Four and a half months.
Is there any possible way we can make it through that length of time with the nation's top older horses healthy and still racing? Given the fragility of today's Thoroughbreds and the almighty dollar being the ultimate factor in all decisions, the chances of that happening is iffy at best. But if the horse racing Gods let it happen, we could be in store for one of the most memorable Breeders' Cup Classics of all-time.
I know I am crazy to even start thinking about this fantasy Breeders' Cup matchup so early in the summer. In this sport, it seems like every time we dream we get let down. If it's not a bone injury, it's a tendon injury. If it's not a tendon, it's a quarter crack. Followed by a disappointing retirement.
Even when injury is not the issue, it's an owner's aversion to a synthetic racing surface that leaves us frustrated. If it's not that, it's an unwillingness to ship. Finally, when all the ducks finally seem in a row, the horse won't load in the starting gate. This is the tenuous nature of our sport.
But we are not human if we can't dream, and after watching arguably four of the top five older horses win this past weekend, it is impossible not to think about November at Churchill Downs.
First it was Rachel Alexandra dominating the Fleur de Lis. All signs pointed to the Horse of the Year romping--good works coming in, big numbers in the La Troienne despite a narrow loss, third off a layoff, a short, overmatched field, etc. You want to say the horse needed a confidence builder to get her season jumpstarted? Fine. We'll agree to disagree. I think she belonged in the Stephen Foster and her final time/speed numbers confirmed it. But we won't go there again. The important point is, Rachel is back.
A short time later it was Blame who confirmed his star status by taking the Foster in dramatic fashion to earn his first grade I win. Anyone that watched Blame in the Clark Handicap last fall and in his first race this season at Pimlico off an extended layoff knew he was a horse with loads of talent ready to break out. Though his final time wasn't spectacular, his acceleration in the stretch was. It was his third win at Churchill and with the BC Classic being there this year, he has a significant advantage over his rivals should he make it.
It was very disappointing to learn that Battle Plan came out of the race with an injury, one which leaves his career in doubt. Otherwise, he would be another major force in the handicap division.
Saturday ended with another dominating win by Rail Trip in the Californian, solidifying his spot at the top of the handicap division out west. The 5-year-old gelding is now a three-time graded stakes winner and has won eight of 11 starts. He looks like he is getting better every start. Though he has never raced outside of California, there is every reason to believe he will stack up well against the nation's best if he takes to dirt.
Finally, on Sunday Zenyatta won her record 17th in a row in a thrilling Vanity finish, a race she won for the third consecutive season. The path to defending her BC Classic title has yet to be decided, but with trainer John Shirreffs having already commented that he is leaning toward a conservative summer campaign that will keep her against fillies and mares in California, she should be rested and ready to tackle males in Louisville this fall.
The fifth, and likely the best, older horse did not race this weekend. Quality Road is in New York with his next destination as of yet undecided, but hopefully we will see plenty of him at Saratoga. Right now, he is scary good and seemingly on his way to a campaign for the ages.
Can you imagine if these five came together in the Classic? The two star fillies meeting for the first time, finally, against the best of the west, against the monster in New York, against up-and-coming star Blame, who by then could be even better. Throw in the top 3-year-olds that will separate themselves this summer and maybe a European invader, and you have the makings of a race for the ages.
Four and a half months. Is there any way we can get there?
By the way, in a related matter, for all you pedigree junkies, check out this TrueNicks poll. Which horse will make the best stallion?