Bill Christine

Bill Christine, whose first Kentucky Derby was in 1968, covered horse racing for 24 years for the Los Angeles Times. He covered every Triple Crown race from 1982 through 2005, and also reported on the first 22 runnings of the Breeders' Cup. Bill has won two Eclipse Awards for turf writing, five Red Smith Awards for best Kentucky Derby stories, two David Woods Awards for best Preakness stories and the National Turf Writers' Association's Walter Haight Award and Pimlico's Old Hilltop Award for career contributions to racing. He was part of the Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for its coverage of the Northridge earthquake the year before.

Bill is a former president of the National Turf Writers' Association. He has worked for the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, where he was assistant to the executive vice president, and is a former sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He wrote Roberto!, a biography of the Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente, in 1972. Bill, who lives in Redondo Beach, California, is working on a history of Bay Meadows. Contact:

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Gold Standard

LAS VEGAS, November 9, 2010--After five days, I took off my Zenyatta ball cap and put it in my suitcase. But the Zenyatta fanatics, all 200 million of you, needn't fret. The cap will go back on soon. I just thought it might be disrespectful, or even bad luck, to be writing about Goldikova in a Zenyatta cap.

On this side of the Atlantic, Zenyatta earned more wordage in defeat than Goldikova did in victory, and I think it's time to right the scale. Goldikova did what Zenyatta or no other horse has been able to do, win three Breeders' Cup races, when she flashed by Sidney's Candy in the Mile at Churchill Downs. At the top of the stretch, much like the feeling you got in many of Zenyatta's races, you sensed that this wasn't going to be Goldikova's day, but what mere mortals we all are, to doubt the incomparable Goldikova. Sidney's Candy didn't appear catchable, and Gio Ponti, the best grass horse in the U.S., was also putting in a late run. Goldikova disposed of them like so many flies on her backside, with a swish or two of her tail.

Christophe Clement, the trainer of Gio Ponti, who finished second, went into the last two Breeders' Cups with a Morton's Fork. He could either run on dirt, against Zenyatta in the Classic, or downsize to the Mile, where Goldikova loomed. In other words, choose your poison. Gio Ponti's resume now reads, second to Zenyatta in 2009 and second to Goldikova in 2010. If horses, like people, are known by the company they keep, Gio Ponti belongs on page one of the Social Register. "I just wish Goldikova wasn't in the race," Clement said after the Churchill Mile. "That (mare) is a freak. She's the best miler we've seen for a long, long time."

For Freddie Head, the former French riding star who trains Goldikova, a long, long time equates to forever. Head rode that other great filly from France, Miesque, to two Breeders' Cup wins, but now he says it's Goldikova first, the rest nowhere. "My English is not good enough to describe (Goldikova)," Head said, but I disagree. It was Maurice Chevalier's English I aways had trouble with. "She can do anything," Head went on to say about Goldikova. "She's kept that freshness that horses start to lose with age, when they get more lazy. I must be a very lucky person."

Soon to turn six, and soon to be bred to some lucky stallion, Goldikova has been around four seasons. There were murmurs in France that her 5-year-old campaign wasn't as starchy as some of the others, but I look at her record and say to myself, what do those Frenchmen expect? For her to put on a smock and show up with an easel? She went to the gate six times and won five, and the only loss, a second-place finish in August, came over a Deauville course that was really a bog.

More than Blame, Goldikova has Horse of the Year credentials, and I'm talking North American Horse of the Year, but that will never happen, of course, because too many of our Eclipse Awards voters are persnickety about giving the title to a horse who's only run once on our shores in any given year. Goldikova will get a few scattered votes, but the ballot box will largely be filled by Zenyatta and Blame supporters.

With apologies to "The Scarlet Pimpernel," you might say this about this French pheenom:

They test her here,
They test her there.
The Frenchies let you test her everywhere.
Is she in heaven?
Is she in hell?
She's Goldikova, you know damn well.

Written by Bill Christine

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