Nov. 4, 2013
How many times have those of us at the racetrack heard or used the expression “one jump past the wire” to talk about either the horse we supported or that might have beaten us in a race. On Saturday at Breeders’ Cup, that one jump past the wire established the likely history of North American racing in 2013. Will Take Charge unleashed a furious stretch run to miss by a nose and “one jump past the wire” he was in front. Had he reached the wire first he would have notched his place in racing as a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and virtually cinched the three-year-old championship and even Horse-of-the-Year support. I suspect Wise Dan went a long way towards defending that latter crown with his win in the Mile, but the late efforts of Will Take Charge in capturing the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby would have been a compelling argument had he been able to add the Breeders’ Cup Classic to his resume.
As it is, though, a lady, Kathy Ritvo, gets to boast more than a little about Mucho Macho Man who led every jump except that one past the wire and will forever be remembered as the winner. For D. Wayne Lukas, the incredible 77-year-old teacher of Will Take Charge and one of the most articulate spokespeople about racing, there had to be a bitter pill to swallow. In this year when he won races like the Preakness, Travers, Rebel and Pennsylvania Derby, there’s a good chance he won’t get to lay claim to the top trainer honors he may richly deserve. Only the famed “Woody” Stephens and Charlie Whittingham made such a mark on racing at such an advanced age. It would have been good for the sport had Lukas been the winner and been at the other end of the microphone to talk about the win and put it into perspective.
Lukas, and I hope his health stays sharp, has become one of the most “in demand” after-dinner speakers our sport has ever developed. His talks are always extremely interesting and peppered with great stories developed over his decades at the top level of the sport. Lukas exudes the confidence that only the elite of a sport show, yet he extends a hand to younger people to get involved.
As I get older, I appreciate the shortage of passionate young folks involved in our sport. Although those who are now the movers of our sport are attempting to keep the relevance out-front with technological advances and up-to-date ideas, I continue to live in the last century, not having even a cell phone. There are some of my contemporaries who wish they weren’t saddled with the new inventions, I am at least aware that such basic technologies must become part of the everyday racing experience or we will go the way of too many other sports in the nation’s conscience. We could be forgotten if we depended on only the older members of our community. I realize the demographics of those who practice the art of handicapping have really aged over time, but I am always hopeful that the future generations of racing fans will find it an important part of their lives.
Breeders’ Cup has provided a spark for racing in the Fall of the year. It offers a change from the football fanatics and focuses attention on the animals, which will ultimately be the ones which bring the sport out of the doldrums. Great runners and identifiable stars really help. Having some of the most influential members of society involved in ownership is still of paramout, since folks still like to be seen among the stars, at least those of the moment.
Those stars who have tried to participate in the sport in a kind of silent way need to be cajoled into being more evident. The Toby Keiths of the world, who have lots of fans and horses, need to be an important part of what’s going. Toby, himself, needs to become involved in some of our most publicized event. My hope is that someone sees the value of these stars which surround us, so that they can help sell the idea that horse racing needs to be part of the sports fabric in our country.
I will be anxiously awaiting the decision on the year’s top three-year-old. Certainly Will Take Charge has a solid claim, at least as good as any of the others prospective sophomore stars which did race. So many disappointed at the critical moments, but Will Take Charge dramatically finished the season with some style not shown early on when some of the others were getting higher Triple Crown acclaim. He deserves that title and Oaklawn’s three-year-old series has once again benefitted by having some of its grads go on to spectacular success. We are proud of Willis Horton’s colt and that pride exists even though the race on Saturday needed to extend to “one jump past the wire” for him to be a winner. It will be a joy to welcome him and Lukas back to Oaklawn in 2014.
We are also proud of efforts of Secret Circle in winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He made a mark here at Oaklawn in winning both the Southwest and Rebel, before running second in the Arkansas Derby to stablemate, Bodemeiser. Secret Circle has had a short, but highly-successful four-year-old campaign and is the poster child for horses staying around beyond their three-year-old season in order to achieve that higher degree of success to which they are entitled. I’m equally proud of his performance on Saturday.
Breeders’ Cup will always rank as one of the most difficult challenges for handicappers. So many good horses come from different directions, it’s hard not to make a reasonable argument for almost all of those entered. I take great pride in working at Oaklawn, where our fans leave the track with a smile on their faces. There’s a regional pride which registers when those who have raced here successfully in the past, perform well at other racing centers. It’s uplifting to share that, even for a crusty old boy like myself who doesn’t have a cell phone. I am still enough in touch that I can see racing lives vitally in this region. I know that many of those who claim to have “broke even”, are more broke than even, but I know they take great pride in horses like Will Take Charge, even if he was a winner just “one jump past the wire”.