Will Tragedy Dim Vino Rosso's Victory?

All of us are deeply affected whenever a horse is seriously or fatally injured in a race. Sometimes it happens in a major race witnessed by a national audience, that without the incident, would be a race watched over and over and enjoyed for its impact on the sport.

I have never watched a replay of the Ruffian-Foolish Pleasure match race or the Go For Wand-Bayakoa Distaff or Big Brown's Kentucky Derby victory because of Eight Belles' fatal accident while pulling up or Barbaro's Preakness, just to give several examples. My most vivid memory of Curlin's Breeders' Cup Classic victory was Aidan O'Brien trying to comfort his wife who was in tears following George Washington's fatal injury. Unfortunately, that is not fair to Foolish Pleasure, Bayakoa, Big Brown,  Bernardini, and Curlin and what they accomplished.

People forget that Foolish Pleasure, never known for his blazing speed, went head and head with Ruffian in a brutal :44 3/5 and 1:08 3/5 in a mile and a quarter race. That is forgotten, as is the gameness of Bayakoa as she battled Go For Wand eyeball to eyeball in a gut-wrenching stretch duel. As is the brilliance of Big Brown's performance as he dominated his opponents despite being the first Derby winner to break from post 20. As is the powerful performance of Bernardini as he drew away in the stretch, covering the 1 3/16 miles in a sharp 1:54 3/5. And as is Curlin's romp through the slop to defeat his arch rivals Street Sense and Hard Spun to nail down the Horse of the Year title.

But none of that is mentioned or remembered when those ill-fated races are discussed. And as much as I applaud the winners and their performances, I still am not able to watch those races.

And I doubt I will ever watch this year's Breeders' Cup Classic again, even knowing that the horse I have admired and supported since last year's Derby trail ran the race of his life; a race I had been expecting since I made him my top-ranked Kentucky Derby horse over Justify and Good Magic. A horse I had written about on numerous occasions and who was training up to the Classic like a horse who was ready to run a proverbial hole in the wind.

For that I feel terrible, but not nearly as terrible as I felt for Mongolian Groom, who originally wasn't even supposed to run in the Classic because it would require a $200,000 supplementary fee, which his connections eventually decided to pay.

So, how will Vino Rosso be remembered? Will he get his well-deserved praise for having routed his field, blowing by the favored McKinzie and quickly drawing off? Will he get his well-deserved praise for having twice traveled cross-country to Santa Anita and winning grade 1 stakes? Will Todd Pletcher get his well-deserved praise for his brilliant training job? Will John and Tanya Gunther get their well-deserved praise for having bred Vino Rosso and Justify from the same crop and raising them in the same field, along with Breeders' Cup Mile third-place finisher Without Parole, winner of last year's St. James's Palace Stakes? Will Irad Ortiz Jr. get his well-deserved praise for giving Vino Rosso a perfect trip? I sure hope so on all counts.

How about Vinnie Viola winning the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic two years apart, first with Always Dreaming in partnership with his boyhood pal Anthony Bonomo, and then with fellow New Yorker Mike Repole?

This should be one of the great stories of the year and certainly one of the great performances and training accomplishments, and it would be a shame if it was remembered mostly because of the Mongolian Groom tragedy, with Vino Rosso's victory pushed to the back of our mind , just as those mentioned earlier. Even though I would find it difficult to watch this race, I fully appreciate the extent of Vino Rosso's performance and could always just watch the final eighth of a mile to see him bounding away from McKinzie. But, that's just me and has been since July 6, 1975. Some wounds leave permanent scars.

Speaking of great training accomplishments, I have to mention Todd Pletcher's impact on this year's Breeders' Cup. Not only did he train the Classic winner, he also trained the sires of four Breeders' Cup winners and the sires of four Breeders' Cup runners-up, with all eight winners and runners-up being by different sires.

The Breeders' Cup winning sires trained by Pletcher were More Than Ready (Uni), Eskendereya (Mitole), Speightstown (Sharing), and Palace Malice (Structor).

The four sires trained by Pletcher whose offspring finished second were Shanghai Bobby (Shancelot), Munnings (Om), Quality Road (Bellafina), and Uncle Mo (Donna Veloce).

In addition, on Breeders' Cup weekend, the Nashua Stakes run at Aqueduct was won by a son of the Pletcher-trained Constitution.

This year's Breeders' Cup had some great moments, but also numerous disappointments because of the number of top-class horses who were either unable to handle the deep track or found themselves too far back to make up enough ground in the stretch over a speed-favoring surface. What in the world was Omaha Beach doing 8 1/2 lengths off the lead? Midnight Bisou also was too far back and had to take all the kickback stuck behind horses while the victorious Blue Prize had a clear outside trip and got first jump on her.

And why did the two strongest closers in the Classic, Code of Honor and Yoshida, just run around the track without making even a slight move, as if running in quicksand, despite a closing half in :52? And how does Eight Rings, who romped in the American Pharoah Stakes over Storm the Court, just stop to a walk, finishing out of the money?

This year's Breeders' Cup is what it is, and it is time to move on. Let's just remember the positive image of the Classicthe dominating performance of Vino Rosso, especially after having the Jockey Club Gold Cup taken away from him, whether justified or not. This is a hard-trying, top-class true mile-and-a-quarter horse who should not have to suffer because of a tragic incident that, in many people's eyes, marred what would have been a rousing conclusion to the 2019 Breeders' Cup.

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