Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Kangaroos and Moo-cows

As all the attention was being cast in the eastern direction of Kentucky, a tidbit of news filtered out of the west that a strategic alliance had been formed between Santa Anita Park in California and the Victoria Racing Club, operators of Flemington Racecourse, in Australia.

The far-reaching Aussies, in an attempt to lure USA- trained long distance runners to their countrys shores, announced that Santa Anita agreed that the winner of the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap, a $250,000 Grade 2 stakes, would become automatically qualified to run in the Melbourne Cup, one of the worlds richest races.

What makes the announcement noteworthy is that it is one of a growing number of recent revelations that United States racing and breeding interests are beginning to recognize that the world is flat. Disregard the $4 million discrepancy in prize money between the Cap and the Cup, the difference between these races is more than a vowel. But, nevertheless, a bond was forged.

Each spring (or autumn, according to some calendars) the winner of the Melbourne Cup instantly becomes as famous as Crocodile Dundee. Nearly 120,000 fans, as well as a television audience that is bigger than the Super Bowls, go ga-ga over the goings-on. Befitting The Race that Stops a Nation, the continent proclaims the first Tuesday each November a national holiday and all human movement subsides as the equines are released from the barriers.

Meanwhile, the San Juan Capistrano is a yawner thats been won in recent years by Ringaskiddy, Single Empire and Raintrap ever hear of them? Granted, the likes of Seabiscuit, Noor, Cougar II, John Henry and Kotashaan shook the good earth in prior years, but that was when Nicole Kidman was a gleam in the eye of her parents. The comparison between these two events is as obvious as apples are to oranges, or, shall it be said, kangaroos to moo-cows.

Last year, the Japanese ran one-two in the Melbourne Cup. And before them, shippers from Ireland, England and the UAE have hit the board in the Melbourne Cup a race that traces back to 1861. But no American-trained horse has ever even competed in it. For well over a century, the race had been a Aussies-only affair out of sight from the world and devoid of international involvement. The situation now appears to be changing.

One reason is that the blood of American-raced horses is becoming significant Down Under. Elusive Quality, Henny Hughes and Bernardini are the latest sires that are scheduled to shuttle between our shores and the South Pacific continent. Undoubtedly, someone has put two and two together to calculate that a Melbourne Cup-winning, American-raced stallion would be worth beaucoup bucks. In at least one regard, it seems that green is the color of Bluegrass.

Australia, the Far East, Dubai and Western Europe are regions at their zenith in terms of the sports popularity, level of competition and enjoyment. One easily can make the argument that horse racing, like baseball and basketball and hockey, is a pastime that is played at a higher grade at racetracks that dont have an American zip code. Only 15 percent of all $1 million races are held in the United States, debunking the myth that our hemisphere features the worlds premier fixtures. Go to the races abroad once, and you find yourself bored with the American counterpart.

Supremacy in the sport has long seemed to be an American birthright. But times are different now. All the most significant developments are happening offshore. You can hold out for as long as you care in giving them your props. But the foreigners have come, they have prospered and theyve conquered.

Good fortune, San Juan Capistrano winner. Racing without your medications, on turf against the worlds most accomplished grass horses, halfway around the globe youre going to need luck, mate.

Written by Vic Zast

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Appetizers and Evangelists Curlin and Street Sense Look Ahead

As the green and gold racing colors of Curlin were being painted on the horse and rider statue at Oaklawn Park, people connected to the Arkansas Derby winner, like the TV evangelists in Hot Springs, were singing Hallelujah.

I saw Seabiscuit in 1939 and this one reminds me of Ghostzapper, Dr. Fager and Secretariat, overstated Jess Jackson, perhaps under the influence of some of the Sonoma Valley wines that made him rich enough to co-own a horse like Curlin.

Jackson and two others Satish Sanan, representing Padua Stables, and George Bolton paid $3.5 million to Bill Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. on Super Bowl Sunday for the right to flip a coin to see whose silks would be worn when the horse ran.

I rode a horse of the year, and this horse does all the same things, said Robby Albarado. I just wanted to keep underneath him, the jockey admitted, as if falling off their mounts is a common problem for riders in a $1 million race.

Weve had plenty of nice horses. Nice horses dont do what he can do, explained Steve Asmussen, who has 200 horses in training. Tomorrow, Ill have to start planning to win the (Kentucky) Derby, Oaklawns leading trainer mused.

Nearly 58,000 fans disregarded inclement weather to witness the imposing chestnut son of Smart Strike with the white face race to a record 10 length Arkansas Derby victory.

Although critics obsessed with speed will say that Curlins time of 1:50.09 wasnt fast enough, Asmussen noted that the horse ran the last eighth of a mile in 12 seconds. He did nothing to hurt his odds, Asmussen said of the Derbys winter book favorite. Moreover, Albarado rode as though the Derby in Kentucky was the one that he wanted to win, not the one in Arkansas.

In the meantime, just as all this was happening, it became time for the wise guys to remind us that Carl Nafzger intended the same for Street Sense. According to some, the horses nose loss to Dominican in the Blue Grass Stakes was a sign from above that this chosen one is primed to bring an end to another coincidence. No winner seen capturing the Breeders Cup Juvenile has ever won on the first Saturday in May when the world watches.

Regardless, past is rarely prologue at the races, although archivists would prefer that you trust in hindsight. The serial segment of the racing calendar is just about over. Only a lone amuse-bouche the Lexington Stakes on April 21 - remains on the platter. And it, like the left over Swedish meatball that came out of the oven under-sized, will be mainly disregarded.

Ironically, the Lexington Stakes is of some significance. At least one recent winner of the stakes Charismatic in 1999 - repeated his takedown two weeks later. The prep races of late March and early April are the contests that handicappers will focus on. But this is still a game in which a crystal ball is more effective than a horses resume.

After nearly four months of three-year-olds running their hearts for a shot at the Roses, the 2007 Derby Trail ended on Saturday in Hot Springs and Lexington. As it was on the weekend before, when Tiago at 29-1 won the Santa Anita Derby and Nobiz Like Showbiz at 3-5 won the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby were a revelation in the moment nothing more.

Written by Vic Zast

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