Golden State - By Dan Liebman

Despite the legitimate gripes by Easterners about the Breeders’ Cup World Championships being run two consecutive years in California, there is much to like about having the races at Santa Anita. It is a beautiful place to watch horses train, offers majestic scenery (when the haze allows you to see it), and the weather Nov. 6-7 was nearly as spectacular as the racing.

Granted, the continuous on-track announcement proclaiming Santa Anita as “the most exciting place on earth” was laughable, but for two days, the racetrack lived up to its label as “The Great Race Place.”

Despite the fact Santa Anita is an excellent place to host the Breeders’ Cup, it should not have had the event two years in a row. Nor should any track. The founders designed the Breeders’ Cup to change locations each year, moving around the country, and that is as it should be, for many reasons.

Only a handful of tracks can play host to the Breeders’ Cup, and it is good the organization’s leaders appear ready to announce a rotation for several years into the future, as is done routinely in other sports.

Clinging to the marketing-speak that the reason the Breeders’ Cup was held in Southern California in successive years was to attract Hollywood stars may have actually been a dream some marketing person had, but suffice it to say it was a pipe dream at best. While some sports and entertainment stars show up annually for Kentucky Derby weekend, there has never been a huge turnout from that community at the Breeders’ Cup, including the past two years.

Because of the economy, and because some Breeders’ Cup races seemingly were contrived and have no real divisions to support them, the organizaton’s board should seriously discuss changing the event back to one day and trimming the number of races from 14 to nine or 10.

One is left with some impressions from this year’s event:

  • It was pleasing that in a year when the Breeders’ Cup was held in California, two winners—California Flag and Dancing in Silks—were bred in the Golden State. Not unlike what is occurring in some other states, California’s breeding industry has suffered mightily in recent years; farms have closed; mares have left or are not being bred; and the number of stallions is decreasing. Hopefully, this Breeders’ Cup success will help.

  • Breeding and racing is about the dream, no matter who you are. We were reminded of this during winner’s circle celebrations. There were winning owners of considerable wealth as well as others in a far lower tax bracket. A good horse can come from anywhere.

  • The Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) win by Zenyatta opens up the Horse of the Year discussion. Her victory was exhilarating. But the vote should not be about one race or who won the most recent race. It should be about the body of work over the entire year. Just as a horse should not get an Eclipse Award for winning one race in this country, neither should a horse be rewarded for showing up, or be penalized for not showing up, on a particular day.

  • Repeat wins by Goldikova and Conduit and then watching the first female win the Classic were simply as good as it gets.

  • Zenyatta had a bit of trouble loading, had to suffer with the rest of the field through Quality Road’s antics, broke on the wrong lead, was throwing her head the first 200 yards…and then won with a dramatic run to deny a most game Gio Ponti. She walked onto the track with her head bowed, reached her right front out in a sign of majesty, and on the way back to the winner’s circle, stopped to pose before parading in front of her adoring fans. She is class personified in the Thoroughbred. Even members of the press, as jaded and cynical as they are, stood and clapped.

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