Oct. 9, 2012
Anyone who has been an Oaklawn fan for the past decade or so remembers the arrival and participation of Zenyatta in the 2010 Appple Blossom as probably the high point. She was a returning star, having won the race two years earlier and, in the absence of the previous Horse-of-the-Year, Rachel Alexandra, she was considered the front-runner for her own Horse-of-the-Year crown that year. Her contributions to racing were widely heralded and she is missed a great deal since her retirement.
What we didn’t learn well in the Zenyatta years, however, was the value of our better fillies and mares racing against their male rivals in key races. Zenyatta’s loss to Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic should have provided an encouragement, since it was the narrowest of losses. Instead American owners and trainers look to race exclusively against their own sex in search of the easier route.
The fallacy of this argument was once again proven in Paris over the past weekend in the race many consider the most important race in Europe, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. For the second year in a row, an upstart female beat the best of the boys and was hailed for her longshot efforts. One year ago it was the German invader Danedream who topped the best of the European males, and this year the race went to Wertheimer Brothers Solemia, a longshot, but from a family who raced two other females to beat the boys in the Arc, Ivanjica and Gold River, marking the 11th time a filly or mare has won that event in the past 40 years.
Solemia may not have defeated the best of the boys, but her vanquished rivals included Camelot, until recently considered a superhorse as he tried to become a Triple Crown winner at Doncaster in September. Following Sunday’s Arc his trainer Aidan O’Brien admitted to coming back too soon and racing him over soft going which has never been a strong point for the colt. We do race over soft turf and yielding turf in America for major stakes, but one has to expect something better than that this year when the Breeders’ Cup will be held in southern California. There has been very little of soft turf at Santa Anita thus far in the meet.
An announcement was made this week that Camelot will return to race as a four-year-old in Europe, but he is done for the season. That means that the world’s top rated colt, Frankel, will not have him to worry about on Champion’s Day in England on October 20.
Breeders’ Cup officials will watch the entry box closely for Champion’s Day, England’s version of Breeders’ Cup, since it should have direct impact on which Europeans might come across the pond for a shot at the money at Santa Anita. From what we have seen of the Europeans they are the dominant turf horses in the world and are sure to be well-backed at the “Great Race Place” in Arcadia, California, at Breeders’ Cup.
Already St. Nicholas Abbey, one of the beaten rivals in Sunday’s Arc, is said to be pointed to a trip to America for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The same may be coming from some others who finished behind Solemia on Sunday. We shall see. Another who could be here is named Cirrus Des Aigles. That top-level European was dropped into a softer (Group 2) spot at Longchamp on Saturday and won easily. The confidence-booster may have been just what was needed to have in order to inspire the owners to make the journey to America. He holds a decision over St. Nicholas Abbey at Meydan in Dubai earlier this year and has an enviable enough record to make the trip, if he didn’t have problems over the past weekend. But what has that got to do with girls?
It is time for America’s top owners and trainers to abandon the outdated idea that their fillies and mares can’t effectively compete against top colts, horses and geldings. Although the Europeans have been dominant in turf racing, they don’t show that impact on dirt. Instead some of the best performances we’ve seen on dirt here in the U. S. this year have been by fillies and mares. Certainly the great battle between My Miss Aurelia and Questing in the recent Cotillion Stakes was a classic. Either or both appears capable of beating the boys, yet the pair of three-year-old fillies is being pointed to a rematch in the Ladies Classic. Likewise there was a terrific battle recently between Dreaming of Julia and My Happy Face in the Frizette Stakes, another key race at Belmont Park. Those two are likely to head to southern California to face the local standout, Executiveprivilege. To my mind any of those three could handle their male equivalents at this stage. It won’t happen, but it should.
Kudos to trainer John Shirreffs and Zenyatta’s owner, Jerry and Ann Moss, for letting their gal take on the boys in important races. She raced plenty of time with the other girls, but she showed up on Breeders’ Cup Day to take on the boys and left us all with great memories in both 2009 and 2010.
The same sort of successes for the distaffers against the boys has happened at other locales, so it’s not just a freak circumstance. The time has come for the ladies to step forward in equine competition and claim their due. I have plenty of respect for the ladies in our world and that goes for animal as well as human. I’m only hoping that will be one of the more interesting story lines coming out of this year’s Breeders’ Cup.