What a great weekend of racing. We saw several outstanding performances, including three on Ladies Day Friday and many more on what will be now known as "European Saturday." Less than 24 hours after a very successful Breeders' Cup 25, here are a few thoughts and a breakdown of some of the standout races:
First of all, hopefully we haven't seen the last of Curlin, but if we did it was a disappointing way to go out. Most of the 50,000 at Santa Anita were pulling for the superstar to defend his Classic title. It wasn't meant to be. As I wrote on Friday, he had too much going against him - the lack of significant early speed and more than anything, he was just slowing down after a long campaign. Whether Curlin fans want to admit it or not, he hasn't looked all that sharp in his last two starts and after finally facing some elite competition, it caught up with him Saturday.
There should no excuses about the Pro-Ride, surface, which played fair all weekend. Curlin got beat fair and square by a couple very good Europeans. Give Raven's Pass all the credit. He is peaking at the right time while still going through a long season against the best in Europe. It was his first time on the surface as well.
By the way, I don't like kicking people when they are down, but did I tell you about Casino Drive or what? He just wasn't ready for that class. I still can't believe how low his odds were.
To reiterate about the Pro-Ride, I am one of those who was very impressed with the surface. After talking with trainers and horsemen all week, most had good things to say about it. There seemed to be no biases and most horses got over it very well. For all the complaining about having a Breeders' Cup on a synthetic surface, I think it turned out to be a success. It also played very fair from a handicapping standpoint. And most importantly, there were no breakdowns.
I thought Ladies Day Friday worked very well too. It gave horses like Ventura, Stardom Bound and Zenyatta a showcase and they shined. I know some people still don't like the idea of having the fillies and mares run on a different day, but after Friday I would say the majority of the people I talked to thought it was a success. I would still go back to ‘Distaff' instead of ‘Ladies Classic', but I give the Breeders' Cup credit for trying to be creative.
Here are thoughts on some of the races:
Filly and Mare Sprint - The first of three spectacular performances on Friday. Ventura capped a terrific 4-year-old campaign, where she won three stakes and earned more than $1.2 million for Juddmonte. Nothing less than an outstanding performance would have beaten Indian Blessing, who also ran a winning race. They are two special fillies and hopefully we wil see them next year.
Juvenile Fillies - In the week leading up to the race many people at Santa Anita thought Stardom Bound was vulnerable because of her running style. I was not one of them. What I saw in the Debutante and Oak Leaf told me that this is one freaky filly. She confirmed it in the BC with another breathtaking win. Seeing Stardom Bound make that move around the turn was one of the highlights of the weekend. I cannot wait to see where she lands as a 3-year-old and what she will accomplish. She will be one of the major stories of 2009.
Ladies Classic - What can you say about Zenyatta that hasn't already been said? She is truly spectacular. Her seemingly effort Ladies Classic win capped an exciting Friday and kept her undefeated in nine starts. We can only hope she runs next year, and who knows, maybe a year from now she will try to the boys in the Classic.
Also, there is plenty of time for this, but Horse of the Year is now going to be very interesting between Zenyatta and Curlin. Both are certainly deserving and my early guess is Curlin has the edge. But Zenyatta is going to garner a lot of votes. Let the debating begin!!
Turf Sprint - Great race, great finish. I wasn't one of those who had $75 winner Desert Code, but it would have been nice to have the biggest score of the weekend. Anyone have it? Just goes to show that toteboards can light up when you have ridiculous early fractions.
Dirt Mile - I wound up playing Albertus Maximus after A) seeing his nice odds compared to Well Armed and B) watching how good he looked in the paddock. I am usually not one of those with an astute eye for picking out horses who look good before the race, but when I saw Albertus Maximus 10 minutes before post I ran to the window. This is one of the most physically impressive colts I have seen in a long time and he proved it on the track. Great job by cutting-edge trainer Vladimir Cerin, who turned this horse around after taking over for Gary Mandella. One of his secrets? Using a hyperbaric chamber to help him recover faster. Very cool. I am looking forward to seeing Albertus Maximus race as a 5-year-old. He has a lot of upside. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the 2009 Classic.
Mile - Wow. Goldikova's turn of foot in the final sixteenth was breathtaking. It was definitely a weekend highlight. Kip Deville ran a winning type race, but was no match for this freaky 3-year-old filly. Not sure what the future holds for either, but it certainly was a memorable race.
Sprint - The most disappointing race of the week for me. I touted Fabulous Strike, but he just didn't fire. Not sure what happened to him, but even at his best he probably wouldn't have beaten Midnight Lute or Fatal Bullet, who ran a huge race. What a job Bob Baffert has done with Midnight Lute, who in the early part of the season didn't even look like he would make it back to the track. Winning two consecutive BC Sprint's is a tremendous accomplishment. Hats off.