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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Seeing Stars

The inimitable Chris McGrath, writing in the UK's Guardian, provides an excellent summary of the debate overseas about the Breeders Cup status of the sensational Arc winner Sea the Stars; especially handy for those of us, including admittedly myself, who haven't been paying proper attention to the runup to the event for whatever reason, be it what one sees as the lack of depth and quality in most of the (too many) divisions this year, or if one is perhaps instead paying attention to the high drama of America's pastime.

Americans and Europeans often don't see eye to eye, and those differences in opinions and perspectives regarding horse racing are especially stark. In McGrath's article, we once again see the wide gulf in opinion about synthetic tracks. I've often mentioned how I'm taken aback by the furious invective we hear against the surfaces here; as if its proponents, in striving to make the sport safer, were doing something unimaginably awful and horrific. Y'know, like trying to make health care fairer and more accessible to those who presently can't afford to have it. Or, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for the mere suggestion that his country is willing to seek consensus and compromise rather than unilaterally and forcefully imposing its own solutions....thus reforming and reshaping its image throughout the world almost overnight. Oh, the horrors!

If you instead prefer to exhume the carcass of poor George Washington, moreover, you actually turn the moral imperatives in favour of running Sea The Stars.

For the loss of George Washington, in a vile slop at Monmouth Park, was one of several grotesque accidents that shocked American conservatives into acknowledging the need for the sort of synthetic surface introduced at Santa Anita. It is only the coincidence that the Breeders' Cup comes to the same venue, for the second year in a row, that makes it a remotely palatable project for Sea The Stars. In 2010 it is back on dirt, in Louisville, where it would never have been remotely entertained.

This process of integration was first embraced, against colossal vested interests, by American visionaries; and then by the trainers who favoured the Classic, for Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, over the Mile on turf. Back in fourth last year, however, was Curlin, whose connections are so disgusted that the Classic will again be run on "plastic" that they have vowed to keep away their outstanding filly, Rachel Alexandra.

In that context, Oxx might sense a responsibility to the future of the sport. The Breeders' Cup already lacks one marquee name; to miss this one, too, would be poor reward for its wholesome renewal. [Guardian UK]
Imagine, using the word "visionaries" to describe those responsible for the "plastic" over which the Breeders' Cup horses (which of course won't include America's most renowned star) will compete! It's a sure bet you'll never hear that here. That's a word usually reserved for Nobel Peace Prize winners.

- We've spoken quite a bit over the last few years about the demise of the handicap division for older horses; and it lays in virtual ruin this year. But the other end of the age spectrum is suffering as well in my opinion, and that's illustrated quite well by today's Champagne. Just six horses, two of them coming straight out of maiden wins, all but Dublin eligible for entry-level allowance races. "Grade 1" doesn't mean much when it comes to juvenile stakes this time of year. For all we know about these horses, the next Derby winner could be just as likely to come out of the maiden race in the second. The list of Champagne winners includes Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Easy Goer, Forty Niner, Riva Ridge, Stop the Music, and Alydar. Hard to imagine that any of today's entrants will accomplish as much as any of those. Possible of course, but no way to tell now.

But when Alydar defeated Affirmed in the 1977 edition, we already had a good idea that they both would be special. They had already won eight stakes between them (five by Affirmed), and were meeting for the fifth time. It's highly questionable if Dublin and Aspire will even meet five times in their careers! And whether either of them turns out to be of any consequence next spring simply remains to be seen.

Remaining to be seen in this post is the 1977 Champagne, well before the bubbly became stale...and with the late, great Chic Anderson in the announcer's booth.


DiscreetPicks said...

Horse from my watch list is entered in Race 2 @ Belmont today (Sunday); thought you guys might be interested:

Sure as Gold (8/27 @ SAR, Race 4)

I gave this filly out today; here's what i had to say about her on my website:

Saratoga - Race 4

#8 Sure as Gold (7/2 ml)

Expensive 2yo purchase for Pletcher brought over 20 times the sire's stud fee at the April Keeneland sale after working a furlong in 10.0, one tick off the show's best. She's also coming out of a heads-up drill with Ibboyee, who won a maiden race in 110.3 back on August 3. Looks very live here, and should be a decent price thanks to the half-sister to Speightstown who's coming out of the McLaughlin barn (who btw has been terrible with 2yo firsters at the meet).

In the race today, Sure as Gold blew the start and was off several lengths last, but then showed a good burst of speed while being rushed up to join the pack. She settled near the back once that was over, and then started making another fine move while coming widest of all around the turn to mount a challenge into the lane, grinding away late to finish second by a length. Considering she lost well over a length at the break, and had to use up some early energy while being rushed back into contention after the gate incident, it's rather obvious she was best here. And that was just my initial impression; the gate incident looks even worse on the head-on replay, where you can see that she took a complete right-hand turn leaving the gate and was headed for the outer rail. She was seperated from the rest of the field by literally about half the racetrack shortly after leaving the gate. Time of the race was slow, but clearly there's more under the hood here than it will look like on paper the next time she's entered.

Anonymous said...

The demise of the Champagne as a championship event can be directly traced to the formation of the Breeders Cup. In fact the entire "Belmont Championship Meet" has suffered, which is why I did not understand NYRA's reluctance to go head to head with the BC this season.

Yesterday's Champagne would have been much better attended if the Cup did not exist at all, and better attended if the Cup were being run on dirt this year.

Instead, there was a full field in KEE's 2yo race because they all wanted to prep over the AWT.

I suspect the exact opposite will occur the next two years, a full fields in the Champagne and few at KEE.

But the Belmont Fall meet will never again be a Championship Meet.

Anonymous said...

Watching all those Alydar Affirmed battles on youtube made my morning, thx.

DiscreetPicks said...

Sure as Gold ran second @ even-money.