A Champion Muddle - by Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the November 12, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The Breeders’ Cup World Championships fell right in place with the rest of the racing year by turning end of the year honors into a muddle.

Remember in the spring, when all the best 3-year-olds were beating up on each other and no clear standouts emerged by the time we got to the Triple Crown? The pattern remained true through the prestigious triad with three separate horses winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Incidentally, none of the winners of the classic races have won since. Derby winner Animal Kingdom was sidelined after being injured in the Belmont. Preakness winner Shackleford has done the best of the three with second-place finishes in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr.I), the Indiana Derby (gr. II), and in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). Belmont winner Ruler On Ice’s best finish has been a second in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). He also finished third in the Haskell and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).

Not much here to hang championship honors on.

Interestingly, the 3-year-old male champion could still come out of a Derby—the grade III Ohio Derby. Caleb’s Posse has won four graded stakes this year—at 61⁄2 furlongs, seven furlongs, one mile, and 11⁄16 miles. The son of Posse beat three other graded stakes winners—To Honor and Serve, Justin Phillip, and Travelin Man—in the Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II), then went on to beat 2010 juvenile male champion Uncle Mo and three other graded stakes winners in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I). Caleb’s Posse then rolled right into Breeders’ Cup, where he won the Dirt Mile convincingly by four lengths over Shackleford, who ran an outstanding race himself.

Four graded stakes wins—two of them grade Is including a Breeders’ Cup—looks pretty tough to beat.
As for Horse of the Year, the Breeders’ Cup did nothing to clear this race up either. As our senior correspondent Steve Haskin pointed out, all the leading contenders lost in the Breeders’ Cup.

So what do you do now? Well, Havre de Grace is still a candidate, having beaten the boys in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and having also won the Beldame Invitational Stakes and the Apple Blossom, both grade Is. The impressive daughter of Saint Liam has two additional graded stakes wins in the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) and the Azeri Stakes (gr. III).

But Acclamation, the California turf star, also has to be considered. The 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat has three grade I wins in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap and Eddie Read Stakes on the turf, and the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, run on Del Mar’s artificial surface. Acclamation has two other grade II wins in the Jim Murray Handicap and the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship Stakes.

Want more? If Game On Dude runs back in the grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 25 and wins, this year’s Classic runner-up will have three grade I wins and will have placed twice in grade I stakes.

Whatever happened to the good old days when the world championships crowned champions?

No Place Like Home

After Anecdote won the eighth race Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs, track officials honored trainer Bill Mott for earning his 650th career win under the Twin Spires. The Hall of Fame trainer, who has sent out more winners at the Louisville track than any other trainer in history, had little time to acknowledge the feat since he saddled winner No. 651 in the next race.

Mott brought his Breeders’ Cup contenders to his home base of Barn 19 at Churchill in late September for a reason, wanting them to be fully comfortable to their surroundings for the World Championships. It paid off with wins No. 652 and 653—Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) and Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Deluxe’s victory in the Nov. 6 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) made it 654. The home court advantage paid off.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear was on his home court in the winner’s circle with the WinStar Farm team after the Classic, congratulating the “Kentucky-breds all around.” Anyone care to ask Mr. Beshear and the Kentucky legislature why it was announced that Kentucky-bred Drosselmeyer’s first season at stud would be in New York and why TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner and Kentucky-bred Court Vision will leave the Bluegrass State for Canada? 

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