2016 Breeders’ Cup Observations

November 11, 2016

By: William G. Gotimer, Jr.

Racing showed the nation and world its best side at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup – beauty; competition; sportsmanship; joy; heartbreak and sadly, tragedy. So much has and will be written by wonderful racing and sports writers that I am not sure I can add much but I humble give my take as follows:

OVERRIDING EXAMPLE- Sportsmanship, grace and pride:

Racing should be so proud of its participants who showed this country and the world that it is possible to win AND lose with dignity and grace. Much like the recently concluded World Series, it is refreshing to the soul to see people compete hard and fairly without trash talking, without rancor, without cheating, without controversy and without foul claims. Sport in general, and racing in particular, appeals to our sense of fair play and greater angels. While the world may not be fair – sport and racing is expected to be – and it is why it lifts us up. This weekend was a wonderful example of how to act as both victor and vanquished.

There were many examples of graceful acceptance of defeat – chief among them the trainers who devote their lives to the equine athletes.

Kudos to Art Sherman and his crew. After a year where he showed us how to be gracious in victory he showed us how to be equally gracious in the face of a bitter defeat. If American youth (or American culture for that matter) is looking for a role model it would be hard pressed to find one better than Art Sherman who diplomatically handled the mine-field that is California Chrome. He shared the spotlight with his owners, rider and son Alan who he readily states he disagrees with at times but whose opinion he respects. How refreshing is that given today’s new self -aggrandizing norms? Art Sherman has consistently put the interest of California Chrome first and has proven what a horseman and sportsman he is and deserves all the accolades we can muster.

Same can said of Mike Smith who continues to amaze. His three victories and two seconds in the 13 Breeder’s Cup races won him the Bill Shoemaker Award but more than that he once again showed that age and experience have a place in this world – and a top place at that. His grace in being on the losing side of the Beholder/Songbird photo was another show of class and his observation that Songbird “doesn’t know she lost … her neck just wasn’t long enough” showed a love for the animals he rides that elevates this game far above a simple gambling vehicle.

Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Jose Ortiz both were overcome with emotion during television interviews when thinking of the huge roles their respective, late fathers played in their success. It was enough to make any parent hope that they could someday be as loved as these departed fathers most assuredly were and are. Similarly, the teams of family members that work together in this game continue to astound. Be it the Ortiz brothers, Tom Morley and Maggie Wolfendale; Dale Romans and Tammy Fox; Graham and Anita Motion, the host of trainers – Mott, Casse, Sherman and others who are assisted ably by their children; Britney Eurton so obviously proud on-air at her father’s victory and others too many to count, make us all wish we too could make our living doing something we love with the people we love. All in all, it evidences a pretty wholesome environment for a game that is often portrayed as rough around the edges.

Chad Brown, known for his talent but not charisma, showed class by accepting the three tough beats he had over the two days with the amazing Lady Eli, Flintshire and returning champ Wavell Avenue. He exuded sportsmanship and composure after each loss and should be commended even by those who find his usual manner less friendly than other trainers.

HORSES
Songbird lost nothing in defeat in a very tight finish. Observers and fans continue to question the photo, at least in part, due to the camera angle that NBC used and the camera angle that Santa Anita uses on its feed. Both organizations should consult NYRA on how to properly have a camera exactly on the finish line on ground level.

Beholder was game as a champion should be and didn’t shy from the whip as predicted by her connections when rider Gary Stevens refused to use the whip in her two losses to Stellar Wind. It has led some to question whether Beholder and her connections were all out in those two losses or saving everything for the Breeder’s Cup Distaff.

Speaking of whips and Gary Stevens – he dropped with whip at the 3/16th pole in Om’s narrow defeat by Obviously in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and used his bare hand for much of the stretch. This was not noted by the NBC commentators. This was an oversight tht should have been picked up by Jerry Bailey as a former rider.

In the Turf Flintshire’s defeat by Highland Reel was reminiscent of Little Mike getting away from Point of Entry in 2012 over the same course in the same race. Speed is always dangerous -especially going long.
In the Sprint Masochistic was disappointing given the trip he got under Mike Smith. He just wasn’t good enough.

In the Juvenile Turf Good Samaritan had a bad trip and a questionable ride. In the same race Ticonderoga finish up best of all and is one to watch next year.

In the Juvenile Not This Time was green, lost his composure in the paddock but still ran well. He will be a force next year.

In the Mile Tourist took all the bad trips he has had in his career and got even in one fell swoop by getting a dream trip that made all the difference in the Mile. Tepin lost nothing in defeat. She danced every dance this year and then some. I am happy she is coming back.

In the Dirt Mile Gun Runner was way too close to the hot pace and paid the price. I can only imagine he was ridden to an expected but non-existent speed bias. Runhappy does not look on target for the Pegasus but I understand he came out of the race well and I hope he regroups.

TRAGEDY
Corona Del Inca suffered a fatal breakdown in the Distaff after balking at going into the gate. Breakdowns in races is a sad and painful reality. Corona Del Inca earned an automatic berth in the race by virtue of a win in the Argentine Grade 1 – Gran Premio Criadores in May. She was in training at Santa Anita throughout the summer and her injury appears to be just a tragic event but the Breeder’s Cup should be mindful of the possible pitfalls of enticing oversea entrants to run over their heads in hopes of a huge purse. We are all for international participation but no one benefits if overmatched horses participate simply to provide foreign representation.

THE CLASSIC
I am not sure I can add more than what your eyes told you. Another outstanding eye-popping performance by Arrogate. Who knows how good he is? Things didn’t go his way and he went out and got the best horse in training. When Mike Smith went right handed he found another gear, wore down the champion and won going away.

Much is being made of Victor Espinosa’s ride on California Chrome but it was not much different than all his winning rides. He was trying to make Mike Smith go inside him but Mike Smith faked left and went right and the race was on. From there it was a matter of whether Arrogate was good enough – he was.

THE PEGASUS
The inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus on January 28, 2016 at Gulfstream had a mixed two days. On the one hand, it may be a much-anticipated rematch of Arrogate and California Chrome – on the other with all the retirements and the large margin back to third place finisher, Keen Ice, it may not have the stellar field it was designed to attract. Time will tell.

MISCELLANEOUS
The song The Best is Yet to Come before the Classic fell flat. Strongly suggest Queens’ We are The Champions – it is more fitting and more upbeat.

Television finally got it right by making sure all the races were televised and easily found. They also focused mostly on the racing and not the inebriated publicity hounds that dominate the Kentucky Derby telecasts.
Of course, Richard Migliore and Caton Bredar were their usual exceptional selves on the in-house feed.
Donna Brothers was exceptional and her interviews on the backstretch with Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith and Gary Stevens warrant an Emmy Award.

Jonathan Stettin is a New York Legend. He's been a Horseplayer, earning his living at the track, since he was 19 years old. @jonathanstettin

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