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Oct 17, 2008

Thru The Binoculars


How can a turf writer not be cynical after a lifetime in the game?

So when news came down Monday that Big Brown was being retired after sustaining a hoof injury during workout Monday morning at Aqueduct, my first reaction was:

"It figures. The last thing in the world the IEAH boys need is for Big Brown to go off to stud off a beat...likely a bad the Breeders' Cup."

After all, if I had a $100 for every bogus retirement announcement I've heard over the years, I'd be a rich man.

But in this case it appears I was wrong.

There were a couple of respected turf writers -- Steve Haskin and Karen Johnson -- on hand for the work. They got close up and personal with Big Brown, and confirmed that the injury was legit.

Farewell. Big Brown, we hardly knew ye.

But here's the kicker:

Moments after Big Brown was retired, word came from France that Zarkava. the unbeaten Arc winner, was being retired.

No injury in this case.

Just a press release from owner Aga Khan:

"Whilst no one," said AK, "will regret more than my management team and I not to see Zarkava race again, and she is such a supreme athlete, we have decided to retire her to the Aga Khan broodmare band, as she will be an invaluable asset to this essential part of our activity."

So there you have it. In a matter of hours on Columbus Day, the best 3-year-old in the world, and the best 3-year-old filly in the world, were retired.

Sound familiar?

There is no reason why such valuable assets can not continue to race.

Pardon me.

Yes there is:

The color of money.

Just ask the folks who, in recent years, brought us Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Street Sense, Hard Spun, et al.

The exception of course is Curlin, who, thanks to owner Jackson, gave us a thrilling 4-year-old campaign, and who -- with Big Brown gone -- no doubt will be 2-5 in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

You don't need this reporter to tell you how much Big Brown's absence hurts the Breeders' Cup.

The Curlin-Big Brown matchup would have been a huge shot in the arm for racing, coming in the wake of the Eight Belles tragedy, and the steroids controversy.

But the Big Brown defection takes all the buzz out of the two-day event.

It's still the Breeders' Cup, and that's a good thing for the bettors, especially those who check out the red hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), but for the general public, its focus will turn to the World Series, college football, and the Governor of Alaska hosting Saturday Night Live.

The only thing that could happen to save the Breeders' Cup this year is for the connections of Zenyetta to change their minds, and run their brilliant unbeaten filly against Curlin in the Classic.

But with the image of Eight Belles so fresh in everyone's minds, there is no chance they will do so.

Instead we will have 2-5 favorites in the two biggest Cup races: Curlin in the Classic, Zenyetta in the Distaff.

But at least impressionable young minds won't be affected.

It seems that Gray Goose Vodka is the sponsor one of the lesser BC races -- the Juvenile Turf. So said, the Walt Disney Corporation, which runs ABC and ESPN, has ordered that the Juvenile Turf be broadcast by its cable network (ESPN) rather than by its mainline network (ABC).

More on the Breeders' Cup in the next three columns on this venue.

Looking back at last weekend, the highlight was Sunday's running of the $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes, a Grade 3 over the Keeneland grass course.

Cowboy Cal, trained by two-time Eclipse winner Todd Pletcher, was the only Grade One horse in the race, and the 9-5 favorite.

Through Saturday, the Toddster had saddled 172 winners this year.

Among the double-digit runners in the race was Seaspeak, 20-1 on the program, 12-1 on the tote. His trainer is Alex Clarkson, who had saddled precisely one winner in nine-plus months this year. Cowboy Cal and Seaspeak hooked up at the top of the lane, and with jockeys Velazquez and Desormeaux whippin' and drivin', battled on even terms through the lane in close quarters, with Seaspeak getting up in the final jump.

Blink, blink, blink went the number.

And down came Seaspeak.

I watched the replay several times on "" and darn if I could see a foul.

But take a look.

See if you see a foul.

I'm just saying that -- whenever possible -- horse races should be decided on the racetrack.

On Monday, Norberto Arroyo Jr. went down in a chilling spill on the turn during race five at Belmont Park.

Arroyo had longshot Triste Doble Q on the lead, but having lost both irons, he was clinging on for dear life. Finally, he could do so no longer, and fell right into the path of the entire oncoming field.

It looked as bad as it gets. Arroyo was rushed by ambulance to North Shore University Hospital, and was treated and later released. He even hopes to ride when racing resumes Thursday.

"I got really lucky," Arroyo would say.

Did he ever?

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