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TrackNotes: Glory And Grit

The first word that comes to mind is one used by never-satisfied Yelpers who think they created indifference, but we have to be better than that, go deeper. Learn from it.

The 2017 Breeders' Cup is history. There was much bad, some good and plenty of curious.

Luckily, the best came in the biggest race, the Classic, with Gun Runner proving he is the real deal as he tangled with Collected most of the way, convincingly dispatched him by an as-powerful-as-it-looked 2-1/4 lengths, and showed that his running truly has been ascendant in all of 2017.

As with Hearns and Hagler, and clearly better than all the rest, the two were toe-to-toe all the way around. Negotiating a little extra yardage in fighting Gun Runner down the middle, Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert's Collected tried with all their might.

Florent Geroux and 'Runner pulled a Formula One and made the turn tight as could be and slungshot into the straight in a move that had to have demoralized Collected. Gun Runner powered through the quarter pole, seized the definitive lead and punched on from there.

Steve Asmussen, the second-winningest North American trainer of all time, was a whirling, jumping dervish, knowing his horse had the win well before the wire.

Geroux, cooler than cold French soup, betrayed his confidence of simply having the best horse in the race.

"He can rate on a hot pace, he can stalk. He is a beast," Geroux told Donna Brothers in the mounted interview just after the race. Hot the pace was. In :22-2 and :46-1 in the first two quarters, Gun Runner and Collected ran hard and fast for the whole mile and a quarter. At 2:01 and 1 for the final, it was as respectable a 10 furlongs as you could ever ask.

I would like to say this was inexplicable, but it wasn't. In the walking interview as Asmussen hurried through the concourse to the winners circle, the winning trainer barely got through the props for the owners' connections. NBC abruptly cut away to Bob Costas and Mike Smith talking about what the hell happened to Arrogate.

NBC then went the rest of the way, which ran over, wringing its hands over why Arrogate didn't crush the field. These networks are such toadies to the moldy story lines they make up in a two-weeks-ago production meeting. They missed the entire glory and pure grit of Gun Runner's performance. How many people didn't like him but were afraid to not include him? You can point at me, I'll admit. Hell, he went off at a generous 5-2.

Let me tell you about Arrogate. I'll never criticize him as a horse or as a person, but he lost his desire to run, let alone win. He promptly started last in this race, a telltale ducking out of the gate. He didn't show up, and dead-heated for fifth with Gunnevera. They tried to keep it secret, but Mike Smith admitted that Arrogate hates Del Mar. "For some reason, he doesn't like this track, he never dug into it." Smith seemed to imply that because the horse didn't like Del Mar, he gave up.

Thanks to the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup, he won more than $17 million. He smashed the Travers. He bested last year's Classic in California Chrome's swan song tour. 'Chrome ran better. My problem is that you don't go around saying he's the best horse ever, or "the best since Secretariat," as Baffert did. If you want to know about Secretariat, search him here at the Beachwood. Horseplayers know, but horsemen should know better than to make such a bombastic statement. Ghostzapper, Gio Ponti, 'Chrome, Smarty Jones, American Pharoah, Curlin, Zenyatta, Azeri. Them's horses.

As for Bob Costas. Until he's willing to muck out an entire shedrow of stalls for a week, and he won't, he never gets to do another horse racing telecast, ever. He's like Jerry Mahoney, only as good as the makeup and Paul Winchell's propping-up schtick.

Random Thoughts

* I had a bad vibe from race one about Del Mar as the venue for the two most important cards of the year. I'm totally willing to be called wrong, but if there was a huge turnout where the turf meets the surf, I didn't see it. The parking lots were seemingly bare, I thought.

Reports are that attendance was down, but overall handle was up, healthily 5.7 percent over last year and best since 2013.

I realize racing poobahs want to be in warm weather, but Del Mar was not a good fit. Although Santa Anita again gets monotonous. It'll be at Churchill Downs next year.

* I thought the first three lanes from the rail seemed awfully thick, deep. Which means horses trying to save ground were thwarted. Why? Because you wiseasses can?

Daily Racing Form's national handicapper Mike Watchmaker spelled it out.

"But this 'tilt' (toward an outside favoritism) became an outright bias on Saturday, which is a shame, because championship races like these should be decided on fair, even surfaces, not on a main track that, especially on Saturday, made horses who were running on the inside look like they were disappearing into a black hole," Watchmaker said.

The track, especially the turf course, is tight on the corners and every mile race had to be run around two turns, which is a factor for many horses. Gun Runner's hug into the stretch is all the more impressive because of it.

* NBC (I'm looking at you Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey) simply refused to acknowledge the audacious mentality of trainers bringing horses into the Breeders' Cup without any foundation. It was the boulder on the ledge hanging over them. All we got was shoulder shrugs and "he's coming in off the layoff." Thanks, guys.

* Race seven Friday, the Dirt Mile, gave us another Baffert horse, Mor Spirit, who had no interest in being there. (Sense a trend?) He was so screwed up, all of his workouts were out of the gate, which indicates he was not much more than a slug on the couch. He went off favored.

More egregiously, they talked about favorite Sharp Azteca trainer Jorge Navarro and his many brushes with the horse police for drugging his runners. I'll give Moss and Bailey some props for mentioning it, but Laffit Pincay III should have known better as he chose to whitewash it. His father and grandfather were two of the finest jockeys in history.

"Bad moment, move forward, he apologized." Pincay said on-air, as my jaw hit the floor.

To add insult, Battle of Midway, who I had touted as long ago as the Derby, paid $30.40 and I didn't have him. That was a bad time.

* On Friday, Richie Sambora, waiting what seemed like 20 minutes for a cue, sang "Where the Turf Meets the Surf," as lame a song as there is but still the Del Mar ditty, and sounded like Nick Reins, the lounge singer. On Saturday, Jewel did the same thing and played the smoky chanteuse to much more success.

* At the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday, 70-1 Bar of Gold hit for $135.40 to win. My answer is no. Favorite Unique Bella, yet another who hadn't run, fared badly.

Admitting her inability, Mike Smith answered the stupid question about when he knew it was over: "When they started passing her. She's never been passed."

* Our very own, Eddie Olczyk, nailed the exacta, in order, with Gun Runner and Collected. Always the true horseplayer, "Maybe it's better I'm not there (on the air), with my picks."

* Overall, the entire racing weekend had a flat feeling to it. NBC didn't come close to doing its job and later Saturday night hosted another socially unredeeming Baldwin-Trump impression and rich out-of-touch Larry David's sickening Holocaust hunk that he thinks he can get away with because he's Jewish.

As for me, I didn't do well, but I had a few moments, which was fun. My exotics were stale and Gun Runner actually gave me good value.

Gun Runner seems destined for January's Pegasus, but what about after that? If he runs a 2018 campaign, I'll be surprised, thankful and delighted.

But unlike a Clydesdale winning the Classic, I won't dare dream it.


Tom Chambers welcomes your comments.

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