Controversy or Boredom?

Courtesy of Becky Johnston

In days gone by, the Breeders' Cup Classic would be so laden with talented horses that I would anticipate the running over and over in my mind, days or even weeks before the gates ever opened.  Looking at what we might see this year, I may find myself watching the Alabama-Tennessee game instead.  Forgettable.

We have one handicap star, if the injured Heatseeker remains on the sidelines.  That is Curlin. We are hanging our hat on a perilous coat rack.  The horse is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is facing a drug violation in Texas which is the 18th drug use or overage charge since 1997. 

Still Curlin is a star that many people could get behind.  Alas, his connections don't plan to finish his career in the U.S., going instead to France to run in the Arc.

We need a back-up plan, another handicap division star, desperately.

I mustered all the anticipation I could and turned my sights to the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on Saturday.  This was definitely a weak edition of this race and it wasn't helped when the favorite, A.P. Arrow, was last seen wondering around in the back of the field while two of the front three pacesetters raced home.  The others followed dutifully like your shopping mall Merry-Go- Round.  The winner, Frost Giant, who was defeated in his last two optional claiming races at Monmouth and Churchill Downs, is trained by none other than the most famous bad-boy of horse racing in the last two months, Richard Dutrow. Dutrow makes Asmussen look like a Boy Scout.  The winner is owned by the warm and fuzzy IEAH Conglomerate.

Mr. Dutrow further endeared himself to racing fans this weekend by racing the five-year-old gelding Unrequited on Friday at Belmont to an unplaced finish then shipping him to Monmouth to run on Sunday and seeing the Jay Em Ess owned horse break down.

No hero here.

Moving right along, after the defection of Heatseeker from the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, I still felt this race could push one of the better horses to the forefront.

This was a much better field than the Surburban, with Grade 1 winners Tiago, Perfect Drift, Student Council and placed Go Between.  Grade 2 winner Big Booster looked like he could pick up a piece from a fast pace.  Everyone has a graded stakes placing in their recent past performances except for Mast Track, who has never bettered a fifth place performance in graded stakes company, although those races were on the turf and not the dirt.   

Tyler Baze put Bobby Frankel's Mast Track on the lead and they won the race in the first half-mile.  No star, no battle for the win, no wow factor.  How could I be excited about this result, Mr. Frankel didn't even bother to attend the race.  The star interview after the race was the winning horse's jockey's agent's fiancĂ©e telling how she booked the mount for young Mr. Baze.  Woo-hoo!!!


So if we don't have controversy are we left with boring racing? 

Perhaps there are too many Grade 1 races grouped together for the handicap division or maybe we need a bonus system.  We also need something to keep our young stars running to make better racing, which opens a whole other debate.


What can the owners and trainers do?

There was a time in the infancy of my fandom of thoroughbred racing that I believed a rabbit was unsportsmanlike.  With such mundane graded stakes races as we had Saturday, I find myself asking, "How much for that rabbit in the window?"

(Note: A rabbit is a stablemate that ensures a fast pace for a talented horse that is devoid of early speed and finds themselves susceptible to a possibly less accomplished horse stealing a race on the front end.  This is a much practiced and successful exercise in Europe.)

It may be time for the connections of quality horses like Tiago or Go Between to employ the practice of entering a rabbit in races to insure an honest pace.

Even the gluttonous Winnie the Pooh needed Rabbit to push him through the front door of his rabbit hole when he became stuck.  Our handicap ranks desperately needs to produce something memorable.

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