The Brock Talk

Monday, November 7, 2011

Breeders' Cup Losses: If It Makes You Feel Any Better...

Well, Breeders’ Cup 2011 is in the books and there were some pretty-pretty-pretty big disappointments - pretty big disappointments at Churchill Downs this weekend.

All-in-all it was another great two days of racing with plenty of champions and stories resulting. The story of jockey
Joseph O’Brien winning the Turf aboard St. Nichols Abbey (IRE) for his father, trainer Aidan, ranks as one of the best stories of this year's World Championships. (Ire). (How closely related Joseph O'Brien is to Taylor Swift is a topic for another blog but...) Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott taking both the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday with Drosselmeyer and the Ladies Classic Friday with Royal Delta; are also among the more popular story lines.

But the disappointsments certainly have their share of the round ups, reviews and results.

From a wagering standpoint, the three biggest disappointments were Union Rags, Goldikova and Turbulent Descent. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Secret Circle was the biggest favorite of the day. Going to the post with 2-to-5 odds, Secret Circle managed to fight off the late charge of runner-up Shumoss and getting off to a popular start. Two more favorites would win Breeders’ Cup races Friday afternoon and early evening with Miss Aurelia winning the Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies and the Ladies Classic going to Royal Delta. But there were some diffucult races for handicappers and fans in between.

The most popular loser Friday was Turbulent Descent, who was given the lowest morning line odds at 6-to-5 in the Filly and Mare Sprint by Churchill Downs line maker Mike Battaglia. Battaglia was not far off on his line as Turbulent Descent went to the gate with 7-to-5 odds, only to finish fifth behind $42.40 long shot winner Musical Romance.

But Turbulent Descent was far from the biggest disappointment during the 28th running of the Breeders’ Cup. That honor goes to Union Rags, the second-place finisher in the $2 million Juvenile at 11-to-10 Saturday. But don’t blame the young son of Dixie Union too much. After breaking well from post ten, jockey Javier Castellano could not manage any closer to the rail in the short run to the first turn and was caught four wide. Allowing Union Rags to relax in a comfortable stride down the backstretch, Castellano never left the four path, and was again caught wide around the far turn. Union Rags made a great effort down the long Churchill Downs stretch running at eventual winner Hansen, but fell a dramatic head short.

The second most bitter pill to swallow from a wagering standpoint, also came Saturday at Churchill Downs when Goldikova failed to extend her current record to four consecutive victories in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Just as last year, Goldikova went to post as the 13-to-10 favorite, but this year, traffic problems persisted from the first turn to the home stretch. After an aggressive move turning for home by her jockey Olivier Pelier turning, Goldikova tried valiantly before falling short and but still managed third place. An objection was filed against Goldikova by rider Pat Valenzuela on Courageous Cat, but the steward's left the original order of finish.

Had Goldikova won her four Breeders’ Cup Miles, she would have not quite reached trainer Woody Stephens and his five straight Belmont Stakes victories from 1982 to ’86 or Kelso's five consecutive wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup from 1960-’64. But it would have been quite historic none-the-less. Goldikova is the only horse to win three Breeders’ Cup races - to extend that record would have certainly added to her legacy and the history of the Breeders’ Cup as an international event. Goldikova does have four wins in the prestigious French Prix Rothschile Stakes at Deauville Racecourse among her 17 group and grade 1 wins which is also a record for European females.

No matter the degree of disappointment felt by Goldikova, Union Rags or Turbulent Descent supporters, these pale in comparison to other heavy favorites defeated in previous Breeders’ Cups. Easy Goer supporters went through two beatings from the Breeders' Cup mutuel clerks. As a once defeated 2-year-old, Easy Goer was the 3-to-10 favorite in the 1988 Juvenile, but finished second to Is It True. Like Union Rags, Easy Goer had obstacles galore in the Juvenile including getting bumped at the start by Mountain Ghost, racing wide around the far turn and then jumping the gate tracks nearing the black and white sixteenth pole before the finish.

A year later, Easy Goer was again the favorite in the Classic, this time at 1-to-2, and with a chance to even the score with his west coast nemesis Sunday Silence. Sunday Silence had defeated Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before Easy Goer won the Belmont.

Again, Easy Goer was second to Sunday Silence and was then the record holder of the top two spots on the list of shortest priced Breeders' Cup losers. Housebuster took the second spot away from Easy Goer on the infamous list when he lost the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 2-to-5 when ninth behind winner Sheikh Albadou.

In the seven original Breeders’ Cup races, (Classic, Ladies Classic, Turf, Mile, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Sprint) there have been some 20 odds-on horses defeated. The Breeders’ Cup Turf leads the way as the favorite killer with five going down below even odds from Dancing Brave in 1986, to Sky Classic (’92), Paradise Creek (’94), Kitten’s Joy (’04) and Dylan Thomas in 2007. The Ladies Classic has also not been friendly to odds-on runners. Infirmed in 1987, was the first to be defeated below even odds in the Distaff and has been followed by Banshee Breeze (’08), Robilita (’98) and Sighseek in 2003.

The Classic too has seen four very popular runners leave the course in defeat, beginning with Slew O’Gold in the first Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1984. Off at 3-to-5 coupled with stable mate Mugatea, Slew O’Gold finished third but placed second through disqualification behind 30-1 winner Wild Again. Joining Slew O’Gold and Easy Goer are Cigar losing the Classic at .65-to-1 in 1996 and Curlin losing as the heavy favorite at 9-to-10 in the 2008 Classic.

Yes there were impasses in the Breeders’ Cup this year. Losses by Havre de Grace, Flat Out, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty are among the hardest felt by their fans, regardless of odds. Many popular Breeders' Cup losers before them have returned to write a different chapter to their racing careers. Others have not and retired to attempted to allow time and their breeding careers try to erase their Breeders' Cup calamities. No doubt that just as those memories of losses faded, those loses from this year will also deminish.

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