HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – While it was not as dominating as the performance of Greatest Honour in the Holy Bull, the hard fought victory by Medina Spirit in the Robert B Lewis Memorial was just as impressive.
The “heart” of a Thoroughbred can be measured through another function: the eyes. And when an equine passes the “eyeball test” the way Medina Spirit did his, he is, in my view, immediately elevated to the stature of “good horse.”
As with any three-year old as the calendar flips from January to February, there is a lot more racing, and developing, to be done. It’s what makes racing young horses so fascinating as winter slowly marches into spring.
Trainer-speak, obviously, is self-serving. It’s not easy to promote increasing bottom-line value while simultaneously lowering the pressure of expectation. But “letting the horse tell us” is mindful of both the animal’s welfare and its optimal level and worth.
Bob Baffert was correct to note that Medina Spirit looked like he would be third best at the end of the Lewis three-horse stretch battle. But, with a nod to an overused phrase first seen in a Tom Durkin race caller’s notebook—Medina Spirit would not be denied.
There was great racing on display at Gulfstream Saturday, but the Lewis Memorial easily was the race of the day:
Roman Centurion, whose maiden win was reminiscent of the Holy Bull’s Greatest Honour, look as if he would swoop the group at headstretch. Medina Spirit would have to keep finding now, and Hot Rod Charlie, back-peddling a tad, needed to dig down deep.
But the complexion changed in midstretch: Roman Centurion’s surge became a bit one-paced. Hot Rod Charlie was summoning his class and not only maintained but, for an instant, appeared he might out-game both rivals.
Battling from between horses is never easy; doing it off a layup adds another degree the difficulty but meanwhile Medina Spirit did keep finding, never stopped fighting, willing his way to victory in the final jumps.
“He was gutty as could be, showed some grit, and that’s what you want to see,” Bob Baffert said the next morning. “He’s got game. He beat a good field and the California horses are pretty strong.”
And his best style?
“We’re learning about the horse,” the trainer said. “It wasn’t an ideal way for him to run but his hand was sort of set from the start when he broke a little slow and [Abel Cedillo] couldn’t really take him back. He never really had a chance to get him out.”
The sophomore world now knows Medina Spirit can beat you more than one way. Hot Rod Charlie? “We’re so proud of him,” said Doug O’Neill, “and he came out of the race in great shape.
“He ran a real game race against other really top 3-year-olds. We’re excited to get him back from where he left off,” added O’Neill. It’s up to them–and Simon Callaghan—to decide what comes next.
Provincialism Ruled in 2020 Eclipse Voting
For us, Eclipse voting was a challenge this year because some obvious choices, such as Authentic and Gamine, more than one category lacked definition. I had a problem with two of them. I concede that one is arguable, the other is not.
I love venerable 8-year-old gelding Whitmore as much as the next turf writer. Obviously, he was a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, a renewal that lacked its usual depth due to injuries. Not that Whitmore should the penalized, but neither should he be rewarded if a rival is worthier.
The last time I checked my Thoroughbred racing dictionary, the definition of sprint is a race around one turn. When I looked at the record, it noted it Whitmore seven starts to win three races including the BC Sprint, the lone Grade 1.
But when I checked out Vekoma’s PPs, I saw he only needed three races to win thrice, including two Grade 1s: the history rich seven-furlong Carter and the prized Metropolitan Mile around one wide turn at Belmont Park.
What am I missing here, or should the question rightfully be what did a majority of the voters miss? OK, I strongly disagree but will swallow down hard on this result.
But as for the Filly & Mare Turf division, I have three words: Stop the Steal.
First, I will start with the fact Rushing Fall’s four Grade 1 victories in 2019 have absolutely no bearing in this category in 2020. She had a terrific season for sure, going three-for-four, with two Grade 1s and a Grade 3, losing the Filly & Mare Turf by a neck.
However, the rightful winner in this category should have been the European-based Tarnawa. The record of these two fillies aren’t comparable in our view, Tarnawa’s was clearly superior.
Now while I disagree with the philosophy of voters who will not grant an Eclipse Award vote based on one North American start, I can understand and respect that. But not when one Thoroughbred clearly accomplishes more than another in the same category.
Tarnawa also had four starts in 2020 and went unbeaten. After winning her season’s debut at Cork, the Group 3 Irish Stallion, she shipped to Longchamp and won two prestigious Group 1s, the Prix Vermeille and Prix de l’Opera, highly sought international prizes.
When Tarnawa shipped over for the Breeders’ Cup, she went bear hunting, taking on open rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and whipped them, a field that included eventual 2020 Eclipse male turf champion, Channel Maker. You tell me who had the better season?
As an aside, isn’t it a tad sexist to make female horses ineligible in races whose conditions state that it is open to all comers? That issue notwithstanding, Tarnawa clearly demonstrated on the record that she was the best turf female to race in America in 2020.