Subscribe to the Newsletter

TrackNotes: Keeneland > Wrigley

You can tell a horse you love him, but you can't make him win.

Cubs trainer Joe Maddon is learning the hard way, perhaps because unlike the Thoroughbred, he has a stable of human sponges who understand English and are eager to absorb all the psychocandy he can Ferrara pan. Only now are the Lemonheads, sour, but a great part of the product lineup, coming off the line.

Marty, Steve and Coach do a great job of covering all of the 'Ville hijinks, so I'll leave it at that. Except to say that when I saw Tuesday night that they were not even using one of Bill Veeck's many masterpieces - as fine a piece of sculpture as this city possesses - and adding in the game itself, I self-diagnosed that I don't really dig the Cubs' schtick anymore, haven't for a while and may never again. It's just too much and I can't take it anymore.

All the while, in a largely quiet midsection of October in my corner of the sporting world, like the breathless anticipation of a heavyweight championship fight, the tension has been building. The game, the one at the track, doesn't wait every 12 years to give you something memorable. And it doesn't forget how to in the spaces between the great races.

So while admittedly dancing the big Cubbie feign, I've also tried to spread the gospel, to no avail, that the 2015 Breeders' Cup Championships, October 30 - 31, could be one of the greatest Thoroughbred racing festivals we've seen in a long, long time.

The Classic alone will be the destination entree, but all of the races make the two-day plot taste even better, like Emily's Thanksgiving sausage stuffing.

Part of the fun is that, rather than risking disappointment by loving just one horse, you get to see a bunch of great ones unfold their drama before your very eyes. Love them all and pick the winner, I say.

It's great racing in and of itself, but it should also be a real tree topper of a weekend in what has been a sugar plum season that blessed us with the epic journey of American Pharoah in his triumphant quest for America's Triple Crown.

He'll be joined by 199 others at the hallowed Keeneland racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, a venue that will out-mecca Wrigley any day, especially now that the Ricketts' have their mitts on the "ballpark." Keeneland tops the pound-for-pound list year in and year out for its quality of racing, and the Breeders' Cup is a just reward.

While Keeneland itself has existed since 1936, they've been racing in Lexington since before Washington was president. It's also home to one of the most prestigious horse auction programs in the world.

Built on farmland once owned by Jack Keene, Keeneland has been a study in technological contrasts throughout its history.

"1961 saw the first Visumatic Timer in America: a system that posted fractions and final times on the tote board; and 1979 saw Keeneland become only the fourth race track in the country to use an electronic totalisator system that allowed patrons to buy and cash tickets from any window in the facility," BetAmerica notes.

Still without lights, Keeneland did not have a public address on-track race caller until 1997!

But it was one of the first tracks to use GPS-based Trakus technology to track every horse throughout the race in real time and display their blanket numbers on the screen. It was the first track I ever saw that transmitted its simulcast television signal in high-definition. It also introduced the 10-cent superfecta wager.

I've only seen the place on television, but it sure looks untouched, the bulk of the advertising being canvas banners stretched under the rail at the finish line. You'll remember Keeneland helped to capture the magic of Seabiscuit as his film biography used the track extensively. Anything for the cause and Belmont not available, Keeneland opened its track for Disney's Secretariat, as the film's director laughingly tried to duplicate the long Belmont stretch in its botched climactic scene. "HEY, that's Keeneland!" I said at the gargantuaplex at the time.

Keeneland is the place that introduced - and marketed - PolyTrack to America, perhaps in a senior moment that promised better living through chemicals. It installed the stuff in 2006.

But it saw the error of its ways, had the audacity to admit its mistake and reinstated the dirt track in 2014. Sure, it had to, what with its prestigious Blue Grass Stakes and other great stakes races losing relevancy because of horses' confusion over the surfaces. But it did and is now poised to host one of the greatest Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, which itself was kicked off by one of the classic Classics at the late great Hollywood Park.

We'll go into more horse and race detail next week.

But if the entries hold, we'll see American Pharoah take on a group of horses who look to be in form, and are winning.

The magnificent mare Beholder, on a sustained 2015 romp, looks to fearlessly take on the boys. You'll have Frosted, an ultimate heart horse coming in off a Pennsylvania Derby win. Whitney champ and tested veteran Honor Code figures in. Keen Ice, 2015's Sham, comes in against his Secretariat, American Pharoah, after beating 'Pharaoh in an epic edition of the Travers Stakes. The ultra-quality Tonalist, 2014's Belmont Stakes winner, looks to be peaking, coming in after an impressive win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And the pot o' gold could definitely find contender Wicked Strong.

Coming in after crushing the Woodward, we greedily wanted Liam's Map for the Classic, but indications are that he'll be going in the Dirt Mile. After a redeeming win in the Ack Ack, can Tapiture keep it going in that same Mile?

Calamity Kate graduates from the lounge to the main room in the Distaff (the ladies' Classic equivalent), but has the chops to wow 'em. She'll have to contend with the big three of I'm a Chatterbox, Stopchargingmaria and Untapable.

Unless the lawn is soft, Hard Not to Like will be hard not to like in the Filly and Mare Turf, where Stephanie's Kitten may also be playing her swan song.

Judy the Beauty, clearly full of run and the best horse in the race, is a woman scorned after landing in rail jail in the Grade II TCA October 3rd at this same Keeneland. She finished a tough second last year in this same Filly and Mare Sprint to the great Groupie Doll.

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Golden Horn crosses over to grace us with his presence in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Big Blue Kitten in the 12-furlong Turf, after a tough beat in the Arlington Million and a win next out in the Turf Classic Invitational, can run on any kind of grass, so watch out, Frenchy.

Am I looking forward to it? AccuWeather extended is saying it should be a good weekend. I checked, so yeah.

Sadly, this will be American Pharoah's last race. Afterwards, we'll wax melancholy over what he might have become, knowing he's only a horse made of his abbreviating times. I don't know much, but I don't understand how they will, or can, tell him he's not going to run anymore.

A win in this race won't assuage the sadness of no four-year-old campaign for the Triple Crown champion but dammit, Secretariat didn't have one either. But if Pharoah wins this Classic . . . as fans we can't lose.

Man, I cannot WAIT for this race!


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

More from Beachwood Sports »

TrackNotes: Back To The Future

Will Bob Baffert ever go away? Churchill Downs Inc.: It's just what they do. Dickie D. dead. Cliches can shape your biorhythms. Double-teaming justice. You look just like. We asked one person, me.

Continue reading "TrackNotes: Back To The Future" »

Posted on Jan 28, 2022

The White Sox Report

Minnie Miñoso Was Very, Very Good To Us

Electric, indefatigable and, finally, undenied.

Continue reading "Minnie Miñoso Was Very, Very Good To Us" »

Posted on Dec 9, 2021