Tradition!

Scenario: Square Eddie wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Actually, you can add Street Hero and Midshipman to that scenario. Question: Do you vote for the Juvenile/Breeders’ Futurity winner or the Juvenile/Norfolk winner or the Juvenile/Del Mar Futurity winner – none of whom have ever run on dirt – for the Eclipse Award or do you vote for the Hopeful/Champagne winner, Vineyard Haven, who won both impressively and became only the second horse in 26 years to sweep the two most historic 2-year-old stakes in America?

The answer for each Eclipse voter will be based on the relevance they put on synthetic surfaces, and the result will reveal a great deal regarding the mindset of the voters.

So, will victories over a synthetic surface in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and either the Breeders’ Futurity, Norfolk or Del Mar Futurity merit a national championship over dominating scores in the Hopeful and Champagne? The  traditionalist with a sense of history likely will vote for Vineyard Haven, which is the way this traditionalist is leaning heavily towards, unless something incredibly monumental happens in the Juvenile to make me change my mind. So, I’m holding off until then. Yes, traditionalists may be regarded by some as old fogeys with old ideas, but in this day and age we need to cling on to some semblance of tradition.

Racing on synthetic surfaces still is in its infantile stages, and until we can understand how it affects the sport in regard to producing true champions and to what degree it affects the breed and form, we should think carefully before we raise it to a plateau so lofty that it determines championships. We don’t even know how form on different synthetic surfaces – Polytrack, Cushion Track, Pro-Ride, and Tapeta – relate to each other.

This in no way is meant to detract from the above-mentioned synthetic horses. I couldn’t be happier for Square Eddie’s connections Paul Reddam and Doug O’Neill, two of the nicest guys in the sport, and would love to see them at Churchill Downs next spring with Square Eddie, who was devastating in the Breeders’ Futurity. But trying to compare Square Eddie and Vineyard Haven is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. At this point in time I am unable to do it, so I would have to lean toward Vineyard Haven…again, at this point. But it would take an absolutely monstrous performance in the Juvenile by any of the three to get me to even think about changing my mind. I realize to some this may sound narrow-minded, but no more so than the trainers who refuse to send horses to the Breeders’ Cup because of the synthetic surface. No more so than the trainers who send their horses and afterward blame the surface if their horse runs an uncharacteristically poor race. No more so than the bettors who wager on the Breeders’ Cup as if it’s going to be a normal series of races and then realize that it’s not a normal series of races as they’re ripping up their tickets.

The Breeders’ Cup “dirt” races may very well turn out to be extremely formful and I will reserve judgment until it’s over. But I will approach it with apprehension until then.

Horses like Zenyatta, Colonel John, Well Armed, Tiago, and Student Council among others all have established good form on both dirt and synthetic. But what about a classy grade I-winning mare like Unbridled Belle never picking her feet up in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I), or Hystericalady, a dominating winner on dirt, but 0-for-five on synthetic and having to struggle with Santa Teresita to finish second in the Lady’s Secret? Those are just two of many such cases. Then there is a filly winning the Alcibiades off only two grass starts, and grass fillies dominating the Spinster. Where in the world did Carriage Trail’s performance come from? There no indication in the slightest she was going to do what she did. Who runs 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 3/5, closing the last eighth in :12 flat while drifting across the entire track and finishing closer to the outside rail? Some of these races are just plain weird and do not resemble dirt racing. The Goodwood Stakes field, all within five lengths of each other and spread out across the track in the stretch, looked as if they were coming down the straightaway at Newmarket.

On the opposite end, what about a top-class California graded stakes winner (on dirt) like Arson Squad finishing out of the money in all seven of his races on a synthetic surface and then finally being sent east and winning the Meadowlands Cup by 2 1/2 lengths in his first start back on dirt?

It’s all trial and error right now. While Santa Anita bettors likely have not had many problems deciphering form because all the horses have been racing primarily over synthetic tracks, what is going to happen when horseplayers all over America have to solve the Breeders’ Cup puzzle, with dozens of horses shipping in from the east and Europe with no synthetic experience?

That is why when determining champions this year, just remember Websters’ definition of the word synthetic: “Not real or genuine.”

That’s not my definition. Talk to the people who called the surface synthetic. I’m talking strictly about form here and what is “real and genuine;” not about safety. The latter no doubt is the more important of the two, but studies in that area still are inconclusive, especially considering the fatal breakdown comparison between Saratoga (none on dirt during the races and none reported in the morning) and Del Mar (a total of eight, most of them during the races). Once they prove for certain that synthetic surfaces are safer, then we’ll be happy with those findings and cope the best we can with all its foibles.

If Curlin or Big Brown win the Classic in their synthetic track debut, it would enhance or at least confirm their greatness, whether due to their talent or versatility. If neither perform well and are beaten by a synthetic specialist like Go Between, is that going to prove anything?

That is why this year’s Breeders’ Cup should be fascinating, challenging, bewildering, and hopefully entertaining. But should it really be about deciding championships? That is a question each of us will have to answer.

53 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Matthew W

I thought Frankel "got over" with Ghostzapper winning HOY over Smarty Jones--especially when I heard The Ramsays were "content" to lay off/not engage with their Roses In May--another Frankel trainee--at the advice/request of Frankel--Ghostzapper then was able to get a "free" 1/2 mile so in essence The Classic became a 6 furlong race with a two length head start! Frankel is very good at lobbying for awards--that being said, his 2 y/old is at the top of my list and it would take a very good effort to dethrone him---still, those races, however traditional, were one turn races---I think it's fair to expect a two turn Gr 1 win out of The Eclipse Award winner! And, Steve, it's also not fair at all to expect a horse based in The West to win on dirt "or else"---it would be preposterous not to give it to Stardom Bound if she blows them away again! Again, the East Coast Bias creeps in! It used to be "Win in New York or forget it!" Now it's "Win on dirt or forget it!" Note too that there's a "poly mulligan" but no "dirt mulligans allowed!!" If you don't dirt you're done, as if your wins on poly are NOTHING! In other words Steve, the sudden California change to synthetics have "frozen out" the Calif horses somewhat---how ironic, it's back to the old days, where a horse like Exceller can go 8 for 10 in Gr 1's all over the country and get nothing! Heck, if Ancient Title doesn't win The Whitney--he doesn't (finally) get into the Hall Of Fame! And to think, back in '75 I couldn't get that 9/2 on 'Title! But the point is, if you didn't win in NY, your West Coast races were meaningless---and I fear that's happening all over again with Synthetic horses---their races have so much less MEANING---and that's a shame! Better to judge what you see on the track---did it REALLY take The Apple Blossom to SEE that Zenyatta's a freak?? If so---TOO BAD!

07 Oct 2008 9:44 PM
Matthew W

Don't get me wrong---the sudden change to synthetics in Calif. has 'morphed" me into more of an observer/less of a bettor!! And when I DO bet, it's usually a turf race, where I can at least get form I can understand! I wish they tried to make dirt work, but I realize there were many reasons for poly---first and foremost, the drugs have turned horses into muscle-bound athletes/the breakdowns were starting to soar---and you cannot deny the field sizes are BIGGER on synthetics--I HOPE (like everyone) the first synthetic Breeders Cup delivers! I hope to convey this: PLEASE don't punish West Coast Horses/Trainers/Owners---many of whom are forced to play the game on poly/synthetics! Handicapping is THAT much tougher---but know this: Santa Anita this whole year, in graded stakes--has played right--in other words, the best hoss usually has won! Frankel can lay back if he wants--I probably would too--after all, it's hard to win a two-turn Breeders Cup on the lead throughout! I'll repeat myself: those two races, the second one awesome, and both races full of class/tradition....were one turn races, so, please Bobby, if 'ya want The Eclipse, at least win aroung two turns, fair enough?!

07 Oct 2008 10:16 PM
Bill

It's difficult enough to truly judge a horse's worth even when competing on a surface presumably favorable.  An example is Dancing Brave, the great English turfer, who was brought to California for the BC among much fanfare.  The horse was undeniably the toast of Europe and had vanquished everything in his path.  He ran uncharacteristically badly in that BC and it appears that the heat that day did him in.  So how do we judge such a horse?  If the change in climate knocked him out does that lessen his value?  I don't see how it could.  Dylan Thomas couldn't handle the track at Monmouth and was soundly defeated there by English Channel.  Does anybody really think that English Channel was the better horse? It wouldn't surprise me a bit if neither Big Brown nor Curlin win the Classic at Santa Anita.  In fact I'm betting they don't.  That doesn't mean they're not good horses, but it will be difficult indeed to measure their worth against horses who excel on synthetic tracks.  We've certainly added a layer of confusion to what was already quite a puzzle, haven't we? .

07 Oct 2008 10:18 PM
Vespone

I think only races run on a fast real dirt should count. Some of the horses didn't like the mud at Monmouth last year. That just wasn't fair at all.

Also, only firm turf races should count for turf horses. Some horses don't like soft turf. So what if some horses improve on soft turf. Besides, the Europeans have an unfair advantage on soft turf. It rains more there.

07 Oct 2008 10:51 PM
Vespone

And what about those horses that didn't run well at Churchill - like Skip Away and Easy Goer just to name two. That certainly wasn't fair. They should be awarded the Kentucky Derby. And, Skip Away should be awarded the 1998 BC Classic.

07 Oct 2008 11:04 PM
Steve Haskin

First off, Roses in May was trained by Dale Romans. Second, I was there and was the one who reported the conversation, and Ramsey agreed with Frankel and felt he could beat Ghostzapper sitting right off him. No one really knew how special Ghostzapper was before that race. As for the East coast bias, I specifically said on several occasions -- "at this time" I am leaning toward Vineyard Haven. I am waiting to see if there is a memorable performance that could get me to change my mind. Where does it say a 2-year-old has to go two turns to earn the title? Before the BC, the Champagne was THE championship race and we had more Derby winners come out that race than any two-turn race. If there are equal accomplishments on dirt and synthetic I lean toward dirt, the natural surface horses have been bred to run on for hundreds of years. Thats not an East Coast bias. I would certainly vote for Stardom Bound if she wins the Juvenile Fillies because she's been amazing (something the California colts have not). And if she defeats Sky Diva there is no question who the champion is.

07 Oct 2008 11:10 PM
Steve Haskin

I agree about the unfairness of certain other surfaces in regard to particular horses. Because Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron, and Tiago all hated the slop last year, I don't hold the Classic in as high regard as most people do. I never consider a slop race a true championship race because of the questions that arise. That doesnt diminish Curlin's performance, and you have to give him credit for handling different surfaces. That's what the big stars of the past did. But it does diminish the competition he defeated on that particular track. But the difference is that a sloppy track is an act of nature that cant be helped. A synthetic surface is an act of man, putting horses bred to run on dirt on an artificial surface they were not bred to run on. But, again, let's see what happens in the BC.

07 Oct 2008 11:25 PM
The Colonel

And here I thought grass was the natural surface and that the Americas chose to embrace dirt as a message to their colonizers back in Europe.

Jokes aside, I intend to wait until after the Breeders' Cup before deciding which horse deserves the Eclipse Award the most. Also, while horses with turf pedigrees are predisposed to running well on synthetics, not all of them can easily transfer their form from grass to "durf". Spirit One didn't do so hot in the Goodwood, after all.

It just frustrates me when people dismiss synthetics (just) because dirt horses can't take to it but grass horses can. For me, in the end it's all about who's the best horse. I feel it takes an exceptional horse to win at the highest level on two different surfaces. It's a different story when a horse is a dirt/turf/synthetics specialist though.

This is confusing.

07 Oct 2008 11:34 PM
Kateinabox

I am assuming Vespone was being sarcastic... in my opinion Synthetics seem like a different medium all together. They say turf horses run better on it, but obviously some dirt horses can do well on it too. While others can't work it at all. That sounds like someone explaining the differences between Turf & Dirt horses. Some horses can handle both. Others have a favorite. While others just have their favorite and least favorite tracks.

I think the highest a champion can hope to go is being able to perform well Gr1 company on multiple surfaces. Mainly because it is so hard. Can you imagine the worth of a colt who could win Gr1 races on Turf, Dirt, and Synth?

It is hard to decide what to do because the surface acts more like a third option instead of a dirt replacement. You will never stop hearing gripes about it. Even if Synth is safer and becomes the main track all over America. There will always be people who wonder... could my horse have won all of these races if we still used dirt?

It makes you wonder how many horses in Europe would have been top class dirt horses if they had had the chance. But that is horse racing. You get thrown hundreds of variables and you are suppose to pick a winner. It has never been easy before!

08 Oct 2008 1:11 AM
Matthew W

Steve--correct, but Frankel did train for Ramsay and I thought the whole thing should've been discussed OPENLY in Racing Form---Ghostzapper on an easy lead is different than Ghostzapper with Roses In May engaging on his outside...Ramsay was convinced by Frankel that taking back was his best chance to win---I still say Frankel bamboozeled him!

08 Oct 2008 1:43 AM
Matthew W

Yes, Steve, but I take issue with your statement "lean toward dirt runners"....Why? Why all of the sudden are West Coast runners inferior BECAUSE of surface? That's my point! It USED to be "Those hard/fast West Coast tracks/I'll go with the more deeper tracks"....Horse "A" wins on Poly---Horse "B" wins on dirt....and you say you're going with the dirt horse as the better horse---that IS bias!

08 Oct 2008 1:50 AM
JordanA

Steve, I'm not old but maybe I have an old soul because I agree with you. Startdom Bound and Zenyatta, but no WC colt has looked like a world beater. I have no idea who I'm even looking at for that race. Vineyard Haven was the most impressive to me as well.

08 Oct 2008 2:57 AM
Tiznowbaby

I think if Eclipse voters can reward horses that run once here in the U.S. (ie Daylami, Ouija Board), then they can reward horses who run well on Pro-Ride.

08 Oct 2008 7:28 AM
Anne M

Somehow 'tradition' seems to me like East Coast bias - are the CA horse inferior because they run well on synthetic surfaces? Like someone else pointed out, is Zenyatta really good only because

she won on dirt once? A great horse should be able to run on most surfaces. The BC will attract many great horses -Since it moves around, it will not always be fair to all horses. I can't believe that Square Eddie and Street Hero don't measure up to Vineyard Haven because they have not won on dirt..

I have been going to the races for 20 years and the East Coast bias has not changed.

08 Oct 2008 9:37 AM
Steve Haskin

Matthew, enough with the West Coast bias. You make it sound as if the only synthetic surfaces are in California. I feel more strongly about Keeneland's Polytrack than Cushion or Pro-Ride. Show me where I said I'm going with the better horse? I will repeat, if it comes down to both horses winning two major stakes I am sticking with tradition. That has nothing to do who is better or whether the horse runs in California or New York.

08 Oct 2008 9:54 AM
josue555

hey steve totally agree with you about the voting for 2yrs old champion. i'm in the east coast and that why probably i like dirt races more than syntecty. but i like a few horse in california like colonel john, student council which i think i better in dirt than in pro ride. also remember what bluegrass did for most of the derby top conteders this year. they all look weak and may then lose momentun coming to the derby and look where the winners of that race end up. but lets not forget that colonel john ended up in the top 6 in the derby. also steve do you know if Pyro is going to the breeders cup and if he is going his going to the classic or the dirt mile.

08 Oct 2008 10:59 AM
Steve Haskin

Matthew, I meant to say enough with the East Coast bias, not West Coast. Granted there are those in the East who favor East Coast racing, just like there are those in the West who favor West Coast racing. It's what you were weaned on and what you're used to. This is supposed to be a discussion about synthetic and Eclipse Awards. Why must everything be about bias? Again, I said I'm waiting to see what happens in the BC, but right now I am leaning one way. If California was all dirt and New york was synthetic I'd be posing the same questions. When Anne M says tradition seems to her as East Coast bias I don't even know how to begin to respond to that. If the two most historic and prestigious 2-year-old stakes were in California then that's where the tradition would lie. But theyr'e not. I'm a traditionalist, but I'm not going to vote for a horse simply because he raced in NY. When two horses have equal accomplishments you have to use something as a gauge to separate them, especially when there is nothing to compare them to, such as competition. This is what I use. Anyone is free to use whatever they choose. But let's really stop with all the bias stuff.

08 Oct 2008 11:47 AM
da3hoss

I agree with Tiznowbaby...Racing is as racing does...the winner is the winner..the best horse/ride of that day on whatever surface is under their feet...if all else is equal for year end voting - e.g stakes grading of race, - then I will look at the quality of the horses in the race, not the surface...

Actually, not to sound too simplistic or naive, all I really  hope for this year, with so many horses going that I am crazy about, is that we do not have a year like 1990 or the last couple of years.

08 Oct 2008 11:59 AM
Karen2

Hi Steve! I agree with you regarding the surface. It's hard to determine a champion on a "fake" surface. I have a problem even watching a race on synthetic. I am looking forward to this race though because of the competition and the quality of horses running, but I don't know if I will feel that the horse who wins is the true champion. I guess we will just have to see. When its all said and done I just want them all healthy at the finish line. It would appear synthetic is here to stay for awhile so I guess we have to get use to it.

08 Oct 2008 12:33 PM
dave

Since when has the Hopeful figured in Eclipse Award voting? By themselves, none of the Saratoga 2YO races matter come Eclipse Award time. Even the Champagne, like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, has been turned into just another Breeders' Cup prep. Just as the connections of Big Brown and Curlin have apparently chosen to run rather than whine, one hopes that Frankel will do the same.

Of course you can argue that Vineyard Haven would winon dirt, just as I can argue that Street Sense would have beaten Curlin on a fast track. Doesn't make any difference at all.

08 Oct 2008 2:07 PM
Helen S

Interesting discussion.  I just want to express my happiness for my old friend Arson Squad.  He deserves a big win... he seems like such a sweet boy.  He beat out a Nick Zito. How about that!  Being a Southern Californian, I have followed his losing streak over the synthetic surface. The same thing happened to Buzzard's Bay, who is now retired.  I wonder also, doesn't a barn change frequently translate to an initial victory?  About Santa Teresita, I had the opinion that she is a very talented horse, and it didn't surprise me that Hysterical Lady struggled to edge her out, as Zenyatta flew past effortlessly.  

About the Eclipse award voting, this might be simple minded of me, but, you know a huge performance when you see one, regardless of the surface.  That is what should be rewarded.  If the performances are roughly equal, then I would say look to the prestige of the race.

08 Oct 2008 2:36 PM
Gabriel Echenique (from URUGUAY)

Bill Finley spent hundreds of hours researching synthetic surface racing. He discovered that one bit of conventional wisdom regarding synthetics is bogus. There is a notion that horses with good turf form will automatically like synthetics. That is not the case. Finley provides case studies of horses which have run well on turf, horribly on dirt, and do not like artificial going. Another silly myth is that synthetic tracks produce wildly different results than traditional dirt tracks. For the vast majority of horses, their dirt surface form and their synthetic surface form are virtually the same. In my opinion, the Breeders' Cup Classic will be a two-horse race. American fans will get their wish: Curlin vs Big Brown. These two horses could be vulnerable on turf, but they should love PRO-RIDE. The new PRO-RIDE surface is 87 % dirt. That's a big contrast from Polytrack, wich basically looks like it's made up completely of carpet fibers. Steve Haskin asked : “Should this Breeders’ Cup really be about deciding championships?” My answer is “yes”.

08 Oct 2008 7:20 PM
Kateinabox

The problem with the synth stuff is that horses that didn't do well on dirt, do well on it, and horses that do well on dirt, don't. There are of course exceptions and we definitely should give it more time. But having the BC on synthetics, this soon, is like telling the Turf racers they will have to race on dirt this year, just because.

Synth is a 3rd surface, not a viable replacement for dirt. Not yet anyway.

08 Oct 2008 9:09 PM
RobertP

There is nothing wrong with being a traditionalist; indeed, tradition is one of racing's most overlooked assets and should be used as one of its selling points. I'm doubtful that the majority of the voters share your respect for racing's traditions, Steve. These days it would seem most of the younger writers are falling all over themselves trying to let the world know they're on the right side of history in regard to synthetics, in some cases to the point of losing their journalistic credibility. Anyone with the audacity to question the wisdom behind rampant surface conversions is to be marginalized, usually via accusations of lacking compassion or lacking the mental compacity and initiative to take on the challenge of handicapping something new.  Safety, albeit a concern for many in the industry for obvious reasons, is still to some extent a PR strategy or red herring while the long run aim to have a universal surface to facilitate the internationalization of the sport is most likely, IMO, the true impetus behind the switch. So to heck with North American racing as we've known it and to heck with the memories, the great people and animals that made the game the best there is. To heck with them all, "expanding the brand name is the name of the game, baby". In New York this past summer from mid July to mid September there was not one breakdown on either of Belmont or Saratoga's main tracks. That fact received very little press.  So let there be no doubt, a well maintained traditional dirt surface can be as safe as any all-weather surface. The medium of traditional dirt surfaces frame the true historical context by which we compare performances over the years. By so willfully letting them disapear we lose more than most realize at this time. Steve, you and your colleague Steven Crist have been great in raising the questions that need to be asked in regard to the synthetic revolution. My impression, however, is that most turf writers are too anxious to appear on the right side of history and will go out of their way to favor those who have had success on synthetic surfaces, to the detriment of objective analysis and credible voting results.  

09 Oct 2008 8:31 AM
Steve Haskin

Robert, I wish you would send those eloquently written comments to the Blood-Horse as a letter to the editor.

09 Oct 2008 9:14 AM
Clay

Voting this year will be a controversy for sure, and probably will be until all tracks are converted over to synthetic. I'm at peace with this now and am through with being frustrated over this issue. I have won while betting all surfaces including muddy and sloppy, and I like these off tracks sometimes, it throws a wrench into the betting pool and this is sometimes what you need to get some prices. Your success all depends on intelligent handicapping, and a little luck I guess.

As far as the juveniles are concerned, these horses are still so young they may not even amount to much come derby day. But I feel if the Juvee winner has also won a graded stakes on dirt he should be winner of the divisional voting.

09 Oct 2008 11:42 AM
Karen2

Wow.... RobertP... those are very eloquently written comments and I couldn't agree more. Another man with the gift to write and get the message across! Keep the comments coming Robert and maybe take Steve's advice and send those comments to the editor! Horses race on dirt!!!!!!

09 Oct 2008 12:44 PM
wista

Forget "tradition" or "natural" vs. "synthetic". I think that this year the Breeders Cup will be remembered for the big upsets. Why? Testing for steroids will be done this year!

What a coincidence that some trainers have decided not to run their horses this year!!!!!!!!

09 Oct 2008 12:50 PM
Karen2

Gabriel: I would have to respecfully disagree with you that a horses dirt surface form and their synthetic form are virtually the same. I don't see that at all and in fact believe that synthetic can and does produce wildly different results than traditional dirt. I am no expert on the subject by any stretch of the imagination but it has been clear to me that a lot of horses struggle with getting a grip on synthetic. There is no bottom, nothing to push off from. Of course it is about the horses and if synthetic is what will ultimately make our equine friends safer, than that is what we need to focus on however I personally feel that when it comes to breakdowns, there are many,many more areas that need to be addressed. If we can start at conception and work our way up we wouldn't need synthetic surfaces. This is just a band-aid and not addressing the real problems.

09 Oct 2008 1:04 PM
Poor Miss Cozy Cat

You know RobertP, you are probably correct.  I was wondering why the West Coast surfaces were changed from dirt to synthetic without ANY discussion, seemingly overnight (like the change was no big deal).  Everything ultimately is about money, isn't it?  Follow the money trail.  Just as you said, internationalizing racing is the real goal, not the safety of the horse.  There are plenty of breakdowns on the synthetic surfaces.  One World, right? (with the Dubai people buying up all our best horses.)  Put that together with the fact that everyone is saying the European turf champions will now be at less of a disadvantage when they come over seeking BC Classic glory.  It makes perfect sense RobertP.

09 Oct 2008 1:17 PM
Matthew W

NO WAY am I defending synthetic surfeces---indeed I wish California still ran on dirt---it's that Calif horses are somewhat DISMISSED as having won their races on "fake tracks"! Having been in/around racing on West Coast for 37 years, I can tell you that West Coast DIRT TRACKS have also been compared as "fake tracks" because of their difference to the deeper/sandier tracks where it rains more--I'm saying judge THE RACEHORSE--not the tracks! Can a horse run exclusively on synthetics and win an Eclipse? If not, then racing needs to take away graded status from synthetics!

09 Oct 2008 1:55 PM
Ranagulzion

This has been a very interesting discussion.  I am on the side of the traditionalist because of all the great champions of the past: Man O'War, Native Dancer, Dr Fager, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Invasor and currently Curlin that have excelled on Dirt.  All doubts about Curlin's greatness should be dispelled if he should repeat his BCC win on the Pro-ride synthetic surface (not because he has to overcome Big Brown and possibly Commentator) but he would have excelled on all three surfaces (he lost no marks in the narrow loss to Red Rocks on the grass in my opinion).  Also when I think of the great tradition of the annual Triple Crown series on dirt how can you not discount the performances of horses that have not competed on dirt when thinking about Horse of the Year and Eclipse awards.  Perhaps a good compromise that has been sugested before is to create new championship categories for Synthetic runners.  However until the Triple Crown series and major 2YO races along with Saratoga goes Synthetic the so-called East Coast bias will not go away.

On the Ghostzapper discussion I agree with "Matthew W" that Bobby Frankel bamboozled the Roses In May connections in negotiating an easy first half mile for the amazing Ghostzapper in the BCC.  He was an extraordinary horse but he got away with "murder" in that BC Classic.    

09 Oct 2008 2:10 PM
Bradgm

Robert, couldn't agree more. The lack of breakdowns was a focus on one of Steve's blogs, maybe 'they' should pay more attention to 'turf writers' like him instead of blog writers who don't understand that tradition has a place in every part of life and the abandonment of tradition without improvement is only change for the sake of change and doesn't accomplish anything.

As Steve may or may not remember from my previous writings, I am a 30 something traditionalist to the max and have been bashed for it a number of times on various posts. But I love to watch a great race on a dirt track and believe like a lot of horsemen, that you CAN make a dirt track safe.

I guess we can take all of this a step further and ask what happens when similar numbers of breakdowns that occurred at Del Mar start happening on all these synthetic surfaces (similar to Keeneland when they first installed theirs)? What happens when horses start collapsing from heat exhaustion on furnaces like Santa Anita? Or the track has to start cancelling days because of that? Say it's a trial and error, learning process and they're trying to make it safer for ALL horses while sacrificing the others, like those don't matter? We've been thru the trial and error of dirt, the really good supers know how to make them safe, like the Saratoga super. If the synthetics can't be made safe then the next step is to make PETA happy and abolish racing and trust me there won't be much time allowed for them to tweak it.

All the critics, change fostering folks all continue to think only what is new is good and only want to point out the negatives, never any of the positives. What a horrible way to live.  

09 Oct 2008 2:54 PM
Steve Haskin

Matthew, they ARE fake tracks, no matter how you look at it.

Do you or anyone really think a Thoroughbred racing surface should be 150 degrees during a race. That's the temperature the Pro-Ride reads during the afternoon.

09 Oct 2008 3:54 PM
BIGHORSEFAN

Steve, You're so right about the temps at SA. It's like being in Vegas in the dead of summer on the hottest day standing on a black top parking lot, the heat just emanates from it. I can't see how that can be healthy for equines or humans. What if one of these jocks gets overwhelmed by the heat and disaster follows, not too far fetched. Same with a horse during a race.

As far as Karen's point, well taken. Except, Saratoga had the same horses by the same bloodlines that are running all over and they had no breakdowns. So that isn't necessarily the entire issue. Good maintenance of a dirt track by people who know how to do their job will help more than anything.

I just think that the powers that be think they have to make these wild moves to satisfy the critics, then when it all blows up in their face, then what?  

09 Oct 2008 4:23 PM
Matthew W

In the past, when it rained, horses would run in the slop---then if it kept raining the slop would turn into mud.....NOW, TO SAVE $$$$, tracks roll the sloppy surface so as to cause the rain to not sink into the dirt---thus REMOVING the cushion of the track....races are almost always won on the lead and are usually close to the track records---this is another example of a "fake track"--and for the same reason--$$$$!! Perhaps the "answer" is to limit all graded stakes to dirt tracks?? Would it satisfy to limit all Breeders Cups to dirt tracks? Again, I agree with you about dirt/over poly, but what about the horses/trainers/owners who race on it?...how does the sudden (and unfairly unalaterial) change to synthetics in Calif lower the status of the racehorses who run on them?? Great blog Steve! A testimony to the "collateral damage" of the sudden changes to racing! So many questions unanswered/WHY did they have to change ALL Calif tracks? What happens to the inorganic matter being breathed by horse/jockey? For that matter, what happens to the organic matter coming from horse to track?? New York has always been #1 in terms of racing class---even if they all went synthetic (and Calif stayed dirt) they would still be #1....after all, it's the horses/stables that maed the Hopeful, The Champagne, The Whitney, The JC Gold Cip....and it's the horses/stables that make the Big Cap, Pacific Classic, etc....

09 Oct 2008 5:07 PM
mike

steve, Is Invasor the most underated horse to win classic in last twenty years?  Invasor didn't even get out of the first round of this B.cup challenge done by fan vote on this website. I guess he lived in Barbaro shadow because of breakdown. Then the media tried to make Berni the second coming of the Bid or Big Red.  Its very wrong in my mind how disrespected this horse is compared to Curlin. I have know doubt if berni would have won classic and won the Donn and Dubia like Invasor did in his last 3 starts he would be compared to the Bid and Cigar and even Big Red  by most fans and alot of the media!! Thanks for guys like you Paul Moran, John Pricci major horse writers who gave Invasor his just credit in articles because you are the only 3 that did.

mike

10 Oct 2008 1:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Mike, that's why I dont pay any attention to things like this. They mean nothing. Even the concept of picking two horses in a bracket is ludicrous. I have a friend who is very upset by this and I told her she cant take these kinds of things seriously. Invasor was a phenomenal horse and no silly contest is going to alter that in the slightest.

10 Oct 2008 10:15 AM
Wanda

Karen2: Seriously synthetics have no bottom? How the heck are all these horses getting ahold of it? Do you think maybe the fact that Kentucky has banned toe grabs might have something to do with less breakdowns? How bad is the angle of the foot hitting the ground with toe grabs opposed to no grabs? Pro-Ride or Poly you don't need them so a horse must be able to get ahold of the surface.

10 Oct 2008 11:07 AM
TerriV

What a great discussion.  RobertP, so beautifully stated - I agree completely.  What really gets me about the whole "Synthetic" concept is that it is FAKE and UNNATURAL.  Horses are creatures of nature.  I worked at a Thoroughbred breeding farm for years - our foals and yearlings grew up walking, running and playing on dirt and grass.  Not some fake fibers.  What is wrong with letting horses race on what nature created?  As far as awards go, not winning an award should not ever diminish the glory of any horse.  

10 Oct 2008 2:21 PM
Wanda

I'm sorry but nature never intended that we take the horse breed it to do certain tasks and put it in a boxstall for 23 hours a day. I must disagree with you all about synthetic tracks. Case in point 2007 BC, if it had been run on a synthetic track you would not have had slop. If the stats bear out 2-5 years down the road that it is safer, then that's a good thing.

10 Oct 2008 3:40 PM
Karen2

Wanda, that is my opinion. There is no "firm" surface under synthetic. Nothing for a horse to "grab" ahold of. My point was horses are NOT getting ahold of it and can really struggle on it. Horses with a late kick can't always find it on synthetic. The "wild" results when horses run on synthetic proves it.  I think sythetic is harder to run on and requires a horse to be fitter and have more stamina. In regards to breakdowns, my point was "IF" synthetic research proves synthetic is safer for the horses then it will have to be accepted. Personally, I don't like it and feel the industry misses the boat on the real issues that breakdown our "iron horse".

10 Oct 2008 5:24 PM
Karen2

This article is about tradition. Horses racing on dirt and grass is tradition. Nick Zito said something along the lines of "if we go to synthetic, we change history.. it will be gone". Powerful words.

Wanda: The 2007 BC classic. No, you wouldn't have had slop, but the question is, what would you have had????

10 Oct 2008 5:36 PM
Karen2

Wanda: with all due respect, horses (animals) are absolutely intended to be bred to do certain tasks. You may not necessarily agree with keeping a horse in a box stall for 23 hours a day, but that has nothing to do with horses being bred to do a certain task. Thoroughbreds are bred to run.

10 Oct 2008 5:42 PM
Wanda

Karen2: If you are able go out and look at a print from a running horse on dirt and see the impression. The same goes for synthetic. On dirt there is no give so if they have toe grabs on that's alot of torque there. Synthetics are designed to give somewhat and I respectfully disagree that most of them can't get ahold of it. I do agree that they need to train differint and have been told that by people who have run on it. Horses that struggle on it will struggle in mud or whatever. If they have a bad stride they need a perfect track anyway so they should run where they can do the most good. What bothers me is that because it's fairly new, nobody will reserve judgement on it. Instead all I hear is negative remarks. Is it the surface or is it just change?

10 Oct 2008 5:55 PM
KatintheHat

Just a note to let people know that I e-mailed Santa Anita yesterday in regards to Curlin's workout on Monday.  Their website has a workout cam on it and they informed me that the workout cam will be up for Curlin's workout!!!!

10 Oct 2008 6:00 PM
Helen S

TerriV, you touched me with your comment that no horse should be diminished by not winning an award.  My father and I don't see eye to eye on very much, but when I got him to watch horse racing with me his initial comment was:  "They try so hard, don't they?"  It really moved me that he saw that.  This is what Carl Naftzger said... if you can't appreciate 10K claimers giving it their all, then your don't need to be in horseracing. They don't know that they aren't running for an Eclipse Award.  I love them no matter what, and I worry about them more when they don't make the big time.

About Invasor, he was too cool for the room.  He isn't appreciated by Joe Shmoe because Invasor did not humiliate his opponents.  He sized up his competition and did just as much as he needed to defeat them.  Just look at his pictures... a high level of intelligence comes through.

10 Oct 2008 7:51 PM
AlexH

While I prefer dirt racing to synthetic and I do have an East Coast bias,  there is a question here that I don't quite understand.  Since when did the Breeder's Cup races become Grade IA?  To me the voting should be based on the body of work submitted for the year,  not just one day.  Was Arcangues Horse of the Year?  Champion Older Male?  No!  Yes,  I know,  as Tiznowbaby stated,  that we have gotten into the habit of giving the turf championships to Europeans who won one time in North America,  but why?  If the voters handled the Breeder's Cup races as just another Grade I then it wouldn't matter what surface the horses were running on this or any other year.  The method of determining which race is most important is by the Grade/Group rating and the extra reward for winning a Breeder's Cup race should be the hefty purse attached to it,  not a year end award.  We don't give the Derby winner the 3 year old championship for winning JUST the Derby,  so why do it with the Breeder's Cup?

11 Oct 2008 3:38 AM
Wanda

Karen2: You misunderstood me.  The comments were about keeping everything "natural" nothing we do with racehorses is natural. I have no problem with keeping them in a boxstall at all, I've looked down a shedrow of horses most of my life. The point is the debate over the two surfaces. My spin on it is if it proves to be better in the long run so be it. Give it a chance. I remember years ago debates over shoeing, feeding etc all these things are argued over because it's change. Let me tell you that the racetrack can be 10 years behind the times in alot of ways.The older trainers who comment on here can tell you that.

So lets agree to disagree and I look forward to more discussions in the future.Thanks for the debate Karen and have a great day okay?

11 Oct 2008 12:35 PM
Karen2

Wanda: I will gladly agree to disagree. Synthetic is new and isn't proven and I believe change is part of the equation. I for one generally welcome change. But not all changes are made for the better in the world we live in. Thanks for your point of view.

Thoroughbred racing is so rich with history and traditions. I, like many others cherish those traditions and the history and I know you do too. I can't help but feel the industry is looking for an easy fix the problem. Why don't we look at the breeding practices. What's with the deep inbreeding? Why breed unsoundness? Why surgically correct confirmation flaws and then send that horse to the breeding shed? Didn't Big Brown's sire also suffer from severe quarter cracks? Then on top of it you stick a 2 year old in a hard,vigorous training schedule. Pump him full of high protein (unnatural) feed and by then he has had his legs x-rayed who knows how many times and the bones aren't even done growing yet. My good friend is a MD and he firmly believes x-rays invade the bone structure and can cause brittleness and weakness in the bone with to much exposure. Some will argue the training is what makes the bones stronger but I'm not buying it. Perhaps light training will build the bones but that's not what they get. Then you stick them on all kinds of drugs. Instead of focusing on the core issues, the industry decides "fake" tracks should help "mask" the real issues.Really, its no wonder we are having the catastrophic breakdowns. Its because of the almighty dollar and make no mistake, the industry knows what the problems are, they just refuse to acknowledge it. Big Brown is off to the breeding shed after the BC while his owners laugh all the way to the bank. I guess so he can carry on the legend of the quarter cracks. Then on top of it, record numbers of foals are hitting the ground every spring and very few even make it to the track and even fewer make it big so then we have a problem with unwanted horses. Even the casual fan can see these obvious issues. Its tough to love something this much when there is so many reasons this sport is very undesirable.

11 Oct 2008 4:04 PM
VP

The BC has been turned into a joke (no matter what surface type it is being run over). Too many races to many horses get to call themselves champions after all is said & done. Keeping the race in CA for 2 yrs in a row wasn't such a smart move either. This is the first time in years I won't be betting the Classic. You can argue that any real champion can run over anything & maybe they can to some extent but look at what happened when Cigar ran on dirt. I don't think that made him less of a champion because he preferred that surface. What about the article in Blood Horse stating it is easier for synthetic horses to switch to dirt as opposed to dirt horses switching over to synthetic surfaces. The article states it "could" take months to correctly switch the animal over (if you would like to reduce of injury). So is the new "safer synthetic surface" really safer for a horse like Curlin or Big Brown? I don't blame Jackson for being reluctant compete. How many East Coast horses will be injured compared to the amount of West Coast horses injured? Haven't the Europeans had synthetic surfaces for close to 30 yrs now? I don't blame them for wanting to come over this year & compete. They aren't just looking at the grass this year either. Good luck to them. I hope they make a clean sweep. Maybe then we'll have to judge a horse on the all their performances for the year (no matter what surface they run on)and not just the one race they run on BC Day. What if a European or other foreign invader wins our Classic should he be our horse of the year? Why not, if their record shows they deserve it.

12 Oct 2008 11:33 AM
Whatever

Well,  it doesn't matter what surface this years Breeders Cup is run on,  Curlin and Big Brown will not be there.  The announcement of Big Brown's retirement doesn't surprise me.  Apparently he grabbed a quarter and tore off the bulb of his hoof (OUCH!),  However,  this doesn't change anything because Big Brown would not have won anyway and Curlin already has HOY wrapped up no matter what happens in the Classic.  They need to rush Big Brown off to the Breeding shed A.S.A.P. so they can start passing on his impeccable soundness and conformation qualities, AND those wonderfully brittle hooves can be passed on to some poor potential racehorse who eventually will end up lame and unsound themselves when those genetically weak hooves can no longer handle the punishment of being beat into the dirt or turf ending what will be a very short race career,  just like their great sire.  This years Classic will be won by one of the Californians,  most likely Well Armed, Student Councel or Colonel John. Btter yet,  find out who Dick Mandella is running in this years Classic,  and bet on that horse.  Horse of the Year: Curlin (only horse to win abroad and in America).  Should Casino Drive win the Classic he should rightfully be voted: Best 3 year old colt.  It shouldn't matter that Big Brown won the Derby and Preakness because he was deliberately kept out of the Travers for no good reason, other than the fact they needed to duck a tough race in order to keep him sound.  The horse shouldn't have been made to be a race horse to begin with. I think I've stated enough facts.

13 Oct 2008 12:31 PM
Racingfan

Excellent article again Steve!  And I agree with you Alex H!  I wish I had a vote for the championships because I would consider the whole year like it should be.  And I would never give a championship to a horse that ran just once in this country! I also find it sooooo interesting that Saratoga and Belmont had no breakdowns this summer while Del Mar had 8!!  The jury is definitely still out on the safety of the synthetics!

14 Oct 2008 10:02 AM

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