiger, who compiled the most comprehensive among the juvenile fillies; Beholder, who stepped up on the big stage, narrowly defeating a filly who compiled an impressively diverse body of work, Princess Of Sylmar.

Of course, there was Royal Delta who did more than enough before tailing off at season’s end, winning an Eclipse for the a third straight year, and kudos to sprinters Points Offthebench and the filly, Groupie Doll; Dank, the best turf mare seen in action in America in 2013, and steeplechase champion Divine Fortune.

But the most memorable campaign waged in 2013 perhaps belonged to a horse that closes like the wind; on the racetrack and in his peer group. It took Will Take Charge virtually an entire year to get his act together but, when he did, the results were extraordinary. The top three year old of 2013 was the 25th Eclipse champion coached by Darrell Wayne Lukas who warned his younger rivals that he’s coming after them in 2014.

Written by John Pricci

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