Tuesday, November 10, 2009
LOS ANGELES, November 10, 2009--A few days prior to the Breeders' Cup, I started to write something about how horses with prep races run on dirt had failed so abysmally over Pro-Ride at Santa Anita the year before. I was going to list all of the 2009 dirt-to-Pro-Ride horses, label them throwouts and advise the public that they would be wasting money by betting on any of them. But I didn't finish the column, because this was a preposterous approach. All eight Pro-Ride races in 2008 were won by horses whose final prep was either on a synthetic surface or grass, but surely this wouldn't happen again in 2009.
But it did. All eight Pro-Ride races this year were again won by synthetic or turf prepsters, and horses trying to move from dirt to Pro-Ride were shut out, most of them failing to even hit the board. Are 16 races over two years a representative sample? You bet.
Music Note's final prep was a win in the Beldame, on dirt, at Belmont Park. She won another Grade 1, the Ballerina, on another conventional track, Saratoga, in late August. Most other years, this would have been an ideal prelude to the Breeders' Cup, but at Santa Anita those races were an albatross. Music Note finished third and Careless Jewel went from first after six furlongs to last. Music Note was no match for Life Is Sweet, an 8-1 shot whose seven previous races this year were all on the artificial tracks of California, and Mushka, the second-place finisher at 16-1, was a New York-based horse whose runup to Santa Anita was laced with grass races and one synthetic prep, at Keeneland.
Another Breeders' Cup race, the Dirt Mile that by rights should have been called the Main Track Mile, is a case in point. The stake featured Midshipman and Bullsbay, horses given good chances. Midshipman, for criminy's sake, had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the same track the year before. Bullsbay scored an upset in the Whitney Handicap and was a good third to Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward. But neither Midshipman nor Bullsbay had a chance. Both were Belmont-to-Santa Anita shippers. That spells disaster in the Breeders' Cup. Midshipman was third and Bullsbay finished ninth. The dirt curse had struck again.
D' Funnybone went into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the fourth betting choice, having won the Saratoga Special by 10 1/2 lengths and the Futurity at Belmont by 4 3/4. Wrong. To have a chance in the Breeders' Cup, he should have been at Santa Anita early, running in the Norfolk. A runnerup finish in the Norfolk would have given him more hope than a smashing win on dirt. D' Funnybone was in contention for three-quarters of a mile, before coming in last.
The other Breeders' Cup Pro-Ride races were a broken record. In the Classic, Awesome Gem would have been better served running in the Goodwood, instead of winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup, on dirt. Other throwouts were Summer Bird, even though he won the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Regal Ransom, the Super Derby winner; and Girolamo, undefeated this year. None of these horses finished better than fourth against Zenyatta. Their names were dirt at Santa Anita.
Last year, these horses couldn't overcome the dirt prep-race stigma at Santa Anita: Indian Blessing, the 9-5 favorite in the Filly & Mare Sprint; Munnings, who beat only two horses in the Juvenile; Sky Diva, a 3-1 second choice in the Juvenile Fillies; and Cocoa Beach, third choice in the old Distaff. Curlin, of course, is the poster boy for this thesis. A win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup set him up perfectly for a fall in the Classic.
In retrospect, I wish I had stayed with the idea to write the throwouts column. After another 0 for 8 at the Breeders' Cup by the dirt prepsters, I would have been labeled a genius (well, maybe at least they would have called me a very perceptive guy). But geniuses take chances. I played it safe. Then I went out to Santa Anita and told friends to play a three-horse exacta box that included Summer Bird, with his dirt baggage, and excluded Zenyatta, the queen of the hop. It's like a lawyer of mine once said: "I can't win all my cases."