Goodbye, Triple Crown; Hello, Breeders' Cup

As one final thought regarding Calvin Borel, in my Triple Crown wrapup I said it was learned that Borel attempted to get mounts during Belmont week, but was unable to secure any. I qualified that by adding, “If that is true…” Just for the record, this is what I was told by someone close to Borel. Although, as I also wrote, “It’s hard to believe,” I felt, because of all the criticism directed at Borel, I owed it to him to mention it in case it was true. Conflicting comments made earlier from the Borel camp recently came to light, so, it is up to the reader (if anyone still cares) to decide what they want to believe.

OK, enough of Borel; it’s time to move on to more important things and leave this wacky Triple Crown in the rear-view mirror. There’s a long road ahead of us, and we can already faintly see the tops of the San Gabriel Mountains way off in the distance.

To show how much the sport is changing, look at the results of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, with European invaders Raven’s Pass and Henry the Navigator running one-two on the synthetic surface. Look at the switch from dirt to synthetic for the new Meydan track set to open next year in Dubai. Despite having no breakdowns over the dirt at Nad al Sheba and the races being run a fast track each year, even on the rare occasions when the monsoons roll in, it seems odd that they would switch surfaces. They do so knowing there is a good chance the majority of big-name American horses who have excelled only on the dirt likely will pass on the World Cup, despite its big bucks.

Could it be they have had enough of Americans dominating the World Cup and are looking to lure more big-name Europeans like Raven’s Pass and Henry the Navigator? That wouldn’t make much sense, considering it is the Americans and the Dubai-based horses who have been in training and are able to prep for the World Cup, while European racing is just getting started in mid-March, and their horses would have to travel to Dubai in February (not likely) in order to find a suitable prep race.

This is not to insinuate the switch of surfaces is a good one or a bad one, just an odd one under the circumstances. Obviously the powers that be felt this was the way to go. Would Curlin have gone all the way there to run on a synthetic surface? Who knows, maybe a $10-million purse would lure anyone, especially with the luxuries that await all the participants, both human and equine.

Speaking of the new wave of Europeans that have been and will be washing up on our synthetic tracks, John Oxx, trainer of Two Thousand Guineas and English Derby winner Sea the Stars has already said the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a possibility for the son of Cape Cross.

“The Breeders' Cup this year and last year is slightly different to previous years because it's run on a Polytrack-type surface,” Oxx said. “I would never ask a 3-year-old to run on the traditional American dirt, but obviously the new surface is a bit more tempting.”

After last year’s European coup, we’d better start producing more quality older horses and keep our 3-year-olds in training longer if we want to avoid the ignominious turn of events that befell us in the 2008 Classic.

European bookmakers Stan James and Coral have already shown their lack of respect for the American horses by installing Sea the Stars as the favorite, at 5-1 and 6-1, respectively, for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are the second and third choices, ranging from 7-1 to 9-1. Well Armed, who destroyed his field in this year’s Dubai World Cup is listed at 12-1 and 10-1, respectively, while Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is 14-1 with Corals and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird is 20-1 with Stan James, as is Einstein, who many consider to be America’s main hope for the Classic, having already won the Santa Anita Handicap over the Pro-Ride surface. Imagine, a European 3-year-old in June at 5-1 and Einstein at 20-1. And it also shows how wide a chasm the Europeans feel exists between their Derby winner and our Derby winner.

Having been overwhelmed by the Europeans on the grass (Conduit, Goldikova, Donativum, Eagle Mountain, and Westphalia) last year, as well as in the Classic, it is imperative that we stop the onslaught this year by finding enough quality synthetic horses or accept this rude wake-up call and just wait until next year when the Classic returns to the friendly confines of dirt, and we can once again showcase our best horses or the best of whatever is still around.

It is a shame that Fabulous Strike, arguably the fastest sprinter in the country, has to either run once again on a surface over which he is not as effective or wait until next year, at age 7, to have a legitimate shot at a Breeders' Cup victory. And he's not alone. Until then we'll have to make the best of another turf/synthetic Breeders' Cup. I actually enjoyed seeing two classy Europeans run so well in the Classic to give the race more international meaning, but I would rather see them run well on dirt against our best horses on their best surface. The Euros are entitled to have the playing field leveled on occasion, just not two years in a row. It's not fair to our best horses.

On the Friday front, good luck to the Europeans trying to find a filly to stop the Zenyatta Express. And if for some reason Rachel Alexandra finds her way to Santa Anita…forget it, I’m not even going there. Whether she runs in the Ladies or the good old fashioned Classic, it is too mouth-watering a proposition to even mention this early.

And how about a supporting cast of Music Note, Cocoa Beach (synthetic or turf), Seattle Smooth, Seventh Street, Life is Sweet, Acoma, and 3-year-olds
Justwhistledixie, Four Gifts, and Stardom Bound (who is doing well on the farm and expected back to the track in several weeks).

Next week’s Royal Ascot meet, always one of the great weeks of racing anywhere, should produce several additional Breeders’ Cup prospects, including Aidan O’Brien’s Irish Two Thousand Guineas winner Mastercraftsman, who runs in the St. James’s Palace Stakes. It was quite a sight seeing four O’Brien horses finish in a photo for second in the Epsom Derby. You can bet O’Brien will be back at Santa Anita in full force with 3-year-old colts Mastercraftsman, Fame and Glory (second in the Derby), Masterofthehorse (third), Rip Van Winkle (fourth), and Golden Sword (fifth) to choose from.

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