Let me preface my comments by stating unequivocally that I am not anti-artificial surface per se. I understand the potential upside in regards to health and safety issues for both horse and rider. However, this Breeders Cup only validated something I have suspected for quite some time now: artificial surfaces require a particular type of breeding, training and racing, and, because the BC will be held at Santa Anita next year, traditional dirt horses will be on the outside looking in at these “world championships” once again.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, every single horse that finished in the money in “dirt” races either was a turf or artificial surface specialist, or had strong all-weather or turf breeding.
1. Ventura (turf specialist)
2. Indian Blessing (won G2 Santa Ynez on Santa Anita artificial surface)
3. Zaftig (all-weather/turf breeding, by Gone West out of Cozzene mare)
1. Stardom Bound (artificial specialist)
2. Dream Empress (artificial/turf specialist)
3. Sky Diva (turf/artificial breeding; worked over Tapeta at Fair Hill)
1. Zenyatta (artificial specialist)
2. Cocoa Beach (maiden victory on turf)
3. Music Note (turf breeding; out of a Sadlers Wells mare)
1. Muhannak (artificial specialist)
2. Church Service (turf specialist)
3. Big Booster (artificial specialist)
1. Albertus Maximus (artificial specialist)
2. Rebellion (artificial/turf specialist)
3. Two Step Salsa (artificial specialist crushed in only dirt attempt)
1. Midshipman (artificial specialist)
2. Square Eddie (artificial/turf specialist)
3. Street Hero (artificial specialist)
1. Midnight Lute (won 2006 G3 Perryville, Keeneland polytrack)
2. Fatal Bullet (artificial specialist)
3. Street Boss (artificial specialist)
1. Raven’s Pass (turf specialist)
2. Henrythenavigator (turf specialist)
3. Tiago (artificial specialist)
Certainly a number of factors affected individual performances this weekend, but it does seem odd that the showing of true dirt horses was so universally abysmal. For example, the Argentine import Lady Sprinter had run all but one of her races on dirt (winning all those on dirt, finishing eighth in her sole turf race); she finished ninth of thirteen in the F&M Sprint. Fabulous Strike had trained over Tapeta at Presque Isle and at Santa Anita, but had only 1 lifetime turf race (finishing out of the money); he managed to finished mid-field, fifth of eight in the Sprint. Pyro had failed miserably in his only previous artificial surface attempt, G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland—and arguably never raced as well afterward; he finished sixth of twelve in the Mile. Obviously, even though he managed a fourth place finish (probably on class alone), Curlin had no artificial and limited turf experience going into the Classic.
Again, there are no excuses for poor performances, and it is difficult to quantify the effect the surface had on individual showings. However, and most importantly, the results do beg the question as to whether horses solely campaigned on dirt surfaces next year should even bother to aim for the Breeders Cup. Given his turf pedigree and success, Big Brown may have done fine if he had been healthy, but what happens if next year we have a Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont stakes, or even a Triple Crown winner who can’t run a lick on ProRide? Will that make him or her any less a champion? Or more importantly will his or her connections even bother to run in the BC? Will we see a shift away from traditional dirt graded stakes by top horses intent on challenging for year-end championships?
In a masterful job of promotional propaganda and clever twisting of facts, the Breeders Cup declared the event a smashing success, crediting the perfect weather, (inflated) attendance numbers, (suspect) claims of record handle, fast race times and the total absence of serious injuries or breakdowns. They will sell this as justification for selecting to run consecutive BC meets at Santa Anita, and, whether their intent or not, their propaganda will allow California and other pro-artificial surface advocates to further trumpet the superiority of all artificial surfaces in general without serious, long-term scientific study to substantiate such claims.
We may very well have witnessed the death knell of true dirt racing this weekend, and for that all American horse racing fans should take pause.