Nov. 6, 2012

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In the aftermath of the Breeders’ Cup events of the past weekend, I was left with some of the following thoughts. If you shared any of them, don’t be afraid to respond. The most important thought was that, unlike today, when the issue of the vote for the President of the United States is somewhat in doubt, the issue of Horse-of-the-Year in racing was clearly established with Wise Dan’s emphatic score in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.  The versatile runner, who has been equally impressive on dirt, turf and synthetic, easily earns that title for owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti.  Since Wise Dan is a gelding, he won’t be rushed off to the breeding shed, so hopefully we’ll all get a chance to see him for another year or two.  That is somewhat unusual on the modern American racing scene, but something that many of us have hoped for.

To me the most important accomplishment for Wise Dan was beating a representative group of European runners in getting his win.  But in addition, let it be noted that flying at the end was Animal Kingdom, who had been away from the races since February. Bred to race on turf, Animal Kingdom rekindled some of the excitement of the spring of 2011, when he finished strongly to take the Kentucky Derby and have to settle for second, behind Shackleford, in the Preakness. Part of his ownership syndication is from Hot Springs, so I have a legitimate rooting effort for his return to greatness this year.

I have a difference of opinion with my colleague Ray Paulick in his opinion that it is time for Breeders’ Cup to make Santa Anita the official home of the event.  For  a couple of reasons, I think he is on the right track, but with the wrong train.

It may be right for Breeders’ Cup to have a permanent home, but I can’t imagine that Santa Anita would be the choice.  It is already heavily weighted toward the Arcadia, California, track and the primary reason given is for its climate.  It is a beautiful place, but I am disturbed that for the “Great Race Place,” in such a perfect setting, no more than 55,000 people show up.  Los Angeles obviously has immediate contact with a number of famous people, but they are also famous for only showing up late and being more into themselves than the event which they are attending.

If Breeders’ Cup is to choose the right location for a perfect home, I believe Churchill Downs is a much better setting.  Now that’s not to say that Churchill Downs really wants to host the event, but I suspect the town fathers of Louisville have a definitive opinion.  Paulick simply writes off Churchill Downs because there’s no way the Breeders’ Cup events can compete with the Kentucky Derby in the spring.

There are three considerations here.  One, obviously this is in the Fall, when Kentuckians are not yet thinking of the Derby. With the weak football program at the local college, there is not the same distraction that might exist in other locations. Two, is that the track is fair and doesn’t provide anything like a “home field advantage”.  Third, the people of Kentucky are considerably more passionate about racing.  There is more of a fiscal and psychological investment into the sport and the track can handle as big a crowd as the plant can handle with a commitment from Breeders’ Cup.  It takes a while to build support for that kind of event.

Breeders’ Cup will not come to Oaklawn in my lifetime or, perhaps, ever.  It’s not just the lack of a turf course, but the track itself is probably too narrow to allow for fields of 14 to race safely.  When Oaklawn was built, the concept of Breeders’ Cup did not exist and the ability to expand within the confines of the neighborhood just don’t make for any good prospects.  So let’s just put that out of our minds.

It was nice to see D. Wayne Lukas win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.  Wayne has now won 19 Breeders’ Cup events.  That is more than double the nine won by the next most prolific Breeders’ Cup successful trainer, Bill Mott.  Wayne is a special person in the sport, he represents us all well.  Furthermore, for us senior citizens, he has become a beloved member of the racing industry at Oaklawn for his practice of bringing young people into the sport.  He is not just a winner, but a good person for our sport.

In spite of the lack of a serious local interest, the crowd gathered for simulcast at Oaklawn on both Friday and Saturday seemed to really get into the races and have a good time.  Hopefully next year we will have some more serious racing interests in the races.  Over the weekend Oaklawn’s Racing Secretary Pat Pope arrived on the scene to begin looking through the stall applications for the 2013 season and approving certain outfits for participation.  Horse vans will start arriving here in a week to ten days and the excitement will start to pick up in the town.  January 11 will be opening day, so start your countdown.

I always get that feeling a day after the Breeders’ Cup races.


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