Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cup Reflections

The 28th edition of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs this past weekend had the same highs and lows that any of the previous 27 versions of racing's Championship Days have presented us over the history of the event. On the high side, of course, you have Royal Delta's impressive victory in the Ladies' Classic. On the low side, you have the stewards' failure to make the proper decision in regards to Goldikova, who likely should have been disqualified for her actions in the Mile.

First, Friday showcased the fillies and mares and the most captivating performance of the afternoon came in the biggest race of the afternoon, the Ladies' Classic. Royal Delta appeared well-beaten when the field turned for home and just when you thought she was done, she suddenly wasn't. She hit the afterburners at the right time and won handily from It's Tricky and Pachattack. Her busy weekend was far from over it turns out, because she was sold at the Keeneland November Sales today for $8.5 million to the Besilu Stables. Benjamin Leon, the owner of Besilu, has not confirmed what course Royal Delta will be taking for 2012, although the Daily Racing Form website story on the sale speculates that the horse will be transferred from the Bill Mott barn to the Todd Pletcher barn. The other big star from Friday was Juvenile Fillies winner, My Miss Aurelia, who sat just near the pace set by Candrea throughout the early stages, and then moved easily to the front and went on to register a strong three-length victory over Grace Hall and Weemissfrankie.

Saturday was just a crazy day from the get-go. The Marathon was won by a 41-1 longshot, Afleet Again. It would not be the first time the longest shot on the board would enter the Winner's Circle on this day. In fact, only one favorite, Regally Ready, in the Turf Sprint, would prevail the entire afternoon. The most heartfelt story of the day might have occurred in the Turf, where trainer Aidan O'Brien scored a win with St. Nicholas Abbey. The winning rider on St. Nicholas Abbey was O'Brien's 18-year-old son, Joseph. Joseph handled St. Nicholas Abbey with the cunning of a veteran rider of many years, getting first run on the well-regarded Sea Moon and overcoming the surprising staying power of longshot, Brilliant Speed. The Classic also provided some interesting storylines the way it played out. Drosselmeyer, ridden by Mike Smith, came roaring from way back in the field to go past nearly the entire field in less than a furlong and prevail over pacesetting Game On Dude, ridden by Chantal Sutherland. Of course, the fact that Smith and Sutherland were formerly an item added a true sense of intrigue to that result.

On to the race that stands out in most everyone's mind from Saturday, the Mile. Goldikova was poised for a fourth straight triumph in the Mile with a win on Saturday, but she drew the rail, which I believe led to some of the problems she encountered in this race. Goldikova was much more forwardly placed than she had been in any of her three previous Mile victories. However, when she needed to find a place to run at the top of the stretch, Olivier Peslier had nowhere to go at all. He shifted the mare out suddenly and more or less took Courageous Cat out of any chance to win the race at all. Courageous Cat would, in fact, finish last. Goldikova made the lead in mid-stretch and appeared poised to get that fourth straight win, but then from well off the pace came 64-1 longshot, Court Vision, and Turallure. The two of them came flying through the stretch together and hit the finish in sync. It looked for all the world that the outside horse (Turallure) had won by a narrow margin, while in fact, Court Vision had prevailed in a desperate photo to become the second-longest shot ever to win a Breeders' Cup race (trailing only 1993 Classic winner, Arcangues). There was much discussion after the race as to whether or not Goldikova should have been disqualified for the obvious interference she caused with the move at the top of the stretch. In the end, she surprisingly was left in third position where she finished and not taken back to last by the stewards, where she likely belonged after the incident.

There were several retirements that followed the Cup, most famously Goldikova and Gio Ponti, who both ran in the Mile. Also, Uncle Mo, 2010 Juvenile Champion, who finished tenth in the Classic was retired after post-race blood tests came back showing an elevated enzyme. In the end, it wasn't the greatest Breeders' Cup ever and it wasn't the worst Breeders' Cup ever, in fact, it was an exciting day of racing that provided ample opportunities to make a big score provided you were backing the right horses. In other words, just another day at the races, I guess.

Tune in again on Thursday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

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