Tag Archives: Breeders’ Cup

My Favorite Breeders’ Cup Race

Of all the great champions and incredible upsets the Breeders’ Cup has brought us over the past 27 years, my favorite race was just a few years ago, in 2006.

It isn’t a coincidence that it was my first time at the event, held at Churchill Downs on a bright, crisp Saturday that would turn downright fridgid by the time the Classic rolled around. But my favorite race was the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day.

I was perched atop a bench overlooking the paddock, a spot I had captured as soon as the gates opened at 8am. There were scads of people already crowding the inside of the paddock and encroaching upon my bench even that early in the day, but as long as I could still see over them, it didn’t matter to me. The field for the Juvenile filed into the saddling area to gentle applause from a group in front of me. Todd Pletcher’s Scat Daddy was one of the favorites, as was Circular Quay. There were lots of people around those 2 colts, and the TV crews congregated near them, their white-bridled faces splashed across the big screen that overlooked the paddock.

As I looked down the row of stalls, I noticed the first one was filled with only a dark brown horse, a groom and single other man wearing a long, tan trench coat. I thought the colt might be a schooler, but I did a double-take when I realized it was, in fact, the #1 horse and the trench-coated man was Carl Nafzger. It was Street Sense, the colt who had run 3rd to my pick, Great Hunter, at Keeneland.

Being a fan of Unbridled and Nafzger, I was a little surprised that no one was around the Derby-winning trainer that day. Surely his charge had a chance – he didn’t show up at these big events unless he had a real contender.

The jockeys came out and Calvin Borel walked over to Street Sense and Nafzger, and still no one else approached them. Their stall was an oasis among the roiling sea of people.

Borel and Street Sense would lead the parade of colts out to the track. Less than 10 minutes later, the pair lead the field under the wire by 6 lengths. It was the beginning of the Borel legend, the last-to-first, rail-skimming ride at Churchill Downs. Street Sense became a Derby horse that day, and the subject of a terrible jinx: no BC Juvenile winner had won the Kentucky Derby.

We all know what happened 6 months later – Street Sense, and eventually Hard Spun, Curlin and Rags to Riches, would provide us with the greatest Triple Crown season since Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.

And it all started that chilly day at Churchill, with the dark brown colt and his trench-coated trainer, standing all alone.

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Plenty to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

With all of the craziness in racing, from ADW controversies to breakdowns to auction slumps, it’s good to think about the good things on a day like today.  Also, a list is an easy way to blog on a holiday… now before I get angry e-mails from family & friends, this is just a list of thoroughbred-related things I am thankful for.  I won’t be listing “breakdown-free Breeders’ Cup” at the family dinner tonight!

1) CURLIN!  Though he did not start out as my favorite horse, he has raced and won his way into my heart.  Thanks to sportsman Jess Jackson (and a little help from the jailed part-owners) Curlin got to prove himself over and over again as an older horse.  He broke a legendary earnings record, raced on all surfaces and met all comers.  His retirement ceremony at Churchill on Saturday will mark the end of an extraordinary career.  Thanks for the ride, Curlin!

2) SAUHBR!  Thanks to The Borderland Totalisator (whose blog has mysteriously vanished, humm…) for an awesome summer of handicapping.  The first of many victories in the game, I hope.  I also hope BT gets back online, because he was a great competitor and gracious in defeat.  Thanks!

3) Larry Jones!  Trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles handled the ultimate tragedy with grace and compassion.  When nutty PETA accused him of all sorts of horrific abuses, his level-headed replies revealed the activists for the slime they really were.  Amid the turmoil, he sent the filly Proud Spell out for an amazing season, as well as the sprinter Kodiak Kowboy. 

4) Breakdown-Free Breeders’ Cup!  Despite all of the questions surrounding the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita this year, the track was successful in its ultimate mission: an injury-free Championship.  Every horse, every race, on poly or turf, came home sound.  This is the first time in several years that no horse was severely injured.  The track also levelled the playing field for the Euro contingent, which is always nice in a so-called “world championship” series.

5) JIM GAFFNEY!  Exercise rider for the Superhorse Secretariat and a close personal friend of this blogger, Mr. Gaffney has been a joy and privelege to know.  I have attended 2 KY Derbies with the man and his lovely wife, Mary, and have gained so much more knowledge of the racing business from him.  Thanks Jim!

6) TVG!  Not a day goes by that I don’t flip channels to TVG.  I love love love watching live racing with the hosts Todd Schrupp and Matt Carothers.  They are an irreverent bunch and their picks are pretty good, too.  I have learned a lot about handicapping watching TVG and am eternally thankful for the first all-racing channel.  Plus, I won an Eclipse Awards official program from them back in January.  Schwag always keeps my attention!

7) At The Races with Steve Byk on SIRIUS!  Every day I listen as Steve chats with the top names in racing, does a little handicapping, and has a good-old time talking to regular Joe horseplayers.  His show is a blessing for a sport that gets so little coverage by the MSM, and when it does, it’s usually dumbed-down *cough*ESPN*cough*  From ATTR, I have learned how top trainers condition their horses (pre-Derby shows) and have gotten a greater appreciation for the Pick 4 ticket and Super High 5 ticket.  Bob Baffert before the Breeders’ Cup was a big treat, too!  Thanks Steve!

8) MY LITTLE CONNOR!  This horse is the best little allowance horse in the world.  I hope he comes back to Oaklawn next year. 

Next up, Santa better be reading my Christmas list!

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Now THAT’S A TRUE FAN!

A juror in Sen. Ted Stevens’s corruption trial lied about her dying father and skipped town so she could attend the Breeders’ Cup!!

Marian Hinnant, YOU’RE a TRUE FAN!  I honestly don’t blame her for ditching deliberations to see Zenyatta live.  She was replaced by an alternate juror after not returning court phone calls, but by the sound of it she agreed with the final verdict. 

I wonder if the lady reads this blog.

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The Aftermath–What About Raven’s Pass?!

The Synthetic Track proved to be a great equalizer for the European contingent, but the American runners were not shamed by any means at Breeders’ Cup 25. 

Raven’s Pass ran a brilliant final furlong under Frankie Dettori, passing defending champ Curlin, rallying Henrythenavigator, and synthetic specialist Go Between.  The 3yo miler by Elusive Quality had spent the year battling New Approach in Europe, and carried his form well over to the opposite side of the world(and 2 extra furlongs).

As for Curlin, the Golden Warrior looked like a winner going into the final turn, but he just couldn’t sustain his drive.  Whether it was the surface or simply not his day, only the horse knows.  Tiago closed ferociously for 3rd, which would suggest Curlin didn’t like the track so much (the closest Tiago got to Curlin before Saturday was a 3rd in the ’07 Belmont).

The Classic results also give us a better idea of how good the ’08 3yo crop actually is.  It’s not flattering, at least for the US-based horses.  Colonel John was our best 3yo finisher, coming in 6th and Smooth Air followed in 7th.  Casino Drive set the early pace but faded badly to last.  These are horses who have been running lights out against their own generation, but were unable to threaten in open company.  It is a shame that Big Brown was injured, because he would have totally changed the dynamic of the race and also had the opportunity to convince his remaining critics.  Brown will most likely get the Eclipse for champion 3yo, but not without a few votes for Raven’s Pass.

And what about Raven’s Pass?  I hope that Princess Haya keeps him in training.  He has proven he can run 10 furlongs, which just happens to be the same distance as a little race in Dubai.  He would make the ’09 handicap season more interesting here in the states as well – a triple threat on turf, poly and perhaps dirt?  His sire also gave us Smarty Jones, so it’s not out of the question.

ZENYATTA kept her perfect record at 9 wins, and did it with ease.  It is so much fun watching her run.  She does that funny “spanish walk” when she goes to the post.  She always breaks slowly, and the makes a huuge run at the end, passing everybody else like they were hitchhikers on I-40.  SHe has beaten everybody, former BC distaff champ, quality speed horses, talented 3yo divas, on poly and dirt (at my home track of Oaklawn, no less).  It would have been awesome if Zenyatta had the chance to face Zarkava, the filly Arc winner.  If I had a vote for Eclipses, Zenyatta would be my HOTY.  Hey Jerry Moss & John SHeriffs, BRING ZENYATTA BACK TO OAKLAWN!!!

Others:

Muhannak won the Marathon…I should have bet that race; I would have been set for the rest of the day…

Euros run 1-2 in the Juvy turf, with Donativum getting the better of Westphalia…should see those 2 duking it out in the Darby next year…

GOLDIKOVA, the “dainty filly” slices through a microscopic hole and accelerates like a fine motor car o win the Mile.  Kip Deville, last year’s mile winner, runs 2nd.  The Dutrow trainee now knows what it is like to get “beat by a girl”.

MIDNIGHT LUTE made BC history by winning the SPrint for the 2nd time in a row.  Lute battled back from a nasty quarter crack and a horrible finish in his prep race to win the Sprint by a length, in a final time of 1:07.08.  Lute is the only 2-time winner of the Sprint.  Trainer Bob Baffert says Midnight Lute is the best he has ever trained, and that’s a strong comment from the man who trained 3 Derby winners, including Real Quiet, the horse who has come closest to winning the TC in 30 years.  Real Quiet is the sire of Midnight Lute.

Conduit won the Turf…Albertus MAximus won the dirt mile…Midshipman won the Juvy…Indian Blessing got beat by a scintillating Ventura in the F/M Sprint…

BC handle was up 5% from last year…people will bet regardless of the surface of the ridiculous name of the “ladies’ classic”…NO HORSES SUFFERED LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES!!

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Filed under Breeders' Cup, curlin, polytrack, RAven's Pass, results, Santa Anita, zenyatta

FAVORITE BC RACE #3: JINX-BREAKER

Street Sense wins the BC Juvenile in 2006.  Meanwhile, I was freezing my butt off in the paddock watching it on a realy big TV.

Street Sense wins the BC Juvenile in 2006. Meanwhile, I was freezing my butt off in the paddock watching it on a realy big TV.

My favorite BC Juvenile is the one I actually got to see in person.  Or close to it.  I attended the 2006 BC at Churchill Downs, where it was cold but sunny, and Bernardini got his ass handed to him by INVASOR.  In true Infield fashion (or close to it, since the actual Infield was not open on BC day), I got up at the crack of dawn and stood in line an hour to snag a prime spot on the rail of the paddock.  I even got a bench!  Wooot!  All day long, I stood on the bench, leaned on the back of it, even balanced precipitously on its very top to take slightly blurry photos of the contenders as they walked around the ring. 

Before the 2nd race, I spied Carl Nafzger in the paddock, waayy over to the side in the #1 saddling box.  I snapped a quick picture of him getting Street Sense ready and then turned my attention to Great Hunter, who I was rooting for after his win in the Keeneland Lane’s End Futurity.  Somewhere in all my scads of pictures I have the one of Carl. 

I stood on the bench as the horses went to post, and watched (the paddock jumbotron)  with glee as the horse from the #1 hole galloped away with the whole thing.  Street Sense had won so easily, Calvin Borel loved him so much, I just fell in love with the colt, too!  Great Hunter remained a favorite of mine, despite his 3rd place finish, but I vowed to return to Churchill the next spring to watch Street Sense try and break the Juvy Jinx.

I kept my promise, and 6 months after his rail-skimming Juvy victory, Street Sense repeated that trip in the Kentucky Derby, in front of 150,000+ people, me in the infield, and the Queen in the grandstand.  It was awesome.  I cashed a nice ticket with him, too.

Street Sense tried to break another jinx as well, the BC Juvy-BC Classic jinx, but he faltered last fall, running 4th to Curlin in the slop at Monmouth.  He now resides at Darley in Lexington KY.  One of these days I’ll get around to see him again, and tell him I was there for his 2 best trips around Churchill Downs!

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Saturday Breeders’ Cup Selections

I haven’t had a selections post since SAUHBR ended.  It sucks sometimes to have a normal job and not be a professional handicapper 24/7.  Totally missed Ladies’ Day picks, but I think my only exacta picks would have been Stardom Bound and Zenyatta.  But I’ll discuss the racing action further in another post.  This one’s for the BC Boys Races!

BC MARATHON:

1)MUHANNAK (IRE)
2)Sixties Icon (GB)
3)Big Booster

BC DIRT MILE

1)WELL ARMED
2)Mast Track
3)Two Step Salsa

BC SPRINT

1)STREET BOSS
2)Cost of Freedom
3)Midnight Lute

BC TURF SPRINT

1)DIABOLICAL
2)Only Answer
3)Mr. Nightlinger

BC MILE

1)GOLDIKOVA
2)Kip Deville
3)Thorn Song

BC JUVY TURF

1)BITTEL ROAD
2)City Style
3)Vaquero

BC JUVENILE

1)STREET HERO
2)Terrain
3)Midshipman

BC TURF

1)SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
2)Winchester
3)Eagle Mountain

BC CLASSIC

1)CURLIN
2)Go Between
3)Duke of Marmalade

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Favorite BC Race #4: A SILVERBULLETDAY

Silverbulletday in the Winners Circle after the 1998 BC Juvenile Fillies.  Photo by Barbara Livingston.

Silverbulletday in the Winners' Circle after the 1998 BC Juvenile Fillies. Photo by Barbara Livingston.

I cannot stress how much I love Silverbulletday.  She won practically every time she raced with style and speed.  Bob Baffert trained her, and in those days Bob could do no wrong in my eyes.  I had a SBD hat, decorated my binders with her photos (cropped from the covers of my new Bloodhorse subscription).  To this day I insist that it is her image in the NTRA logo(like we all know it is Jerry West in the NBA version).

 Her 1998 BC Juvenile Fillies win clinched an Eclipse for her and set her up for an awesome 3yo campaign.

In this race, Miss Bullet stalked a quick Confessional into the final turn, then, in her trademark move, blew past her rivals to snatch the lead.  She held off her fast-closing stablemate Excellent Meeting to win by three quarters of a length.  The chestnut filly Three Ring ran 3rd.  I was elated. 

This race was a preview of the ’99 three year old season.  That year, Silverbulletday went undefeated against her class, winning the KY Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, Alabama and Gazelle, among others. 

Excellent Meeting was a big, rangy filly, and after her narrow defeat in the BC, she went on a 4-race win streak, taking the Hollywood Starlet, Las Virgenes, Santa Anita Oaks and the Fantasy Stakes at (my hometrack) Oaklawn Park.  Baffert, in all his wisdom, decided to run EM in the ’99 KY Derby.  She ran as part of an entry with the gelding General Challenge.  Three Ring also contested the Derby after dominating performances in the Davona Dale and Bonnie Miss stakes.

The “Demolition Derby” of 1999 was one of the slowest, messiest traffic jams in the history of the race.  Excellent Meeting was jostled around terribly but still managed to run 5th, far ahead of General Challenge.  Three Ring’s saddle slipped during the bumper cars and retreated to last of 19.

The other TC races also featured these top 2 fillies:  Excellent Meeting contested the Preakness but was pulled up.  Baffert then sent his star, Miss Bullet, to the Belmont.  I was not totally on board with Bob’s decision – yes, my devotion was tested!  But I believed in Silverbulletday!  She didn’t disappoint, setting the quick early pace in the Belmont that cooked Charismatic.  The Derby winner injured his leg long after Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse passed him. 

Silverbulletday returned to the distaff division after the Belmont and won 2 stakes before finally meeting her match in Beautiful Pleasure in the Beldame and BC Distaff.   She was awarded the Eclipse for Champion 3yo filly by a unanimous vote, the first time I had ever heard of that happening. 

Excellent Meeting placed in a few stakes at 4.  EM was bred to Storm Cat and produced 2 foals by him before her death in 2004. 

After her disasterous Derby, Three Ring won the 1999 Acorn by a neck over Better Than Honor, the future Blue Hen mare.  She was in the Belmont saddling area before the Mother Goose Stakes when she suddenly reared and flipped over, striking her head on the ground.  Her injury was so severe that vets could not save her.  It was a tragic end for a beautiful and talented filly. 

Silverbulletday now lives at Hill and Dale farm, where she has produced foals by AP Indy, Storm Cat and Vindication.  So far, none of them have been as brilliant as their mom.

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