Oct. 29, 2012
Finally Breeders’ Cup is at hand. The biggest two-day event of the year in American racing will take place on Friday and Saturday. This year’s Cup is being staged at Santa Anita, as officials try to again get the best of the weather. Clearly the decision not to hold the event on the east coast this year was omniscient. Those who are stuck in the hurricane which has exploded onto the scene on the east coast, both man and beast, has survival instincts in motion. Out of control fire and water are occasionally the most serious enemies of man. Thus hurricane is truly out of control. So our thoughts are with the horsemen and animals required to face the most brutal face of nature this week.
In the meantime on the west coast the preparations are in gear for this weekend’s races. A number of champions will be determined by the outcomes of these races, although some new medical guidelines may create some difficult choices in the future. Two-year-olds will not be allowed to race on Lasix. Generally speaking, this change in medication behavior has not limited the number of entries in two-year-old races. There will be plenty of horses to race on both dirt and turf, so the outcome should produce some memorable action.
I was interested to hear a British scribe claim that the British racing fans will be somewhat deflated by the retirement of Frankel, generally accepted as the best runner in the world this year. Frankel’s retirement should have the same impact on the British that Zenyatta’s did on American racing fans. There is no Zenyatta in this year’s Breeders’ Cup entries, but the competition ought to be compelling to real fans.
Much like the year when racing was dominated by Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, there are those who believe the best of the fillies and mares should go ahead and take on the males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, on Saturday. It doesn’t appear that such a competition will take place. The two best (in my opinion) are Awesome Feather and Royal Delta and it would appear that they will get to match strides on Friday in the Ladies Classic. They figure to be joined by three-year-old standouts, My Miss Aurelia and Questing, providing the highlight of the Friday card and, perhaps, the entire weekend.
Oaklawn fans willl have a few to cheer for. The Marathon on Friday includes two Oaklawn-race runners in Atigun and Commander, although the latter raced here in 2011, where he won an allowance race, but finished up the track in a troubled effort in the Northern Spur Stakes on Arkansas Derby Day. Atigun raced here in pursuit of the Arkansas Derby, but that one eluded him. Owner and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame member, John Ed Anthony, has raced many great horses during his adult life and has enjoyed considerable success. It seems like some of his best, like Temperence Hill and Cox’s Ridge, were better with extra distance, so that is the hope for Atigun , whose most recent effort was a fourth on an off track at a mile-and-a-quarter in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He won’t face anything near that caliber of runner in the Marathon, so there are some legitimate hopes for his success.
The winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup was Flat Out, who won the inaugural Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in 2009. Injured shortly thereafter, the son of Flatter joined the barn of trainer Bill Mott this summer and has responded with some good results, including the Gold Cup win, a second in the Monmouth Cup and a third in the Whitney at Saratoga. Flat Out hasn’t won two in a row since 2009, so there is an inclination to disrespect his consistency. In addition he shows no races on the west coast in his career of 19 starts. Expecting him to win here is something of a pipe-dream. I hope he does and he should be a good price, but I’ll be more than a bit surprised if he pulls it off.
We are always interested in the results of the two-year-old races, since they generally point out the leaders of the division and create the stars of springtime racing. I have a suspicion that we saw one which will have some impact at Oaklawn just this past Sunday, on the opening day card at Churchill Downs. A runner named Titletown Five won the final race on the card, a maiden special weights test, by nine lengths. Owned in part by former Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers football star, Paul Hornung, Titletown Five is a son of Tiznow and should encounter no problems with distance. He ran on Sunday as a first-time Lasix user and the rules don’t prohibit him using that medication at Oaklawn for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas won two races on the opening day card at Churchill and locals will watch him closely at the Twin Spires track, since he has become something of a regular at Oaklawn over the past few years and always ends up high in the standings. He is a class act and welcomed back by the fans of Oaklawn. That welcome will be all the sweeter if he has a standout three-year-old or two.
There is a strong local contingent of transplanted Wisconsonites, who will remember Hornung’s football exploits as well and probably bring out their cheeseheads should Titletown Five turn into a local star.
It’s that time of year. The countdown to the local live meet is started and the results from Saturday may certainly enhance the growing excitement. See you here, I hope. By the way, my best bet of the weekend is the European miler, Excelebration, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. But I will be keying on the Europeans on the turf, as if you are surprised by that. I always think that’s the biggest edge on Breeders’ Cup Day. Remember, it’s European-raced runner on the turf. You heard it here, if they run well. If they don’t, forget you read this blog.