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They ran the 35th Breeders' Cup World Championships on Friday and Saturday, at Santa Anita.
Whether or not it was, it felt lackluster throughout, with the overhanging specter of horse death, projected by most of the muted on-air racing personalities in direct contrast to the perfect blue skies and moving magnificence of the San Gabriel mountains as your frame. It's a legitimate concern, as we shall see.
Friday was just a watch, as all the juvenile races were run that day. My chess pieces were not deployed, so I did not wager Friday.
British Idiom took a thriller from favored Donna Veloce in the Juvenile Fillies.
Four Wheel Drive, a son of American Pharaoh, did what they said he could in asserting himself in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
In fact, the 'Pharaoh just continues to win, in a paternal manner now, as his progeny had a huge Breeders' Cup. He'll be the freshman sire of the year.
Storm the Court, at 45-1, capitalized on pseudo-lock Dennis' Moment stumbling out of the gate to win the Juvenile. There will be a pop quiz in February, so put his name on your fridge now while we wait for the Road to the Roses.
The best part of that race was the replay of Britney Eurton, NBC ground reporter and daughter of 'Court's trainer, Peter Eurton, exhilarating the win watching on the monitor. She wanted to cry so bad, but, seeking composure, held it together as she knew she had to interview her father. She pulled it all off, even asking the important questions.
But by then, the tone of the telecast was clear. You could tell NBC and the Breeders' Cup came to their version of a decision to meet the issue of horse deaths head on. Lament, but haul out the suits who could tell us how progressive Santa Anita is (conspicuously not the California Horse Racing Board), with new diagnostic equipment galore. Nick Luck, the British guy who can ask the question but fails the follow-up, was told by a Breeders' Cup honcho that progress is being made in uniting states, race tracks and other factions in the overall good goals that will reform racing. "Examples, please," I said out loud to the screen, as Storm Cat is my witness. One of many times all weekend, I couldn't help but seethe at the damage Churchill Downs Inc. is really doing to the game. If CDI really cared . . .
There was a lot of "Safety is paramount, for horse and jockey." And, "Safety is taken very seriously." Perhaps as it should have, the issue drained a lot of energy from the proceedings, except for our own exceptional Eddie Olczyk, who dropped a bundle Friday and was giddy with more success Saturday, even when he had to choke down the chalk at times. P.S. Eddie O. had to hightail it right from the track to the Hawks-Kings game. "(I'll make it and) I'll still have a job tomorrow." We loves our Eddie.
Santa Anita Saturday dawned electric blue again. Coach always said "focus." I had to. I summoned those words and had to go to the well.
NBCSportsNet on DirecTV, in all it's glory, was a kaleidoscope toy of pixelation and sound from the dark side of Remulak. My dished up uncle in Las Vegas confirmed, so I knew the problem was intergalactic. This being the age of sliced bread, STREAM! Feed on TwinSpires.com and the same on BreedersCup.com were oh-kaaay, except that the audio was six seconds behind the video, all day. Plus, TVG worked out a deal to produce and host the online feed, which was different from TVG on TV, and provided the walking-on-glass-shards of Todd Schrupp and Matt Carothers (although Canterbury Matty did make a few good picks) to cheese grate my sensibilities.
I figured the geeks would alert AT&T to the satellite problem, and they came through, in spades. As far as I could tell, transponder 99 was the perpetrator - some guy did the diagnostics.
The grocery delivery guy drove inside the courtyard parking gate and then couldn't get out. When? Post-delivery, as I was constructing my bets for Omaha Beach and the Dirt Mile! I don't know the gate code! I don't drive and I don't own a car. Focus, kid.
Let's talk 'Beach. He was one horse on my Saturday destination list, I loves him so much.
The $64,000 son of Hard Spun, Spun to Run, wired the field, but it was in a most patient manner.
Drawing daylight along with Blue Chipper, Spun' possessed the lead on the turn and into the stretch. Omaha' had six in front of him. Chuck-a-chunk around the corner and into the stretch, Mike Smith and big 'Beach thrilled, making a major run, but it was too late. Irad Ortiz, in a masterful ride, had Spun to Run well enough ahead to seal the deal by at least four. Smith knew he was beat, but made sure to get Place.
There's always a horse out there, somewhere, but after they called Mitole the best sprinter in the world, he'll sit at Dad's place on the Thanksgiving feed table this year for sure.
The six-furlong Sprint was as good a race as we had all day.
Son of TrackNotes crush Eskendereya, the mama Indian Miss out of the great Indian Charlie, Mitole, the effervescent Ricardo Santana, Jr. up, tangled as we had hoped with Shancelot, known most for his nuclear fission in the Amsterdam in July, when he blasted a 121 Beyer Speed figure. He'd Showed and Placed since then, but his last was the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, savvily placed there by Jorge Navarro, and benefiting from the rider change to Jose Ortiz.
On any other day. But this is the Breeders' Cup. Shancelot, on his typical all-or-nothing lead, ran his race: Run fast and see what happens. But, classy always, Mitole ran him down in the last 150 yards and prevailed by two. Santana stood straight up in the irons like a Roman general, doubly pumping his crop-filled fist and pointing down the the steed who carried him. You don't begrudge that kind of display because fortunes change, jockeys must be opportunistic and produce, and Santana has done a helluva job with this horse.
Chicago's pop reporters would ask how Bricks and Mortar liked the deep dish or the porterhouse, but as a horse, he's not saying. He let his running talk Saturday.
Bricks' became the second horse to parlay the Arlington Million win with a Breeders' Cup Turf title. Little Mike did it in 2012.
The Giant's Causeway colt asserted his excellence over the game no-stakes winner United in a thrilling finish by a neck in the 12-furlong test.
In a relatively sticky trip, Bricks' fought the Eisenhower traffic much of the way. Let Irad Ortiz tell us.
Revealing Bricks' is not a huge fan of crowding, Ortiz said "He throw the head between horses but he do that in Arlington Million. He does that all the time, so I don't worry." Explaining to Donna Brothers on horseback, Bricks' was doing the very same thing throwing his head up and down between the lead pony and Brothers' horse in the walk-back interview.
The wonderful Midnight Bisou was not able to score the Distaff win. Mike Smith knew why.
When crunch time came, Smith and 'Bisou were nearly on the rail, with Blue Prize right next to him to the outside. Both seeking room, Joe Bravo had it and ran away.
"Being buried down in there and taking the kickback didn't help any. Tried to get in the clear a little earlier but I just couldn't do it. He got the jump on me," Smith said.
'Bisou made her great run, but couldn't catch up. The great thing, and it seems like begging, is that her owners pulled the plug on putting her up for sale and will run her again in 2020. We fans are happy.
The Breeders' Cup Classic was by no means the best race of the day.
I told you Vino Rosso has driven me crazy, and my avoidance obscured the fact that he's the son of Curlin. So I need to rethink.
The favorite, McKinzie, the Bob Baffert trainee named after his deceased best friend, was betrayed by Baffert himself to be not up to the task. Before the race, Baffert was obviously reserved, even depressed. "He's always been the best horse in training." Perversely, through his body language, you could tell he meant "He works out well, trains great. But in the races, I don't know who the hell he is and he doesn't run to his talent." That's me talking, but you could see it.
But at 3-1, I flew on him.
Vino Rosso was Todd Pletcher's first Classic winner. Pletcher's really been on the low this year, under the radar. Way things are going, the Bobby Frankel disciple is smart.
As for Vino Rosso, I think he's taken good advantage of his opportunities, and Queens wiseguy owner Mike Repole (Vitamin Water parlay), mentioned how they stayed patient on him. His ship-and-win to Santa Anita in the Gold Cup in May was Pletcher and Repole working the angles. That was also the first of three straight triple-digit Beyers. His Beyer in the Classic doesn't matter, because he won it. But he's always run with the big dogs, and he beat the horses of his day. He seen his duty and he done it. I respect him.
The weekend felt like everyone was holding their breath, talking about the horse deaths for sure, but hoping on hope it would not happen during this festival, even though the problem still exists.
But it did. To somebody's credit, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey and analyst Randy Moss brought up the plight of Mongolian Groom, who was euthanized Sunday, very soon after the Classic was run.
Mongolian Groom, a big horse with Mineshaft and Dynaformer in his direct lineage, was right there with the leaders as they sorted out in the stretch. Suddenly, 'Groom, in the two lane, was on only three legs and Abel Cedillo deftly pulled him up and quickly stopped him. Horse and jockey did not go down. Eyes trained on the other leaders, I didn't see it and was unaware until Bailey voiced his concern. Rewinding, the video confirmed what Bailey said. "It looks like a serious injury."
TrackNotes can only hope for the desire on the part of racing to take even the smallest steps to reform. An admission by racing itself that it has, indeed, been doing so many important things wrong for so many years seems an impossible quest. Whatever money they're making, they're happy with the money they're making.
With important factions of the game defiant in choosing evil over virtue, as society so easily does these days, it looks as impossible as ever. Churchill Downs Inc. is the plantation owner with a hedge. As a gambling company, if horse racing, the soul it has sold to Satan, dies, they've got their casinos.
CDI Chairman William Carstanjen is afraid of horses.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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