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Monday, November 09, 2009

"This is Unbelievable!"

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I had tired of the Zenyatta team's hesitation in committing to the Classic, as they seemed to be surveying the potential competition to make sure it did not come up too tough. I then opined that the waffling had diminished her rightful claim to Horse of the Year should she win the Classic, a concept which I had previously strongly defended. A reader responded:

Alan, so let me get this straight. Because Zenyatta's connections are uncertain whether they want to try the classic, she is no longer eligible for HOY, regardless of if she runs in the classic and wins by 10 lengths. Whereas, if her connections were more decisive about the classic, she'd still be in the discussion for HOY? That makes no sense, pal.
Well, it made sense at the time, at least to me. But now, after the fact, I'd have to say that the reader was right. In the aftermath of her incredible rally, it makes no sense at all. The race was what it was, and, in retrospect, it matters not what came before.

Nonetheless, I feel as if I've therefore dq'd myself from the debate, so I'll step away, at least for now. But I think it's clear that the keen anticipation for the race once Zenyatta was finally committed, the high drama of the race itself, and the delirious adulation of the fans at the track leaves Jess Jackson looking petty, and his filly's accomplishments at least partially diminished. Hanging on for dear life against Macho Again at a mile and an eighth just doesn't measure up to this, I don't care what they're running on. But I'll let you guys discuss the HOTY issue, and move on to a few other points.

The Classic was the first race of such epic historic proportion to be run on a synthetic track. I imagine that, further down the road, it will be remembered simply as a classic horse race, one just as epically dramatic and historic as any other such event, and not as a classic horse race run on an artificial surface. I'd like to ask those of you who say that you "hate" synthetic tracks to tell us what you hated about this race? Or about the day in general? What, because Summer Bird and Mine That Bird didn't take to the track? So? Progeny of Birdstone apparently don't take to the track - I'd think that's an angle you should be seeking ways to take advantage of instead of bitching about. Synthetics are another angle for your handicapping; a little more juice to spice up the game and make it interesting. That's always been a good thing as far as I'm concerned, another twist with the potential to lead to that magic key which leads you to a winner. Perhaps, instead of complaining, you should have been betting the top-synth figure horses at 24-1 or at 25-1. Dirt horses don't like the stuff? That's awesome to know when Summer Bird is 6-1, or the overrated Music Note 2-1.

- "Let's see," Trevor Denman noted at some point as they rounded the turn (don't know for sure exactly where they were due to the ridiculous camera angles that ESPN insists on employing), "Zenyatta has a lot...a lot of ground to make up. If she wins this, she'll be a super horse." He can say that again. By the time those words came out of Denman's mouth, Mike Smith and his super horse had already gained several lengths while taking the short way home on the bend. As far back as she was, Smith must have sensed he had no other choice but to stay inside. Don't know if she would have gotten there had she circled around horses. She surely saved more than her winning margin by doing so (though you can never say for sure that a champion racehorse such as she wouldn't have done what she had to in order to prevail anyway).

From there, it was a remarkably smooth journey outside towards her winning path home, testament to the skills of the rider and horse alike. She flew home the last quarter in 23.30, according to Formulator; and that came after three quarters she ran in under 24 seconds - 23.36, 23.32, and 23.89 - just to get into contention after her disastrous start. Zenyatta earned a Beyer of 112, a nice number, but surely as meaningless as the 97 and 99 she was given in the races prior.

And Denman nailed this race too. As track announcers' careers stretch on over the years, I find that what was once genuine youthful enthusiasm often turns into canned phrases that can make the euphoria sound forced. As a matter of fact, before the race, I saw this proposition bet offered:
Which call will Trevor Denman use to describe Zenyatta's move?
"Jumps in at the quarter pole" 5/2
"Moving like a winner" 11/4
"They'd have to sprout wings" 4/1
" Poetry in Motion" 3/2
(If none of these phrases are used then all wagers will be no action.)
No payoff here....Trevor Denman was as enthralled as the rest of us, and instead, in what could very well turn out to be the signature call of his career, exclaimed exactly what we were all thinking:
And what else was there to say?


Anonymous said...

your clocking for the opening 6f is bogus, on the front end they went the opening 6f in 1:11.4/5 which also means at some point she would of had to run a quarter in 25 3/5, highly doubtful.

Anonymous said...

i really do not exactly know what horse of the year means. the horse who accomplished more? the horse who beat better horses? the horse who won races under different circumstances? the faster horse?the horse i would bet in a match race?the horse who has owners who took more risks? this is kind of like the baseball mvp one knows what the criteria is exactly.i think when it's close the horse that did something great more recently wins

Anonymous said...

did i say 25 3/5? i am sorry i meant 27 3/5.

ballyfager said...

Alan, it turns out your just another bandwagon jumper. I'm surprised.

I'll dispose of the easy part first. Denman's call was not good. He focused too much on Zenyatta. He does that in everyday races too. And when the chalk doesn't get up he looks like an ass. I bet Gio Ponti to win and, in midstretch, he very much looked like a winner. Denman never even mentioned him until the end when he acknowledged Gio Ponti as second.

He was so bad in the Breeders Cup two or three years ago that everyone noticed. And IMO, his voice itself is annoying.

Okay, on to the matter at hand. Rachel had a year like no other three yr. old filly ever, not even Ruffian (please note I'm not saying she is as good or better than Ruffian). But, HOY is about who had the best year, or at least it should be. That's clearly Rachel.

You have the cast iron gall to take Jess Jackson to task for not being there Saturday when he took his horse all over the country? While, except for the Apple Blossom, Zenyatta stayed in California. She was managed too conservatively. That's not the horse's fault, but it means she can't be HOY. Particularly not this year.

Finally, Zenyatta's race was outstanding. But that was NOT a stellar field. That's why I liked Gio Ponti, a natural turf horse.

There was no Curlin, Big Brown, Street Sense, Afleet Alex, or Smarty Jones in that starting gate, just to name some outstanding horses of recent memory.

Those filly & mare races, running on that synthetic crap in California, don't mean dick three. Zenyatta was put to the test once. And she passed with flying colors. But, when measured against Rachel's year, that's not nearly enough for HOY.

There are a lot of nignogs out there who don't have the wherewithall to think it through. They'll react emotionally to the last thing they saw. But I didn't think you were one of them.

onecalicocat said...

Unless I missed something, It appears that all of the BC entrants came out of their races without major injury.
That's a plus for the track surface right there.

Anonymous said...

Put me in ballyfager's corner on all accounts. Alan, I was the one who wrote that post a few weeks ago claiming that the indecision of Z's connections would have no bearing on HOY vote. I still feel that way, as Zenyatta is an Alpha mare who will take them on no matter where they send her. It's not her fault that her connections babied her until finally doing the right thing this past weekend.

Unfortunately, I really hope the voters do the right thing and stick with Racel Alexandra. It's this simple: Rachel had FIVE smashing wins in 2009 (the Oaks, the 9f race at Bel, the three wins against males), and Zenyatta had exactly ONE. Rachel went to six different track and Zenyatta never left Cali.

It's a shame really that Zenyatta's connections were not more aggressive with her because there's a good chance she could beat Rachel. Heck, if that big mare looks anyone in the eye, "anyone" will fold.

But the die is cast. Rachel is HOY and this is with all due respect to the amazing Zenyatta.

Anonymous said...

PS: And Denman stinks. Please tell me they will use someone else next year. He called the final order of finish in the BC Classic. 1. Zenyatta. 2. Gio. 3. Summer Bird 4. Richard's Kid. The game has passed him by.

JK said...

I agree with Ballyfager about Denman's call. He concentrated on Zenyatta way too much. He made a big deal about Zenyatta being in last place, but that's where she is in every race she runs. Why make a big deal of it? Then when Gio Ponti took the lead he was calling Zenyatta who at the time was in fourth. If you were listening to the race without watching you would've never have known Gio Ponti was up in contention till they crossed the finish line. I would've liked to have heard how Durkin would've called this one. I know he missed the Derby big time this year but he nailed the Woodward.

Alan Mann said...

>>your clocking for the opening 6f is bogus, on the front end they went the opening 6f in 1:11.4/5 which also means at some point she would of had to run a quarter in 25 3/5, highly doubtful.

According to Formulator, Zenyatta's splits were:

26.74, 23.36, 23.32, 23.89, and 23.30.

Please direct any further complaints to DRF! :-)

Superfecta said...

I wouldn't say Summer Bird didn't take to the track - his fourth-place finish was right up there. He just got beat by a monster, plain and simple, and a nice European horse. I could see him doing well on either synthetics or turf down the line.

Mine That Bird, of course, is another story. He may like Canadian synthetic tracks, but he wants no part of Santa Anita.

Anonymous said...

Denman called Summer Bird third and I thought I hit the triple, when I watched the replay it was not really close. His race call takes on even more importance considering the horrible ESPN/ABC camera angles and the lack of posted fractions and he came up very small on all fourteen races.

The Classic was a field of proven Grade One horses from around the world and they, their connections and their fans deserved better than this race call.

He happened to be proven correct when Z ran them down, but if she floundered it would go down as one of the worst race calls in history.

Alan Mann said...

I agree that you can certainly quibble with the technical aspects of Denman's call. He did not pick up Gio Ponti before he got the lead, and he did call that Summer Bird was "right there," when Twice Over had already passed him. But Zenyatta was the story here, and he was correct, as it turned out, to pay "too much attention" to her. Being that this race was being watched by, presumably, a larger audience than your usual race, many viewers may not have been aware that she is generally last. And besides, she wasn't just last, she was dead last; almost dwelt at the start, and I thought that was worth emphasizing. You can say it would have been the worst call in history had she lost. But she won, and I thought he brilliantly captured the moment and the emotions of the 58,000 at the track and (hopefully) many more than that watching on TV. So, while acknowledging your points, I stand by my assessment of his performance.

Anonymous said...

I agree he captured the moment, once the race was decided, certainly better than forcing a cliche, just thought the first 9f of the call stunk from the perspective of someone who bet against Z.

Mentioning she was last was of course warranted, but emphasizing it as if it was unusual for dramatic effect was misleading.

"And Zenyatta takes her usual position at the rear" would be more appropriate.

Another note, I am sure everyone is happy the BC committee finally came to their senses and switched to the color coded saddle cloths, I actually had a clue where my horses were in the race despite the camera cuts.

Now if they would use Trakus, and give the fractional splits, and get rid of Hank, and spent a few seconds running down the ENTIRE field......

Not in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Just had a brainstorm, in this day and age couldn't they easily offer a standard track feed to simulcast outlets, for the hard core gambler that does not care about the pretty camera shots and the stupid features?

El Angelo said...

I'm inclined to agree with Alan here. Yes, Denman's call wasn't as technically flawless as an announcer should be to a conventional horse playing crowd, but this wasn't conventional circumstances. His stretch call perfectly captured the moment and excitement, I thought.

El Angelo said...

I know in the past when I've watched the BC at Aqueduct I've seen a simulcast feed.

Anonymous said...

>>I'd like to ask those of you who say that you "hate" synthetic tracks to tell us what you hated about this race? Or about the day in general? What, because Summer Bird and Mine That Bird didn't take to the track? So? <<

So, where do I begin?

How about if Summer Bird goes undefeated next season on DIRT next season, and it becomes obvious the synth cost him a championship event, as it did Curlin last year? It may have cost him HOY.

The Kentucky Derby and Belmont winners, two AMERICAN classic winners, are compromised by the surface in the AMERICAN championship event and that is fine with you?

I am not a hater of synth, it has never done anything to me to warrant me hating it.

But there are two distinct issues at hand, gambling on it, and running championship events on it.

From a handicapping perspective, there simply is not enough evidence at this point to properly handicap. At least when a horse goes dirt to turf I have years of experience and statistical fact to rely on, no such data exists for synth.

There are races in CAL now where all the starters have proven form over the stuff, and I agree those races become viable wagering opportunities and I would not hesitate to play them, but I just do not have anything to hang my hat on in any race that includes a first time synth starter.

Second, I think we all agree that Synth is a distinctly separate surface, just as Turf is not Dirt.

If the BC wishes to create a Synth Classic I have no issue with that concept, but until they do to force dirt horses to run on syth to earn a championship is simply unfair and distorts reality.

Suppose for a second an imaginary track without a turf course bid on the BC.

It has a beautiful facility, plenty of seating and beautiful weather. Would the BC committee approve it as a site and force the BC Turf and Mile on DIRT, or even SYNTH?? Could Preque Isle Downs hold a Breeders Cup without a turf course, just run all the races on Synth?

I think not.

Perhaps that will provide some perspective.

Anonymous said...

El Al, my place had the simulcast feed, which did include occasional odds updates, but when the showed the race it was the ESPN production.

They did give EX and DD odds which helped but were VERY slow to provide will pays which was frustrating.

To clarify, I guess what I want is a feed with the traditional racing pan shot and race call.

El Angelo said...

I don't think a different camera shot exists, my guess is that ESPN has hogged all the rights to the event. I remember the simulcast show having the paddock presentation, commentary, odds, will pays, etc., but nothing else. Actually, TVG probably does the same thing, plus you get the sage analysis of Carrothers.

Also, please don't confuse me with the airline. ;-)

jk said...

Rachel vs Zenyatta is apples to oranges. The BC Classic on poly is a race where top turf horses do well. You can not compare that to anything Rachel has done. All of the horses with dirt form did not run so well at the BC, you would have to assume Rachel would not have done so well either. Rachel and Zenyatta both had great years but you are comparing a dirt horse to a turf horse in many respects.

As far as handicapping, I had a great day at the windows. Many races went to horses with top speed figs at great prices. Poly races are not that hard to handicap if you put your mind to it.

SaratogaSpa said...

Great race calls stand the test of time-Trevors call 20 years from now will sound awesome, he gambled big on focusing only on Zenyatta and it paid off-big time.

Anonymous said...

Another way to look at it is, there are a lot of fans of Z and RA out there, but I happen to be a Summer Bird fan and my favorite horse did not get a fair chance in the biggest race of the year and I am not happy about it nor are his connections presumably.

Of course he was beaten by Rachel but his victories in the Belmont, Travers and JCGC at Classic distances were historically comparable or superior to the accomplishment of both RA (Oaks, Preakness, Haskell, Woodward) and Zenyatta (a bunch of synth races vs. F) and I believe he would have added the BC Classic if it were at Belmont where it belonged this year.

Pull the Pocket said...

Nice post re: Denman Alan.

I am not a fan of him, but he captured the race as good as anyone could. That call will live on for a long, long time and I truly enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Curlin!Curlin! Look at Curlin go. Did you guys have a Denman discussion after last years BC?

Erin said...

Had to think of you Alan, after I read this post and then saw the headline on Equidaily, "What was there not to like about this edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships?" linking to an article by none other than Joe Drape.


Anonymous said...

Same old crap which began in the days of West Coast's Seabiscuit vs East Coast's War Admiral. But at least the tracks were all dirt in those days. Now we have synthetic vs dirt to totally screw things up. I think SoCal needs to bring back dirt to stay relevant. What say you, racing fans? /S/greenmtnpunter

Pull the Pocket said...

>Curlin!Curlin! Look at Curlin go. Did you guys have a Denman discussion after last years BC?>

You old sourpuss RG :)

I think Denman calls things prematurely and I think he did even this year a little bit. But I am not one to be overly critical of these guys since they do not have an overly easy job. I know I sure as hell could not do it.

I think the best calls are happenstance most times anyway (Cigar, Easy Goer Sunday Silence in the Classic way back when), and this time Trevor really made that happenstance memorable for me.

I thought the track feed did equally well. They let the crowd scream for a good minute before Todd even said a word, and when he did he captured it beautifully I thought.

OK enough with the damn announcers.... back to yelling about HOY :)


Teresa said...

Onecalicocat: Lillie Langtry came out with a knee fracture.

Alan Mann said...

>>Same old crap which began in the days of West Coast's Seabiscuit vs East Coast's War Admiral. But at least the tracks were all dirt in those days.

And if it wasn't east coast tracks vs west coast tracks, it was the Lasix states vs the non-Lasix states. None of this is ideal for determining definitive champions, but it sure makes for a lot of controversy and discussion. What's wrong with that?

RG, Mr Old Sourpuss :-) - I went back and listened to last year's call, and you make a fair point - it was very Curlin-centric....and he even said at one point when he was making up a lot of ground, that it was unbelievable. However, he properly switched gears when it was apparent he wasn't getting there, and it was a totally competent call. Again, I don't think there's anything at all wrong in situations such as this to base the call around the horse that has been highlighted on the telecast, and in the press all along.

I once heard Marshall Cassidy, who was the worst track announcer of all time, call a race with a prohibitive favorite - I think it involved Personal Ensign?? - by leading each review of the field with that horse no matter where it was. "Down the backstretch, and Personal Ensign is 4th on the inside" or something like that." It didn't work not surprisingly, but the principle was sound; after all, this was the horse that most everyone was paying attention to. Denman is doing the same thing, but in a more artistic and dignified way.

Anonymous said...

When Zenyatta began to eat up ground as the rounded the far turn, while Denman was saying how much ground she had to make up, the growd erupted, so intensely were they following her and only her. When she went outside of Twice Over and got clear sailing, the place seemed to literally rock with the sheer volume of sound. Few there cared at that point where Gio Ponti was, or Summer Bird, or Mine That Bird was or what might be happening to their exactas. This was not a normal horse race. The only thing that really mattered was Zenyatta. Denman called the race accordingly, and it worked out beautifully.


ballyfager said...

Laurie K, et al

Did you notice all those shiny lights on the tote board? They represented people's bets. A lot of them didn't bet on Zenyatta and were not caught up in the moment, as you imply.

A racecaller's job is to inform, not editorialize. Denman is trying to insinuate himself into the story and some of us resent it. Have you ever heard of Larry Lederman? He lampoons Denman sometimes. He often lightens the mood and I think that's a good thing.

At the end of the day, it's a horse race, not the Normandy landings.

I've been watching and betting on horseraces for a long, long time and the only truly memorable thing I ever heard any racecaller say is when Chick Anderson said, "Secretariat is like an incredible machine".

DiscreetPicks said...

Rachel had the best year of any 3yo fully ever? Does the name Zarkava ring a bell?

steve in nc said...

I like Durkin, and Denman wasn't perfect, but after the put that goddam Muttonchop guy on again, Denman, was comparatively, "poetry in motion." I cashed no tix in that race, but it was still very satisfying when Conduit won.

Anonymous said...

>>LaurieK et. al.

Did you notice all those shiny lights on the tote board? They represented people's bets. A lot of them didn't bet on Zenyatta and were not caught up in the moment, as you imply.<<

Yes, I did notice them, but honestly, didn't and still don't care in this case. And if anyone was not caught up in Zenyatta at that moment in this case, that was entirely their problem, because they're probably not big fans of racing, and missed out on something truly remarkable. Anyway, there were those little lights on the tote board to indicate official order of finish and official payouts and stuff, if that's what this particular race meant to you.

Anonymous said...

how many times did zarkava run at three? how many times did zarkava face males? its not who do you believe is the best filly its who had the toughest schedule.