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Nov 13, 2009

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi

            The 2009 Breeders’ Cup has come and gone and the two years of racing over the “fake” track in California hopefully will show those in charge that racing should be held over a conventional dirt surface especially when year end championships are at stake.

            Last year’s dominance by the Europeans was not as evident this year and many of their top grass horses were overbet on the Pro-ride at Santa Anita. The final standings were eight wins for American horses and six wins for European horses in the 14 races.

            There were six races run on Friday with eight more on Saturday as the Breeders’ Cup has gone to a two day format over the last few years. However, they should really re-think some of the new races they have created, i.e. the marathon, the Filly and Mare Sprint, but they won’t because it isn’t about what is good for the game it is about the television time, the money involved by having all these races and trying to get more handle by having more races. One day, someone who runs a racetrack will realize they by giving so many different bets all in one race, pick 3’s, pick 4’s, rolling doubles, exactas, triples, etc doesn’t gain you more handle in the long run. You are just spreading everyone out and probably will wind up with less handle than if you just offered these bets in certain races. In the words of Denis Miller, “Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but” so lets get back to the Breeders’ Cup.

            When I think of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup I think of one horse, ZENYATTA.  She epitomized this year’s Breeders’ Cup and brought much publicity to our great game. Like the great RUFFIAN over 30 years before she had many women coming out to the track to watch her race and her popularity with the non horse racing fan was immense.           

            Her connections made the decision to run her in the Classic against the males instead of in the Ladies Classic the day before. There were 13 horses entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but only 12 went postward as QUALITY ROAD, a high class three year old from the Todd Pletcher barn did not want to load into the gate and injured himself necessitating the late scratch.

            Going off as the slight 5-2 favorite ZENYATTA was trying to keep her record perfect with a win and become the first female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Racing 11th of 12 behind a moderate half mile in 47:4, she began to move up around the far turn but not coming with her usual wide advance rather moving up towards the inside part of the track. The early leader, longshot, REGAL RANSOM was stopping, the overbet European RIP VAN WINKLE, who was a very good turf horse and never tried synthetics and who probably would not have run in this race had it been on dirt also stopped finishing 10th as the second choice. SUMMER BIRD, the top three year old in the country not named RACHEL ALEXANDRA was in a good stalking spot in sixth but wasn’t able to kick on over the “fake” track and had to settle for fourth. GIO PONTI, another top turf horse who has run well in his few tries over the pro-ride made an inside move to the lead but couldn’t hold off ZENYATTA who made the inside move, angled out and rolled by in very impressive fashion to score by a length under hall of fame rider, Mike Smith. TWICE OVER from Europe put in a nice effort to finish third at 9-1.

            This win, although it was only her fifth race of the year has to put ZENYATTA in the horse of the year debate with the other great filly, RACHEL ALEXANDRA. I believe Rachel still has the edge but there are those out there that might favor ZENYATTA now on the “what have you done for me lately” theory. Regardless of who wins they both had an unbelievable year and ZENYATTA had an unbelievable career also finishing a perfect 14 for 14.

            Next year’s Breeders’ Cup will be back on conventional dirt at Churchill Downs on November 5th  and 6th  and will be a welcome change after the last two years. Let’s hope the Breeders’ Cup makes the decision to race over conventional dirt surfaces for the coming years, “of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

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