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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 14, 2021 —  We’re finally getting around to our assessment of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. We say it every year, and will reiterate here: As an event, the Breeders’ Cup never fails to fire.

It wins the day on every level, official screwups notwithstanding, but that of course has nothing to do with the racing. The event delivers what it promises.

As a traditionalist, it is irksome that races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Champagne and others are referenced as “Breeders’ Cup preps.” It stings because it diminishes the prestige of those races.

Prestigious Fall events no longer are championship defining, they now are now the means to an end. But not always. Witness Letruska. Her defeat last Saturday in no way tarnishes her Eclipse credentials as the country’s champion race mare of 2021.

But, say, in the Juvenile categories, results of Future Stars Friday, whenever they were run and whatever they were called, invariably produce divisional champions. That will be the case again this year.

Echo Zulu proved to everyone that she is indeed special; a second turn could not diminish her achievements this year. In fact, her tour de force score enhanced them.

And, no, fans of every stripe did not get to see who was better, Jack Christopher or Corniche. Indeed, both are special colts but as to which would succeed in heads-up battle will have to wait.

All must wait, likely until the 2022 Kentucky Derby, to find out — and only if Corniche is switched to another horseman, which is a different story for a different day.

Post-race, winning owner Peter Fluor said he and partner K.C. Weiner never considered moving Corniche to a different trainer and referred to their great friendship and loyalty on the NBC coverage, but also said “we’re enjoying the moment and down the road we’ll focus on that.”

Speaking of Derby focus, when will the Kentucky Racing Commission finally decide who officially won this year’s Derby? Its inaction thus far makes Merritt Garland look like some reckless adjudicator.

The connections of Medina Spirit and the next three finishers deserve an answer, sooner rather than later. We understand there are always testing and legal issues to consider, but it’s been six months.

Speaking of rules, enhanced safety and medication protocols worked. It’s like any job that requires judgment or execution: When things are done correctly, no one notices.

The exception is the stewards who, upon further review, fined three jockeys for mis-use of the whip per California Racing Rule 1688: two for overuse and one for employing an overhand strike. It was not apparent that the whip rule adversely affected the results.

If it did, this would not be on California, but rather the lack of one authority that would standardize international racing rules. A good place to start are the riding crop regulations. The second? How about no legal medication within 48 hours of post time?

Safer, cleaner, is better for perception and reality.

It is hoped that perhaps, at next month’s Global Racing Symposium, the world could agree on universal standards for whip use everywhere. This no longer can be a different-strokes-for-different-folks sport.

HRI’s standout Breeders’ Cup moments, race by race, were these:

Twilight Gleaming making the start for the rest of the Juvenile Turf Sprint runners look bad, and Derrynane deserved better luck than she had.

Echo Zulu, as above, a true champion and star, but Juju’s Map is better than that. The word to describe the overall performance of most Brad Cox horses? Spotty.

Jose Ortiz’s jockey cam provided the best footage we’ve seen in context. Flawless, and fortunate, execution. Christophe Clement, thanks to a very good Pizza Bianca, is now a Breeders’ Cup winning trainer. Could sweep him into Hall of Fame in his second ballot. Hall worthy, indeed.

Corniche’s Juvenile, as above, and Pappacap finished nicely, as did show finisher Giant Game. But with better trip, Commandperformance might have proven second best. Looking forward to his sophomore campaign.

The Modern Games issue has been sliced and diced by everyone, including HRI. Let’s look forward, re-write the rule, sooner rather than later.

Two things:  Should that scenario repeat itself, reload and race, pending veterinary approval obviously. Alternative? Make it an ALL race, no one is punished, lower payouts notwithstanding, and every live sequential wager wins. No bettor I know likes the post-time favorite rule.

It wasn’t the lack of a prep race or even the pace duel that beat Gamine. She is simply not the same filly, for whatever reason. Ce Ce deserved to win one of these and victory secured trainer Michael McCarthy’s position among the game’s elite.

Golden Pal is an extremely fast and classy turf sprinter. Wesley Ward certainly knows how to do this.

Life Is Good might ultimately be returned to as Life Is Great. In the discussion for America’s most talented three-year-old. See what we did there? He was most impressive taking the Dirt Mile; Silver State was terrible.

Julien Leparoux was either overanxious or overconfident but his move aboard War Like Goddess was a move-to-soon classic, setting the table for a last run winner. But Loves Only You, Japan’s maiden breaking Cup victor, is absolutely top class and a most deserving winner.

I don’t know what beat Jackie’s Warrior; the long and arduous campaign, the inside draw, the extraordinary mid-race pace pressure—which he’s managed before—or the six furlong trip; we think he’s a tad better at seven-eighths.

Dr. Schivel ran very well but Aloha West was an inch the best. Generally underrated, don’t believe that will happen again. As was the case with Letruska, I will recognize ‘Jackie’s’ body of work over his Sprint defeat.

Space Blues was much-the-best winning the Mile. Like Loves Only You, he’s top world class and we’re looking forward to his 2022 season. We cannot remember a more successful foreign invasion than that waged by Godolphin and Charles Appleby-and they’ve been doing it for six months.

Speaking of Letruska, 21.84 and 44.97 around the first turn going nine furlongs; whose idea was that? Actually half the jockeys in the race. And so, the five turned out to be the first five at the end.

Meanwhile, the winning Marche Lorraine earned Yoshito Yahagi HRI’s informal title of “Trainer of Breeders’ Cup 38.” Getting the filly ready for her first start in six months going nine furlongs at this level? Seriously?

Dunbar Road was unlucky to lose the Distaff, Malathaat a little less so, and the same goes for Clairiere who loomed a winner with her very-wide charge down the center but stayed one-paced in the final strides. Shedaresthedevil, close to the hot pace, stayed gamely despite the heat.

Yibir is one talented three-year-old turf runner and will deservedly point to Europe biggest races next season. Strong, long-striding colt got there under perfectly executed William Buck handling. Buick and the Ortiz brothers, in our view, were the riding stars of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup.

The best horse in American all year was Knicks Go, and the best horse won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and with it the 2021 Horse of the Year title. Medina Spirit was very good and was second best, Essential Quality was third best. Hot Rod Charlie, and especially Max Player, were no shows.

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17 Responses

  1. My Sister Nat made a monster move 6-wide in the Filly and Mare Turf. An unexpected but strong 2nd at 29 to 1. Interesting comment from the 2020 Filly and Mare Turf. She finished 9th with “mild improvement”. 1st/2nd/3rd 17 for 21 lifetime, but unfortunately, now retired.

  2. God bless My Sister Nat, Dan. Didn’t have a great Betting Cup myself, but her effort made the superfecta and exacta with the Japanese filly worth having, and then some.

    And taking a slightly different view, good for the filly, going home to enjoy la vita loca.

  3. Golden Pal’s break from the gate and the multiple length lead he had within just a few strides is something I will never forget. To do that in a turf sprint against the best of the best is almost impossible to believe. Knicks Go and Life Is Really Really Good were both terrific, but the method in which Golden Pal dismissed the fastest sprinters in the world within a couple of seconds was the Mike Tyson in his prime moment of the BC.

    1. You are correct, sir, but personally I was just as impressed by Twilight Gleaming’s bullet-gate speed; thought that race probably was over after she ran the first 16th.

      BTW: I’m from the camp that turf sprints NEED to be 5-1/2. If tracks need to insist on 5F, it should be a straightaway, no turns involved. Five-eighths rounding a bend puts too much emphasis on a jackrabbit start and horse drawn wide are virtually dead when the overnight comes out.

  4. Not sure why I kept trying to call that horse Golden Tent other than there being an extreme NYRA bias today!

    1. Yep I believe so. He ran like 110 times so he ended up in a few different hands over time but I remember him as a Hushion mainstay

      1. 21/27/18 in 118 lifetime starts. That’s a 56% WPS for a horse who raced well over a hundred times in a career that lasted 9 years, 3 months. Where are those type of horses in the year 2021 ?

        THAT is why I lament the retirement of a horse like My Sister Nat after 21 starts.

        1. Amazing. Horses like that, who you see all the time, year after year, become a part of your life. It’s a comfort when you have the odd day off mid week and run to the track and you see a Golden Tent on the card. It’s the familiar comfort of seeing an old friend.

          1. Spoken like a true fan, notes like these make the effort worthwhile, thanks for that Doc

      2. Why is it I have some feint memory of that but no idea who won Sunday’s feature, requiring chart work…?

  5. BTW: If names are similar, I’ve often incorrectly referred to or written about a horse by sire, not the actual name…

  6. Knicks Go seems to break like a jackrabbit and get to the front early in all his races. Then he goes “coast to coast” and wins most times. A deserving winner of HOY Eclipse Award. I remember the year Zenyatta was in a tight “photo” with Blame for HOY and emerged the sentimental winner although Blame beat her in BC Classic a few months earlier. Mike Smith cost Zenyatta that race but that’s an argument for another day. I never understood why some people didn’t like Zenyatta and consider her overrated. Can you shed some light on this? Is it because she raced most, or all, of her races in CA and did not, like Swiss Skydiver, take her show on the road? I was at The Big A for her final race in The BC Classic and it was already dark when we watched on an outside monitor. When the race ended I felt emotional and said to a woman next to me that I was sad Zenyatta got beaten. She replied, “I’m glad she lost.” Only in NY, kids, only in NY.

    1. C, I do believe there was some potential bias with respect to Zenyatta. Having said that, however, she was skillfully but very carefully managed. Didn’t take her show on the road, a sign of worthy greatness in my view, and many victories came on a synthetic surface, which comes with its onw built-in biases. I have become more comfortable with racing’s third surface and I’m sure others are starting to come around.

      I was at Churchill Downs that evening for her final start and Mike Smith did nothing wrong. Always slow early, trailing badly early cost Zenyatta the race, IMO. I thought Smith did a good job to make the finish as close as it was. Blame, a seriously good horse, got a perfect ride and ground saving trip beneath Rosario. Racing stuff happens.

      Schadenfreude is not an attitude limited to the boundaries of New York. Trust me, there were more sad faces among people in the pressbox than I can remember for any other major defeat, anywhere and time. It’s why you have to run the races…

  7. Zenyatta was a special horse, to be sure. Her record of 20: 19-1-0 speaks volumes to her quality and it was really emotional to watch the BC Classic with her coming up a head short at the wire. Why anyone would root against her is a mystery. As a broodmare she has had some bad luck with several of her foals not surviving due to injury or illness. She has a Candy Ride filly that should hit the track next year or in 2023. I have been watching to see the Keeneland Sale where many horses are actioned off, some for big money. Many of them are mares in foal to leading sires, including Gun Runner who is making a name for himself as a sire. Asmussen had Curlin and Gunrunner, not to mention Rachel Alexandra, not too shabby. As for Rosario, he, like Knicks Go, is a lock for Eclipse Award for top jockey. It’s his year and that doesn’t take anything away from Irad Ortiz who is, as Trevor Denman said calling Zenyatta’s 2009 BC Classic win over Gio Ponti, “UNBELIEVABLE!” Thanks for the response to my Zenyatta question as I just don’t get the knock on her body of work. I think you explained it with the synthetic vs dirt bias working to her disadvantage amongst the purists.

    1. C, I too am curious what the Zenyatta offspring will be and how it fares. Having said that, it’s been my experience that great race mares seldom make great produces. Hope I’m wrong about that…

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