Welcome to another episode of "Let's Take the Reigning Horse of the Year on the Easiest and Most Bizarre Path Possible."
It's a never-ending, entertaining show folks. The season-long drama is only half over and there are plenty of interesting episodes to come. You are sure to be disappointed, so get your soft drinks and popcorn, settle in, and do your best to tolerate it. It's going to be a long ride.
If you've missed any of the previous episodes, I am here to help fill you in:
The series began in spectacular fashion last spring when a little-known 2-year-old filly conditioned by a sweetheart of a trainer burst onto the scene with a dominating series of wins, including a record-setting performance in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). Now a rising star and a valuable commodity, a short time later the filly was purchased privately by billionaire wine mogul, who promptly decided to move her to a new barn and set her on an ambitious campaign for the ages.
The striking bay took us on a ride we will not soon forget. It was an aggressive, exciting campaign that horse racing fans had never seen from a 3-year-old filly. First, a thrilling Preakness (gr. I) victory over the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner, which immediately thrust her into the national spotlight. Now, everyone was watching, even casual sports fans.
The Preakness win was followed by a record-setting performance in the Mother Goose (gr. I) where the filly romped by nearly 20 lengths in breathtaking fashion. Ratings were off the chart. Then it got really good.
A dominating win against 3-year-old males in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) solidified her star status and fame forever. But wait, there was an encore. In her most challenging race to date, the fan favorite took on older males in the prestigious Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at famed Saratoga Race Course. And she did not disappoint, leading at every call before holding off a big, bad older male by a head.
The awesome filly had just completed one of the most sensational campaigns in modern history-8-for-8, five straight grade I wins, three of them against males. Wow. What a show!
While collecting his prized Horse of the Year award the following January at a glittering Beverly Hills reception, the billionaire owner thanked all of her fans and promised to chart another exciting course in the filly's 4-year-old season. Facing her West Coast rival, another record-setting female and fan favorite, not once but up to three times, was the major goal, the he told us. Just wait, 2010 was going to be just as exciting.
But the year got off to a puzzling start, as the star filly was rarely seen on the track and did not begin working out until late January. Her season debut was a head-scratcher, a listed stakes race created specifically for the star. A bizarre start for the reigning Horse of the Year, many thought. The date, distance, and purse of the event at Fair Grounds were even handpicked to suit the owner's needs. But it did not go as planned. The star filly was upset by a horse that nobody had heard of, disappointing fans across the country and raising questions about her fitness level. Why had they waited so long to get her into shape?
Only days after the defeat, the owner crushed the racing nation with news that his star would not be sent to Oaklawn Park, as expected, for the Apple Blossom (gr. I) to face her undefeated West Coast rival. Even though he had previously accepted the invitation to the race, thousands had already made travel plans, and the gracious racetrack owner put $5 million of his own money on the table, there would be no showdown. She wasn't ready, we were told. This couldn't be good for ratings, producers grumbled.
So after a little time off, the star filly was sent to her home track, Churchill Downs, where she could settle in comfortably and regain her form. But things did not go so well there either, as the filly was defeated again in a grade III race against fillies. Hmm...What was happening? After this latest setback, ratings began to sag even more. People were losing interest.
Even though all signs pointed to the filly running a huge race in her next attempt, the billionaire owner decided he better put his filly in the easiest spot available. He had to get a win for her, no matter what. So instead of racing her against males in the prestigious Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) or in a more challenging race against fillies and mares in New York, at the last possible moment the filly was placed in the Fleur de Lis (gr. II) against a less than stellar field that included two former claimers. The filly did indeed get her first win of the year in decisive fashion. The owner was satisfied by this result, even though, based on her final time and speed numbers, she likely would have won the Stephen Foster and given fans a much better show.
Though disappointed by her less than thrilling campaign thus far, producers were anticipating a huge ratings boost early this summer after the star filly arrived at Saratoga in late June. Surely a race in the grade I Ruffian Stakes at the nation's premier meet would go a long way toward satisfying fans. A win there, and who knows, maybe the owner would decide to race her against males again at the end of the summer. After all, a showdown against the star West Coast female was not going to happen. Everyone had grown tired of waiting for that.
But the plot took an even more bizarre twist just yesterday when the owner, who normally waits until the last possible day to announce his carefully crafted plans for the star filly, shocked mostly everyone by stating that she would next race in the ungraded Lady's Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 24. Once again, the purse was increased to suit his needs, the distance of the race was altered, and the date was pushed up a week--all to accommodate the star filly.
Racing fans and New York racing officials were obviously puzzled and disappointed by the latest news. A win in an ungraded stakes will surely do nothing for the star filly's legacy. Was it the extra purse money that attracted the billionaire to Monmouth? At this point, nobody is sure.
Ratings are sure to plummet again, which has also left producers scratching their heads. Nobody is quite sure where this once exciting and fresh show is now headed. We have been told several times that the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) will be the final episode, but at this point, everyone is skeptical.
I hope this little recap has helped catch everyone up on the latest happenings of "Let's Take the Reigning Horse of the Year on the Easiest and Most Bizarre Path Possible." Be sure to tune in next time. Once again, I'm sure you will be disappointed.