The 30th Breeder’s Cup is in the books and if you watched—and based on the TV ratings you didn’t—, you either saw or missed a spectacular two days of racing. Prior to the Cup, I discussed the rules; the rules of timing, specifically, the rule of 24. The times at Santa Anita were exceedingly fast, blistering fast as if the horses were running on concrete or even field turf. The most eye-popping stat was the 6.5 furlong time of 1:12.25 that was run in the turf sprint. On Tuesday, November 11, the winning filly in the Finger Lakes feature ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.79.
The event was carried by NBC Sports Network and the Classic aired in prime time on NBC from 8 to 9 PM. As great as the Breeder’s Cup is, the Kentucky Derby remains the Super Bowl of American Horse Racing with ratings 12 times higher than the Breeder’s Cup. Be that as it may, there is no event better than the Breeder’s Cup. Over two days, its 14 races with over 100 of the world’s greatest thoroughbreds on stage.
The day got off to be a bad start with the breakdown of the filly Secret Compass who was euthanized after the Juvenile Fillies. No matter what measures are taken, these tragedies will unfortunately occur, but what a way to start an event that is desperate to bring in the casual fan. There may have been more than few watchers who turned the TV set off after this race.
The rule of 24 never really had a chance in the Breeder’s Cup except for some of the longer races. The Friday races started with the Breeder’s Cup Marathon contested by horses who deep down don’t really like the distance. The pace was legitimate, but by the 1 1/4 mile mark, the whole field was tired with the winning time of 2:58.32 (2:48) even slower than I thought. The rule of 24 times will be in parentheses as we go forward in our review.
On Friday, the track showed heavy bias to horses on the lead, and those who cut the fractions often held on for victory. In the Juvenile Turf, the winning time was 1:33.20 (1:36), and the Juvenile Fillies Turf was right behind in 1:33.72. The Dirt Mile featured Goldencents, the Kentucky Derby runner up going to the lead and setting blistering fractions of 21.94 and 44.55 and then holding strong to win in 1:35.12. Three mile races, all under the 1:36 marker.
Saturday was not as favoring to front runners, but the times kept sizzling. It does have to be noted that the Santa Anita turf course does run downhill, so the turf times were probably a bit faster than normal. In the 1 1/16 mile Juvenile, the winning time was 1:43.52 (1:42) with the Juvenile Fillies going slightly faster in 1:43.02. The filly and mare turf was a blazing 1:58.73 (2:00), and as mentioned, the turf sprint was a mind boggling 1:12.25(1:18) which to me, was the most impressive performance of the day. The Turf at the classic 1 ½ mile distance was won in 2:23.23, another very quick time.
The filly and mare sprint at 7 furlongs was won in 1:20.75 (1:24), and the six furlong sprint was 1:08.73 (1:12). There were 11 great races at the Breeder’s Cup, but to me, there were three big ones, the Distaff, the Mile and the Classic. All three had significant fortunes based on the outcomes, and in the end, one horse lived up to the hype while two did not.
On Friday, a small but stellar field of six went to the post in the Distaff. The wily veteran was Royal Delta, the defending champion, while the little baby Princess of Sylmar was trying to win her fifth consecutive stakes race. The Princess didn’t have it, neither did Royal Delta, but Beholder did, winning the 1 1/8 race in 1:47.77 (1:48). I still have to think that Princess of Sylmar will be the three year old Filly of the Year, but if you’re arguing that the Breeder’s Cup should carry more weight, than Behlolder would certainly be deserving of the nod.
The Mile was the showcase for reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Many were down on Wise Dan because he lost his last race at Keeneland. Some though that the old man was vulnerable. Of course, they failed to emphasize that he was a game second and that the race has been taken off the turf and run on synthetic. Trainer Charlie LoPresti could’ve scratched the old man, but didn’t want to disappoint the many fans who had come to the track to see Wise Dan perform. There were other skeptics that said that Wise Dan ran against softer competition in 2013 and though that may be true, he was five for five on the turf this year.
In the end, Wise Dan ran a courageous race, rallying at the eighth pole to win in 1:32.47, another fast time from a legendary horse who earlier ran 1:31 and change at Woodbine. The 2012 Horse of the Year certainly made a case to retain his title for 2013. All he had to do was wait for the Classic.
The conventional wisdom going into the Classic was the same conventional wisdom that went into the 2012 Classic. Game on Dude was the heavy favorite last year and was again this year. Now, in horse racing, you either love a horse or you don’t. I love Wise Dan, think he’s a bulldog and when he’s on, not only does he win, he dominates. Did he face the toughest competition in 2013? No, but unlike the Dude, Dan moved around and ran in California, Florida, Saratoga and Toronto. Game on Dude stayed in California and like Wise Dan beat up on less than stellar horses. In fact, not one of the horses beaten by Game on Dude in 2013 ran in the Classic.
Others love Game on Dude, and some stated that win or lose, the Dude would be voted champion Older Horse. I was not among those who thought that, in fact, even a win by Dude in the Classic would not have convinced me that Wise Dan was not the Horse of the Year. Last year, Game on Dude never fired and was never in it. This year, the Dude looked good early, but faded late, and to me, his candidacy for HOY went up in smoke. The vote will be close, but Wise Dan should retain his title. There will be some bias of course, because turf writers simply may not want to give Wise Dan the award two times in a row, but to me, the eye test showed that Wise Dan is the best again in 2013.
Despite Game on Dude’s poor showing, the Classic certainly lived up to its name. A stirring stretch drive saw the hard luck Mucho Macho Man with Gary Stevens beat Will Take Charge by a nose to win in 2:00.72 (2:00) European import Declaration of War was running his first race ever on dirt with a six foot jockey nonetheless and he ran a fabulous race to get third.
No horse showed more improvement from start to finish than Will Take Charge. An also ran in the Triple Crown, D. Wayne Lukas kept training the colt and he matured late, finishing second in the Jim Dandy, first in the Travers and first in the Pennsylvania Derby before that agonizing second in the Classic. There is talk that Lukas is pointing WTC to the Clark at Churchill Thanksgiving weekend and if you’re a fan of horse racing, that is something you’d want to see.
It’s been 30 years since the first Breeder’s Cup, and naysayers be damned, it is the one thing that the horse game got right. It’s simply a fantastic two day event that hopefully will only continue to flourish going forward.