TrackNotes: Keeneland's Climax

Ladies, land and just a little journalism are the lingering impressions after the 36th Breeders' Cup World Championships - and, for all intents and purposes, the 2020 Thoroughbred horse racing season - climaxed Saturday.

In no particular order:

* Monomoy Girl, one of the great mares, who missed 18 months of racing to colic and injury, bold-typed the ultimate win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff in what might have been her last race.

The billed showdown with Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver never materialized after Swiss' stumbled out of the gate, chased the rest of the way and was never a factor. It was the 'Girl's 13th win (seven Grade I wins) in 15 starts and 11th straight!

After winning the 2018 Distaff, Monomoy Girl was on the shelf until May 16 after undergoing colic surgery and then injuring herself in training after trainer Brad Cox and owner Michael Dubb decided to try to give the Kentucky Oaks winner a second chance. She was already great, but to pick it right back up this year is a testament to the future Hall of Famer.

In hindsight, she had things her way throughout, breaking from the outside 10-hole and faithful sidekick Florent Geroux keeping her in the clear in the three- or four-lane all the way. Always the picture of consistent movement, Monomoy' began picking them off from fifth in the turn and monorailed into the stretch with the lead and never looked back.

But this is a business, folks, and Monomoy Girl is scheduled to be sold at a breeding stock auction Sunday in Lexington. Dubb teased that they might change their mind, but nobody believed him. Whether she runs again is uncertain. While she has a mulligan year to give, she's done everything a mare can.

* Whitmore, the hard-knocking gelded seven-year-old, burned me like a ghost pepper, at 19-1, in the BC Sprint. Sticking to the magic fast one-lane - more on that later - Irad Ortiz and Whitmore were eating dust around the track. Settling into the stretch and still on the rail, Whitmore was trapped. But the three horses to his right made like the Three Stooges trying to get through a door, halting all their momentum. Ortiz did the dipsy-doodle and kicked out to the three-lane and took off, winning by more than three.

I completely overrated many of the others. My angle on Whitmore, who I've been watching for a long time and made money on before he was discovered, was that he was simply a horse for the course at Oaklawn Park, the scene of his greatest success. He lacklustered in three graded stakes since his Oaklawn spring. To make it worse, the paddock commentator gushed how he was happy and bouncing all day.

* Gamine, still under Bob Baffert's cloud of medication investigation, gamed the niche-division Filly and Mare Sprint to win by more than six in what was supposed to be another showdown with Serengeti Empress. 'Empress, a front-running filly herself, didn't really have a chance in finishing second.

Gamine set new track and race records, one of three record performances on the day.

The specter of a day of Baffert drug positives at Oaklawn last May hung heavy as Silver Bob was subdued in extolling the virtues of the best sprinting female in the country. But, as if somebody whacked him with a riding crop, Baffert said "I want to thank this guy (for sticking with me)," pointing to owner Michael Lund Petersen. As if Petersen would pull the horse from Baffert's barn.

* Aidan O'Brien and Out of Australia smashed the BC Mile as 'Australia paid $148.40 to win at 73-1 and Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez completed the win-place-show sweep for Irish super trainer O'Brien.

Pierre-Charles Boudot, subbing for COVID-positive Christophe Soumillon, also rode the winner in the Filly and Mare Turf. 'Australia was an also-eligible who got into the race only after One Master scratched.

* Authentic, the Kentucky Derby winner, wired the Breeders' Cup Classic in what was, based on the ratio of prestige to performance, one of the most disappointing races of the weekend.

The Baffert trainee got the jump and was never headed and won by more than two lengths. Another Baffert, Improbable, took second and Global Campaign, in a bothered trip, made a run late but flattened out. The third Baffert, Maximum Security, and Tiz the Law, both faded. Those two now have serious form problems, although you had to wonder about Tiz the Law, whose connections said he was sore after the Derby and would not have run in the Preakness, Triple Crown on the line or no.

I think the Breeders' Cup wonk who called this Classic one of the best ever was smoking jimsyn weed or something.

* Keeneland Race Course. Perhaps the biggest star of the weekend was the track itself. Enhanced by perfect weather and blazing Fall foliage, the viewer was treated to a real feeling of a track out in the country somewhere. Which it is, with a handy small airport landing strip next door. As the runners went down the backstretch, one could see only gently rolling, grassy hills in the background. NBC took full advantage with a drone camera hovering several times, with white barns in the foreground and the sprawling property in frame.

As for the track itself, the rail and the first two or three lanes were so fast that horses with true speed and the ability to get out front had things their own way. Or a merry-go-round as it's called. This is the kind or argument that never ends and could get you kicked out of a bar.

Marcus Hersh, the Daily Racing Form's Arlington Park beat boy, takes the fairness side:

"Surely Whitmore's steady-closing BC Sprint win will put to rest any lingering idea that the Keeneland main track is biased toward front-runners today. It's fast, and some speed horses have run very well, but the track's not biased."

I completely disagree. If you watch the replay, you'll see Whitmore availed himself of that magic inside lane to make his own trip, save ground, and use that position to accelerate to the win. He didn't close down the middle of the track, as Hersh implies. Granted, he didn't take the front, but many others did, like Authentic.

It wreaked havoc with handicapping, and made too much of the racing less competitive than it should have been.

P.S.: There were a lot of people at the track. Technically, it was no fans, but it must not have taken much to prove your affinity to racing and get a pass. Mask-wearing looked good but, like CPR classes, somebody call the Red Cross to offer mask lessons.

* NBC. Not a ton to report here, but the absence of Mike Tirico was a true blessing. As we had hoped, he was in Indiana for a football game, which NBC hyped like a moon landing. Laffit Pincay III and Ahmed Fareed are professional traffic cops who know, and appreciate, the game. When Randy Moss or Jerry Bailey popped in with truly interesting background anecdotes, they just did it, without the anchor spoiling it with an intro.

Veteran Kenny Rice found the interesting paddock story before every race. Britney Eurton was sincere when she practically begged Monomoy Girl's connections to run her for one more year. The jocks truly trust Donna Brothers in the post-race mounted interview.

The Euro interviewees were more vigilant with the masks, which is why we couldn't understand a word they were saying. I don't think we missed anything, so it was funny.

* Bless You Baffert But You Have Sinned. NBC, while admonishing supertrainer Bob Baffert for waiting until Wednesday to atone for his medication transgressions, heaped the most (soft) criticism on him than I've heard in a long time.

Apparently, Baffert finally said earlier this week that, while not admitting a loose ship, he will "tighten things up" to eliminate drug positive complaints against his barn.

Stumbling through a soft interview with Rice, Baffert mentioned "more sensitive" testing and the need for him to keep a closer watch on his operation.

Throwing to the anchor desk, Bailey went first:

"He's the face of the sport. He has had a lot of violations in recent history. I would have liked to see him say something sooner, because whenever he says something, people listen."

Moss cut him more slack. "These are not violations for drugging horses or running a lab to make drugs and disguise them. These are permitted medications and his horses have been over the legal limit. But there have been too many."

In a nice way, Fareed said, "If you present yourself as the gold standard for barns and trainers, then this is unacceptable for Bob Baffert."

Then the three immediately started analyzing Baffert's prospects for the race.

I would say a good solution would be for Baffert to be serving suspensions the next time racing is on national television.


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

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