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Monday, October 31, 2005

Horse of the Year

- Saint Liam’s dominating win in the Classic puts him alone at the top of the class, whether you favor a points system such as the Blog Standings, or the traditional Eclipse voting system. His dominating win in the Classic clinched the title for him, barring some unforeseen development. Such as a showdown between he and Afleet Alex, for example. But that’s not going to happen, despite Dutrow’s dare to anyone to come and meet Saint Liam after 45 days. For one thing, Dick Jerardi reports in the Philly Daily News today that Chuck Zacney, the managing partner of Cash Is King, said "it looks like this is it [for 2005]."

Zacney is talking to his trainer, Tim Ritchey, about a 2006 campaign, which might start in the Sunshine Millions (a day of races between Florida and California breds) and, in a perfect world, end in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, the site of Alex's heartbreaking Kentucky Derby loss.
And besides, do you really think Saint Liam would show up, having nothing whatsoever to gain and everything to lose?

But he only beat Flower Alley by a length, and what’s so special about the 112 Beyer he earned?

That may be true, but neither takes into account all the ground that he lost when he broke to the outside in a situation in which even a clean break would have resulted in lost ground.
"He broke out sharply," Bailey said, "and stayed there for 20 or 30 yards, so instead of saving ground for the first few jumps, I was losing ground."
“My horse took the worst of it, breaking out at the start, and he still was very authoritative in winning." [LA Times]
The start wasn’t the only place he lost ground. He had to swing out to pass horses on the turn, and look here at just how wide he was (that’s him in the pink).

I think it’s fair to say that he could have won by significantly more with a better trip. As far as how Afleet Alex would have done in the race, that’s something we can think about for the rest of eternity, since the two will unfortunately never square off. Reader Jerry from Philly (glad to see that somebody here had Artie Schiller!), a big Afleet Alex fan, points out that: “AA comes home in better than 49.3 I'm sure.” Quite possibly. Perhaps, given the same trip scenario for Saint Liam, Afleet Alex at his peak could have won with some racing luck; but the Afleet Alex that would have come into the race off of one prep (that was just a wacky idea from the start), I think would have been hard-pressed to win under any circumstances.

Saint Liam is a son of Saint Ballado, out of Quiet Dance, a stakes winning daughter of Quiet American. Some readers will be happy to note that the presence of Quiet American in the pedigree means that he has plenty of Dr. Fager blood, as that stallion is incestuously inbred, 2x3, to the good doctor. His second dam is a half to Misty Gallore, a multiple graded stakes winning mare who I recall racing here in New York in 1979-80.

Moral Victory: Flower Alley gave an excellent account of himself rebounding from his Gold Cup disaster with his stubborn second place finish, in which he gave way grudgingly to a superior opponent, much like Bellamy Road did to him when he won the Travers. Apparently, Pletcher was trying to hype him as champion three year-old, but Jerardi is having none of that:
It was a hollow campaign. Flower Alley ran against Alex twice, losing by a combined 15 _ lengths. After his colt was trounced in the Derby, Pletcher took him out of the Triple Crown.

The Crown decides championships. Alex was a dominant force. Flower Alley disappeared. Flower Alley's excellent summer and fall campaign is not nearly enough to unseat Alex, who followed the brilliance of Smarty Jones with brilliance of his own
The connections of Perfect Drift were ecstatic (“We feel like winners"[NY Post] ); he ran his usual close but no cigar race, but in this case it was worth over a half million dollars for the show spot.

Big loser: Besides Afleet Alex, for whom the door to HOY honors opened a bit when Lost in the Fog went down, Borrego was a huge disappointment as the close second choice, finishing a distant, no-move tenth. Garrett Gomez said: “He gave me 50 yards of run through the stretch, but then he flattened out.” [LA Times]

- Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press doesn’t get that warm and tingly feeling when thinking about Saint Liam:
There is nothing particularly heart-warming about the Saint Liam story, no everyman owners like the crew that owns Afleet Alex, no small-time trainer, no small-time jockey, no lemonade stand, nothing.

What you get with Saint Liam is a guy who owns an oil company, a trainer who just served a 60-day suspension, and a rider, Jerry Bailey, who has won everything there is to win, multiple times.

Still, you have to admit, Saint Liam is the best horse around, even if there aren't all that many good ones left standing.

Oh well.