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Aug 21, 2009

American turf club lead

By: Joe Girardi

            The Breeders’ Cup is just around the corner, about three months away and yet again it will be held at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting. So again, like last year the Breeders’ Cup will be run over a synthetic surface. I think everyone saw last year that betting Breeders’ Cup day is not going to be an easy task. The European horses shipped in and dominated the American horses especially on racing’s biggest stage, the Breeders’ Cup Classic. CURLIN was clearly the best horse in the states last year and in 2007, he was also one of the better horses we have seen in over 15 years however, he just spun his wheels over the synthetic track last year. RAVEN’S PASS won the Breeders’ Cup Classic with another Euro HENRYTHENAVIGATOR finishing second. CURLIN was nailed late for third checking in fourth behind what would seem like a mediocre field. However, the synthetic surface is the great equalizer. Horses that couldn’t get within 20 lengths of a horse like CURLIN on a conventional dirt surface beat him easily over the “plastic”. That’s what CURLIN’s owner, Jess Jackson calls it. He didn’t want to go to the Breeders’ Cup last year but there was a possible meeting with BIG BROWN before he got hurt and the sportsman that Jackson is he did it. However, he owns the great race filly RACHEL ALEXANDRA this year and he has already said without a doubt there will be no Breeders’ Cup this year. Even though she has won over this type of track he doesn’t want to run over it on racing’s biggest day.

            The synthetic surfaces when they were forced upon California racing a few years back were billed as a safe surface that would produce large fields, all weather tracks and the injuries would go way down. However, as we have all seen; the fields are not that big, the problems that Santa Anita had with the rain last year causing cancellations and such and the breakdowns are not coming at a lesser rate. In addition, the other injuries involved with the synthetic surface such as soft tissue injuries are way up. Despite these facts, no one at the top—those making the decisions, will come out and tell it like it is. It looks like there will be more of the same this year with possibly the best horse in the country already stating that she will not be there, look for another Breeders’ Cup Euro.

            Something that has always been a problem for me in horse racing has been the decisions by the Stewards. The Stewards performance at Saratoga so far has been abysmal. On Wednesday August 19th, 2009 in the second race there was a stewards’ inquiry and a jockey objection against the unofficial winner CHIPPEWA COURT. As CHIPPEWA COURT made the lead in midstretch she started to drift out while more than a length clear of the horses behind her. SPEECHIFYING, altered course to the inside and was able to get up for second but still a length behind CHIPPEWA COURT. CHIPPEWA COURT’s rider Robby Albarado was hitting right handed trying to keep his horse from drifting but she was doing it on her own, she was clearly best and was clear when she drifted. If you watch the race again, SPEECHIFYING’s rider, Ramon Dominguez saw what was happening and before he went inside he looked over to make sure he had room so as CHIPPEWA COURT drifted further he went to the inside, he was never getting to winner and he still finished second. So instead of protecting the betting public and leaving the best horse up and give Robby Albarado days they disqualify the horse. The reason for the outrage is that there were at least three other incidents where horses should have clearly come down and they were left up by the same stewards.

            On Saturday August 15th in the 9th race the second place finisher LEASE OF LIFE who was racing in about the 1 and ½ path, drifted into about the 5 or 6 path and forced the third place finisher to check and he was still gaining on the leaders late. There was a long Stewards’ inquiry but somehow that result stood. On Wednesday August 5th in the 8th race as the horses approached the top of the stretch, the odds-on favorite was making a wide move into the lane but just as they turned into the stretch she shifted in and banged another rival GRANDE ANNEE knocking her off stride but then went on to win. GRANDE ANNEE had to settle for fourth after that incident, there was a jockey’s objection but it was disallowed, even though it clearly hurt GRANDE ANNEE’s chances of a better spot.

            These are just a few examples of incidents that were clearly worse than the one they took down on August 19th which then in turn makes you worry about what’s going to happen the next time. The consistency is not there and it is never there. There is no accountability unless of course in the ALLUMEUSE incident back in 1986 where the Stewards at Saratoga actually took down the wrong horse entirely. There should be an explanation, maybe a press conference of sorts where questions can be asked instead of these Stewards who no one knows making decisions that impact so many people and so much money, I doubt this will ever happen but you can always hope.


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