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Oct. 24, 2012

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Just a week ago we all knew that the eyes of the sporting public in the British Isles were turned toward Ascot and Frankel’s race in the Champion’s Stakes.  The fabulous colt did not disappoint, even though the going was hardly to his liking.

Frankel responded with a length-and-a-quarter win over defending champion Cirrus Des Aigles, pulling away at the end.  To use an old racetrack term, “He’d have won by many more if they had gone around twice.”  Now Frankel, like to many other star horses, is being retired, attracting a stud fee of around $150,000 for the 2013 breeding season. I feel like many others. His owners don’t really need the money, but racing needs the star. He is apparently sound and would do the sport a lot of good by hanging around for another year.  To those who say that he has nothing left to prove, I remind them that lot of great horses have retired at the end of their three-year-old campaign. But, to me the really great ones go on to show that they can sustain that greatness through some racing seasons against older, experienced rivals.  That’s a pet peeve of mine and I don’t mind voicing it to anyone who will listen.

This week I was uplifted by the announcement that Alternation, winner of the Essex, Razorback and Oaklawn Handicaps during the 2012 live meet, would be rested for the remainder of the year and returned to trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel at Oaklawn for the spring meet.  There’s a case of a well-bred older horse and a winner of over $1 million staying on to keep competing. Owner Josephine Abercrombie, owner of Pin Oak, a racing and breeding operation in Kentucky, shares my feelings.  She is quoted as saying that “This is an important time in racing to keep some of the familiar stars on the track.  For that reason, and because I thoroughly enjoy the competition, I’ve decided to keep him in training and target some of the top races next year.”

There was a time earlier this year with Donnie Von Hemel’s barn had two of the top-rated runners in America in Alternation and Caleb’s Posse.  The latter was retired and Donnie was left with Alternation to make his mark.  To Von Hemel’s credit, he understood the horse and, when he had taken the Pimlico Special, backed off to give him time to come back.  The comeback hasn’t gone as well as hoped and now he’ll get time to be a horse and come back fresh and ready to defend a title or two at Oaklawn this coming year.  At Oaklawn we couldn’t be happier.

That is in the rear view mirror, however, and racing is not focusing attention on next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup days, Friday and Saturday, November 2 & 3, at Santa Anita.  The best American runners will be there.  There will not be a Frankel, however the turf races are likely to be dominated by whatever European runners ship in for the races.

Many of the races limited to the dirt, and showcasing the best American runners, are extremely competitive and should put on quite a show.  From a handicapping point of view, it appears the turf races are heavily favoring the European runners.  The problem with handicapping that group is that there is so little past performance information to go on.   The best ones will not be here, but the next best are pretty good and should dominate. We’ll make an effort to analyze them in this spot next week, but I’m inclined to throw out the American turf runners, making the Breeders’ Cup turf races a trifle easier.

Another element which will confound handicappers of Breeders’ Cup races is the prohibition of Lasix, salix or whatever you want to call bleeder medication from the participants.  This is the year when we find out how telling the revision of medication rules might turn out.  There are many handicappers who feel hamstrung by the new drug rules.  Some have indicated that they will not take a short price on an American two-year-old having to race without the medication for the first time. Since they all have to follow the same rule, I’m going to assume that they will put out their best performance, until I find out otherwise. Lots of things can beat you in a horse race.  This will just be the newest excuse.

From an Oaklawn point of view, there may not be a lot of familiar horses from the 2012 meet, but our leading trainers the last two years, Steve Asmussen and D. Wayne Lukas, are going to be well represented and we could see those horses next year too. The most likely contender from the entries list will likely be Atigun in the Breeder’s Cup Marathon on Friday.  He will be the only three-year-old against older competition and probably a nice price.  The youngster seems to be getting better with age, a trait seen in many carrying the colors of Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer, John Ed Anthony.  That being said, Atigun can start us all out in a fine way.  Knowing Anthony, Atigun is likely to also be in action during the 2013 Oaklawn live meet and take on Alternation at some point.

In the next month, Racing Secretary Pat Pope will be allotting stall space to horsemen for the 2013 season.  We are likely to have a better feeling for the stars of 2013 at Oaklawn, although many of the stars have come from those shipping in from other racing centers in recent years.  It has always been more fun for us to see the stars who have come from the “home folks”, those which have been stabled at the track from the beginning.  That beginning in 2013 is fast approaching, so the races of the next month are likely to showcase of the developing stars.  We know who some of the stars of the past might be, now we can see some of the new stars in action.

One thing is for sure.  As the live meet approaches, “It is now Star Time.”      

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