A 2014 Breeders’ Cup Recap

November 4, 2014

2014 Breeders' Cup logo

Thirty years ago the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic ended in dramatic fashion with three horses across the wire. Wild Again under Pat Day was the winner on the rail, Gate Dancer under Laffit Pincay, in his unconventional head gear, was second on the outside. Sandwiched in between was third place finisher Slew O’ Gold, who raced with a reported quarter crack his connections thought he was good enough to overcome. Angel Cordero was in the irons. Three great horses, three great riders, all converging at the finish line in the first running of what was destined to become one of the world’s richest and most important competitions.

As they came into the lane, Wild Again was holding off the strong challenge of Slew O’ Gold who, on paper, and in appearance, was clearly the best horse. On that day, however, the gallant son of Seattle Slew could not quite get by the spirited and game son of Icecapade who bravely fought him off. As the pair neared the wire, they were joined by hard charging Gate Dancer, who was known to be quirky but looked to have winning on his mind to go with the perfect set up that historical day. It was not to be however, as Gate Dancer lugged in late and laid all over Slew O’ Gold. Wild Again held on for the gutsy win, Gate Dancer got past Slew O’ Gold who was sandwiched and third. The inquiry sign went up as all who were watching either live or on monitors knew it would.

The stewards took their time making what was a difficult decision. Wild Again definitely came out a bit which looked worse than it was as he also cocked his head towards his rival in an attempt to intimate him and keep him at bay. Gate Dancer also clearly came in essentially turning Slew O’ Gold into the white part of an Oreo cookie.

Despite the disadvantage of not having the multi angle, zoom capable, high definition technology available today, let alone an additional thirty years of experience and study, the stewards got it right. The winner stood, while Gate Dancer was disqualified from second and placed third.

In one of those funny racing ironies that at times aren’t so funny, thirty years later a grandson of Wild Again, Bayern, was involved in a similar controversy at the finish of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. This time however the incident in question occurred at the start, however the finish was no less dramatic and exciting.

I remember the days when, after watching a race, you pretty much knew if the inquiry sign would go up. One better, when the track showed the head on view, more often than not you knew what was about to happen or not happen.

This year the Sport of Kings saw what I think is one of the worst blown calls ever. This is right up there with Allemuese at Saratoga and the infamous The Wicked North blown calls. It had ramifications that even trumped the blown call on Collinito at Gulfstream Park, costing a rainbow 6 player $1.6 million. This one may have been worse though. It occurred when all eyes were on us, on National Television on our biggest stage. Worse yet were the comments made by Santa Anita steward Scott Chaney after the race.

The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic seemed to be about the three year olds sorting themselves out and with that, the three year old Eclipse and possibly Horse of the Year titles. Instead, it created more cloud or maybe even eliminated the three year olds from Horse of the Year consideration.

The start of the race was where it all began, no pun intended. Bayern made a sharp left turn immediately out of the gate and hit Shared Belief, knocking him off stride and costing him a few lengths and position. Simultaneously, Toast of New York broke inward, impeding speed horse Moreno and costing him early position likely on the lead with or pressing Bayern. The two incidents in close proximity to each other in both time and distance created a crowding effect a few strides out of the gate in which Moreno and Shared Belief continued to get the worst of it. This left Bayern alone on the lead without the pace pressure he was expected to face. It also left Shared Belief further back then he probably would have been and in traffic. It’s also impossible to quantify how much getting his wind knocked out at the start cost him mentally and even physically. We do know; however, it cost him something,

Taking nothing away from Bayern, who ran a huge race and showed the same grit and determination his grandfather did in this same race thirty years before, he did deserve to be disqualified. No  ifs ands or buts about it. Watching the start of the race and coming to the conclusion it did not affect the outcome goes beyond subjectivity and opinion, it shows a complete lack of understanding of racing and how races unfold and are run. What is subjective and opinion is how much of an effect it had but not whether it had any effect at all. Many are missing this crucial point altogether.

When Bayern made a left turn out of the gate slamming Shared Belief hard, he failed to maintain a straight course and impeded another runner. That, in itself, is cause for disqualification. Because it happened at the start does not lessen the infraction. It may mean it was unavoidable, or not intentional, but it still impeded another runner at a crucial point in the race. If you don’t think the start of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic is important, well then I suggest you are in the wrong game. Even Bob Baffert himself, the beneficiary of this blown call, thinks the start is important. Can anyone count the times we have heard him say publicly the start is crucial for Game on Dude, or how important the break and start is for Game on Dude and even Bayern this year? Many times. Why, because it is. It’s important for other runners as well. It affects position, pace and the whole race. In a race like the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic where nobody gives an inch, it is even more vital.

Toast of New York’s infraction was far less severe but was made worse by the other incident. Nonetheless, he crossed over several paths as well, impeding Moreno and causing another chain reaction. While not as clear cut as Bayern he could and actually should have been disqualified also. His infraction clearly cost Moreno early position and certainly may have cost him a later placing. Never mind the effect on the others in the chain reaction. Granted, we do not want to see races like this decided by stewards; however, allowing infractions to go without taking appropriate action sets a bad precedent. California Chrome valiantly and to my surprise bounced back with a great race to finish third, albeit he benefited from a perfect trip. He was probably another race and work away from his best. Had first place finisher Bayern been disqualified along with second place finisher Toast of New York then California Chrome would have been given the victory and that may have been worth the price of admission just to see Steve Coburn’s comments.

Trevor Denman explained the no call decision on TV while the monitors showed the head on view. I imagine he was cringing. He stated that although Bayern cut over hitting Shared Belief, it happened at a point in the race that did not affect the outcome or cost him a placing.

After the race, Mike Smith stated he thought the incident not only cost him a placing but the whole race. Considering how well Shared Belief ran, it is easy to see why Mike felt that way and none of us were on Shared Belief’s back.

Santa Anita steward Scott Chaney gave an interview with HRTV’s Caton Bredar following the race. Scott trivialized the entire matter indicating they (meaning the stewards) thought the whole thing amounted to nothing and they almost did not put up an inquiry. He stated to put up the inquiry or not was the hardest decision and leaving the order as is was pretty much a given. He went on to indicate Mike Smith told the stewards the incident did not cost him a placing. Now granted Smith can be a common name but surely they spoke to the same guy who just minutes earlier said on national TV he thought the incident cost him the entire race. An obvious disconnect occurred here somewhere. Chaney further trivialized the matter by indicating it was not a big deal except in media land to which he pays no attention. Perhaps he should, as this type of disconnect from fans and bettors alike is one of the many issues racing faces today.

Before trivializing a decision as important as to disqualify one or possibly two horses in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, perhaps Mr. Chaney should consider what goes into winning one of those races. The tireless work of the connections and riders, the handicapping and preparation of the bettors, the painstaking work of the breeders, and of course the millions of dollars at stake. We were not even sure we were going to put up an inquiry even though one horse slammed another is an insult and we all, at all levels of the game, deserve better. The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge even hung in the wake. The contest was won by a 10k wager on Bayern. News flash, your job is to put up an inquiry when there is an infraction or even the possibility of an infraction. All the participants deserve it. How about all the tickets on Toast of New York and California Chrome, don’t they deserve it?

To make matters worse, Chaney went on to say we don’t want stewards handicapping, when faced with the question of whether Moreno not being part of the pace affected Bayern. Is that really handicapping or just a basic knowledge of horse racing? Again we don’t want stewards deciding all the races but when a situation arises like on Saturday evening we expect them to know and do their job. Chaney was so nonchalant about this non call, it reminded me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. It just didn’t seem like the attitude our sport needs and deserves.

I’ve said this before and although many may disagree, it is the only fair way that works for all. We have to take away subjectivity from stewards’ rulings. We can’t give them the discretion to decide what affects a race as many seem to not know what any money putting up handicapper does. They are getting it wrong too often. We and they need a clearly defined set of rules and infractions. If you do this you come down, if you do that you don’t. We also need transparency, after all it is our money. We need cameras and microphones in the stewards’ room and the communications with the riders have to be recorded and made available. I read where Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman said he did not want to see a 10 length winner disqualified. None of us do but we need a fair unbiased system. Years ago at Belmont I bet a horse named Royal Lunacy who won by the length of the stretch, maybe 10 lengths. The inquiry sign went up and I thought what did he do, run too fast? The head on showed him do exactly what Toast of New York did Saturday. I would have sold my ticket for pennies on the dollar. There were no takers. Down he came.

While we are at it, we also need a central governing body and a commissioner. Baseball, football, basketball and hockey are all played in multiple states yet have standard rules. Our model does not work without it. The body is not only charged with maintaining the integrity of the sport but lobbying for it and promoting it.

The track for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup on Friday was fast and the turf firm and both as honest as the day is long. Rain Friday night resulted in the main track being sealed and that may have changed things somewhat on Saturday. At least for the early races. While I am not usually one to scream bias and take some satisfaction from recognizing a true bias from a perceived one Saturday it was hard to tell. While speed dominated the pre Breeders’ Cup races, all those horses were really supposed to win anyway. That changed when Take Charge Brandi, who had been running off and quitting since her smashing maiden breaker and second start at Saratoga when a gritty second, won the juvenile fillies in front running fashion. Though she looked like she wanted to quit she just kept going and got home. There may have been a strong bias that aided her but then again maybe not. Maybe it was because I finally took her off my watch list. The sealed track was hard and packed on top and wet and looser underneath. As the day and races went on under the sun the track loosened and played very fair once again.

The 2014 Breeders’ Cup got underway with Hootenanny giving Wesley Ward his first victory in the event. Frankie Dettori rode him perfectly harnessing his speed for a new found late run. Ward’s Luck of the Kitten was second giving the trainer a one two finish.

Friday gave us three more memorable performances. We saw Goldenscents repeat in the Mile in game fashion. He went fast early yet showed heart late to hold off Tapiture who looked like he had him. Doug O’ Neil and assistant Leandro Mora have done a great job with this horse who has been fast from day one. On Friday he ran under Leandro Mora’s name as The Breeders’ Cup Committee decided to enforce a drug suspension of O’Neil levied by NYRA scheduled for a week later, a week earlier, thus keeping his name out of the program. They subsequently announced a new rule that allows them to not allow anyone suspended for a drug violation “they” consider serious to not be able to run horses even under an assistant’s name. While I am all for anything that cleans up the game, I am not sure this is the way. It goes back to clearly defined rules for all and not just some.

Of course it was a championship day and we saw a new one emerge. Lady Eli blitzed her field with the same explosive turn of foot she showed in New York and stamped herself 2 year old filly champion. I called her a stakes winner after her first start and was not surprised Friday. Young Irad Ortiz won what is surely the first of many Breeders’ Cup victories with a flawless ride. The day ended with Untapable under Rosie Napravnik taking the Distaff for Steve Asmussen and cementing her 3 year old filly Eclipse and putting herself in the conversation for Horse of the Year.

Day at the Spa took advantage of her speed and lack of pace and under a heady ride by Javier Castellano went wire to wire in a field she was probably not best in and at a distance a tad beyond her best. Kudos to the connections for a job well done. It was trainer Chad Brown’s second cup win of the weekend. Bobbys Kitten was his third when he took the Turf Sprint. He was always highly regarded but was headstrong and speed crazy. The faster pace of the sprint and strong hands of Joel Rosario caused him to be far back early and unleash his speed late for a change. It worked like a charm, he exploded.

Texas Red made the day particularly special coming from last to first for the brothers Desormeaux. Trained by Keith for the biggest win of his career to date and ridden by Hall of Fame brother Kent, he put himself right at the top of the Kentucky Derby prospects’ list. Only Street Sense has won the Juvenile and The Derby so Texas Red has a big trend to buck.

Main Sequence ran his US streak to 4 for 4 all in Grade 1’s and saved the best for last in the Turf against the world’s best. Here is your Horse of the Year for Graham Motion.

The hot riding Florent Geroux worked every step of the six furlongs of The Sprint aboard Work all Week, giving both he and trainer Roger Brueggerman their first Cup wins. Well-deserved for all, Florent has elevated his game to new heights this year and Roger is an old school guy who has been doing it right a long time. Work all Week is an Illinois bred over achiever who is fast and game. Karakontie took the mile from the impossible 14 post under S Pasquier for Jonathan Pease in an impressive typical European performance.

The day ended with the Classic that was supposed to clarify the three year old picture and likely give us our Horse of the Year. Well I do think it gave us the Horse of the Year, he was just in a different race, The Turf. As for three year olds that got even murkier than it was. Bayern despite the unticketed illegal left turn in front of the entire Highway Patrol, ran one heckuva race and padded his resume considerably. California Chrome managed to get himself back in the conversation even without winning. Shared Belief lost nothing but Horse of the Year in defeat but did so in a way that really can’t be counted against him. Tonalist needed to win to be considered and could do no better than a fast closing fifth from far back. He ran deceptively well but typecast as a Belmont only horse, he is up against it.

We had it all during the 2014 Breeders’ Cup: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, a little too much of some and not enough of others. Overall it was a great weekend of racing as expected and as it should be. We were treated to the return of Gary Stevens who continues to defy the odds and Father Time with his comeback encore.

The steward situation is troubling however. We need that consistency that is lacking and the uniformity of a central governing body. It just won’t work without it. We can sign petitions, have meetings and summits, do studies and anything else you like, it won’t get fixed and have all tracks on the same page until we are all under the same umbrella.

High 5

This week it goes to Richard Migliore for his spot on analysis of the Breeders’ Cup Classic incident and inquiry. Far too many on TV are reluctant, for whatever reason, to call things the way they are and feel the need to sugarcoat things. Honesty and candor is refreshing.

Low 5

Scott Chaney wins this in a laugher. There was no excuse for the nonchalant attitude with so much at stake. We need to find out what Mike Smith he spoke to, what he asked him and how he was so sure nothing that happened affected the outcome. Oh yeah, he also got it wrong.

Horse to Watch

Spider Roll rolled to victory at $11.00, Lady Eli rolled to a Breeders’ Cup victory at $6.80 from a 6-1 morning line and Texas Red $29.80 all won this week off our Tracking Trips watch list. This week’s horse is Meta Mu. This 2 year old filly looks like a 4 year old colt. She is big and strong and improved considerably in her second outing. She was down on the inside and took a lot of dirt but closed strongly when she got out and was running at a lone speed, runaway winner.

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Jon Stettin

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