Monday, November 01, 2010
Past Performance Heaven
LOS ANGELES, November 2, 2010--Tiny Tim tiptoed through the tulips, thanks to a falsetto and a ukulele. I'm not a music-hater, but it's much more fun tiptoeing through the past performances for this or any Breeders' Cup (no uke required, just the Daily Racing Form's Official Guide):
Espoir City, a Japanese 5-year-old trying to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, has earned almost $6 million, about a half-million less than Zenyatta. Purse money in Japan is enough to make U.S. horsemen salivate. Espoir City has run for purses totaling almost $12 million in his last nine races alone. The lowest purse during that stretch was $761,800.
Of Zenyatta's 19 wins, seven have come by margins of one length or less. Her closest race came when she won the 2009 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar by a head over Anabaas Creation. Zenyatta beat Gio Ponti by one length in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Eight of Zenyatta's wins have come at Hollywood Park, where she regularly trains. She's won six times at Santa Anita, three at Del Mar and twice at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, her only starts on dirt and her only races outside California. Should Zenyatta somehow get beat at Churchill Downs, trainer John Shirreffs will not use the dirt surface as an excuse. Shirreffs said early on in Zenyatta's career that she preferred dirt to artificial surfaces.
Zenyatta could become the first 6-year-old to win the Classic. Seven 5-year-olds--Zenyatta, Saint Liam, Pleasantly Perfect, Alphabet Soup, Cigar, Arcangues and Black Tie Affair--have won. Arcangues, who came from France, supposedly with a bad back, broke the backs of most bettors in 1993, paying $269.20 for $2. Four 7-year-olds have tried to win the Classic, the best finish by Savinio in 1997. Of the 18 6-year-old who have failed to win the Classic, the best any did was the Irish horse Ibn Bey's second to Unbridled in 1990.
Of the horses in this year's Classic, only two have won at the 1 1/4-mile distance. Zenyatta won last year's Classic; Haynesfield goes into the Classic off a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Speaking of Haynesfield, if you think Zenyatta is vulnerable, how about a Taurus/Gemini trifecta? Lookin At Lucky, Blame and Haynesfield were all foaled in May.
One syllable and out: Horses whose names have only one syllable have never won the Classic--in fact, the best finish by a one-syllable horse was Swain's third in 1998 at Churchill Downs. Does that make Blame, a colt who's never never been beaten at Churchill, a throwout? (One-syllable words, many of them with only four letters, were also used to describe Frankie Dettori's ride aboard Swain).
There may be six 3-year-olds in the Classic field, which would be the most since there was a sophomore six-pack in 2002. That year, Medaglia d'Oro was second to Volponi, a 43-1 shot, but the other 3-year-olds finished up the track. The best of this year's 3-year-olds is Lookin At Lucky, winner of the Preakness and the Haskell and a colt who would run over nails if they asked him. Three-year-olds win the Classic all the time, the most recent Raven's Pass in 2008 and Curlin in 2007.
The Breeders' Cup horse being asked to do the most is not running in the Classic, but the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Her name is Gabby's Golden Gal, whose last race was on January 31, when she won the Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita. You never know which Gabby's Golden Gal is going to show up. She's won Grade 1 races, but she's also thrown in some duds--including a sixth at Churchill in the Kentucky Oaks last year, when she tried to stare down Rachel Alexandra. Horses sometimes win these races despite long layoffs. Remember Precisionist? In 1985, without a race for 4 1/2 months, he still won the Breeders' Cup Sprint for trainer Ross Fenstermaker.
In the same Breeders' Cup race as Gabby's Golden Gal, Jessica Is Back will be making her 46th start. She's had 12 wins, 13 seconds and four thirds, and has earned almost $800,000 on the installment plan. Twice she's been claimed, for $40,000 and $50,000. She's run at 11 tracks, in seven states and 19 different jockeys have been on her back.
It would have been nice to see a rematch of Zenyatta and Gio Ponti, the 1-2 finishers in last year's Classic, but that isn't going to happen. Gio Ponti, who had been pre-entered for two races, will run instead in the Breeders' Cup Mile, a grass race. He's never run on God's little brown acres. At Santa Anita a year ago, on a synthetic layout, Gio Ponti had the lead with about 50 yards to go, then Zenyatta ran by him to win easily. A month ago, Gio Ponti won a Grade 1 grass race at a mile at Keeneland. Last year, he won a Grade 1 grass race at a mile at Santa Anita. The purses are $5 million for the Classic, $2 million for the Mile. Thinking cheap isn't always a bad thing.