At the post Breeders’ Cup brunch Sunday at Santa Anita, Bob Baffert said that “…the only guy who had a worse Saturday than Bobby Frankel was George Steinbrenner”. An interesting parallel because Frankel and Steinbrenner are old buddies, and Frankel has been a frequent guest of The Boss at Yankee Stadium. It will be interesting to see if Frankel is voted another Eclipse Award as the year’s top trainer, or if the voters flock to Dick Mandella on the basis of his record Breeders’ Cup four-bagger. Last year, the name of the Breeders’ Cup was amended to the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Not only is that a mouthful, but it is a misnomer – certainly this year. Of the eight Breeders’ Cip winners, only one -- Halfbridled – is a certain Eclipse Award winner. I thought of the eight Breeders’ Cup winners, Juvenile Fillies’ winner Halfbridled was by far the most spectacular. From post 14, she was three and four-wide every step, and still won for fun. Moreover, she ran faster than the 2-year-old boys did two hours later when the track was faster. And to see Julie Krone, off a three-year layoff, nail her first Breeders’ Cup win (and the first by a female rider) was terrific theater. Other than that, the most excitement was provided in the last two races. The Turf produced the first dead heat in Cup history (and wasn’t it interesting to see a bored Aidan O’Brien, the trainer of High Chapparal, yakking on his cell phone while waiting for thephoto?), and the Classic, in which I had the good fortune to nail Pleasantly Perfect at $30.40 on my phone service. (To illustrate what a $30.40 winner means, the Pick Four at Churchill Downs on Sunday paid 20K, and the highest-priced winner of the four was $25). And, once again, NBC did an OK job (although I really didn’t need to see Julie Krone playing the harmonica). but, of course, as usual, the network never said a word about the eventual Classic winner in its pre-race hype.
As I’ve been saying in this space for months, I felt this was a sub-par year for 3-year-olds, and the result of the Classic proved it. In retrospect, it was sinful for the racing media to compare Funny Cide and Empire Maker to Affirmed and Alydar or Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. Speaking of Funny Cide, it is not red-boarding to jump all over his connections for shipping the horse 3000 miles to run against the best stayers in the country in the Classic. As expected, the horse was overbet (8-1), and , as expected, he ran awful, finishing ninth of 10, beaten 15 lengths. And wasn’t it sad to see Julie completely ignore Jose Santos when Santos tried to wish her luck in the paddock? The Newark Star Ledger newspaper took a poll the day before the Classic, asking “who will win the Breeders’ Cup Classic?” and offering six possibilities: Medaglia d’Oro, Congaree, Funny Cide, Perfect Drift, Ten Most Wanted and “other”.It was a landslide: Funny Cide won with 40 per cent of the votes! I think maybe the reason is that Funny Cide was the only name that most readers of the Newark Star Ledger newspaper recognized. Perhaps it was no surprise that, in Sunday’s editions, the Ledger ran a Breeders’ Cup Classic photo, and the caption read “…Pleasantly Perfect wins dramatic finish…” Actually, the photo was of five horses in line across the track at the start of the race.The first clue were the automobiles lined up inside the inner rail. If Funny Cide or Ten Most Wanted had won the Classic, he would have been hailed as Horse of the Year in a landslide. Instead, Empre Maker, by ducking the race while his two rivals ran so poorly, will be named 3-year-old champion. Yes, I know, Empire Maker probably was the best 3-year-old of his year, but it’s unfortunate he should be rewarded for not showing up. And that brings us to Mineshaft. Back in mid-September, I broke the story on these pages that Mineshaft will be retired after the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Two weeks later, Mineshaft won the Gold Cup, beating an awful field, and two weeks after that, it was discovered the horse had “bone chips”. Instead of competing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was retired, and, effective next spring, will start commanding a $100,000 perstallion fee. On paper, there’s no question that Mineshaft was the most accomplished racehorse in North America this year, but it’s terribly unfortunate that he should be rewarded for not answering the bell on World Thoroughbred Championships day. If any one of five other horses had won the Classic, he would have overtaken Mineshaft for Horse of the Year, but, luckily for Mineshaft’s people, you can’t make a case for Pleasantly Perfect (although he is my Horse of the Year). Too bad Ford Frick isn’t around when you need an asterisk. Some of the other Eclipse Awards are really going to be interesting. The “turf” award usually goes to the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but what do you do in the unlikely event of a dead-heat? And what about 2-year-old colt? Does Action This Day get it on the basis of one race? If Action This Day ran in the Remsen next month against Birdstone, Eurosilver, Silver Wagon and Ruler’s Court, he’d be 20-1. No doubt Aldebaran will be champion sprinter. But tell that to the hundreds of thousands who bet their money on him in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and watch him finish sixth. That reminds me. For the second straight Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, California-based horses won all but one of the main-track races. This year’s exception was the Kentucky-based Cajun Beat, the Sprint winner at 22-1. And, for the second straight Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup, Eastern horses flopped. The biggest similarity to the ’93 B.C. was the Juvenile. In ’93, the New York-based Dehere beat one horse at 3-5, and in ’03, the New York-based Cuvee finished last at 8-5. Perhaps, we should all keep this in mind the next time the Breeders’ Cup comes to Santa Anita. P.S. Last Friday, I wrote about a 2-year-old named Frisky Spider who was to make his first start last Sunday at Philadelphia Park. Trainer Durso called an audible, and entered Frisky Spider instead in Tuesday’s fifth race at The Meadowlands. He’s 5-1 in the book, but will be a lot less at post. He’s worth a look. P.P.S.: My sources tell me that Tom Kelly, who managed the Minnesota Twins to two world titles, is in line to get the Red Sox job.