For every defeat of Curlin there was acknowledgment of the sporting gesture made by his connections and the emergence of a pair of young European standouts on America’s biggest stage.
And for every lament regarding the creation of a racing program dedicated to equines of the female persuasion, there was a star named Zenyatta who remained perfect, stepping up to save the day, and a concept.
Zenyatta gave the architects something to build on. Her performance was a rousing one, indeed worthy of a Saturday showcase. But was there not some symmetry in having the stage all to herself, an award-winning actress in a leading role?
But there was no getting away from the notion that expansion, the past and present reality of sports, dilutes specialty and excellence. That was a prevailing theme among the opposition for creating races having no real significance beyond their existence in support of a two-day event.
Until Breeders’ Cup reaches that point--perhaps when races named Breeders’ Cup would reflect only Eclipse Award categories, or perhaps when an expanded program truly represents championship Grade 1 status--expansion serves one function; to grow the bottom line.
Parenthetically, Breeders’ Cup must consider how further expansion could seriously dilute established championship events. The Filly & Mare Sprint is redundant but I understand why it exists, serving Eclipse recognition. But while great milers may be regarded as having the makings of a superb stud, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is a tweener, neither sprint nor classic. And unless it‘s a one-turn mile, what‘s the point?
But what added races do for growing parimutuel handle, synthetic surfaces do in reverse. The wagering public remains confused by them, mostly because early speed loses its efficacy--not on all synthetics, but on most. Only the Juvenile produced a speed-laden result, but maybe Midshipmen and Square Eddie just were the best horses, too.
Handle was down significantly in the Classic likely owing to the pre-publicity surrounding Curlin’s ability to handle an artificial surface, or lack thereof. Pro-Ride plays like grass, over which he suffered his only previous 2008 defeat. One great synthetic-track workout is no guarantor of winning performance. Those concerns probably adversely affected Pick Six and Pick Four handle as well.
As long as Breeders’ Cup is not shy about wanting to grow its handle, it must do much better servicing the wagering public. Over the years I have made repeated requests that equipment and medication changes be announced when the final fields are set at the post position draw. It’s never happened.
Why this is not standard operating procedure is disgraceful. Wagering information is not the exclusive province of the racing office or past-performance disseminators.
Most Breeders’ Cup venues have house rules governing this issue. Blinker, shoe, and medication changes are vital, especially regarding first-time or re-addition of Lasix. Breeders’ Cup, through the auspices of the Santa Anita racing office, did a terrible job at BC 25.
The first nine races were drawn so rapidly, in fact, that literally hundreds of media lacked sufficient time to write down final jockey assignments. Think that’s critical information? Think you might want to know if your choice would be racing on the diuretic in 90-degree heat? To wit:
The enormously gifted and prolific Aidan O’Brien seldom, if ever, ships from Europe to the U.S. without putting his horses on Lasix. And why not? It’s within the rules, levels the playing field and, as everyone knows, is a harbinger of improved performance.
At entry time Tuesday of Breeders’ Cup week, O’Brien entered his horses without requesting Lasix, according to Mike Marten, spokesperson for the California Horse Racing Board, who circulated an e-mail to columnist Nick Kling of the Troy Record. However, either Marten was misinformed, or was misleading.
The e-mail stated O’Brien was “unfamiliar with California authorized bleeder medication procedures.” But O’Brien’s actions and personal past performances belie that statement. Ultimately, O’Brien was granted permission to add Lasix and was fined $2,500 by the stewards for missing the deadline.
On Friday, Bloodstock Research Information Services reported that O’Brien’s Heart Shaped was scheduled to race with first-time Lasix whereas his other starter, Halfway To Heaven, was not. The official track program reported the same information.
After Heaven To Heaven apparently bled, O’Brien approached the stewards to request that all four of his Saturday runners be allowed to race with Lasix. Yet, on Friday, BRIS reported that U S Ranger and Henrythenavigator would race with Lasix, but that Westphalia, Soldier Of Fortune, Red Rock Canyon and Duke Of Marmalade would not. The track program had the same information. The problem is that time-lines don’t jibe.
Early in the day, Trevor Denman announced the late changes, but that’s far from an acceptable system with such a large crowd on hand. In fact, betting information was sloppy all weekend. No less than Zenyatta, a regular Lasix user, was listed as running without it until the announcement corrected the error.
As bad, Sprint winner Midnight Lute, the subject of much speculation regarding his physical condition, had a protective plate removed from a sore hoof. I learned this from Ed Fountaine of the New York Post over post-race cocktails, who said he heard the announcement on the television broadcast. It was not in the program nor do I remember hearing Denman announce it.
There is no event that provides as much information to the racing media for public dissemination than does Breeders’ Cup Ltd. And it’s been that way from year one. But if they truly want to cash in on BC’s popularity as a wagering event, they must remember they’re in the gambling business and do their job correctly.
Breeders’ Cup commendably staged its first steroid-free event this year. Now it’s time to institute another rule. Even if equipment and medication changes are a house rule, make it a Breeders’ Cup rule to avoid confusion that’s costly only to the betting public. Inform the media at the post draw. They’ll take care of the rest.