All in all, it was a fairly odd and anti-climatic Breeders' Cup weekend, in my opinion. Of course, had I cashed a few more tickets or if my name was Bill Mott my opinion may have been a little different.
The odd part: Of the 15 Breeders' Cup races only four favorites won (just one out of nine of Saturday), and there were three races where the longshot winners had not won in more than a year and a half. Four of the winners were 20-1 or more. Anyone who saw Afleet Again or Court Vision, good for you.
The anti-climatic part: From a national fan perspective, nothing good happened. Union Rags, the brilliant 2-year-old, will still be the Derby favorite when the season starts next year, but there is a big difference in being perfect in four starts and 3-for-4. Had he won (I mostly blame Javier Castellano for a below-average ride), the hype-machine on the next super horse would have already begun. Racing could have used that, especially since there seems to be even fewer star older horses coming back next year than there was this year-if that's even possible. Take nothing away from Hansen-he's a nice story and a solid horse that overcame a closer's bias-but Union Rags was much the best in that race. He ran 78-feet further and still lost by a head.
Obviously, Goldikova losing was a big downer. Court Vision and Turralure ran great, but there is no doubt in my mind that she would have won her fourth Mile in a row had she drawn a little better. She was in tight the whole way and could not come with her normally explosive outside kick. I do give credit to Freddy Head for not making excuses after the race. He was all class after an obviously disappointing result.
As for the Classic, it was not at all surprising to see a closer win the race. If you followed the racing all weekend it was clear that speed was not holding over a sticky and tiring racetrack. The track just did not dry out as quickly as it normally does and it affected the front-runners. Ask Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher about that. The final time of the Classic was 2:04.27, pedestrian by any standard. Drosselmeyer, last year's Belmont winner, went out in style and certainly made it a memorable weekend for Mott, who also won the Ladies Classic with Royal Delta.
It didn't take long after the Classic for people in the Churchill Downs press box to start debating Horse of the Year. In a racing season that has been searching for a leader all year long, 2011 just got even more confusing. There really is just no easy answer on who will win the title. Who do you think deserves it? I'll lay out the cases for the contenders (some of the reaches) and we can see where the voting lands:
Havre de Grace: In my opinion she deserves it. She has three grade I wins, a pair of grade III wins, and defeated males in the Woodward. Rick Porter and Larry Jones certainly deserve credit for putting her in the Classic-and she gave a good showing-but they would have locked it up with a Ladies Classic win. Now they have to see how the voting lands. I hope she comes back next year, no matter what happens in the voting. We need her.
Game of Dude: He's been consistent all year long and had he been able to get the photo in the Hollywood Gold Cup, would have been a cinch. He ran great in defeat in the Classic, taking all the heat on that kind of track and still losing by only 1 1/2 lengths. He has two grade I wins in California on his résumé. Might Baffert run him back in the grade I Clark Handicap the day after Thanksgiving to try to secure the title? It wouldn't be a bad idea if the horse is up to it.
Drosselmeyer: Other than the Classic, his lone win of 2011 came in the ungraded One Count Stakes at Belmont. I just can't see that being enough. Can you?
Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Ruler On Ice-Does one Triple Crown race win put you in conversation for Horse of the Year? This year it does.
Acclamation: Sounds crazy to put him in this mix but he ended his season with five graded stakes wins, three of them in grade I races. One of them came on synthetic, the others on turf. It's a shame he missed the Breeders' Cup.
Royal Delta: Ladies Classic win wrapped up 3-year-old filly title, but she has also won grade I Alabama and grade II Black-Eyed Susan. Havre de Grace crushed her though.
My Miss Aurelia: A 2-year-old filly...really? She is undefeated in four starts with two grade I wins. They might as well do away with the award if she wins it.
Tizway: Also a shame that he was injured. He has the two grade I wins in New York.
Rapid Redux: In a year like this, why not? He'll be going for his record 20th in a row later this month, 18 of them this year. If he wins it, I say we start the Rapid Redux for Horse of the Year campaign now. I'll lead the charge.