Wrapping Up the Cup

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:48am

By Ray Paulick

Things I know now that I didn't know then…

The power of Zenyatta was measurable, particularly on television. The 3.1 overnight rating for the 6-7 p.m. time slot for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic was nearly triple the audience during the same period in 2009, and ratings earlier in the day were also up significantly from last year.

Handle hit a new high since the two-day format was instituted in 2007, and fell shy of $200 million, including separate pools and exchange betting. Saturday's total handle of nearly $119 million was up significantly from 2009, when about $103 million was bet, but remains well short of the one-day record of $140 million, set in 2006, the last year the championships were run on one afternoon program.

ABC/ESPN and the Breeders' Cup were aggressive in promoting the championships and exploiting the popularity of Zenyatta. The big question is whether there will be any trickle down effect for the sport for the other 51 weeks of the year or if Zenyatta created a one-hit wonder for the event.

If Zenyatta retires (and we have happily learned with Jerry and Ann Moss to never assume anything), racing will be without a headliner in 2011. New stars will be made, but the shadow cast by the mighty Z is an imposing one.

AT THE TOP OF THE LIST of those potential stars of the future is Uncle Mo, who ran his unbeaten string to three (OK, that's a far cry from 19…but it's a start!) with a most impressive and dominating triumph in the Juvenile. Uncle Mo beat a very good colt in Boys At Tosconova in his first start around two turns for trainer Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole's Repole Stable and did it in racehorse time on the track where the Kentucky Derby will be run in six months.

Pletcher is to the 21st century racing scene what D. Wayne Lukas was in the 1980s: a CEO-style trainer with a huge operation, one who is well-spoken but can be a polarizing figure. He will be a constant presence on the Triple Crown trail for years to come, and the polarization surrounding Pletcher will only increase as his successes build. And they will.

IF ANYONE LOOKED MORE IMPRESSIVE IN DEFEAT THAN ZENYATTA it was Morning Line, the hard-luck loser of the Dirt Mile for trainer Nick Zito and the Thoroughbred Legends partnership.

Javier Castellano, riding the Tiznow colt for the first time, allowed Morning Line to set or push sizzling fractions of :22.41, :44.94 and 1:09.44 for the first six furlongs (only two-fifths of a second slower than the 1:09.05 final time of the Sprint, run two hours earlier). That cooked the other horses  on the front end, but Morning Line wasn't finished, finding a second wind at the top of the stretch and opening up with a furlong to run.

He looked home free until the late-running Dakota Phone, charging from last place on the far outside, got up in the final jump. Morning Line probably never saw him.

Morning Line is just one of several exciting 3-year-olds who will be back in 2011, along with probable champion Lookin At Lucky, who was a good fourth in the Classic, Fly Down (who edged Lookin At Lucky at the wire for third), Paddy O'Prado, First Dude (eighth in the Classic), and others.

GOLDIKOVA VERY WELL COULD BE THE STAR OF NEXT YEAR'S SHOW. Her performance in this year's Breeders' Cup Mile was simply amazing. The 5-year-old daughter of Anabaa trained by Freddie Head for the Wertheimer brothers made an exceptional group of milers look ordinary with her brilliant stretch run and her third consecutive victory in the Mile. She seems to be a gift who keeps on giving, and it is almost “pinch me” good news to hear that she will attempt to come back in 2011 for a four-peat.

Should Goldikova be in the conversation for Horse of the Year? As we have stated before, there are no rules about Horse of the Year, so voters certainly have the right to put her name on the dotted line for that title. She is a cinch to win the female turf Eclipse Award off one American race, so some would argue “why not Horse of the Year?” Goldikova is one for the ages, that's for sure.

I WAS SKEPTICAL AT FIRST ABOUT THE EXPANDED 14-RACE BREEDERS' CUP but now see it as a win-win-win. It gives racing fans and horseplayers opportunities to see horses and divisions that deserve a defining championship race (though not necessarily a corresponding Eclipse Award). The two juvenile grass races, for example, were especially interesting, as was the Dirt Mile, the Filly & Mare Sprint, and the Turf Sprint. The Marathon? Not so much. (More about that later.)

The expansion also gives nominators and owners additional chances to run their horses for big purses that were never previously available. The development of a stronger program for 2-year-olds running on turf could have a positive impact on the stallion business, since it is so difficult to “sell” a turf stallion to breeders. These races help.

Finally, the additional races give Breeders' Cup new revenue opportunities both through its share of pari-mutuel handle and sponsorship availability.

If I were to suggest one change to the format it would be to do away with the “boy-girl” arrangement which stacks all the female races on Friday (along with the Marathon) and puts all the male and open races on Saturday. Unless the Breeders' Cup figures out a way to market Friday as “ladies day,” it makes no sense to relegate a race as important as the Ladies' Classic to a weekday. The opposing argument—that running the Ladies' Classic on Friday gives the winner a chance to occupy the spotlight for 24 hours—doesn't seem to outweigh the fact that those races just seem less important because they are run on a weekday.

THE FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHT BETWEEN CALVIN BOREL AND JAVIER CASTELLANO  was good for the box office and not that bad for the sport. Constant repeats on ESPN's SportsCenter is not necessarily a bad thing, and the fight between the two jockeys after the Marathon only goes to show how competitive and dangerous this sport can be. It's the only game (with the possible exception of pro wrestling) where the combatants all retire to the same dressing room, which is where these dustups usually occur.

What I have a problem with is Castellano only receiving a six-day suspension for making a dangerous move a race that seriously endangered his fellow riders and the horses competing in the Marathon. I took some heat last year for criticizing stewards for being too lenient in cases where jockeys put others at risk by altering course without a clear path. There seems to be a double standard: make that move, causing interference and get slapped with a short suspension. Make that move and cause a spill, however, and the suspension is a lot longer.

Suspensions should be used to prevent accidents—the type that can land jockeys in a wheelchair and horses in the morgue—not just as a reaction to them. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards were far too lenient on Castellano. His dangerous move could have resulted in a horrendous accident involving Martin Garcia and Borel. That they somehow managed to stay up and keep their horses from falling should have no bearing on the penalty by the stewards. I spoke with an international racing official who had a close look at Castellano's interference, and he said the ban would have been months, not days, in his home country.

And for the record, stewards got the fighting fines wrong, too. Borel was in Castellano's face, but Castellano threw the first punch. Castellano's fine should have been higher than Borel's.

CHARTING RACES REMAINS AN INEXACT EXERCISE, BUT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE. Is anyone else curious to know exactly how far back Zenyatta was in the early going of the Breeders' Cup Classic? The official charts, and most of you know, are compiled by having someone high atop the grandstand watching the races with binoculars and calling out estimated margins from horse to horse at different points of a race. Some chartcallers are better than others, and it's safe to assume the charts for the Breeders' Cup get extra scrutiny through video replays and a larger team compiling the information. Still, was Zenyatta really only two lengths behind the 11th-place horse after the opening half-mile as the chart reads? How fast did she run her final quarter mile? No one really know for sure.

There is technology available that gives precise margins and fractional times throughout a race for every horse. Keeneland, Woodbine and Del Mar currently use this technology, called Trakus, but Equibase continues to compile past performance charts using the century-old method of binoculars and estimates. Only the lead horse at different points of a race are timed, and horseplayers are required to come up with their own estimates for the other horses in a race.

It is past time for Churchill Downs and other “major” tracks—along with Equibase—to take advantage of either Trakus or some similar technology and add precision to the charts that are the historical record for our game.

  • Phil

    “It is past time for Churchill Downs and other “major” tracks—along with Equibase—to take advantage of either Trakus or some similar technology and add precision to the charts that are the historical record for our game.”

    Ya, but they will want to charge ten bucks for it.

  • Bourbon County Gal

    It’s nice to see that Calvin is no longer being called a drug crazed maniac and that the blame has been properly put on Javier. I agree that the fines are wrong. Calvin was the one who could have been injured or killed and he had every reason to be mad. (along with Martin Garcia)
    Javier threw a punch at him after causing the whole thing and he’s the one with the smaller fine? That is not fair.

  • Bocephus

    Zenyatta’s presence certainly affected the TV ratings. I don’t think that anyone would argue with that.
    But Churchill’s BC crowds are always large, and 2006’s Saturday crowd was actually bigger than this year’s. This shows that the Churchill location is good in the sense that it is within easy driving distance of virtually everyone in the Eastern half of the country (and the biggest population centers of Canada–Montreal, Toronto, etc.). On top of that, hardly anyone in the breeding industry misses the event because it is right in their backyard.
    This also has a positive economic effect on the mixed sales that have already happened (Fasig-Tipton) or are underway (Keeneland)–everyone is already in the state and ready to spend their money (not much travel required).
    If there is an appropriate permanent site for the BC, Churchill is it–centrally located, good safe dirt surface, neutral site that doesn’t favor either the California or New York based horses. The only horse that got hurt (to my knowledge) was on the turf.

  • Kurt Kavanaugh

    “GOLDIKOVA VERY WELL COULD BE THE STAR OF NEXT YEAR’S SHOW” – actually she was the star of THIS year’s show and she should be HoY this year.

    Excellent observations about Morning Line. I also agree that the “Ladies Day” concept was a joke as the 2 best mares ran on Saturday. They should hold all of the new BC races on Friday, and have the old races on Saturday. Either that or hold the races that correspond with divisional cahampionships on Saturday and hold the other 6 races on Friday.

  • bob Hope

    Ray, congratulations on a well thought out piece done with the courage to risk unpopularity! I agree with the observations and suggested remedies for the jockey fight! Unless one has been close enough on horseback to understand the possible results of careless riding, it is difficult to understand the kind of anger these actions generate. As far as the Zenyatta analysis, she is an incredible creature that was not involved in the direction of her itinerary. But the game is and should be decided on guts and ability and sainthood doesn’t come without anguish! She should have come east and enjoyed a shorter, tougher itinerary with perhaps less winning races but much more glory with no shroud of doubt! The age of the deciding classics and GRI’s is important as is the course over which they perform! In the past, the design and authorship of “what and how its covered” on TV had great input from the racing industry as well and proved to be professional and productive. We have lost that! As we have said in other places, frivolous custodianship with respect to the graded stakes committee should have oversight and be repealed. It should be decided neither by politics or immaturity as the decisions represent the historical glue of our game!

  • RyeHill

    “good safe dirt surface”

    Safe and dirt surface don’t belong in the same sentence.

  • amfcf

    Good wrap-up save for a glaring omission: the Life At Ten incident. Couldn’t agree more regarding the ‘boys vs. girls except-for-the-Marathon’ format.

  • Bob B

    I think Proviso will have a say in the F&M Turf Eclipse category. 4 Grade 1 wins at 4 different tracks from California to New York with one of those against the boys.

  • Ray Paulick

    amfcf… I handled the Life At Ten incident in separate stories.

    Bob B … Good point. Proviso is quite deserving but it will be difficult to imagine Goldikova not winning in a landslide.

  • Josh Potts

    The shot of Goldikova’s groom cheering her on as she was flying down the stretch en route to her 3rd straight BC victory was totally awesome!

  • amfcf

    Ray, Your article regarding an ‘independent review’ was excellent. Just thought you might have realized something about that incident now that you didn’t know then…include mention of some sort in your wrap up. Both articles are wonderful and appreciated. Just do hope there is satisfactory explanation and resolution regarding the LAT incident.

  • Ratherrapid

    Nice wrap up. I like all the filly-mare races on one day. Highlights them for me. when they race same day as colts, my reaction is, get this over with and get to the colt races.

    castellano’s vid kind of /sort of shows his horse jumped out farther than the jock intended. happens. possibly the reason for the light suspension.

  • Ida Lee

    I don’t know why I feel so down about this BC. I guess it was because Zenyatta lost although I think it was her best race. It’s probably because we lost a 2-year old Rough Sailing at the very beginning. It just set things up on the wrong foot for me. Not to mention that Atta Boy Roy was hurt and vanned away and I didn’t know what was wrong. I’ll skip Life At Ten cause I’m still pissed. But there were some good things for me like realizing how much our Goddess of Racing Zenyatta is loved throughout the country and the world; also some of my favorites – Big Drama and Uncle Moe and Awesome Feather and Unrivaled Belle…wow…what a show they put on. And of course, there’s Goldikova, what a star!!! and Goldikova’s groom running along the fense with her was precious. And of course Calvin Boral looking like a crazy man was something else to behold. And there’s my special boy, Gio Ponti …. beaten by a girl 2 years in a row. I hope he doesn’t get a complex because he’s the best in my book. Oh yes then there’s Blame….Pretty Boy put on a spectacular show Too bad it was at my Queen’s expense.

  • Goldikova was fabulous— And all the races thrilling. But when Zenyatta didn’t cross that
    line first, even with everyone I could see or hear, yelling go go go go go the crowd was shocked and I did not hear one person in a 25 ft radius cheer because they had the winner.
    I saw grown men shed a tear. Zenyatta was the Breeders Cup. ( other horseman should take some PR lessons from Anne and Jerry Moss, and John Shirreff.
    At Santa Anita at the end of the day at the Breeders Cup, they announced not one single horse was injured. Every horse came back safe. Can’t say that about Churchill.
    I agree with Mr. Paulick—-Stewards were way off base. Calvin should have been madder then hell. He could have easily lost his life and it was only by the grace of God that Martin did not fall, or the horses.
    I haven’t miss a Breeders Cup in several years, but count be out for next year and Churchill.

  • Caroline Betts

    Many sports are inherently dangerous (risk human life/welfare – in this case, animals’ too). So are many daily occupations. If every time someone is mad about an excessively dangerous action, whether deliberate or not, it were conceded that it’s okay (to the tune of $5000 and a minor suspension or whatever) to lash out in retaliation physically we might have a bit of a problem on our hands.

    The perceived lack of self control is not appealing. For this sport, a perceived lack of anger management skills/self control on the part of the jockeys that are in control of the welfare of the horses on the track does not look good. Rather than enhancing the perception that jockeys “care” about human and equine welfare on the track, and that’s somehow an excuse for out of control physical retaliation, I think this incident likely damaged perception, especially for first time viewers.

    And for both participants to distract attention from the delight of the winners, and events in the winners’ circle at that moment, demonstrated complete lack of class and was utterly self-centered. “Let me show you – I’m right, screw whatever else is happening around here”. Yeah – go for it boys.


  • Agree with Caroline. The fight disrupted attention from winners and created problems for owners trainers and horses involved with those jocks for the rest of the day. The fines and suspensions were much too lenient. If either jock had been assigned to our horse, we would have replaced them. There were plenty of classy jocks in which to choose.
    A little bird said Atta Boy had a cut and got a free ride home.

  • Mike in SB

    I thought it was a great Breeders Cup, and you can see the importance of Zenyatta to the sport with the TV rating increase and everything. But boy it was cold. If the Breeders Cup is determined to pick one site for the races, please consider the fans who attend, sitting on a metal bench or folding chair for six hours in that weather is tough. How about a warm weather rotation like the Super Bowl.

  • Tapit

    No mention of the turf course? I heard alot of complaints???

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  • Anne

    After being at the BC at Santa Anita, Churchill this year, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park and Gulfstream Park, I would have to say the classiest of tracks was Santa Anita. Yes, all horses returned fine which was refreshing as the last two on the east coast were a disaster. SA also didn’t rob the fans of being near the track because of just purchasing an entry ticket. An entry ticket that went up 10 dollars the second day. Why? We had access to the paddock and a portion inside. The machines keep breaking down and the food wasn’t as reasonable as Santa Anita. In fact at SA they added machines and we never had a problem betting with long lines. Plenty of well priced food to eat and again the lines were moving fast. The weather certainly is another problem that needs to be addressed. Way too cold and you could not bring in a blanket but you could buy one. What was the difference? I thought the fight was a distraction as people were texting me constantly about it and how much coverage it caused. It shouldn’t have. This type of thing happens all the time. It wasn’t that long ago that Jamie Theriot caused a horrific spill which did ruin Rene Douglas’ career besides changing his life forever. This year he was a hero winning two BC races. No one was as angered when that happened as they were with this incident. Javier is a quiet guy and I really never saw him do anything dangerous before. I believe him when he said he saw an opening…I don’t think they realize how fast they can be closed shut. Is Calvin that clean? I think we need to come to a fair way to judge these rides but if you read the insert to the form a few weeks ago…it seems like the stewards are turning the other cheek on these same issues. They can’t have it both ways. If there is an infraction that is against the rules then… they need to be consistent on the punishment no matter what type of race day it is.

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