Monday, February 23, 2009

Dunkirk Mania

I hate to add fuel to the fire in regards to Dunkirk, who's caught the thoroughbred world ablaze, but here are the two races that have caused all the commotion.

Not very fast, but he went well wide...

Again, not very fast, but he was racing from another area code on the first turn....

Who knows, Steve Haskin thinks he is Big Brown reborn.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. Old Fashioned
2. Imperial Council
3. Pioneerof The Nile
4. Hello Broadway
5. Fresian Fire
6. Capt. Candyman Can
7. Midshipman
8. General Quarters (new)
9. Flying Pegasus (8)
10. Stardom Bound (9)

One new addition, one dropped.

General Quarters looked fabulous winning the Sam F Davis. That was a decent enough field and he dominated them how a good horse should. He looks like he is getting it at the right time. Was tempted to place him significantly higher but felt it was important to factor in who he beat, where he beat them and the circuits typical impact on the Triple Crown in years past. (though with higher purses its slowly becoming a bit more relevant.

I dropped Vineyard Haven after him running 4th in the 2000 Guineas in Dubai. I don't like to place too much emphasis on races in Jan or Feb but given that his trainer commented on him not training that well and the fact that he never really looked like himself I think being dropped is warranted. It also doesn't help that he is not going to have a single prep stateside. (Unlike Midshipman who is being tentatively being pointed to the Bluegrass Stakes)

Imperial Council came back from his freshening to win an Allowance at Gulfstream last weekend. Not overly impressive, but it serves its point. He got some conditioning out of it, won, and is now on to bigger and better things being pointed towards the Gotham and Wood Memorial.

Old Fashioned also came back with a win int he Southwest Stakes. Being that there were no dramatic developments by the other key contenders I elected to keep him at the top of the list despite the fact that I think he will probably sweep the Arkansas preps and then get manhandled in the Derby. His performance in the Southwest left a bit to be desired in the speed department. Though, im tempering my opinion knowing that Larry Jones is not going to crank up this horse too soon. He knows what it takes to be ready for the big dance.

Till next week...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2008 In Review

Pt. 3
The Greeders Cup

This has been covered to death in traditional media outlets but it is one of the biggest stories of the year.

The back story is of course the Breeders Cup tried to eliminate its stake supplements across the country because they were taking a bath with their investments like the rest of the nation and to keep the bloated championship cards intact.

To keep this short and sweet the Breeders Cup is a crock of you know what.

When the organization started the breakdown was simple. 50% of their nomination fees would supplement stake races across the country the entire year, giving regional breeders the incentive to participate. The other 50% of course was to fund the year in championship races.

This was perfectly sell able because the chances of having a horse run in the Breeders Cup is slim (youd be better of playing the lottery and investing in scratch off tickets) but the chance of having a horse good enough to run in a supplemented stake is reasonable.

Look at the modern breeders cup though. 20% of the nomination fees go to stakes supplements. Why? Because they've created a championship card so bloated that the fact that there isnt a restricted race for 2yo gelded donkeys is surprising. Look at those championship cards. There are 72 races and about 43 of them are gender restricted 2yo races.

Theyve ruined the spirit of the day in the name of making money for themselves, with money provided by the breeders they are supposed to represent!

But lets looks at what they've done to the championship card...

1. They've created 2 additional dirt races for 3yo's and up, thinning out the Classic. Well Armed and Mast Track didn't run in the Classic because they thought they had a softer sport in the Mile. Wow, the ducking a dodging so prevalent in racing throughout the year will now be common place in the Greeders Cup.

2. Filly and Mare Sprint. Really? Same as above in regards to thinning out the actual Sprint.

3. 2yo Turf races. The overwhelming amount of them are merely allowance winners. Sounds like a championship caliber event. Again, one or two fringe Juvenile runners will opt to run here against Optional Claimer winners rather than enter the big dance.

4. Ladies day. Lets relegate the best females in the sport to a day when nobody can watch. I mean, Personal Ensign, Azeri and Zenyatta have no place on the main card. Those 2yo turf claimers need exposure!

5. 2 days. Sounds great in theory. Too bad the public is not going to take a day off work to watch. The ratings for these Friday cards are at the same level as the International Badminton Championships. The next Personal Ensign will be watched by the 17 people who called in sick from work.

We could go on and one but its like a bad record skipping frankly.

Hopefully the breeders can initiate major change in the Breeders Cup, even if it means eliminating the entire thing in the short term. Its a great idea gone horribly wrong.

2008 in Review

Pt. 2
What Did Brown Do For You?

The Preakness was the last race I discussed for him so Ill backtrack a little.

While some can attribute the bust that was Big Brown in the Belmont to the racing gods frowning on the connections and handlers the fact of the matter is the Triple Crown exposes weakness is a variety of ways. A questionable horse can win a big race, a poor trainer can get lucky, but in the quest for the Triple Crown everyone eventually gets found out.

Big Brown was a good horse and Dutrow knows how to train. Neither were built to complete the Triple Crown though. The pairing was a actually a match made in heaven. Dutrow likes to give his horses plenty of time between races and slowly bring them along. Big Brown had bad feet. The fact that they ended up together was a blessing and as a result both were able to achieve the highest honor in racing. Under ideal conditions they didn't lose a race.

Many beleive the Belmont was the result of a horse without the ability, heart or necessary "supplements" to win a grueling race of that magnitude. The truth is Big Brown just wasn't sound enough to hold up to that type of schedule and Dutrow is out of his element running horses back in that time frame. Big Brown's feet cost him 5 days of training and Dutrow didnt take advantage of the other 15 days he had to get him ready. Look at the profile of a TC winner, they all maintained a heavy workload, most of which worked 2 to 3 times between the 2nd and 3rd jewels. Dutrow has never been that type of trainer and he was never going to risk bottoming his charge out doing what was best to win the race. Of course we can argue whether Brown would have held up to make it to the race but there is no doubt that the kid gloves have to come off for a horse facing the Test of Champions and Dutrow is not that guy and Brown wasn't that horse.

The horses ability or pedigree had nothing to do with it. Big Brown could destroy that field 9 times out of 10 and Dutrow could train a horse up to winning a race of that caliber, but under those conditions neither could play their best hand.

I was quite happy Big Brown came back to win his final two races. The horse had taken such a beating in the press and amongst the internet warriors after the Belmont that I really started to to root for the horse to quiet them down. Whats interesting to me is that fans cant seem to distance the horse from his handlers. They hate the loud moth trainer, they hate the horse. They hate the shady owners (which is questionable at best) then they pass that hate on to the horse. Of course never mind the fact that the horse has no control over what spews from a trainers mouth, how he is trained, who owns him or what gets injected into his backside. The real loser in the fiasco that was Big Brown mania was the horse.

He deserved better.

He showed heart in his final two races when he could have easily collapsed. He showed a will to dominate his opposition leading up to the Triple Crown. He overcame the worst post position in Derby history. What did he get for it? A rabid bias against him because his trainer couldnt keep his mouth shut.

He might be the poster child for racing's steroid era in the same way Big Mac and Sammy Sosa (and now A-Rod) were for baseball, but unlike those creeps he was an innocent party in the matter and all he did when the gates swung open was leave it all on track. (for better and worse)

Im a fan, and I wish him the best at stud.

2008 in Review

As I attempt to resuscitate this blog, I feel I should completely wrap up the 2008 season. I've picked three topics to discuss starting with the 2008 Horse of the Year, Curlin.

Pt. 1
The Greatness of Curlin?

To be fair you don't hear much chatter of him being a great horse after his flop in the Breeders Cup Classic but his long term standing is worth discussing.

Being the all time earnings leader in most cases is a claim for greatness. While its certainly an excellent feat, in modern racing with inflated championship purses earnings have never meant less in assessing a horses career. (as if it matters to an owner)

At the end of the day his 4yo career comes down to two things. One, he beat nothing of consequence. Two, he lost both races where there was a challenge to overcome in either the strength of opposition or the running surface. Sure he won the Dubai World Cup, the Stephen Foster etc. but who did he beat in doing so? Wonderin Boy? Fairly underwhelming.

To be fair the horse was facing his stiffest challengers in races where he was also running over new surfaces, but surface alone doesnt give him a free pass. Zenyatta was every bit as good on dirt as polytrack. Big Brown might have actually been better on turf than dirt. The list goes on and on.

His 4yo career did not show us anything new about the horse. Its arguable he was any faster as a 4yo than a late developing 3yo. He didn't defeat a horse of the caliber he defeated and lost to as a 3yo. He overcame no great hurdles.

So where does he stand? Its tough to rank him because on accomplishments he was certainly a distinguished runner. On ability he was questionable even amongst high caliber horses of his era. I have no doubts Ghostzapper or Candy Ride would run him off the track. Those horses were dynamic and amazingly fast. Of course they were as fragile as a glass chandelier but on pure ability they were notch above Curlin. I also question whether as a 4yo he could defeat or shall I say routinely defeat the likes of Mineshaft, Congaree, Medaglia D Oro or Pleasantly Perfect. I have real doubts whether Curlin wins the Dubai World Cup if he runs with Roses In May.

So, id probably put Curlin 2nd behind Ghostzapper for horse of the decade. Ghostzappers ability puts him above Curlins accomplishments. Its debatable and many would not agree but Zapper in my opinion won just enough to warrant a ranking based on his freakish ability.

I have no problem putting Curlin above the rest based on his accomplishments, despite the fact that I believe quite of few of them would give him more than he'd want.