Okay, after the peculiar back-and-forth repartee between Jess Jackson and Mike Iavarone that was carried out by the media on Wednesday, I am officially annoyed with the Big Brown vs. Curlin situation.
And after all the bickering that has taken place, it finally appears that the two most popular horses in America will never meet.
It is a very sad situation for one simple reason: In the end, not only does the industry lose, but so do the fans. Had the two camps come to terms and had it been marketed correctly, this is a match-up that would have done wonders for a sport that could certainly use a boost in popularity. It could have been huge.
Here is my official take on the situation:
Jess Jackson should stop issuing challenges and meet Big Brown in The Breeders' Cup Classic.
As many of you know I have been critical of Big Brown's connections in the past, but in this case I cannot fault them. The Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while certainly both races that seem attractive on paper, would not be the right fit for Big Brown.
The Haskell took a lot out of Big Brown, which both Rick Dutrow and Iavarone have already admitted, and they feel coming back in four weeks for the Woodward would be too soon. Remember, he went through a grueling Triple Crown stretch and he has chronically bad feet. They know their horse better than we do. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one.
The Gold Cup would give him eight weeks of rest, but it would also be less than a month until the Classic, which doesn't make sense either. Ideally, they want more time than that. Again, you can't fault them.
I am not sure what spot they will pick for Big Brown. It is likely to be much softer than either of the aforementioned races and on the surface it will seem like they are ducking Curlin. But if Iavarone wants a turf prep for his horse, that is his right. Admittedly, it does make more sense to run on turf as a prep for a synthetic race, as opposed to dirt. Remember, the goal all along has been the Classic. They have been upfront about that from Day 1.
Bottom line: Horse of the Year championships in this day and age are decided in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Having the race on a synthetic surface is not ideal for everyone, especially since Santa Anita's will be brand new, but it is what it is. It would be the first race on the surface for both horses, so neither would have an advantage. Synthetics are here to stay and Jackson needs to realize this and embrace it.
Somehow, the word "synthetic" has become a four-letter word to many. I realize it makes handicapping more challenging and last year's slow-playing Del Mar surface turned off some. Constantly hearing the gripes of some of the top trainers who don't care for it hasn't helped either. But the reason it was created in the first place is because it is safer for horses, and early research has shown that it does reduce catastrophic injuries. I'm tired of all the complaining about synthetics. Deal with it. It's not going away.
Curlin won last year's Classic in the muddy soup at Monmouth. I'd like to ask Jackson if he thinks that surface was any safer for his horse than Santa Anita's Pro-Ride will be. The George Washington tragedy was a pretty good indication that it wasn't.
The reality is, they are spending millions to redo Santa Anita's ailing surface and will have plenty of time to test the track at the beginning of the meet. Does anyone really believe they would risk having racing's biggest day on a track that is not safe for horses? Not a chance.
If Jackson plans it right, Curlin will have plenty of time to train over the new surface. All the horses will, including Henrythenavigator, who some label as the world's best horse and is being pointed towards the Classic. Aidan O'Brien, the world's best trainer, doesn't seem bothered by the surface.
I don't criticize Jackson for trying to put the Curlin-Big Brown match-up together in New York. I genuinely believe he would like to be able to share it with the fans. He seems like a good sportsman, has the best interest of the industry at heart and is in touch with what people want. On the flip side, he needs to realize that the Breeders' Cup is the international showcase. It is racing's biggest stage and has been for a quarter of a century. It is the most logical place for the two stars to meet.
The surface will be safe. Get over your aversion to synthetics and show up in California. Everyone wants to see it.