Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Long Live the Queen

(LOUISVILLE, KY - November 6, 2010) The only people unsure of Zenyatta’s future after the Breeders’ Cup Classic are her owners Jerry and Ann Moss and the trainer John Shirreffs. Everyone else is calling today’s race the unbeaten mare’s last. You’d be ill advised to assume that we’ll have seen the last of the world’s favorite Thoroughbred if she wins with ease beneath the shadows of the Twin Spires. The show business people that they are, the Mosses may not shut the sport’s biggest act down simply because the current run is over.

The Fantasticks ran 42 years and had 17,162 performances. The Mousetrap began in ’52 and has seen the curtain rise over 24,000 times. “This has been a horse that’s been loved and nurtured for a long time and is putting it all on the line,” Shirreffs noted about Zenyatta in a morning new conference a few days ago. “Her participation raises the sport to a different level,” he said.

Cautious optimism is the tenor of turf writers in the media center. Not one person begins an answer to the question of will she or won’t she win without saying, “Well, I hope she does, but…” Even the most fervent admirers admit the Classic field will be tough to beat – Lookin at Lucky, Blame and Quality Road being the obvious threats to the defending champion’s win skein.

Winning from behind the way she does is tricky business. Blame and Fly Down could block her path to the wire because they’ll be attempting the same route. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith is accustomed to gauging her last-seconds dash against less resolute types. Will his patent patience last a smidgeon too long? It’s called horse racing, isn’t it?

Regardless, the final few hours before the denouement will be as rich in expectation as any the sport has given its fans. This Breeders’ Cup has encountered a fistfight between jockeys in the winner’s circle, several upsets of its brightest stars, Life At Ten’s mysterious circumstances and the defection by Workforce for dubious reasons. A coronation can put the thoughts of all those troubles behind. Zenyatta’s the Queen until somebody beats her or says that she’s finished. Expect neither of those things to happen.

Vic Zast's TrackWords column on Monday will recap the entire Breeders' Cup. This Breeders' Cup was the 27th in a row that he's attended.

Written by Vic Zast

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Two Special Ladies - Really!

(LOUISVILLE, KY – November 5, 2010) The Breeders’ Cup has had a difficult time getting people to think of its Friday program as Ladies Day. Unlike horse racing in other parts of the world where the emphasis is on fashion, US horse racing organizers believe Ladies Day means filling their cards with races for fillies and mares – as if the sport would mean more to women if animals of their gender were contestants.

Even if that was the case, and it’s not, the two best female horses at the Breeders’ Cup this year - Zenyatta and Goldikova - will be running on Saturday. Nevertheless, two ladies in waiting showed their higher-placed sisters their heels in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and the Ladies Classic. Midday came into her race as the lock of the night and she couldn’t get past Shared Account. Blind Luck went off 8-5 and got beat by a bigger margin. Her problem was Unrivaled Belle.

Shared Account, a four-year-old daughter of Pleasantly Perfect, showed her class in the stretch of the Filly and Mare Turf. Up close to the pace for most of the 1-1/2 mile race, she snuck through on the rail at the eighth pole and prevailed by a neck to win the bulk of the $2 million purse. Few bettors gave her a chance from the start. She paid $94.00.

Owner Kevin Plank, who has made Sagamore Farm – the once venerable home of the Vanderbilts – Shared Account's home, gave equal amounts of praise to the filly’s entire team. But jockey Edgar Prado and trainer H. Graham Motion certainly deserve more than others. Prado has ridden the horse nine times, won three times, and finished behind other horses six times by fewer than 12 lengths in total. Motion has coaxed 11 in the money finishes from 16 starts from the bay Keeneland Sales grad.

Thomas Queally, aboard Midday, said, “No, the trip didn’t beat her. The filly that finished first beat her.” All day long, Midday was the one name on everyone’s lips. Obviously, the horse that was given that name is in everyone’s wallets now. Winning two Breeders’ Cups in a row is something that only 10 horses have done. In failing to become number 11, she wasn’t embarrassed.

Unrivaled Belle, the Ladies Classic winner, has been as consistent as you’d want from a runner. She’s hit the board 11 of 12 tries in her life, but managed her long odds today because Blind Luck’s been 15 of 15. The world first heard from her when she knocked Rachel Alexandra off in the Gr. 2 La Troienne Stakes. In this her second start at Churchill Downs, she’s now perfect in Louisville.

Uncharacteristically, jockey Kent Desormeaux didn’t have Unrivaled Belle in her usual pace pressing spot at the beginning. But he took the lead with his Unbridled’s Song filly heading into the last turn and kept widening his lead until Blind Luck just couldn’t overcome it.

Critics of Blind Luck will say that facing older horses is what did the 3-year-old filly in. That might not have been what it was. Trainer Bill Mott had the winner’s circle in mind for Unrivaled Belle for quite some time and he found it. “She was really full of run,” Desormeaux said. “What surprised me about today was how she sat behind horses.” There were no horses before her at the finish.

Vic Zast will be back with more from Churchill Downs tomorrow.

Written by Vic Zast

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Breeders’ Cup Tips for Day One

(LOUISVILLE, KY – November 05, 2010) The weather for the first day of Breeders’ Cup racing was meant to be miserable. The forecast was for 43 degrees with a slight chance of sleet. Not ideal for a horse race, especially when there’s an option that guarantees blue skies, warm sun and a view of the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s going to be 87 degrees at Santa Anita today, cooling to 79 tomorrow. No chance of rain either day. Here it’s partially sunny with frost on the turf course.

It’s bad enough to watch a football game bundled in blankets like a mummy. But the misery subsides in three hours. At the races, the chill sets into your bones with three to four races to go. You sit there, stunned by the cold; it’s not good for the handicapping. The pace of a day at the races favors leisurely time-wasting, thoughtful reflection, careful calculation – none of that is done with a hot cocoa in hand.

Oh, well. These winners should warm the cockles of your heart if not your toes. Take Bright Horizon or Precision Break on the basis that Euros are better suited than American-trained horses to get a long distance. Together looms over the others in class. Moontime Missy will be in the exacta, so at 30-1 why not bet her to win? Box Awesome Feather with Theyskens’ Theory and Sara Louise for a boxcar exacta. Defending champ Midday is the lock of the day. It won’t be easy for Blind Luck, but the children of Pollard’s Visions have heart.

Churchill Downs appears empty. But it’s likely the crowds are inside. The track’s carded four races to lead into the televised portion; each is better than the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. The $85,000 Jimmy V. “Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up” Stakes, which goes as the third race, features Cool Bullet against Bulldogger, Backtalk and Noble’s Promise. The fourth is the $100,000 Gr. 3 Ack Ack Handicap. The 1-1/16 mile test brings together Apart, Demarcation, Colizeo and Jackson Bend.

The working press is chowing down on free garlic studded steak and pecan crusted trout in the Joe Hirsch Media Center. Yesterday, it was nasty fried hamburgers (yum!) in butter sauce, lying like upside-down divots in casual water. Popcorn is always available. Concessions carry steep prices elsewhere.

Good luck from Vic Zast in a box on the third floor clubhouse of Churchill Downs. More tomorrow, unless you’re a Facebook friend.

Written by Vic Zast

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Bill Nack, Toby Keith, Grey Geese

(LOUISVILLE, KY - November 5, 2010) That was Bill Nack, standing alone, taking in the crowd and sipping a Coca-Cola, as the bartenders served purple-colored Grey Goose vodka concoctions to the Toby Keith concert-goers at the KFC Yum Center last night. Secretariat the movie has had its five minutes of fame. Nack’s book remains in the Top 10 on the New York Times best-seller list. But it’s all about Zenyatta now.

“History won’t be kind to her, if she doesn’t win Saturday,” Nack predicted. The author of Big Red of Meadow Stable noted the weakness of the unbeaten mare’s competition so far and the fact that her Beyers have rarely exceeded 100. “You can’t write that she might lose. The Z-lots will kill you,” he said. Still he wrote and voiced a segment about the sport’s latest star that will begin the ABC/ESPN telecast from Churchill Downs. “I’d like you to see it. Do you Tivo?” he asked.

Nack has become the modern-age Jack Whitaker – the poet laureate for a sport suited perfectly for bon mots but often a target for slings and arrows. He’s the latest incarnation of Heywood Hale Broun, except you don’t see him on camera. Looking a bit like the old NHL-er Reggie Fleming, who passed away recently, Nack appears satisfied with letting his words represent him.

“They came to me, but I passed on it,” the writer said, when asked if he’d be producing a book about Zenyatta. “I’m working on a book about the Battle of Antietam,” he explained.

Vic Zast will share his picks for today's Breeders' Cup races later this morning. But, it's tomorrow in the Breeders' Cup Turf that he's got the big one. Also take a look at HRI's BC Classic Media Selections

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

As Temperatures Drop, Activity Heats Up

(LOUISVILLE, KY – November 4, 2010) Churchill Downs is dressed in purple. The names of Breeders’ Cup sponsors are everywhere. In the frosty mornings, the steam rising from conversation reminds everyone that winter is near. The temperatures are turning colder by the hour. Daytime highs are hitting new lows. Today’s temperature is expected to reach only 53, tomorrow’s only 43. There will be a rush to buy blankets by the people with seats in the open air.

Workforce, despite his expensive flight, is unlikely for the Turf. No Arc winner has ever won a Turf or Classic, so it’s little surprise. The “no-give” in the turf course is the complaint of his trainer. From the stands it looks emerald and lush, but Sir Michael Stoute says its bone-jarring. Over the years, the Europeans have learned to send horses that don’t mind a firm course. Goldikova and Midday, for example, should be pleased with the going. Garrett Gomez, who took Al Khali for a spin, told trainer Bill Mott it was perfect.

The dirt track is fast and speed is holding. Yet it appears to Zenyatta’s liking. The unbeaten star of this year’s Breeders’ Cup had her first local gallop on Wednesday and her exercise rider Steve Willard said afterward, “She’s terrific, she couldn’t be training better.” Willard said the horse was pushing off and moving forwardly with every step of her workout. He considered her action improved from the way it was on the synthetic track. Is that possible? Expectations are running high in the six-year-old mare’s camp.

Later, in the afternoon, Zenyatta was schooled in the paddock. Jerry and Ann Moss joined several hundred onlookers for yesterday’s second race. They were there to see her, not the $10,000 claimers being saddled or Blind Luck, another Breeders’ Cup race favorite that was also getting a feel of the premises. Zenyatta obliged them by doing nothing. With trainer John Shirreffs standing guard, she edged to the back of the stall, filled its horizontal space as if she was wallpaper and stood motionless for nearly 20 minutes.

Vic Zast will be posting something new from Louisvville intermittedly, usually by 11:00 am each morning. Keep checking FastWords.

Written by Vic Zast

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