The Brock Talk

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dear Mr. Horse Racing

In a exclusive interview with The Brock Talk, Mr. Horse Racing discusses the highlights of 2010 and the prospects of the industry in 2011.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What was the best about 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Zenyatta was by far the star of the year, if not the star of the decade here in North America. Watching her streak grow to 19 undefeated wins was a great thrill and brought recognition to the sport from such influential media as Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine and 60 Minutes on CBS. Even in defeat, her Breeders’ Cup Classic loss to Blame is one of the greatest races of our generation.

I also think people underestimate the year Quality Road had. He began the year in a starting gate rehab program after his Jerry Springer/Maury Povich performance in which he tried to eat the Santa Anita starting gate and it’s crew before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Quality Road returns to begin the year with three graded races and has the biggest image change since Tom Hanks left Bussom Buddies.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the biggest disappointments of 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Other than the obvious being Zenyatta’s defeat in the aforementioned Breeders’ Cup Classic, there were four big disappointments in 2010. The other notable disappointment was Rachel Alexandra suffering defeats at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Churchill Downs, Saratoga and thus retiring before the Breeders’ Cup. Number two: We have now gone two years without a Kentucky Derby champion winning a race after the Run For The Roses. Neither Super Saver nor Mine That Bird managed an appearance in the winner’s circle after winning the Derby. Number Three: Zenyatta losing her final race. Some would make this the biggest disappointment of the year, but at least she made it to the big stage with the streak and notched her place in horse racing history among those that brought horse racing to the general public. Difficult to say that her ultimate star power was a disappointment. And finally, number Four: There was no race between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. We had two chances this year. Thanks to Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella and his offer to write a big check if both appeared in the grade 1 Apple Blossom, there was a chance in April. The other missed opportunity came when Zenyatta’s connections decided not to ship to Saratoga for the grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes in August. A decision that cost her a slam dunk as Horse of the Year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will we have a Triple Crown winner this year?

Mr. Horse Racing: Without hope and optimism, there is no horse racing. But I can say two things about the Triple Crown. We have a good group that will represent the class of 2011 including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, Boys of Toscanova and To Honor and Serve. There are also some 20 others that are on watch lists throughout the industry. From what I’ve heard talking to Santa Claus and others, there were a lot of owners and trainers that had injury-free on the Christmas, Hanaka, and Festivus lists this year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: We need another female jockey star in the sport. Any chances?

Mr. Horse Racing: First, let's recognize the progress women have made in recent years. Linda Rice won the training title at Saratoga in 2009 and was second to Todd Pletcher in 2010. Among the North America’s leading consignors at thoroughbred auctions are Murray Smith and Meg Levy. Women are becoming more prominent as owners as seen by Jenny Craig, Gretchen Jackson and Maggi Moss. Chantal Sutherland definitely has some star power as a jockey as does Inez Karlsson, a top ten rider at Arlington Park; and Rosemary B. Homeister, Jr., third in the jockey standings during the Churchill Downs winter meeting and a veteran making a courageous comeback after some personal challenges.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will thoroughbred racing see a sharp decline in interest after the departure of Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin At Lucky, Blame, Quality Road and the likes?

Mr. Horse Racing: Simply put – No. Horse racing had some the best stars in recent memory carry it through one of the most difficult economic times in our nation’s history. Last year the Kentucky Derby had one of its biggest television ratings with Lookin at Lucky coming off a losing Spring campaign and Super Saver as a marginal favorite. Big crowds and large handles resulted in the New Jersey experiment at Monmouth Park and Churchill is now running on successful Friday night model still popular at Hollywood Park and many other tracks around the country. If the economy shows any hint of rebound, horse racing now has a base to benefit.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the worst decisions in 2010 that will have an impact on 2011?

Mr. Horse Racing: The decision of the Churchill Downs stewards not to scratch Life at Ten from the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic may have cost horse racing thousands of marginal fans. Jockey John Velasquez said on national television that he was not comfortable with the way she was warming up – an important pre-race note most likely missed by casual and novice racing fans. I hate to think of the number of sports book players waiting for their pre-empted college football game on ESPN, with open online wagering accounts, who bet on the favorite as a “why not wager”, only to see her break last and not run a jump. Say goodbye to a great number of those proflic gamblers.

I also have to say that retiring 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird was a blunder. He may not have won the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap or Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he is a Kentucky Derby winning gelding that could have created much excitement with a marginal career. I would have given him 30 days vacation in Roswell to relax and hone his flying saucer dodging skills then sent him to one of the most prolific horsemen in the Southwest over the last 40 years, Keith Asmussen in Laredo, for the winter. If the folks at the Asmussen Training Center, known for buying and producing millionaires from California to France, see a sparkle in Mine That Bird, then off to Ron McAnally in California. McAnally has a long history with the Asmussen operation and of course trained one of the greatest geldings of our generation in John Henry. McAnally also trains in Southern California where the new track at Santa Anita is natural dirt and not the synthetic nemesis Mine That Bird so disliked. If McAnally decides that the Santa Anita Handicap is not in the plans, then consider a tour of the nation in popular grade 3 races such as the Razorback in Arkansas, the Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas, the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker in Iowa, the Longacres Mile in Washington, or the Monmouth Cup in New Jersey. Fans in these regional markets would clammer to see a Kentucky Derby winner if marketed properly and if Mine That Bird has a spark left, McAnally and the Asmussens would find it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Santa

For sake of disclosure, please be aware that you are just being copied on this list. The original has long been sent for consideration to Santa at his North Pole address.

Dear Santa,

I hate to ask for much this year because you delivered so many items from my horse racing Christmas list last year. Zenyatta stayed in racing all year and remained undefeated going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic and gave us a race for the ages in defeat. Quality Road and Musket Man represented the Triple Crown class of ’09 well in the older horse ranks and you surprised us with Blame. We also appreciate how Lookin at Lucky rebounded after having so much bad luck early in the year. There’s so much more for which to say thanks for last year, but I know you’re busy this time of year, so I’ll get right to my list.

1. Triple Crown winner - I hate to keep bugging you Santa. I know I’ve been asking for this every year since we got Affirmed in 1978 and I know they are difficult. But I don’t really care who wins the Triple Crown – I just would really like another Triple Crown winner. I don’t care if it’s Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, Comma To The Top or some 2-year-old most of us don’t even know exists today. And it’s just not for me Santa. Think about how much a Triple Crown winner would mean to all of the fans in Maryland who have endured so many difficult times over the years during daily cards at Pimlico and Laurel. And the fans in New York, Santa. They have made the nice list so many times coming out on Belmont Day in droves looking for that next Triple Crown winner only to be betrayed by the likes of Coastal, Summing, Bet Twice, Easy Goer, Touch Gold, Victory Gallop, Lemon Drop Kid, Empire Maker and Birdstone – not to mention the flops by War Emblem and Big Brown.

2. Speaking of New York Santa, I also ask that you do what you can to help open New York Off Track Betting Again. I know that sounds a bit crass to ask this – especially for a company that has been so woefully mismanaged for so long, but it represents 1,000 employees of NYOTB that are probably having a pretty tough Christmas this year. They also handle about a billion dollars a year, that this economy and racing industry very much need to churn.

3. I know we won’t get another Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road or Summer Bird returning to the older horse ranks, but I’m sure you have another Blame in that sack of yours. Heck, this time last year Blame was coming off of two grade 2 stakes win at Churchill Downs and was looking in on the national spotlight shining on others. You have some tools to work with in Albertus Maximus, winner of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and 2009 Donn Handicap, making a possible comeback. Last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield, Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town or the Bob Baffert-trained Alcindor, who has been turning heads in Southern California.

4. Hollywood Park Remain Open – I have to admit that I’ve already seen this present (at least as much as I can hope for.) Thanks Santa.

5. Success of New Santa Anita Surface – I know Santa, that I have been a proponent of artificial racing surfaces for sake of safety if nothing else. But I have to admit that I’m kind of excited about not having to solve the riddle of California 3-year-olds coming off of PolyTrack to try to win the Kentucky Derby. As you fly over Santa Anita, if you have a handful of marginal magical dust that you want to get rid of, feel free to sprinkle a little over the Great Race Place as you pass.

6. Slot Machines In Texas – Let me be clear Santa. I’m not asking for a five-time-pay hit on a on a dollar progressive slot machine if they get here in Texas. I’m just asking that you consider what it would mean a lot to see Lone Star Park regain its formidable place in racing with the potential to raise the bar toward original hopes for horse racing in Texas. Sam Houston Race Park has always shown promise and Retama Park has survived under the current dire economic racing climate in Texas.

7. Don’t let anybody in horse racing get busted with a foot fetish YouTube video unless they are a licensed farrier.

8. Three-Year-Old Filly Star – I know you have delivered on this the last two years in a very big way with Rachel Alexandra two years ago and Blind Luck and Evening Jewel this year. But horse racing always needs another female star and the Kentucky Oaks seems to be creating its own niche as a major event in the sport. Female stars bring more ladies and girls of all ages to the sport, and that is always good because women control a lot more than we men would like to admit. I’m sure Mrs. Claus would agree with me on this.

9. Keep jockey Calvin Borel from retirement – I’ve heard that there have been some ultimate cage fighting associations that are making a run at him.

10. And finally Santa, keep all of the jockeys, exercise riders, trainers, stable hands and of course the horses, safe throughout the year.


Brock Sheridan

Friday, December 17, 2010

Young CashCall Has Rich History

Relative to many other grade 1 races in the country, the 29-year-old CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park Saturday is a relatively young event. After all, the Belmont Futurity is nearly 100 years older than the CashCall, having first been run in 1888. The CashCall, originally called the Hollywood Futurity, was first run in 1981.

Ten promising 2-year-olds have entered the 2010 CashCall Futurity at a 1-1/16 miles over Hollywood Park’s cushion track and the winner will likely join Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, Remsen winner To Honor and Serve and host of others on the early part of the trail to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands May 7.

They are also hoping to find themselves on the significant list of previous winners of the CashCall Futurity, the last grade 1 race of the year for 2-year-old colts and geldings.

Snow Chief was the first winner of this race to go on to Triple Crown prominence winning the 1986 Preakness after capturing the 1985 Hollywood Futurity. A.P. Indy was next, winning this race in 1981 before taking the Belmont Stakes the next year. Trainer Bob Baffert also would use a late season victories in the CashCall for future stars of the Triple Crown. Baffert won this race with Real Quiet in 1997, Point Given (photo above) in 2000 and Lookin at Lucky last year.

Real Quiet went on to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Point Given also won two legs of the Triple Crown winning the Preakness and Belmont, while Lookin at Lucky won the Preakness. Baffert also won the CashCall Futurity with future stars Captain Steve 1999 and Pioneerofthe Nile in 2008. Unfortunately Baffert will not have a chance to win three consecutive CashCall Futurities as he has no representatives this year.

Other popular winners of CashCall/Hollywood Futurity were Best Pal in 1990, Afternoon Deelites in 1994 and Brother Derek in 2005. So the list of future stars who have won this race is a long one indeed in just 29 years.

There may not be a Lookin at Lucky or a Point Given in this rendition of the CashCall Futurity, but remember, Real Quiet was far under the radar at this point in his career. Going into this race, Real Quiet had only a maiden victory to his credit from eight previous starts with third place finishes in the grade 3 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and the $250,000 Indian Nations Futurity Cup at Sante Fe Downs making up his only stakes appearances.

Although Pioneerofthe Nile was the 7-5 favorite when he won his CashCall Futurity two years ago, he too had only a maiden victory to his credit and was coming off of a fifth-place finish as a 30-1 longshot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

There are three non-winners of two races in Saturday’s CashCall, and every one has some intrigue. Ronin Dax makes his first start on a cushion track after finishing a troubled fifth in the grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in October. He also encountered some traffic problems in the grade 3 Summer Stakes on the Woodbine turf in September which also resulted in a fifth place.

Riveting Reason broke his maiden in his last race but finished third in both the Norfolk and Del Mar Futurity, both grade 1 races before running eighth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill.

Industry Leader makes just his third start for trainer Kristin Mulhall and jockey Rafael Bejarano. After breaking his maiden he was second in the grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes over the Hollywood track during the Oak Tree meeting.

On the other side, the CashCall Futurity this year also features three graded stakes winners led by J.P.’s Gusto with three graded wins on his ledger. Ridden by Joe Talamo and trained by David Hoffmans, the ridgling son of Successful Appeal, defeated Riveting Reason when second in the Norfolk and again while winning the Del Mar Futurity. J.P.’s Gusto also won the grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar and the Hollywood Juvenile (gr. 3) this summer.

One of the more interesting entries is Gourmet Dinner, who arrives at Hollywood Park from trainer Steve Standbridge’s base at Calder Race Course in Florida. It won’t be the first traveling experience for the team that also includes jockey Sebastien Madrid. Last month Gourmet Dinner took the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. 3) at odds of 20-1. Although it was third stakes win in the young career of Gourmet Dinner, the other two came in restricted Florida-bred stakes at six and seven furlongs in August.

Sure to get his share of betting support is Comma to the Top, a winner of four consecutive including the grade 3 Generous Stakes on the Hollywood Park turf in his last start. He also won the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes by six lengths at Hollywood Park, so the synthetic cushion track should be of little concern for jockey Corey Nakatani and trainer Peter Miller.

There are no apparent standouts in the CashCall Futurity browsing through the past performances. But there are plenty of entrants with some potential. It won’t be until after the race Saturday until we know if the winner will be mentioned with Uncle Mo, Boys of Toscanova, To Honor and Serve or selected other impressive 2-year-olds being pointed to the Kentucky Derby next year. And it will be far later when we can grade this year’s winner along with some of the stars that have won this race in the past.

But the CashCall Futurity has established itself as producing such types and there’s a good chance it will again this year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Derby Notice Served

Just as everyone became comfortable with Breeders’ Cup top two finishers Uncle Mo and Boys of Toscanova being the standouts from this 2-year-old crop, To Honor and Serve wins the grade 2 Remsen Stakes and is at least making room for himself on the Derby trail. While To Honor and Serves' the two-length margin of victory over runner-up Mucho Macho Man in the grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Saturday may not have been eye-popping, the ease at which the son of Bernardini raced wire-to-wire and the 1:50.3 time has turned some heads. It was the fastest time for the 1-1/8 mile Remsen since Java Gold’s 1:49.60 in 1986 and was more than 2.80 seconds faster than Dixie City's grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes win a race earlier. Believe It set the Remsen Stakes record in 1977 with his time of 1:47.80.

There is also the tradition of the Remsen as a producer of Derby winners and runners among the top of the sophomore class. Although it has been since Go For Gin in 1994 and Thunder Gulch in 1995 since a Remsen winner also took the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, Remsen winners also include 1992 Preakness (gr. 1) winner Pine Bluff, 2006 Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) winner Bluegrass Cat and 2007 Wood Memorial (gr. 1) winner Nobiz Like Shobiz more recently. Kentucky Derby winners Pleasant Colony (1980), Northern Dancer (1964), Carry Back (1960) and Johnstown (1938) also won the Remsen Stakes as 2-year-olds.

Trainer Bill Mott said after the Remsen that To Honor and Serve will be pointing toward the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs and will soon travel to the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida for a Winter base.

Along with his victory in the grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct, it is likely To Honor and Serve will be weighted within 10 pounds of the top weighted 2-year-old male in the 2010 Experimental Free Handicap, with the likely high weight being assigned to Uncle Mo. To Honor and Serve has a nice low dosage index of 2.38, so he is likely going to be a dual qualifier for those that take note of such things.

To Honor and Serve is regally bred, by young sire Bernardini, currently the second leading freshman sire in the country with more than $1.2 million in progeny earnings. Bernardini is by sire of sires A.P. Indy and as a runner, became the first horse since Damascus in 1967 to win the Preakness, Travers (gr. 1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) in the same year before finishing second to Invasor in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

To Honor and Serve is equally classy on the bottom side of the pedigree with both first dam Pilfer, by Deputy Minister; and Misty Hour, by Miswaki, stakes winners. He also has plenty of Buckpasser, Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector throughout both the top and bottom lines of his family so distance does not appear to be a genetic challenge for To Honor and Serve. He has had promise from a very young age apparently as he sold for $250,000 at the 2008 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and then $575,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

Be cautious that it remains very early to be touting the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner. After all, the 2010 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park remains as the final grade 1 race for 2-year-olds open to colts and geldings on the calendar.

But To Honor and Serve has certainly stepped up on the medal stands among his divisional leaders and looks to be the contenders when the Triple Crown trail resumes early next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Uncle Mo And His Derby Trail Momentum

More than a week after what many consider the best Breeders’ Cup in the 27-year history of the event, it’s final criteria for judgment is still more than five months away. The final question to be asked: Will Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Uncle Mo, go on to victory in the Kentucky Derby?

In the previous 26 editions for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, only one winner has gone on to take the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense became the only horse to win both races when he won the 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Kentucky Derby. Similar to Uncle Mo, Street Sense won his Juvenile at Churchill Downs by a record 10-length margin in 2006, almost doubling the record margin set by eventual Horse of the Year Favorite Trick who won the Juvenile by 5-1/2 lengths. Arazi in 1991 and Brocco two years later, both won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by five lengths.

Uncle Mo won by only 4-1/2 lengths as the favorite over second choice Boys of Tosconova, who was a full six lengths ahead of third place finisher Roque Romance. So the final margin in the Juvenile is a bit misleading for Uncle Mo, who seemed to have an easy time winning that day.

And while Uncle Mo ran the second fastest Beyer Speed Figure in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 108, his time of 1:42.60 was just above the middle of the pack as the tenth fastest of 24 Breeders’ Cup Juveniles run at the distance of 1-1/16th miles. (Three times the race has been run at a mile [1984-'85, '87]. Also, Capote covered 1-1/4 miles winning the 1986 Juvenile at Santa Anita and in 2002, Vindication had to cover 1-1/8 miles to win the Juvenile at Arlington Park.) Midshipman ran the fastest Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2008 over Santa Anita’s PolyTrack, covering the 1-1/16 miles in 1:40.94. Interestingly, ranking just above Uncle Mo is Street Sense, who ran over Churchill Downs as a juvenile just 1/100th of a second faster than Uncle Mo, winning in 1:59.66.

Although, Street Sense is the only winner of the Juvenile to come back and take the Derby next Spring, four other Juvenile starters have returned to take the Run for the Roses including Spend A Buck, third in the 1984 Juvenile, Alysheba (3rd, 1986) Sea Hero (7th, 1992) and Mine That Bird (13th, 2008).

Among the most popular and simple handicapping angles for those in search of a Kentucky Derby winner is the old “dual qualifier” angle. In order to be qualified, a horse must have been weighted within ten pounds of the high weighted 2-year-old in the Experimental Free Handicap and have a dosage index of 4.00 or less. Although the Experimental Free Handicap is not published until January, Uncle Mo is very likely to be named as the high weighted 2-year-old colt in 2010 by the panel of racing secretaries consisting of Ben Huffman of Churchill Downs, P.J. Campo of the New York Racing Association and Thomas S. Robbins of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Developed by the late Daily Racing Form columnist and pedigree expert Leon Rasmussen, the system held up well until the late 1990s when Silver Charm won the Derby as a dual qualifier in 1997. Since then, only two dual qualifiers have won the Kentucky Derby including Super Saver last year and Street Sense in 2007. With the expected high ranking in the Experimental Free Handicap and a Dosage Index of 2.20, Uncle Mo has the credentials.

This week trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole said they have shipped Uncle Mo to Jimmy Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala. Fla. for a month vacation with daily walks and some relaxing paddock time. Connections said Uncle Mo will return to training with Pletcher at the Palm Meadows training center around Dec. 1 and that his road to the Kentucky Derby is likely include two races. Because Repole is a New Yorker, the planned final Derby preparation for Uncle Mo is the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Race Track.

Since 1937, only 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby with only two races as 3-year-old to prepare, but the list includes Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird and Super Saver, the winner’s of the last four.

Should Uncle Mo remain in the Pletcher barn and jockey John Velazquez keep the mount until the first Saturday in May, Uncle Mo will also share two other statistics with Street Sense. He will go to the post after being saddled by a one-time Derby winning trainer and a jockey looking for his first trip to the illustrious Derby winners’ circle. Street Sense was trained by Carl Nafzger, who had previously won the Derby with Unbridled in 1990 and was ridden by Kentucky Derby maiden jockey Calvin Borel. Pletcher won his first Kentucky Derby with Super Saver last year and Velazquez is still searching for his.

There are of course, many other questions and challenges Uncle Mo must overcome before he can realistically be expected to contend in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 – not the least of which is his sire Indian Charlie. Standing at Airdrie Farm in Kentucky for a healthy $70,000 per breeding, Indian Charlie has had little success at producing runners that can get the classic 10 furlong distance of the Derby. On the track, Indian Charlie won the 1998 Santa Anita Derby at 1-1/8 miles but was third in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby behind Real Quiet.

As a sire, Indian Charlie had Conveyance on the Triple Crown trail last year under trainer Bob Baffert. Conveyance won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, both graded races at eight furlongs. Although Conveyance had plenty of speed to lead the 2010 Kentucky Derby field for nearly a mile, he slowed quickly in the final two furlongs and finished 15th. Among his current top performers, only the 4-year-old gelding Indian Dance and 4-year-old filly Moon Charmer are stakes winners further than 8 furlongs. Moon Charmer won the $50,000 Farer Belle Handicap at 8-1/2 furlongs and Indian Dance won the $62,000 Harry E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at 9 furlongs.

There is much that can happen in the 165 days between now and the Kentucky Derby. Soundness, health, maturity and racing luck will also be keys to the success of Uncle Mo next year and while they are high in importance, they are perhaps the least over which Pletcher has control.

But with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his pocket and a Champion 2-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award surely on the way, Uncle Mo has plenty of credentials to carry the spotlight into his sophomore year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Funnies

Just in case you are finding the Horse of the Year debate tiresome or aggravating or perhaps this week has not been the best for you at work. I thought I would bring you some laughs about horse racing that I have found on the ol' internet during the last week.

If you are not a tweeter yet, perhaps this will be the catalyst prompting you to give it a try. Twitter offers a feature called hashtags in which a topic is preceded by the "#" sign. For example the Breeders' Cup hashtag is #BC10. Every tweet that includes that hashtag is also available for reading by anybody on Twitter, regardless of whether you follow them or they follow you or not. There are hashtags for nearly every topic imaginable from #america to #Zodiac and everything in between.

One Twitter hashtag that caught my attention this week was #popsonghorses. Following are just a few of the hundreds of tweets over the last two days and still going.

@AndyScoggin: Secretariat Agent Man
@Andy Scoggin: Seabiscuit of Love
@markahorn: Me and Smarty Jones
@tencentcielo: Rock Hard Ten Me Amadeus
@skipaway2000: The Lion Heart Sleeps Tonight
@adyady14: Denman in the Mirror
@markahorn: I've been searching for a heart of Goldikova
@youhet: The Theme From Mineshaft
@skipaway2000: Pour Some Shergar On Me
@AndyScoggin: Grindstone Cowboy
@superfecta: All That Jazil
@TheBrockTalk: Brick Housebuster
@superfecta: Danzig Queen
@BklynBckstretch: Seattle Smooth Operator
@markahorn: It's raining Menifee
@davismedpr: Behkabad Company
@liamdelaney1: Sound Of Sunday Silence

The other horse racing funny that caught my eye this week is a YouTube remake of a satirical dubbing of a Adolph Hitler movie last year following a NFL Dallas Cowboy game. The video has been adopted to satire Zenyatta losing the Breeders' Cup.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life At Ten, Players, Fans Deserve Respect From Breeders' Cup and Kentucky Officials

The setting is just before the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last Friday. While conducting an interview with ESPN’s Jerry Bailey while warming up second favorite Life At Ten, jockey John Velazquez told Bailey and a national television audience that she was not warming up well. According to ESPN and The Paulick Report, ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman contacted the Churchill Downs stewards by telephone before the race and notified them of the troubling conversation between Velazquez and Bailey. But no action was taken before the race by the stewards or Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham to follow-up on the information from ESPN regarding the physical condition of the Life At Ten.

Life at Ten, normally a filly who likes to race to the lead, broke last, was never competitive in the least and was eventually eased to the wire by Velazquez. It can be argued the 5-year-old mare’s safety was compromised. There is no doubt that those who wagered on Life At Ten were not represented properly and lost money when they should not have. And that is saying it nicely.

In an explanation published by The Paulick Report, KHRC spokesman Dick Brown explained the matter by by saying there was no consideration given to scratch Life at Ten as there was “no dialogue with the track veterinarians or the stewards from the outrider, Velasquez or Pletcher indicating a problem with the horse that would have led to her possibly being scratched.”

Wednesday, chief state steward John Veitch told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jennie Rees that it was unfortunate, but “there's nothing we can do for [the bettors].” In a prepared statement, the KHRC said “The KHRC takes seriously the safety of horses and jockeys – before, during and after each race. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission firmly believes its veterinarians and racing stewards acted properly in all instances regarding this race.” They did not mention of how seriously they take the interests of the wagering public or the fans.

The KHRC also said in that prepared statement, “From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic.”

Despite the fact that neither Pletcher from his location in the grandstand far from Life at Ten, nor Velazquez aboard her, formerly requested the state veterinarian to examine Life At Ten before the race, seems inconsequential and sophomoric as a explanation. It is sure to be helpful to the official veterinarians to have a questionable horse brought to their attention, but by no means should they pass the blame on the person who's job it is to ride the horse - not diagnose it.

Veitch, a former trainer now in the Hall of Fame, the two other stewards, the KHRC and the state veterinarian are attempting to explain this away by saying they didn’t know about her condition because the communication with ESPN was not part of racetrack protocol.

Equally ludicrous is the explanation of veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage that Life At Ten was simply not acting well before the race, creating a gray area that made it difficult for the state veterinarian to make a diagnosis sufficient for recommending a scratch. Bramlage represents the American Association of Equine Practitioners on many national horse racing telecasts explaining to viewers the implications and complications of equine injuries that may occur while on the air and is a prominent equine surgeon in Kentucky.

A former race track and current equine veterinarian told The Brock Talk that Life At Ten was in distress galloping out of the post parade and was cramping to point of causing apparent lameness. Anybody who has had cramps whether from athletic exertion, late night ziti or anything in between knows effortless running is often not an option. That condition changed little before Life At Ten got to the starting gate and should have been recognized by Dr. Bryce as lameness with no need to diagnose the cause as tying up.

To add insult to this situation is the possible prohibition of pre-race, on-track interviews of jockeys by television. Telling the Courier-Journal that “From the time a horse leaves the paddock until the time he starts, nobody (other than officials) should have communication with that jockey one way or the other,” Veitch also said that jockeys should not be distracted. Not only is that insulting the intelligence of jockeys, but archaic in a sports media world where NASCAR drivers and NFL football players wear live microphones into and throughout live competition.

It also tells me that Veitch and the stewards received information from ESPN that they could not process properly and their solution is to stop the information. In the future, if they don’t know about potential problems in a horse race, they can’t be held accountable. It seems unlikely however, that this solution will have any benefit to the horse, the horse player or the fan.

Until the Churchill Downs stewards and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission figure that much out, they are far from correcting the embarrassment that was Life At Ten in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time, Not Awards Will Define Zenyatta

In the days since Zenyatta failed to win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a scant nose, breaking her 19-race win streak and the hearts of fans everywhere, the attention on her has waned but certainly not vanished. Randy Moss on ESPN called her the undisputed greatest female race horse of all time moments after the race. CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Ausgood, the Today show on NBC, SportsCenter on ESPN and any number of other network programs replayed the Classic into Sunday, with more accompanying editorial than horse racing is usually given after other major events in the sport such as the Kentucky Derby or a failed Triple Crown Belmont.

There is a “Zenyatta HOY (Horse of the Year) 2010” Facebook page with nearly 3,000 fans, Twitter, internet discussion boards and blogs are jammed full of those espousing her while few still cling to their criticism of the great mare. That debate will rage until the golden Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year is presented in January. If Zenyatta is not named Horse of the Year – judging from last year – the dissatisfaction talks will continue months longer.

Even if the voting goes to Zenyatta, nothing will really be solved. Eclipse Awards are not determined on the track. There are no qualifications. Not even a victory in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships can guaranteed a trophy. Last year Zenyatta proved that. Five wins in five starts including four grade 1 races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic was enough for Zenyatta to earn only 42% of the vote. Rachel Alexandra took 56% of the vote and the trophy.

This year, it appears Zenyatta will be denied the Horse of the Year title because she missed winning the Classic by a nose. Those voters will ignore her five wins this year – all in grade 1 races present it to Classic winner Blame. Yes, Blame, they will say, had a better year than Zenyatta. They will give him the award despite his record of only three wins (two grade 1) from four starts before the Classic.

Both Zenyatta and Blame finished second once this year. Zenyatta to Blame by a nose in the Classic – Blame finished four lengths behind Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

But because there are no official qualifications, the race for horse of the year is not won or lost on the track. It is nothing more than a popularity contest. Whoever is most popular among the The Eclipse Awards sponsors – the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers Association – get the awards.

That is not an accusation of hypocrisy, nor a complaint of how the system works. Horse racing doesn’t have the benefit of other sports that can solve such championship issues in strict competition. So we are left defining our champions by ballot.

And that is exactly why fans of Blame and Zenyatta and Goldikova, or even Uncle Mo, should relax a bit for the next few months. Because in the end, that title will matter little.

Nothing defines greatness better than time. And time will surely lay on the side of the great mare Zenyatta. In fact, time may somehow morph Zenyatta’s final loss into something far more positive than we can imagine in few days, weeks or even years following.

Jim Thorpe was stripped from his Olympic Gold medals and quarterback Johnny Unitas finished his illustrious career with a dismal season as a crippled former champion in San Diego. Willie Mays retired as a New York Met and Michael Jordan left basketball as a Washington Wizard.

Zenyatta’s loss in her final start may be more defining than disappointing final seasons or Olympic bureaucracy, but time will likely put the race into perspective non-the-less. In fact history and time will define her legacy much better than any awards.

And time has a habit of examining cultural impact as well as wins and losses. So Zenyatta's appearance on Los Angeles Dodgers' billboards, Oprah Winfrey magazines and 60 Minutes television shows have also been stuffed into her virtual time capsules. And there are very few thoroughbreds that have carried ammunition that heavy into retirement. Cigar was perhaps most recently in that realm of popularity among non-race fans.

So time will be the final judge for Zenyatta. We just have to be a bit more patient for the results.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Female Sprinters Bring Handicapping Challenges And Possible Rewards To Match

The Sentient Jet Filly and Mare Sprint may not have all the history of many of the other Breeders’ Cup races having been run only three times, but the third renewal may be one of the best wagering opportunities of the two days. With a full field of 14 set to go to the post and four of the six favorites breaking from outside the number 10 post position, there may be some opportunities.

Favorite Rightly So comes into the Breeders’ Cup off of wire-to-wire victories in the the grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga Aug. 28 and the July 5 Bed of Roses Handicap (gr. 2) at Belmont Park. She appears to be plenty fast enough to get to the lead with plenty of time before the final turn having a full three-eighths of-a-mile before making the turn. She is stands out with defending champion Informed Decision, Gabby’s Golden Gal and Champagne d’Oro as the only fillies or mares coming into this race with grade 1 win at the seven furlong distance of this year’s female Sprint. Trainer Tony Dutrow has told the press he has no concerns about the outside post, but that is probably not his only concern.

Defending champion Informed Decision appears to have lost some of her form from last year and comes into this race off of a nice third-place finish in the six furlong TCA Stakes (gr. 2) at Keeneland behind fellow Sprint entrant Dubai Majesty over the Keeneland synthetic. She is a multiple grade 1 winner and has won three times at this distance. She also won the Humana Distaff (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs last year and finished a good third in that race again in July, so she does seem to have a fondness for the Churchill Downs surface. That along with the benefit of breaking from post 4 may give her the boost she needs to repeat but betting her at anything less than her 7-2 morning line does not seem to offer enough return for the risk.

The female sprinter who may throw a monkey-wrench into this race is Bob Baffert-trained Gabby’s Golden Gal breaking from post number seven at 15-1 odds. Although she has not raced since winning the grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface in January, her Saturday morning work at Hollywood Park was very impressive, going a half-mile in :46 4/5 with the greatest of ease. She has all the qualifications to win this race but they were all accomplished more than 10 months ago.

At 15-1 morning line odds and the 1 post, My Jen could also offer some value. In her last race she defeated fellow Breeders’ Cup foes Moontune Missy and Sara Loise in the grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont Sept. 25. But the 3-year-old filly has taken exceptionally well to the Churchill Downs surface since arriving from New York and has the stalking running style that might set up well for her if she can manage to stay out of trouble along the rail of a full field of sprinters.

Breaking two gates outside of My Jen, Secret Gypsy will be trying to add to her three-race winning streak in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Since winning the $100,000 Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows in June, Secret Gypsy has won graded stakes at Saratoga and Del Mar while compiling her six-race record this year at six different tracks. She also has a victory over Churchill Downs from five starts under the Twin Spires, but Secret Gypsy seems to take her race track with her wherever she runs. She has no grade 1 wins during her 17-race career, but at 12-1, it may not be wise to discount her.

The 2010 Filly and Mare Sprint provides great wagering possibilities from the $2 win ticket to the more exotic trifectas and superfectas. Like it’s male counterpart on Saturday which has a rich history of rewarding those that can decipher the sprint puzzle, this race seems primed to follow suite.

1. Secret Gypsy
2. Rightly So
3. Gabby’s Golden Gal

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ladies Classic Should Prove Distaffers Deeper Than Just Zenyatta and Goldikova

When the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) became a staple of the inaurgural Breeders' Cup card, it was designed to showcase the greatest female stars of the sport. That it has done. It was the Distaff in those early years, but it might have well as been known as the inauguration.

From Princess Rooney and early years through Personal Ensign, Bayakoa, Paseanna and Azeri, this race has featured some of the great female runners of recent generations.

At $2,000,000 it is the richest of the Breeders’ Cup races, and at 1-1/8 miles, it is the second longest only to the Filly and Mare Turf at 1-3/8 miles. But Zenyatta, who has taken Churchill Downs by storm with her popularity; and Goldikova, trying to become the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race three times in the Mile and wildly popular in her own right; and the early retirement of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, have seemed to have taken some of the shine out of the old Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

But this army of females casting their amazonian shadows over the colts and geldings at Churchill Downs has depth. Enough so that there are plenty in the Ladies Classic who can stand up on center stage and shine with the best of them.

Perhaps most accustomed to the spotlight at tracks around the country is the 3-year-old sensation Blind Luck. Third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) last year as the West Coast favorite, Blind Luck has added some of the most prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies to her resume of victories. She has won the Las Virgenes (gr. 1) at Santa Anita, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs and the Alabama (gr. 1) at Saratoga among her five graded wins this year.

Although one might assume that a campaign such as that of Blind Luck would advance her above other 3-year-old fillies into to the older ranks of the Ladies Classic with some distance among her class. Not so with Havre de Grace who finished a nose behind Blind Luck in the Del Mar Oak (gr. 2), a neck behind in the Alabama and defeated her in the $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes (gr. 2) at Parx Racing near Philadephia. Although, Havre de Grace received a 10-pound advantage in the Cotillion, she has repeatedly shown she has no intention of cowering to Blind Luck.

Nor do any of the older fillies in this race including 7-2 second choice Life At Ten, the winner of the grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park Oct. 2 and six of her previous seven starts. Three of those wins came in graded races including the grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June. She hails from the powerful Todd Pletcher stable and took on Rachel Alexandra for the early lead in her only loss in the Personal Ensign (gr. 1) so she has plenty of bragging rights to bring into the Ladies Classic.

Pletcher will fire two 4-year-old fillies at the Ladies Classic, as he will also saddle Malibu Prayer, winner of the grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga in early August. Labeled at 8-1 on the morning line with Unrivaled Belle, Malibu Prayer seems to rise to her level of competition and has won the Chilukki Stakes (gr. 2) at Churchill Downs, so she may be fond of the track.

Unrivaled Belle also brings an impressive victory over the Churchill Downs surface into Friday’s race, having defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne (gr. 2) back in April. The 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song was also nominated to the Filly and Mare Sprint, but trainer Bill Mott chose to go in the Ladies Classic after her half-mile work in :49 2/5 this week also noting her apparent fondness for the Churchill Downs surface.

This race has had a preponderance of popular winners with the favorites taking 10 of the 26 previous runnings. But what is notable is that the two biggest longshots to win the Ladies Classic, Spain, (paying $113.90 to win in 2000); and One Dreamer ($96.20 to win in 1994); both accomplished their big upsets at Churchill Downs. Even the last winner of the Ladies Classic at Churchill, Round Pond, paid a nice $29.80 in 2006.

Trainer Shug McGaughey has won this race three times with Personal Ensign in 1988 at Churchill Downs, Inside Information (’95) and Pleasant Home (2005). Personal Ensign paid $3.00 and Inside Information paid $3.60. But McGaughey won with Pleasant Home at a big price of $63.40 for a $2 win ticket at Belmont so he may be a likely candidate to pull a mild upset this year with Persistently.

Whatever the results of this Ladies Classic this year, the winning lady will like just be asked to sit among the court of Zenyatta and Goldikova in annals of Breeders’ Cup history. But there is certainly no shame in that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh Say Can You See? A British Turf Victory?

The Europeans may not be bringing into the 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. 1) an armada the size of the British fleet that assaulted Fort McHenry during the battle of Baltimore of 1814, but the odds of an American victory are about the same. While Major George Armistead fought off the British naval bombardment; and General Samuel Smith, Rogers Bastion, Navy Commodore John Rogers and the boys defended Baltimore in the end, it is yet to be determined if homeland trainers Bill Mott, Richard Mandella, Steve Hobby and Christophe Clemente can pull the same upset.

According to Mike Watchmaker’s Daily Racing Form graded line, the American with the best chance at the Breeders’ Cup Turf this year is Paddy O’Prado at 8-to-1 odds, who may not choose to even run in the Turf for preference to take on Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. After that our American hopes lay with Winchester (10-1), the winner of the Turf Classic Invitation (gr. 1) at Belmont Park Oct. 2; Al Khali (10-1), winner of the Canadian International (gr. 1) at Woodbine Oct. 16; and California turf star Champ Pegasus (15-1), winner of two graded turf races in his last two starts including the Clement L. Hirsh at the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park Oct. 3; and Telling (20-1), winner of the grade 1 Sword Dancer on the Saratoga grass the last two years but winless in his other 11 starts in 2009-’10.

The Euros have won 10 of the last 13 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf and apparently want to continue their dominance of the grass racing championship on American shores. The captain of the European flagship is Workforce (GB), winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (gr. 1) at Longchamp in France Oct. 3. According to the Crushing the Cup, eight of the last 15 Euro turf winners have come out of the Arc, but none of them out of the race’s winner’s circle. Prix de l’Arc de Triompe winners are winless in five tries in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the last being 2007 Arc winner Dylan Thomas who later finished fifth in the Turf. The closest to pulling off the Arc/Turf double was Tremaplino, who finished second in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Turf after winning the Arc.
But that hasn’t influenced the British punters who have Workforce bet down to the 2.4-to-1 favorite on the BetFair line or Watchmaker, who has him listed as the 2-to-1 favorite on his DRF graded line.

Workforce is a lightly raced 3-year-old colt who set the track record at Epsom winning the group 1 Epsom Derby in June, one of his three career victories from just five races. While trainer Sir Michael Stoute has the Arc/Breeders’ Cup jinx to break, the Turf Classic has historically been a race true to form with favorites producing an above average 35% victorious performances. And of course Sir Stoute has won the Breeders’ Cup Turf four times including the last two with Conduit.

But the prognosticator favorite now appears to be Behkabad (Fr), who finished fourth behind Workforce in the Arc in a troubled trip. Not only is Behkabad appealing to trip handicappers around the world, but it just so happens that Arc also rans have the successful history behind them as well.

Debussy (Ire) has already invaded the United States to plunder the Arlington Million (gr. 1) with his victory Aug. 21 at Arlington Park near Chicago. Trainer John Gosden returned him to Great Britain to run third in the Oct. 16 Champion Stakes (gr. 1) at Newmarket has plenty of support in his return American soil as Watchmaker has him listed at 12-to-1 in his DRF line.

Consider these recent winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf: Conduit (Ire) (2009, 4th in Arc); Shirocco (Ger) (2005, 4th in the Arc), High Chaparral (Ire) (2003, 3rd in the Arc), Daylami (Ire) (1991, 9th in the Arc), Pulsudksi (Ire) (1996, 2nd in the Arc).

Yes the star and stripes may wave over Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup Turf if the Patriots can somehow hold off the Red Coats Saturday. And if they do, the bombs won’t be bursting in air-they’ll be at the cash windows at the home of the brave.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Zenyatta's Road to Perfection Has Many Obstacles, From Ghosts Past and Present

Without doubt, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) has given thoroughbred racing some legendary races in the previous 26 runnings. Wild Again got it all started in the wild inaugural Classic over Slew o’ Gold and a Bo Jackson-like Gate Dancer in 1984, while three years later Ferdinand carried jockey Bill Shoemaker and trainer Charlie Whittingham from the dawn of their respective careers back to the heights in the then new age of the championship event. Whittingham would return with Sunday Silence in 1989 when he defeated Easy Goer in the rematch of the Triple Crown combatants. Cigar won the memorable Classic at Belmont Park and Tiznow began the millennium with the only Classic repeat, winning in 2000-’01.

Last year Zenyatta wrote herself into the record books by becoming the first distaffer to win the Classic, but just how much more significant will a successful defense of her title will be, should she hit the wire first Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs?

First, it should be noted that her hurdles appear to be a few notches higher in 2010 than last year in the Classic despite the incredible extension of her undefeated winning streak to 19 races. This year Zenyatta will have to leave Southern California and travel more than 2,000 miles from Los Angeles to Louisville and run on a surface on which she has never competed. Zenyatta has twice won impressively on natural dirt, but both victories came in the grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Interestingly she won both of those races by an uncharacteristic 4-1/2 lengths, the two longest winning margins of her career. So natural dirt does not appear too much of a challenge. “Appear” being the operative word there.

It is also apparent that the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic field will bring much more accomplished than her foes last year at Santa Anita.

Homefield advantage and much of the wagering support will go to Blame, winner of the grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June and more recently the grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Quality Road will arrive at Churchill Downs this year as the chiseled 4-year-old veteran winner of three grade 1 victories and not the rebellious slayer of the “big green monster” in last year’s Classic who eventually had to succumb to being scratched before the race after his failed attempt to destroy the starting gate and eat the Santa Anita assistant starters. Japan sends over their best older dirt horse in Espoir City and the sophomore crop is well represented by Preakness Stakes and Izod Haskell Invitational Looking at Lucky. And Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) winner Haynesfield and RSVP’d as well.

Regardless of the repeat angle, a victory in the 2010 Classic would seem to be more impressive than even her thrilling victory last year at Santa Anita over 2009 Champion Older Male Gio Ponti.

The question then begs of the historical significance of a distaffer winning a major grade 1 race over older males over the classic distance of 10 furlongs (1-1/4 miles).

If the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the most prestigious race in North America for older horses, then the Jockey Club Gold Cup is the race that it passed for the honor. Won by some of the greats of game including Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Whirlaway, Forego, Kelso, Buckpasser, Affirmed, John Henry, Cigar and Curlin, the Jockey Club Gold Cup remains one of the great late season tests in the older horse ranks. Since the race was established in 1919, only seven horses have won the race twice, one of which was the great mare Shuvee, who won in 1970 and 1971. It should be noted that Shuvee won her Gold Cups when the race was run at 2 miles and the 1971 victory was the final race of her career.

On the West Coast, prestige in the older horse ranks begins with the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. 1) run each year in March. Run since 1935, the Santa Anita Handicap was the first $100,000 race in North America and has been won by the likes of Seabiscuit, Round Table, No Double, Ack Ack, John Henry, Affirmed, Alysheba and Tiznow. Jockey Bill Shoemaker won the “Big Cap” 11 times, trainer Charlie Whittingham won it eight times. But no filly or mare has won the Santa Anita Handicap in 76 editions.

The grade 1 Woodward Handicap, run each year since 1954 in New York, has once been won by a female - last year when Rachel Alexandra took the race during her brilliant Horse of the Year campaign.

The grade 1 Hollywood Gold has had three female winners including Happy Tissue in 1944, Two Lea in 1952 and Princessnesian in 1968. But again, that race has been run each year since 1938, so three wins since Walt Disney released the motion picture Snow White is less than a 1-for-20 pace.

The grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga has been run since 1928 and is perhaps most famous for Onion’s defeat of Secretariat in 1973. But the Whitney also been won by legends such as Discovery (three times from 1934-’36), War Admiral (‘38), Kelso (‘61,’63,’65), Dr. Fager (’68), Alydar (’78) and Easy Goer (’89). But the Whitney has also produced six female winners including the first two winners Black Maria in 1928 and Bateau in 1929. Other distaff winners were Esposa (‘37),Gallorette (‘48), Lady's Secret (‘86), and Personal Ensign (‘88).

So going into the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic it is sure that Zenyatta will have many doubters. There will be many who have never believed because of her penchant to stay in Southern California for most of her career, venturing out only twice to run in Arkansas. There are those that chide the quality of her competition during the streak and that she never traveled east to take on Rachel Alexandra.

But the historical significance of defending her title in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, should dispel many of those uncertainties.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beware The Derby Fever After The Juvenile

If you’re planning on running out to Las Vegas to place your Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) future book wager shortly after the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 6, beware that history is against you. In the previous 26 runnings of the Juvenile, only Street Sense has managed go on to win the Kentucky Derby the following year. In fact, the Juvenile has produced only five Kentucky Derby winners during that time.

The Juvenile got off to a fast start in 1984 when Chief’s Crown won as the odds-on favorite over Tank’s Prospect in second and Spend A Buck (right) in third. Six months later all three were at Churchill Downs for the Derby with Chief’s Crown maintaining his popularity as the favorite. But Spend A Buck turned the tables on the Juvenile winner in a wire-to-wire Kentucky Derby victory while Chief’s Crown could only manage to hang on for third. Tank’s Prospect was seventh in the Derby but came back two weeks later to take the Preakness.

In the 1986 Juvenile, favored Capote defeated Qualify but the future stars were back in third in fourth. Future Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba (left) was in the show spot just more than two lengths ahead of Bet Twice. Bet Twice would finish second to Alysheba in the first two legs of the Triple Crown but won the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1). In fact, five of the top six finishers in the Juvenile went on to the Derby with Gulch and Demon’s Begone.

It would be six years before another future Derby winner would even run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but the 1988 and ’89 Juveniles did feature Easy Goer and Go and Go, both of whom would take the Belmont Stakes seven months later.

Sea Hero won the 1993 Kentucky Derby after running in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Gulfstream Park in 1992. However, his status as the 2-1 betting choice was deflated when he finished a non-descript seventh behind Juvenile winner Gilded Time in the Juvenile.

The next ten Juveniles produced several future classic winners and 1997 Juvenile Champion Favorite Trick was named Horse of the Year that same year. Tabasco Cat, third in the 1993 Juvenile, went on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1994. That same year Timber Country won the Juvenile before winning the Preakness the following year, becoming the first Juvenile winner to win a Triple Crown race.

Point Given was the next Juvenile graduate to win at that level winning the 2001 Preakness after finishing second to Macho Uno in the 2000 Juvenile. Four years later, Afleet Alex was second to Wilko in the Juvenile but would later win both the Preakness and Belmont.

Street Sense was a fairly anonymous Juvenile winner in 2006 at 15-1 odds, but there was a glimpse of the future as jockey Calvin Borel steered around one horse into the far turn before returning to the inside rail to find running room and go on to a 10 length Juvenile victory. The team would repeat that game plan on the first Saturday in May to give Borel his first Derby and trainer Carl Nafzger his second.

The most recent Juvenile graduate to take the Run for the Rose is of Mine That Bird, who took the Derby at odds of 50-1. He was slightly more popular in the 2008 Juvenile with 23-1 odds, but his performance was forgettable, finishing last.

The natural tendency after the Breeders’ Cup is of course, to begin the road to the next year’s Kentucky Derby. Just remember that there is much that can happen between November 6 at Churchill and the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Zenyatta Not Haunting Away Challengers

Although we are nearing Halloween, the big, bad mare out of Southern California is not scarring anybody away from meeting her in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. With the connections of 2009 Champion Older Male Gio Ponti saying they are keeping their options open for a repeat in the Classic; and Dale Romans, trainer of 3-year-old turf star Paddy O’Prado, more definite about pointing toward the $5 million race, there are as many as 15 possible contenders lining up to take on the undefeated Zenyatta.

Under the conditions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the field will be restricted to 14 starters. Should more than 14 horses enter, the Breeders’ Cup uses a system to rank the entrants in order of preference based upon (1) performance in Breeders' Cup Challenge Races, (2) a point system, and (3) the judgment of a panel of racing experts. The field selection system will be implemented as necessary following the taking of pre-entries on Oct. 25.

Gio Ponti (right), who is expected to also pre-enter into the $2 Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf, split horses at the top of the stretch and opened up daylight on last year’s Classic field before being run down in the final 110 yards by Zenyatta. Also honored last year as the Champion Turf Male, Gio Ponti has six career grade 1 wins on grass including the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., Oct. 9. But the 5-year-old has never raced on natural dirt. Last year the Breeders’ Cup Classic was run over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita in Southern California while Churchill Downs has a natural dirt surface.

Similarly, Praddy O’Prado has more recently been thought of as a turf specialist winning four graded races including the grade 1T Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park near Chicago. But he also ran a very credible third over the Churchill Downs main track in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands giving trainer Dale Romans the confidence to return Paddy O’Prado to the main track in Louisville.

There is even a rare invasion from the Land of Rising Sun. Looking to become the first Japanese-based horse to win and only the fifth to start in a Breeders’ Cup race, Espoir City (left) arrived Tuesday at Churchill Downs after a long flight from Tokyo via Chicago. Last year, Espoir City won the prestigious Japan Cup Dirt and is considered to be Japan’s top rated thoroughbred on dirt with career earnings of nearly $6 million. In his last start Oct. 11, he was second in the Nambu Hai Mile in his first race in five months in what has been termed “strictly a preparation for the big race (Classic)” according to his trainer. “We have been training him looking ahead to the next big race,” said his trainer, Akio Adachi, a former jockey, in comments provided by Nobu Furuta, the administrative manager of Japan Racing Association’s New York-area office.

Of course there are the other big contenders being trained for the Breeders’ Cup Classic including multiple grade 1 winners Quality Road, Lookin at Lucky and Blame as well as Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield, Monmouth Cup (gr. 2) winner Etched and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. 2) morning line.

It’s not like a large field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a rare occurrence. The race has averaged 11.62 starters in the previous 26 runnings with six of those featuring full fields of 14. In the last 20 versions, only the 1997 and 2007 Classics had less than 10 starters and both of those races had nine go to post. Multi-million dollar purses will have that effect on entries.

It will be interesting to see just how many show up at Churchill Downs in a few weeks to take their shot at Zenyatta. It appears the trend towards many may continue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Queens and Quicksters Will Carry Female Banner in Saturday Breeders' Cup Races

Last year may have been the classic year of the female with Rachel Alexandra named Horse of the Year, the unbeaten Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1), and Goldikova taking her second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. 1). But I’m not sure the female dominance is over. At least there is a very good chance that the Friday filly and mare Breeders’ Cup spotlight may continue to have female focus Saturday as well during the Nov. 5-6 championship races.

Races for fillies and mares plus the Breeders' Cup Marathon, make up the Friday, Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup card highlighted by the grade 1 Ladies Classic. The eight Breeders’ Cup races Saturday are either restricted to colts and geldings, like the Juvenile races, or open like the Classic, Mile and others.

Zenyatta will obviously be the large focus for the day as she defends her title in $5 million Classic by attempting to extend her consecutive winning streak to a record 20 races. She is expected to be the betting favorite and will without doubt be the star of ESPN Saturday telecast at least until the running of the Classic. (She is already featured as one of the first five menu items on the Breeders’ Cup home page alongside merchandise, tickets, nominations and Breeders’ Cup 360.) A Zenyatta victory will add historical significance to the 2010 Breeders’ Cup and her legacy. The Classic is also expected to be her final career race before retirement.

What Zenyatta has been to North American horse racing fans through the last three years, Goldikova has been to European fans. While Goldikova does not have the winning streak Zenyatta does, her 12 wins from 17 career starts includes 10 group 1 or grade 1 wins. She has won the last three runnings of the Prix Rothschild (gr. 1), and defeated a field of 16 males in her last start while winning the Prix de la ForĂȘt (gr. 1) at Longchamp Oct. 3. Her next triple attempt comes in the grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile when she tries to surpass Mile legends Miesque, Lure and Da Hoss who are the only two-time winners of the race.

Like Zenyatta, Goldikova will be the favorite and the Breeders’ Cup Mile is also her likely swan song.

Unlike Zenyatta and Goldikova, however, the fillies and mares will rely on a numbered attack in a wide open Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. 1) on the Saturday card. Empressive Lady, Czechers, Melito, Rose Catherine and Unzip Me are the current fillies and mares likely for the Turf Sprint.

Rose Catherine and Unzip Me will have the best chance to topple the colts and gelding in the Turf Sprint which will be modified significantly in distance from the two previous versions of the race at Santa Anita. While defending champion California Flag is back, he will lose a furlong and a-half in distance on the Churchill Downs turf, which of course, also has no downhill start like the race featured over the Santa Anita turf course in 2008-’09. The favorite should be Chamberlain Bridge, recent winner of the Arlington Turf Sprint at Arlington Park, but Rose Catherine and Unzip Me both have had their share of victories this year.

Rose Catherine has won four consecutive races including The Turf Amazon Stakes at Parx Racing at Philadephip Park Sept. 25. The Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old filly will be making her second Breeders’ Cup appreance after finishing third behind Tapitsfly in the Juvenile Filly Turf last year.

Unzip Me, a 4-year-old filly, has won five turf sprint stakes including the grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sept. 30 in her most recent start.

While both Zenyatta and Goldikova have big challenges ahead before they hit the winners’ circle following their respective Breeders’ Cup races, their victories may be considered likely – but far from certain. The girls in the Turf Sprint will probably have a much bigger job to do to hit the line first as well. But they’ll have the spotlight and the opportunity to make 2010 the year of female again in the thoroughbred world.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Musket Man May Have A Shot At Classic Victory

With the announcement by trainer Derek Ryan that Musket Man will run in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, it may cause some to wonder exactly what the conditioner is attempting to accomplish.

After all, the 1-1/4 Classic is expected to feature the undefeated mare Zenyatta; Quality Road, who out finished Musket Man to win the grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in July and again in August while running second to Musket Man’s third in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. And don’t forget that Blame, the winner of the Whitney and second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, is also headed to Churchill Downs for the Classic as is Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield. Representing the best of the 3-year-old crop this year, Preakness, Haskell, and Indiana Derby winner Lookin at Lucky also appears headed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

So why would Ryan put Musket Man against this caliber of competition, which appears to be just above Musket Man’s abilities? It is true that Musket Man has not won since taking the $52,000 Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in February. It is true that Musket Man has run against many likely Classic starters and has failed to defeat them. It is true that there are other, less intimidating, options for Musket Man on Breeders' Cup Day - notably the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile where he would be among the favorites.

But it is also true that in 14 career starts, Musket Man has never finished worse than third and the furthest he has been off of the winner was 6-3/4 lengths behind Mine That Bird last year in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. Five of his last eight races have been against grade 1 competition with two additional starts against grade 2 company. His only start in an ungraded race since January of last year, was in his Super Stakes win.

And there are some very interesting Breeders’ Cup Classic trends that say the that Ryan and owners Eric Fein and Vic Carlson would be remiss for not allowing Musket Man the chance at an upset in the Classic.

According to this year’s edition of Crushing The Cup, the favorite has done very well in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, winning eight of the 26 Classics, for a respectable 31% win rate. But only three of the last 12 favorites, including Zenyatta last year, have made it to the winners’ circle. Ghostzapper won the 2005 Classic paying $7.00 as the favorite and St. Liam won the Classic the following year and returned $6.80. During that 12-year span, the average winning payout was $23.73 with the longest payout being Volponi, who paid $89.0 after winning the 2002 Classic.

Don’t forget that Musket Man has plenty of high quality credentials on his racing resume as well. The four-year-old son of Yonaguska and the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortuesque has earned more than $1.2 million in his 14-race career against some of the top competition of his class. He was third in both the Derby and Preakness last year after winning the grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby and grade 2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne before shipping to Kentucky.

In two of Musket Man’s few races this year with less than triple digit Beyer Speed figures, he ran a 99 in the Super Stakes and a 95 assigned to him after a troubled trip over the slop in the grade2 Churchill Downs in May.

In his most recent race, the Monmouth Cup Oct. 9, Musket Man’s stalking running style got compromised by a lumbering slow pace by eventual winner and defending champion Etched. Musket Man was also forced four or five-wide turning for home and still managed to muster a challenge but not pass the fast moving Etched. Musket Man was the odds-favorite to win the Monmouth Cup and that may not speak well for his Classic chances. But this less than grueling stroll of a $300,000 Monmouth Cup might just be exactly what the trainer ordered to set the team on course of the much richer Classic.

Financial backers of Musket Man in the Classic may get better than what they ordered as well. Zenyatta should again be the favorite and will likely be over bet because of her popularity. It is not likely that Musket Man will become more popular than Lookin at Lucky, Quality Road or Blame; and possibly Japanese invader Espoir City, winner of the prestigious Japan Cup Dirt in December, will garner his share of the Classic wagering. That leaves little chance that Musket Man will fall below 12-to-1 and will likely be closer to 20-to-1. That could result in some solid profit.

There is a lot of time between now and the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup and many things can happen and likely will happen as the race looms closer. But when looking for that last race longshot, don’t overlook Musket man – the horse that has lost his last five races but still may have his best shot at Churchill Downs.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't Let Facts Get In The Way of Secretariat's Truth

Hollywood’s Secretariat, recently released by Disney Studios, has all of the little factual hiccups that horse racing fans will notice but soon forget as the movie tells the remarkable story of what many consider to be the best thoroughbred race horse of all time. Based on the true story of then Colorado housewife Penny Chenery-Tweedy (Diane Lane), who assumed responsibility of her ailing father’s (Scott Glenn) Virginia-based farm Meadow Stable, the movie tells the story of Secretariat very well from the famous coin toss, to his first steps as a foal, training and racing through the Triple Crown.

One might not expect much drama from a movie where everybody knows the ending, but it’s the journey to the end that makes this movie so enjoyable. Lane remarkably portrays Chenery’s struggles against the male dominated world of horse racing and the conservative members of her own family including her husband Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh) and brother Hollis Chenery (Dylan Baker). On her mission to save the family farm and keep Secretariat, Chenery aligns with trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), Meadow Stables’ longtime secretary Elizabeth Ham (Margo Martindale), groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) and jockey Ron Turcotte, (played by real jockey Otto Thorwarth).

It is a movie that will gnaw at the side of horse racing purist with a few creative liberties taken by director Randall Wallace, the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated screenwriter of the global hit “Braveheart,” but the acting, direction, cinematography and screen play by Mike Rich will quickly overcome any and all of that. Technically, the movie is “suggested” by the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack. In the movie, Nack is smartly played by Kevin Connally of Entourage fame alongside Eric Lange as Andy Beyer.

Wallace has made it clear that he did not want to create a documentary. Rather he wants to introduce or re-introduce the audience, “to the deeper truth of what Secretariat and Penny accomplished,” he said in final production notes. That goal is clearly achieved with the obstacles set by husband Jack; brother Hollis; Ogen Phipps (James Cromwell); Sham and his bravado trainer, Frank “Pancho” Martin (Nestor Serrano).

Some battles accentuate Chenery’s strength in many confrontational scenes where she takes on everyone from the family trainer, to Turcotte, to Phipps-more throughout the movie. Lane is masterful in portraying Chenery’s cleverness during the pre-race press conferences and Rich’s screenplay is on target in portraying the horsemanship she had learned from her father that gave her the conviction place such a gamble on a horse. The most subtle aspects of Lane’s performance is perhaps the most important, as her character was elogent, intelligent and classy in nearly every scene.

I was a little disappointed the Belmont scene did not really portray his true dominance in that race, but the cinematography crew had their shining moment here with an isolation head-on shot that is sure to make you stop chewing you popcorn. Wallace creatively uses the actual television broadcast footage of the Preakness and brilliantly seemed to inter-disperse original audio from NRA track announcer Chick Anderson with a talent that sounded eerily similar.

Laurin and Mrs. Ham provide the needed Disney levity with well played slap stick moments centered around Laurin faults in men’s style – in particular, the hats. Malkovich is brilliant throughout playing a lighter and more vulnerable character in Laurin who you laugh at and not with. And two thumbs to Thorwarth. His riding ability was an obvious plus and he was very believable as a cantankerous but tactful Turcotte.

I must disclose that I can’t watch the original Secretariat Belmont Stakes footage without tearing up before they go four furlongs. One of my favorite moments in racing came discussing the Belmont Stakes with Ron Turcotte and asking what he looking at over his left shoulder in the famous finish line shot. “I’m looking at the timer on the tote-board” Turcotte told me. “I’m like everyone else. I can’t wait to see how fast Big Red was going.”

I was 13 when Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in 1973 and I was a veteran of four Kentucky Derbies via the 1973 miracle of Jack Whitacker, Hayward Heybrown, et. al. and CBS Sports. So I was pretty much sold on the story before I walked into the theater. But this film sold me on the rest. And really, Diane Lane, John Malkovich and Secretariat are all you need to know as motivation to see this film.

Secretariat is a typical family feel good Disney movie. But it really is a well done film and exciting tribute to Secretariat and Mrs. Chenery.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not Apocalypse Now nor Anytime Soon

The Major League Baseball playoffs began Wednesday with a triple-header of games telecast from Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and the Twin Cities of Minnesota. All games were available on the cable channel TBS. Tropicana Field in South Florida was not sold out for game 1 between Texas and Tampa Bay in a market that has been plagued by tiny crowds throughout the season.

The NFL has had six blackout games in the first four weeks of the 2010 season. Blackouts are mandated in the home TV market when teams fail to sell out the stadiums 72 hours before kickoff. This year the NFL is on pace for an increase over the 22 games blacked out last season, the highest number in five years. This year, cities with NFL play-off teams last year such as Cincinnati, San Diego and Phoenix, have all experienced blackouts. San Diego, the only NFL team in all of Southern California, won their division last year and has had both home games blacked out this year.

Both leagues are doing very well financially, despite the apparent hic-ups in baseball’s inability to feature all playoff games on network television and the NFL’s ticket sales on a 3-year downward trend. But it does tell you that this economy has had a negative effect on some of the strongest sports leagues and enterprises and not to give in the apocalyptic prognosis horse racing regularly endures during times like this.

According to figures released by Equibase Wednesday, September was a particularly bad month for horse racing with 12.5% less days of racing in 2010 compared to the same month a year ago. Declining foal crops have contributed to that and figure to become a larger problem in the next two years or three years. That's all pretty bad news for the horse racing industry.

Encouraging however, was the fact that U.S. wagering on horse racing declined only 6.4% which drove up the average amount wagered per race day by 6.8% to $1.73 million and the average daily purse distribution up nearly 3.7% to $185,500.

Less total revenue is never a very encouraging sign for a company or an industry, but it appears the product of horse racing becomes additionally attractive as the race days decline. How that effects the bottom line of the individual race tracks and horsemen on individual basis is difficult to determine with at least some expense data. So it such not be concluded all things are good in horse racing.

But television contracts and ticket sales are a major part of the revenue streams of big league baseball and football and those two leagues are taking their financial lumps along with horse racing and other major, minor and amateur sports.

The big league money coffers are considerably larger and pockets deeper than those of horse racing, and as such, are able to withstand many more lumps than horse racing could possible endure. That much is obvious.

I just wouldn’t be looking around the local race track for Chicken Little anytime soon – unless she’s in the entries of course. But that’s for another blog entirely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Zenyatta: So Unbelievable You Can't Believe It

To paraphrase the old 1970s Saturday Night Live character Todd, played by Bill Murray alongside Gilda Rander’s Lisa, “Zenyatta is unbelievable. She’s so unbelievable, I can’t believe it.” Does that sound trivial for such a great mare? Then take note of owner Jerry Moss, without doubt considered an eloquent ambassador for horse racing, who described Zenyatta momemts after the race by telling TVG’s Christine Olivares, “She’s unbelievable. It’s believable because I’m here. But she keeps doing it. I can’t explain it.”

TVG Host Bob Badeaker said, "I'm 63 years old... ...I've been watching races a long, long time and I can't remember anything to equal it." The ever classly Penny Chenery, owner of the great Secretariat said on TVG of Zenyatta, "it is so exciting. She’s a big glorious mare. She knows she's good. She's happy . The crowd loves her. It is just a wonderful day. I'm so glad I had a chance to get here." Then in a more touching comment she told Christine Olivares, "There is such a good feel. People who love horses... “ Ms. Chennery then tapped her heart twice, and while a little farklemt, “... right to my heart."

For most of my 30 years of adulthood, one of my favorite cocktail party questions has been, “Who are the three greatest race horses of all time?” I’ve asked this question among hall of famers at a Shoemaker Foundation event at Hollywood Park and of a similar group of attendees at a Super Derby event with Charlie Whittingham, Jack Van Berg, Bill Shoemaker, etc. I’ve asked that question at countless cocktail events at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program Symposium on Racing and I’ve asked the question at St. Vincent de Paul Fish Frys, boring bridal showers and honky tonks from Spokane, Washington to Slidell, Louisiana.

Two horses come up more than any others – Man o’ War and Secretariat. After that come a slew of others that includes Kelso, Forego, Dr. Fager, Citation, Cigar, Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew and the likes.

I’m not sure Zenyatta will break the Man o’ War/Secretariat barrier, but she is definitely among those I consider to be the greatest of all time. And I pity those who disagree. They have every right to have that opinion, but it is a shame they can't appreciate the greatness of Zenyatta.

One barometer I will use to define the greatness of Zenyatta is ESPN’s Sports Center. There are four races that annually make Sports Center: The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Occasionally a race with a funny call or unusual event like a jockey riding to the wire hanging on only to the horse’s neck, makes Sports Center as well. Depending on the winner of the Preakness, Belmont and Classic, only the Kentucky Derby can regularly be seen on the Sports Center weekend highlights Sunday night. Zenyatta’s TVG Lady’s Secret was among the Saturday AND Sunday highlights on ESPN. That kind of impact on the general sports public can not be underestimated.

The crowd of 25,800 was not so impressive, but their behavior was. I worked at Hollywood Park in 1990-’91 and would often walk through the massive paddock and wonder what it would be like to see the stairs and the walkway behind the grandstand overlooking the new paddock filled with fans. The expanse of the old grandstand designed to hold the huge crowds of the 1940s, 50s and 60s was not at capacity for Zenyatta, but it was electric. And electric fans in Southern California are rare. There are no National Football League teams able to survive there. National Hockey League fans don’t go to Kings and Ducks games just to see the puck drop to begin the game. They can hear the puck drop too. The easiest parking in major league sports is to get to Dodger Stadium before the third inning. Oaklawn Park will get that may fans for a Terry Wallace autograph session and Aqueduct will come close to that count if the weather is good.

But the numbers don’t reflect the enthusiasm as Zenyatta came home and they drowned out the race call of track announcer Vic Stoffer.

And how to you measure the greatness of Zenyatta in that Hollywood Park stretch. Switch, a 3-year-old filly that had primed to almost perfection by trainer John Sadler, turned for home with a 3-length lead on Zenyatta, switched leads and burst another length ahead. Defeat seemed a possibility for Zenyatta who confidently and slowly began to lengthen her strides – making up little ground in the first few in the straightaway. The jockey Mike Smith snapped his whip once – twice – three, four, five times and Zenyatta somehow passed the fast moving Switch.

Type “Zenyatta, Ladys Secret” into Google, Bing or Yahoo and you don’t see Daily Racing Form, Blood-Horse or Thoroughbred Times among the top visited sites. Instead you see Forbes, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, Yahoo Sports, USA Today, ESPn Sports.

Believe me. There are thousands of young sports fans out there that saw Zenyatta for the first time through this media and will bet her at any low price in the Breeders’ Cup. If she should win, they will celebrate that 5-to-2 win ticket like they hit the Breeders’ Cup Pick-6 for a mil. If they match their psychographics like I think they, they will take five friends to bet the Breeders’ Cup only to show their superior intelligence. That’s the kind of impact Zenyatta is having on the sport.

Does Zenyatta belong with Man o’ War and Secretariat? Probably not. Should she be mentioned in the same breath as Citation, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Forego, Buckpasser or Spectacular Bid? I pity those who think not.