Monday, November 04, 2013
The Post-Breeders’ Cup Awards
For the second straight year, a small group of friends and I enjoyed the Breeders' Cup from a Hyatt Place in Uncasville, CT (short drive to Mohegan Sun). Normally we're used to feeling like complete and pathetic losers.
Then a 32-1 horse was DQd to first place, which opened up the window for a nice Pick 4. They were alive and when Mizdirection bombed down the lane for her second straight Turf Sprint, they hit the Pick 4 for $2,100. My dinner at Margaritaville was totally free. They also hit 4-of-6 on the Pick 6. They finished second in their losing legs with Sprint and Juvenile. I may have ordered an extra margarita if they hit that.
So, yes, they were winners and will presented with a Carryover Trophy of Honor. Many other connections, horses, trainers, jockeys also deserved a trophy. And the winners are:
Most Valuable Player: Kathy Ritvo
At first this was going to Mucho Macho Man and Gary Stevens, and they're worthy attendants to this. But Kathy Ritvo, trainer to Mucho Macho Man, became the first woman trainer to win the Breeders' Classic Classic.
I loved this horse from start. He was the best and had the right kind of preparation to win this race. No other horse in this field had quite the positive progression he did. Credit that to Ritvo.
Mucho Macho Man rated perfectly in the middle of the pack while Fort Larned, Moreno and Game On Dude battled on the lead. It set up perfectly for Mucho Macho Man, who put a head in front at the top of the lane. Will Take Charge stormed up to challenge and lost by the smallest of margins.
But Ritvo and MMM weren't the only winners. Gary Stevens pulled off the Breeders' Cup Double: Distaff and Classic.
He won the Distaff aboard Beholder and the Classic aboard MMM. This triumvirate of MMM, Ritvo and Stevens are the ultimate champions and the ultimate winners of an epic weekend of horse racing.
Least Valuable Player: Todd Pletcher
It hurts to call the greatest trainer in the game a loser, but he's measured by what happens on the sport's biggest stage, and on said biggest stage he laid an egg. Let's look at the horses he had going this weekend that came up empty:
Princess of Sylmar, likely the Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, she finished last of them all in the Breeders' Cup Distaff behind Beholder, Close Hatches, Authenticity, Royal Delta and Street Girl.
His Havana, the monster two-year-old he trained to a 102-Beyered maiden win and a 93-Beyer win in the Grade 2 Champagne, got caught up in a hot pace and finished second to New Year's Eve.
He had Capo Bastone in the Turf Sprint, and he had Palace Malice in the Classic, who ran a flat race after spilling out of the gate.
The Remember-Me?-Award: Richard Mandella
He’s not the mainstream trainer he once was when he won four Breeders’ Cup races in 2003, or when he had the monster Rock Hard Ten who had a hand in ruining Smarty Jones’ bid for the Triple Crown, but by defeating Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar with Beholder in the Distaff, Mandella, said, in essence, remember me?
Mandella has won eight Breeders’ Cup races—all at Santa Anita. It’s his home track and when Beholder romped in the Distaff, the world had to say, ‘Oh, yeah, that guy, I remember him.’
Underlay of the Year: Verrazano
This warms my heart. Listen, I don’t openly root against horses, I just love horses who take a ton of money for no reason and have no shot at winning because they choke when it matters.
Verrazano was the undefeated world beater of the Wood Memorial before gagging in the Derby (some may argue he had excuses because of the track and the awful pace scenario, but nuts to the them). He opened a can of Whoop Donkey on foes at Monmouth and the Pegasus and Haskell, but choked again when legacy was on the line in the Travers.
He had a long layoff before attempting a distance more suited to his abilities and proceeded to finish a distant fourth. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, is only left to scratch his head.
Heart Breaker Award: Royal Delta
It all started on the wrong hoof when Bill Mott’s Ron the Greek scratched a few days ago with an abscess. Mott had to feel good because he still had alpha mare Royal Delta in the Distaff and Flat Out in the Classic.
Then, everything fell, a-part, you can count on that, you can count on that …
Royal Delta didn’t get over the track well and finished fourth as the favorite. She won the Distaff the last two years and won several Grade 1s.
Rodney Dangerfield Award: Groupie Doll
How did this mare go off at 7-2?
She broke from the outside and rated perfectly, calmly, confidently in the four-path around the turn. She traveled smoothly turning for home before putting a head in front. She turned back all challengers and won her second straight Filly and Mare Sprint.
She won her first race of the season on dirt, then turned in two lackluster efforts on synthetic surfaces. She clearly loves dirt and loves Santa Anita and proved she’s the champ of this division.
Best Continent Award: Europe
The Europeans know their wine, cheese, French Kings and horse racing.
Not only are they more stylish, possess more culture and history, they also had a day in the Breeders’ Cup. It's almost enough to forget that Napoleon Bonaparte tried to take over the world and failed miserably fighting a Russian winter, getting exiled to Elba before coming back to get slaughtered at Waterloo.
They won the Marathon with London Bridge; they won the Turf with Magician; they won the Juvenile Turf with Outstrip; they won the Filly and Mare Turf with Dank. Even Declaration of War hung on for third in the Classic. Five wins in America's World Championships, that's what you call "Winner, winner lobster dinner."
Celebrity Winner Award: Jim Rome
Two years in a row Mizdirection, a filly, beat the boys in the Turf Sprint. I thought the outside post was going to hurt her. I thought she'd lose too much ground over the course of the entire race. Her finishing kick gives you an idea of just how talented she is.
The Jungle will be roaring when Jim Rome goes on the air today.
The This-Is-The-Life-You-Signed-Up-For Award: John Velazquez
Sadly, this is life as a jockey in horse racing.
John Velazquez, Hall of Fame jockey, winner of thousands of horse races, suffered a day-ending injury Saturday. His horse, Secret Compass, broke down, dumping Velazquez and ending his day. To keep things in perspective, Secret Compass had to be euthanized, a sad truism in horse racing.
Velazquez's injury cost him his mount on Havana, the freakish two-year-old colt who finished second in the Juvenile as a heavy favorite. He also lost the mount on Wise Dan, winner of the $2 million Mile. He also lost mounts on Point of Entry and Justin Phillip. A door closes for the injured jockey, and opens for others in the jock's room.
No one understands this more than Velazquez. In 2011, an injury to Robby Albarado opened up the mount on Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. This happened.
King of the World Award: Wise Dan
What can you say? Wise Dan was absolutely brilliant in the Mile (sorry, Johnny Velazquez). He probably won't win Horse of the Year, but his effort in the Mile was a sight to see.
He ran a relative clunker at Keeneland in the Shadwell "Turf" Mile, the quotization marks are because it got rained off the grass and thrown onto the awful monstrosity that is Polytrack.
Wise Dan won this race a year ago, and he was a deserving favorite. He tracked the field in mid-pack while the front end set brutal, Wise Dan-friendly fractions. Turning for home, Jose Lezcano straightened him out, and he blitzed for the lead like the champion he is.
The win keeps him in contention for Horse of the Year honors, but no matter what, he lived up to his immense talent, a true headliner.
The Skin-Crawling-Awkward Award: Kristen Chenoweth
I was seriously ready to reserve this slot for a horse that disappointed during the Classic ... but ... Kristen Chenoweth stood in the winner's circle and sang The Best is Yet to Come.
For some folks, perhaps this was a charming warm up for the Breeders' Classic, the greatest race on American soil (yeah, take that Kentucky Derby!). It was irritating. It was, dare I say, out of place, disconcerting and unsettling.
All right, the subtext makes sense: The best is yet to come. I get it. The meaning of the song is implicit and the Classic is befitting of a song that tells it how it is. But when four guys in a hotel room simultaneously recoil at the sight of Chenoweth, that's a telling review. The only thing that bailed her out was the sun setting on the San Gabriel mountains.