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Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Breeders’ Cup XXIX: The Good, The Bad and The Mezza Mezza


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 5, 2012—We say it every year, but only because it’s true. While some editions are better than others, as an event the Breeders’ Cup never fails to fire.

Here are about a dozen things that came to mind over a very long—too long—two days. I mean what does the Breeders’ Cup think it is, the Saratoga race meet? Speaking of which:

Local Boys Make Good

Chad Brown’s career season rolls on. While Awesome Feather’s tendons likely didn’t appreciate the loose surface, the turf horses were just fine, thank you.

Zagora is the very likely Filly and Mare Eclipse champion and finishing second in the Juvenile Fillies Turf behind French invader Flotilla.

Brown also saddled the second and third finishers in the male division with Noble Tune and Balance The Books trailing only George Vancouver at the finish.

It’s not a given, even with the best horses going in, that all your horses will show up on the day. Ask the trainer of Game On Dude.

Then there’s Don Lucarelli from nearby Duanesberg, a prominent member of the Starlight Racing syndicate that owns what should be a unanimous choice for Juvenile champion, undefeated Shanghai Bobby.

And props for Rosie Napravnik, who didn’t panic and get stick happy when ‘Bobby’ wanted to lay down with a quarter-mile remaining after chasing hot early fractions and used a vigorous, in-sync hand ride aboard the winner.

Frankel Wins Another!

No, not the greatest horse that ever lived (this year, anyway); it's the other Frankel, Guillermo, who had 9-year-old Calidoscopio ready to run them all down in the 14th and final furlong of the Marathon. (Great handling from Aaron Gryder, too).

Wise Dan, America's Most Gifted and Accomplished Race Horse

Now that mathematician who has enjoyed success predicting presidential election results would probably find that Wise Dan has about a 92% chance to be crowned 2012 Horse of the Year.

But is should not be a knee-jerk slam dunk, not when he probably shouldn’t be named the champion of what his connections think is his best game: Turf.

Remember, the Classic was an option. Good for them. They rolled the dice, got the money, and really got lucky when Game On Dude was a no-show.

The connections said a month ago that Horse of the Year wasn’t that important because Wise Dan is a gelding. But when asked about Horse of the Year, trainer Charlie Lopresti told NBC “let’s see what Game On Dude does later on.”

Looks like they had their cake and are likely to enjoy a healthy slice of it, too.

Stated previously, we don’t believe Wise Dan’s record is as compelling as Little Mike’s within the turf division. Little Mike has three Grade 1s of his own: Churchill’s Turf Classic at 9 furlongs in the spring, the prestigious Arlington Million over international rivals at 10 furlongs in summer, and the mile and a half Breeders’ Cup Turf in the fall, defeating last year’s defending Turf titlist in the process.

The Biggest Loser

I wouldn’t have a problem if Wise Dan finished third in the voting for Turf champion. Because Point of Entry, with three Grade 1s of his own, at routes and not at a specialized distance, went into the Breeders’ Cup with Horse of the Year aspirations and came out second or third best in his own division. Too bad: As the race was run, he was probably best.

Feline Speed Machine

Also, as mentioned previously, were it not for the fact that there is now an Eclipse for champion sprinting female, Groupie Doll might have won that category, which now will go deservedly to Trinniberg.

Wouldn’t it have been great to see her against males? In her case, that didn’t make sense—we’re not talking Horse of the Year here.

In any case, kudos to the Bradley family, trainer Billy “Buff,” and his dad and breeder, renaissance man Fred Bradley. Great management of a filly that has a chance to be an all-time great sprinter. Looking forward to 2013.

Delta Lady

That would be the speedy Royal Delta, not the one that usually waits until she’s ready to pounce—and then pounces!

Mike Smith jargoned “we caught a flyer out of the gate,” meaning she broke like a rocket. But Smith already was playing the speed bias (see Atigun).

Just for an instant after passing headstretch that a serious challenge would come for Include Me Out, who showed up big time on the big stage—but the big MARE was too much race horse. Her performance was what we come to expect from Bill Mott trainees in the fall.

So, now, Smith is the winningest jockey in Breeders’ Cup history* with 16 victories. The asterisk came into play last year when Smith rode his 15th BC winner, then record holder/analyst Jerry Bailey pointed out there were only seven, not 15, races back in the days he did most of his riding.

Bailey’s not wrong. But even at a young age--when agent Steve Adika had his book--Mike Smith was always a “big-race ridin’ SOB.”

Fort Larned Is No Curlin

No disparagement here—onlyacknowledgment that Fort Larned, the 2012 Older Male Champion favorite, will be the fifth consecutive Classic winner not named Horse of the Year.

That’s not bad news for the game. What it means is that, unlike traditional major sports, the regular season still matters.

It was heartwarming to see Janis Whitham, one of the sport’s pillars, and the low-key race horse developing Ian Wilkes showing class and confidence by keeping young Brain Hernandez in the boot. Happy 27th, young man; $270K is an awful lot of (birthday) cake.

Prime Time a Success; Patient Dies a little

Early reports that TV ratings for Breeders’ Cup 29 were bad were, well, bad. Overnight ratings of 2.2 was nearly double that of last year’s 1.2 (final ratings released November 6). The handle? Not so much.

There was a 5% handle decrease on Friday that about doubled for the two-day event and that’s significant, much of those losses on Saturday’s last three races with an 8:43 p.m. Classic in the East.

Further, this year’s renewal did not boast enough compelling performers. Equine superstars notwithstanding, a significant number of New York and New Jersey horseplayers were knocked out of action by super-storm Sandy.

(As you read this, 20% of Long Island is still without power. Have no idea what those poor Jerseyites are up against--and the gas shortage still looms extremely large in both states).

A Bloody Controversy

Three Lasix-free juveniles bled, one badly, which begs the question how many horses bleed through Lasix on any day at any track in the country? We don’t know because when it comes to medication, the industry would still rather not ask and not tell.

If every horse were scoped after every race, a majority would show some evidence of exercise-induced pulmonary edema. Those that bled did have the option of racing Lasix-free throughout the year but horsemen danced those dances and took their best hold at Santa Anita last weekend.

Two juveniles that raced last weekend that did not use furosemide in their pre-Cup campaigns didn’t bleed and the winners of both juvenile dirt races were coming off Lasix, including the hot-pace chasing, hot-day racing, exhausted Shanghai Bobby.

The grand Lasix-free experiment, in the main, was a failure at the entry box and at the box office. The real test comes in 2013 when all races will be Lasix-free. Horsemen can do one of two things: prepare for that eventuality or leave all that money and prestige on the table.

Written by John Pricci

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