Wednesday, October 03, 2012

In And You Win

ELMONT, NY, October 3, 2012—So you thought last Saturday was super? Think again. Enter Keeneland, making the racing Friday through Sunday in Lexington, Elmont and Arcadia the Mother of All Breeders’ Cup prep weekends.

According to information provided by Breeders’ Cup Ltd., there will be no fewer than 15 “Win and You’re In” events. And that’s significant, too.

The economy still is what it is what maybe it’s due to some feeling of acrimony between horsemen and Breeders’ Cup, precipitated by the “No Lasix” mandate in all events for juveniles.

Most horsemen are resentful, make no mistake, but this game never, ever has been happy with anything other than the status quo. There have been a number of juvenile defections already, reasons which are any other than the real issue.

Yes, I know, they believe it’s unfair to the division as a whole that championship events will be held without the performance-enhancing diuretic:

Horses on Lasix run faster than horses racing without it. What would you call it other than performance enhancing. And, parenthetically, Lasix does not “prevent” bleeding, it retards it. Ever hear of a horse “bleeding through Lasix?”

There is one point made by horsemen does ring true. It does throw a huge monkey wrench into betting on any of the juvenile events. How horses--even young ones who don’t “need” the medication per se—will react when it is withdrawn is unknowable.

Of course, owners and trainers did have the option of running without it all season, but that doesn’t fit neatly into various training “programs.” But, I digress.

This year, then, the “Win and You’re In” economic incentive is more important than ever.

On Tuesday’s NTRA tele-conference, Dale Romans, spoke of Breeders’ Cup participation for his 3-year-old turf star, Silver Max, the acknowledged leader of that class most of the season:

Said Romans: “We don’t know what his peak is or could be. We have to run in the Shadwell, evaluate his race and see what we want to do.

“It’s expensive [to run in the Breeders’ Cup]. He may not run at all. Even without [heavy favorite] Wise Dan, we’ll see what [Silver Max] is made of.”

Romans is not the only one looking for answers or, at least, seeking confirmation of where he’s at and where he’s going next. So is Charlie Lopresti, trainer of Wise Dan, ranked third in this week’s NTRA poll.

“He worked [great] other day, just like in Saratoga after the Fourstardave. He came out of the [Woodbine Mile] very, very well, so we decided that we might as well run him.

“Otherwise, I would have to work him Saturday and maybe two or three times after that. But if he shows any indication he’s not ready to run, then he won’t.”

‘Now if Wise Dan runs well and comes out of the [Shadwell Turf Mile] well, we’ll go on to the Breeders’ Cup. This race could knock him out. If we don’t go [to Breeders’ Cup], we can look at the [Churchill’s Grade 1] Clark on dirt.

The remarkable 5-year-old Wise Dan has won graded stakes on three surfaces; dirt, turf and synthetics.

The most disappointing aspect with regard to Breeders’ Cup is that Lopresti and owner Morton Fink do not plan to keep their options open by cross-entering in the Mile and Classic, even with a strong possibility of becoming Horse of the Year.

“If we go to California we know where we’ll run,” Lopresti said, giving every indication that it would be in The Mile on the turf.

“We’re not too overly concerned with [becoming Horse of the Year]. “He’s a gelding so it wouldn’t enhance his stud value.”

It’s refreshing when horsemen are completely forthcoming and guileless. But the admission that Wise Dan’s connections are “not too overly concerned” with a very winnable Horse of the Year title is not only unwelcome news for Breeders’ Cup but for the sport as well.

Many observers believe that he is, on balance, the most talented horse in America. But perhaps Wise Dan’s people are a little intimidated about meeting Game On Dude at 1-1/4 miles on his home track where he is undefeated in five lifetime starts.

But even European journalists are interested in seeing Wise Dan run in the Classic. Sam Walker of the Racing Post wrote this week that it would be “wise for Dan” to run in the Classic, using Racing Post ratings to make his case.

The top ranked horse in the world combining all surfaces is the amazing undefeated Frankel, ranked at 142 pounds on turf, 12 pounds higher than co-runners-up Black Caviar and Cirrus Des Aigles at 130.

In this category, Wise Dan is tied for sixth at 128 pounds, earned for his efforts on All-Weather and dirt surfaces. All other horses ranked above him are European turf specialists.

On turf, Wise Dan is rated at 127 pounds, the leading American turf horse but which places him in a five-horse dead-heat for seventh with five European runners.

On dirt, however, Wise Dan is rated at 128, one more pound than retired dual Classic winner I’ll Have Another and three pounds higher than Game On Dude.

Additionally, Wise Dan is the top rated All-Weather horse in the world at 128, one pound more than Pacific Classic-winning 3-year-old Dullahan and again three pounds higher than Game On Dude at 125, based on his Hollywood Gold Cup score.

As the lottery people say and keeping with this weekend’s theme, only in reverse, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Unless, of course, your horse is a gelding, and purse money is the prime motivator.

Imagine what American racing history would look like if the connections of Kelso, Forego and John Henry felt the same way. I wonder what Sam Rubin, owner of the legendary John Henry, would do?

Twice Horse of the Year and a four-time turf champion, John Henry, in addition to winning the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup, remains only one of three horses to win the Santa Anita Handicap back-to-back in ‘81 and ’82.

In 1984, at age 9, he became the oldest horse to win Horse of the Year even without a victory in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic. But not for lack of trying.

Because his sire, Ole Bob Bowers, wasn’t nominated, Rubin would need to pony up a 20% supplemental few of $400,000 to enter the $2 million Turf. Said Rubin at the time:

''It's a stupid thing to do. I'm doing it for the horse, for the jockey, for the trainer. I could have done without it. I hope he comes out of the race healthy; that's what I hope.”

A crushing blow at the time, John Henry strained a ligament in his left foreleg, he was withdrawn from consideration, and never raced again.

Hopefully, Wise Dan does well enough, and comes out of the Shadwell well enough, to proceed to SoCal on the first Saturday in November. Lopresti said if we go to California, we know where we’ll run. Hopefully there’s still time to reorder priorities.

Written by John Pricci

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