Horse racing is a sport of dichotomy: Colts and fillies, horses and mares, front runners and swift closers. Oh, and winners and losers.
As I’ve said before, the Breeders’ Cup, win or lose, is a reward for those of us who have spent a long (I’d argue too long) year following horse racing. The Breeders’ Cup is the delicious, sumptuous, delectable icing on an over-baked, stale, and dare I say, moldy cake. Still we eat on.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup was plump and bloated with winners and losers; we’re going to see-saw between each starting with a winner and, well, you get the trajectory.
He’s winner No. 1 after his Mizdirection gunned down the leader in the Turf Sprint.
Mizdirection had to overcome a wide post and, honestly, I didn’t think she’d be able to. She was hung wide and charged home with giant strides to beat the boys in the race. An amazing effort for an owner deserving of the win.
Mizdirection won this same race a year ago and you better believe Rome will be talking about this race on his show come Monday.
I was tempted to paste in a picture of the actual Verrazano Bridge because it can be considered more successful than this colt.
This warms my heart. Listen, I don’t openly root against horses, I just love horses who take a ton of money for no reason and have no shot at winning because they choke when it matters.
Verrazano was the undefeated world beater of the Wood Memorial before gagging in the Derby (some may argue he had excuses because of the track and the awful pace scenario, but nuts to the them). He opened a can of Whoop Donkey on foes at Monmouth and the Pegasus and Haskell, but choked again when legacy was on the line in the Travers.
He had a long layoff before attempting a distance more suited to his abilities and proceeded to finish a distant fourth. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, is only left to scratch his head.
How did this mare go off at 7-2?
She broke from the outside and rated perfectly, calmly, confidently in the four-path around the turn. She traveled smoothly turning for home before putting a head in front. She turned back all challengers and won her second straight Filly and Mare Sprint.
This was only her fourth race of the year since starting her campaign on dirt back on Aug. 13 at Ellis Park. She finished third that day. She won the Presque Isle Masters, but slipped up at Keeneland in her final prep for the Breeders' Cup.
She clearly loves dirt and loves Santa Anita and proved she’s the champ of this division.
It all started on the wrong hoof when Bill Mott’s Ron the Greek scratched a few days ago with an abscess. Mott still had to feel good heading into the weekend because he had alpha mare Royal Delta in the Distaff and Flat Out in the Classic.
Royal Delta didn’t get over the track well and finished fourth as the favorite. She won the Distaff the last two years and won several Grade 1s. Mott, in his post-race comments, had a tempered attitude in the end, realizing Royal Delta had brought him world travel and riches galore.
“She’s had three hard campaigns. I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of good horses and it’s difficult to have more than two good campaigns with any horse. This mare has come back and won Grade I’s this year and I see no reason why she wouldn’t be champion older mare. She didn’t win the Breeders’ Cup, but she’s been good to us. She’s won two championships and maybe three, and won a couple of Breeders’ Cups. It’s not a bad career.
“Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time.”
The Europeans know their wine, cheese, French Kings and horse racing.
Not only are they more stylish, possess more culture and history, they also had a day in the Breeders’ Cup. It's almost enough to forget that Napoleon Bonaparte tried to take over the world and failed miserably fighting a Russian winter, getting exiled to Elba before coming back to get slaughtered at Waterloo.
They won the Marathon with London Bridge; they won the Turf with Magician; they won the Juvenile Turf with Outstrip; they won the Filly and Mare Turf with Dank. Four wins in America's World Championships, that's what you call "Winner, winner lobster dinner."
Sadly, this is life as a jockey in horse racing.
John Velazquez, Hall of Fame jockey, winner of thousands of horse races, suffered a day-ending injury Saturday. His horse, Secret Compass, broke down, dumping Velazquez and ending his day. To keep things in perspective, Secret Compass had to be euthanized, a sad truism in horse racing.
Velazquez's injury cost him his mount on Havana, the freakish two-year-old colt who finished second in the Juvenile as a heavy favorite. He also lost the mount on Wise Dan, winner of the $2 million Mile. He also lost mounts on Point of Entry and Justin Phillip. A door closes for the injured jockey, and opens for others in the jock's room.
No one understands this more than Velazquez. In 2011, an injury to Robby Albarado opened up the mount on Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. This happened.
What can you say? Wise Dan was absolutely brilliant in the Mile (sorry, Johnny Velazquez).
He ran a relative clunker at Keeneland in the Shadwell "Turf" Mile, the quotization marks are because it got rained off the grass and thrown onto the awful monstrosity that is Polytrack.
Wise Dan won this race a year ago, and he was a deserving favorite. He tracked the field in mid-pack while the front end set brutal, Wise Dan-friendly fractions. Turning for home, Jose Lezcano straightened him out, and he blitzed for the lead like the champion he is.
The win keeps him in contention for Horse of the Year honors, but no matter what, he lived up to his immense talent, a true headliner.
It hurts to call the greatest trainer in the game a loser, but he's measured by what happens on the sport's biggest stage, and on said biggest stage he laid an egg. Let's look at the horses he had going this weekend that came up empty:
Princess of Sylmar: Likely the Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, she finished last of them all in the Breeders' Cup Distaff behind Beholder, Close Hatches, Authenticity, Royal Delta and Street Girl.
His Havana, the monster two-year-old he trained to a 102-Beyered maiden win and a 93-Beyer win in the Grade 2 Champagne, got caught up in a hot pace and finished second to New Year's Eve.
He had Capo Bastone in the Turf Sprint, and he had Palace Malice in the Classic, who ran a decent, but disappointing race.
I was seriously ready to reserve this slot for a horse that disappointed during the Classic ... but ... Kristen Chenoweth stood in the winner's circle and sang The Best is Yet to Come.
For some folks, perhaps this was a charming warm up for the Breeders' Classic, the greatest race on American soil (yeah, take that Kentucky Derby!). It was irritating. It was, dare I say, out of place, disconcerting and unsettling.
All right, the subtext makes sense: The best is yet to come. I get it. The meaning of the song is implicit and the Classic is befitting of a song that tells it how it is. But when four guys in a hotel room simultaneously recoil at the sight of Chenoweth, that's a telling review. The only thing that bailed her out was the sun setting on the San Gabriel mountains.
Peace out, let's get to a real winner ...
At first this slide was titled Mucho Macho Man and Gary Stevens, and they're worthy attendants to this. But Kathy Ritvo, trainer to Mucho Macho Man became the first woman trainer to win the Breeders' Classic Classic.
Mucho Macho Man rated perfectly in the middle of the pack while Fort Larned, Moreno and Game On Dude battled on the lead. It set up perfectly for Mucho Macho Man, who put a head in front at the top of the lane. Will Take Charge stormed up to challenge and lost by the smallest of margins.
But Ritvo and MMM weren't the only winners. Gary Stevens pulled off the Breeders' Cup Double: Distaff and Classic.
He won the Distaff aboard Beholder and the Classic aboard MMM. This triumvirate of MMM, Ritvo and Stevens are the ultimate champions and the ultimate winners of an epic weekend of horse racing.