Sunday, October 03, 2010
Finally, and Presently, Horse of the Year
(CHICAGO, IL – October 4, 2010) So this is how it ends – not with a bang but a whimper. Zenyatta ran her unbeaten streak to 19 at Hollywood Park, beating four fillies and mares in catch-your-breath style. Yet, not one was the runner she had to defeat.
Following a ballyhooed workout in Saratoga, the reigning Horse of the Year, who was sound as the Yuan, was retired. Jess Jackson, member spokesman for Stonestreet Farm in whose colors the filly ran, announced this past week that Rachel Alexandra was off to meet Curlin. His statement was brief and admirably truthful – the filly that thrilled us last year was no more. Enough was enough.
A debate now exists that will never be settled. The question is not which horse of different times was the better – an irresolute argument. But which horse of a concurrent time could have won had they met on the racetrack and, more importantly, why fans were denied their engagement.
In any case, organizers now have a month to fossick for a challenger to make the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic a compelling horse race. On the other hand, the event’s 26th edition will most likely come down to the question of whether or not the unbeaten winner of 19 straight races can deliver a 20th victory.
Except for the streak, the upcoming Breeders’ Cup seems short of story lines. So far, the fact that its two major races will be run under lights is its most interesting news. There won’t be the same number of clashes between European-based horses with those from the USA on the main track as there were in California. There aren't many natural rivalries. Attention will swirl about Boys At Tosconova, the country's best juvenile colt, and Workforce, the Arc winner, an off-again, on-again candidate for the Turf, and, of course, Goldikova.
There was so much to enjoy for horse racing fans this weekend that even Major League Baseball with its pennant races, NFL Sunday and the rain-ruined Ryder Cup action on television didn’t create a distraction. From coast to coast and in between, as well as on distant shores, the sport enjoyed an unusually fine 48 hours. Coincidentally, attendance and betting were up in New York, California, Philadelphia, Indiana and Paris. But few winners anywhere won in a way to suggest they’d topple Zenyatta for Eclipse Award honors.
Lookin at Lucky has every opportunity to beat the unbeaten wonder in Louisville. The Preakness and Haskell winner was favored at Ladbrokes to defeat her at Churchill Downs before he turned in an impressive rush in the Indiana Derby, and was listed at the same odds as her with William Hill, Paddy Power and several other exchanges. But he won’t beat her in the balloting. Ability is not all that voters depend on when casting their ballots.
Blame was a close third in the ante-post Eclipse Award voting, but he laid an egg against the New York-bred Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, a race that took place before an inordinate number of voters. The defeat, while not his fault entirely, occurred with him as the 4-5 favorite. Should the four-year-old son of Arch make a successful comeback, he’d be four for five on the year, three for four in Grade 1 competition. But Zenyatta will be six for seven and, more importantly, excused for her one loss as if it was simply inevitable.
Goldikova could win an unprecedented third Breeders’ Cup Mile, but she’ll be viewed as a foreigner – a brilliant eight-furlong specialist that wouldn’t have a ten-furlong chance against the crème de la crème at that distance. Quality Road, who is similarly limited, isn’t fully committed to the 1-1/4 miles despite trainer Todd Pletcher’s insistence that the bay colt by Elusive Quality is a Horse of the Year prospect. Blind Luck will settle on winning the Friday night feature – a conciliatory event for the lesser sex in the jaundiced eyes of equine misogynists. But she’s lost two in a row now, three out of eight starts this year, which sounds like a Filly and Mare champ, not a Horse of the Year. After this weekend, nix Rail Trip, JP’s Gusto and any other wild-ass idea that’s out there. Moreover, it’s time for a make-up kiss.
Six to nine Breeders’ Cup races will end up as coronations, if past is prologue. But the Breeders’ Cup Classic will not – that is, unless Blame or Quality Road finishes first or second. Then the race would give Older Horse Eclipse Award accolades to one of the two. For all practical purposes, Lookin for Lucky, win or lose, is the year’s number one three-year-old colt. What he does in the race will be moot on just about everything.
For these reasons and many others, the past weekend’s races provided the throwback experience of consequence. They may have been billed as Breeders’ Cup Preview events, but they, in fact, were de facto title fights. As for the long-awaited fate of horse racing’s premium attraction, you can engrave the Horse of the Year title on Zenyatta’s vita. In one regard, what happens from here on is superfluous.
Vic Zast has attended all 26 end-of-year Breeders’ Cup championship events. You’re invited to join him on Facebook.com/viczast and Twitter.com/viczast.