Debunking the Myths

The Europeans whipped our butts in the Breeders’ Cup and are superior to American horses:

Winning 5 of 14 races does not constitute a butt-whipping. Granted, winning five of the 10 races in which they competed was impressive, but still not exactly a butt-whipping. Why shouldn’t the European horses win half their races? Isn’t that was international competition is all about, especially when we leveled the playing field for them? Did anyone really feel good seeing the Euros go 0-for-11 last year? That doesn’t make for good racing.

Let’s take them one at a time. The Europeans should beat us in the Juvenile Turf, at least for now. It may be our track, but it’s still their surface. Our 2-year-old turf horses are still evolving, and you’ll no doubt see better quality horses on the turf now that there is a Breeders’ Cup race for them, which will result in more enticing preps. Right now, they are still second and third-tier horses in the grand scheme of the 2-year-old picture. Remember, we did beat the Euros in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, defeating an Aidan O’Brien-trained filly who was coming off Group I and Group II Stakes. You also have to remember that Juvenile Turf winner Donativum was undefeated since being gelded and in his victory at Newmarket at 33-1, the horse he beat, Crowded House, came back and romped in a Group I stakes the morning of the Juvenile Turf.

As for Goldikova, she may be the best miler in the world, having already beaten Henrythenavigator, and even John Gosden admitted that Raven’s Pass would have had a hard time beating her in the BC Mile. She ran a spectacular race, and defeated last year’s Mile winner Kip Deville, who probably ran a better race this year than he did last year.

The BC Turf was nothing we haven’t seen many times before. The main difference is that this was an extremely weak year in America for mile and a half turf horses. We had a few nice horses, but no depth or consistency. We’ll only have a fighting chance against the Euros in years when we can come up with a brilliant, top-class grass horse like a Manila or an English Channel. At 12 furlongs, they’re simply much better than we are and always have been. If we’re getting sick of the Euros manhandling us year after year, then perhaps the American breeders should stop snubbing their noses at long-distance turf horses as if they were lepers that are going to infect their stallion roster. We exile our turf horses off to far-off stud farms and want no part of their offspring. Care to guess how many of the 14 living BC Turf winners at stud are standing in Kentucky? Two. The rest are in Ireland, England, Japan, South Africa, Illinois, and New York. Going farther back, even the great Manila was shipped off to Turkey. Fraise was sent to Japan. And Prized wound up at a small farm in Virginia.  Let’s not forget that several our BC Turf winners, such as Kotashaan, Northern Spur, and Theatrical were bred in Europe. In addition, many of our best-bred young horses are bought by Coolmore and Godolphin, so they become European turf horses by circumstance more than anything else.

Finally, we come to the Pro-Ride races. Is anyone really surprised we were defeated in the Marathon? We basically sent mile and an eighth and mile and a quarter horses and turf horses against Euros who are just getting warmed up at a mile and a half. The winner, Muhannak, was four for seven, with a second and two thirds over a synthetic surface. Again, we have ourselves to blame. Do you think we’re ever going to send a grade I classic horse like Sixties Icon to the Marathon? Most of our Marathon horses this year were the ones who were not good enough to run in the Classic or the Turf. It is hoped that will change. We carded a number of 12-furlong “Win and Your In” races this year, but some of the more successful horses who competed in those races, like Evening Attire and Delosvientos, didn’t show up for the Breeders’ Cup. And by the way, don’t think the Euros aren’t laughing behind our backs for calling a mile and a half a marathon.

As for the Classic, which was the impetus for all the hyperbole, let’s face facts. Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator were superstar milers over demanding courses in Europe and both had dirt pedigrees. They were fast, brilliant, and had powerful closing kicks, and were racing over a synthetic surface that played more like turf, with a good bounce and virtually no kickback. But mostly, with the exception of Curlin, our horses simply were too slow this year, if you go by all the speed figures. And many feel Curlin, for whatever reason, was not as dominant and brilliant this year as he was last year when he was running against far superior horses. Combine that with the strange surface, having only one five-furlong work and two slow half-mile breezes in four weeks and then running 10 furlongs over a synthetic track that demands fitness, and a quick early move around horses that did not set him up well for the final quarter mile against the late-kicking Europeans. Although his work pattern did not differ from his previous 10-furlong races, he’d never run over this surface, and most everyone in California and at other tracks that have synthetic surfaces agree you need a fit horse going long distances. Remember, the best finish by an American horse was Tiago, who worked a strong six furlongs and had a good effort over the surface.

Let’s also not forget that French-trained Arcangues, at 133-1, has already won the Classic, Swain should have won the Classic, Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee were beaten in photos by Tiznow, and 38-1 Ibn Bey was second, beaten only one length by Unbridled. Even a 3-year-old French filly (Jolypha) managed to finish third behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap in the Classic. So, let’s not go into panic mode because two brilliant Europeans finished one-two over a synthetic surface in a sub-standard year.

Big Brown should not be considered for Horse of the Year because he beat a bunch of inferior horses this year:

Isn’t there a bit of hypocrisy in that statement, considering the older horses Curlin defeated were just as mediocre? Granted, this was far from a top-class group of 3-year-olds, but if you’re going to completely discount Big Brown’s accomplishments because of that, then how do you account for the fact that two horses Big Brown trounced by 14 and 21 lengths in the Kentucky Derby – Colonel John and Smooth Air – finished 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 lengths, respectively, behind Curlin in the Classic, and only a half-length and three-quarters of a length behind Go Between, winner of the Pacific Classic and second in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup? And they finished ahead of the winners of the Pimlico Special and Hawthorne Gold Cup, as well as a five-time Group I winner in Europe.

While on the subject, 22-1 shot Two Step Salsa, 19-1 My Pal Charlie, and 11-1 Pyro finishing third, fourth, and sixth in the Dirt Mile, ahead of Well Armed, Lewis Michael, and Surf Cat, wasn’t too shabby either..for a bad crop of 3-year-olds. The first two were beaten 1 3/4 lengths for all the money. And let’s also remember that Anak Nakal, who was beaten badly by Big Brown in the Derby, finished a fast-closing second to top older horse Arson Squad in the grade II Meadowlands Cup. So, while this year’s crop of 3-year-olds does not rank anywhere near last year’s crop, they certainly haven’t embarrassed themselves against their elders, and the horses Big Brown defeated went on to finish 1-3 in the Travers, 1-2 in the Jim Dandy, 1-3 in the Ohio Derby, 1-3 in the Swaps Stakes, 1-3 in the Pennsylvania Derby, 1-3 in the Northern Dancer, and first in King's Bishop.  

Getting back to Big Brown’s record, can you simply ignore the fact that he earned the highest Thoro-Graph and Ragozin figures ever in the Kentucky Derby, faster than Secretariat, Monarchos, and Spend a Buck? He also ran the fourth fastest final Derby prep of all time, and the three who ran faster all regressed in the Derby, while Big Brown actually moved forward in the Derby.

I’m not saying Big Brown should be Horse of the Year. I’m just saying that perhaps his accomplishments require a second, more objective, look and be put in proper perspective. What he accomplished this past spring off only two career starts and very little training is pretty remarkable. Based on that and all his missed training after the Preakness due to a foot injury, a meltdown prior to the Belmont, a terrible trip early in the race, and getting part of his shoe pulled off at the start, does anyone really believe that race was not a total aberration? And how many Derby and Preakness winners in recent times have won two stakes (in two starts) following the Triple Crown? Did he defeat any worse horses in the Haskell than Point Given did? Have any two-time Classic winners defeated three grade II stakes winners on the turf, and in only his second career start on grass? I know Shakis finished last in the BC Mile, but he was making a big move along the inside when a tiring Thorn Song closed up the rail on him and backed up into him and Alan Garcia had to stop riding him the last eighth of a mile. In his prior start he was a fast-closing second in the grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.

I am only attempting to defend Big Brown because of all the unwarranted animosity directed toward the horse for whatever reason. Now that I’ve done my best to make my case, I can remove my hand out of the hornet’s nest for good.

(See my final comments regarding this at the end of the blog)

Soldier of Fortune needed a pacesetter in the Breeders’ Cup Turf:

Yeah, like the proverbial hole in the head, as it turned out. What 8-5 favorite needs a 66-1 pacesetter to go six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 in a mile and a half race when he’s going to be crawling up his behind most of the way? What was that all about? He’s lucky he didn’t clip his pacesetter’s heels. And when was the last time you saw a European horse take over the lead in a 12-furlong race after a mile and a quarter in 1:58 3/5?

So, what happens? They go out and do it again in the Melbourne Cup, as the two fancied Ballydoyle horses, including second favorite Septimus, spent most of the two miles chasing their own pacesetter, opening up on the rest of the field. By the time they came to the head of the stretch they were spent.

Canada is no place to prep for the Breeders’ Cup:

If you think that, wait until next year. The following horses all raced at Woodbine this summer and fall: Ventura (winner of the Filly & Mare Sprint), Forever Together (winner of the Filly & Mare Turf), Kip Deville (second in the Mile), Fatal Bullet (second in the Sprint), Sealy Hill (second in the Filly & Mare Turf), Laragh (third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf), and Storm Treasure (third in the Turf Sprint).

Other thoughts:

-- Let’s go one step further regarding the 3-year-old crop. How about Fatal Bullet, the only 3-year-old in the Sprint, finishing second to Midnight Lute, while running his six furlongs in 1:07 2/5 in defeat and finishing open lengths ahead of Street Boss, Fabulous Strike, In Summation, and First Defence.

-- Did Godolphin cost themselves the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award by finishing second with Cocoa Beach over Music Note? There’s no guarantee Music Note would have won the championship over Proud Spell had she finished second in the Ladies Classic instead of third, and she still may get it, but a second to Zenyatta would have looked awfully good on her record to go along with wins in the grade I CCA Oaks, Mother Goose, and Gazelle, and a head defeat (to Proud Spell) in the Alabama, in which she was victimized by a slow pace. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes.

Sheikh Mohammed, who, with Godolphin, Darley, and his wife Princess Haya, won the Classic (with Raven’s Pass), the Juvenile (with Midshipman), the Juvenile Turf (with Donativum), and was second and third in the Ladies Classic and second in the Turf Sprint with Diabolical.

-- Although he finished eighth, how about a round of applause for 9-year-old Better Talk Now, who was making his fifth consecutive start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Along the way, he’s picked up a win, a second, and a fourth for earnings of $1,793,000.

Final myth: The few people who keep sparring with each other on these blogs about Curlin and Big Brown, spewing out the same venom ad nauseum, will have all such comments on this particular blog deleted:

Sorry, this is not a myth and will not be debunked. All the nastiness directed at the two horses and most of all at the supporters of each one has been heard countless times, even on blogs that are not about them. I can’t believe it started again on Jason’s interview with Shirreffs. I stepped up on my soapbox one last time to make what I felt were valid points about Big Brown. That will end all comments on him and Curlin by me…and by several other people. My only point is that all three horses warrant at least discussion for Horse of the Year. I am not sure who I’m voting for that this point. The best cases obviously can be made for Curlin and Zenyatta. I just don’t feel Big Brown should be totally ignored after what he accomplished over a seven-month period. So, if I am exacerbating the situation, I apologize to those with level heads and open minds who no longer want to be subjected to the mud-slinging that follows every innocuous comment about the two horses. Anyone is free to comment on the points I made about Big Brown, whether pro or con, but those who indulge in the same tiresome Big Brown--Curlin trench fighting again will not have their comments posted.

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