I would be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised to see IEAH is talking about sending Stardom Bound to the G1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 4 rather than the G1 Santa Anita Derby. Of course, if the real question that needs answering before either the Kentucky Oaks or Derby is can she run on dirt, wouldn’t the March 29 $200,000 Sunland Oaks or, better yet, $800,000 Sunland Derby work better? Yes, both are ungraded, but graded earnings aren’t an issue. We already know she can run on artificial surfaces—time to move forward, don’t you think?
What does astonish me is the industry media completely buying into Iavarone’s version of what happened on Saturday: “She worked pretty hard today against the girls.” How simplistic and very dismissive! It sounds much more like a ready-made excuse rather than real evaluation. Where’s the criticism of Mike Smith’s ride, putting her in an extremely wide position coming around the final turn—even wider than usual for her? The acknowledgment that Third Dawn severely hampered Stardom Bound’s late run by swerving into her path? The fact that she could have “bounced” second off the layoff? Recognition that the fillies she ran against are perhaps finally catching up with her, and just because they are fillies doesn’t automatically mean they are worse than colts? Isn’t that the implication? They are just girls and if she can’t beat them what’s the use attempting to try against the boys?
Thus, we get DRF’s Jay Privman’s headline “Filly Gets Reality Check” (surely it’s her ownership that got the reality check?) and Bloodhorse’s Jack Shinar’s “Stardom Bound Barely Best in ‘Anita Oaks.” Yet, Myra Lewyn’s article in the Thoroughbred Times has the headline “Stardom Bound Wins Thrilling Oaks.” Talk about the differences in perception, undoubtedly tinged by expectation. Unrealistic expectations? Perhaps, but we won't know for certain until the attempt is made.
Alan at Left at the Gate makes his customary astute comment about how Derby fever unfortunately distracted from Stardom Bound’s accomplishment in media coverage. Alas, isn’t this also true of so many other Derby “contenders” who fall by the wayside only to never again recover in the hearts and minds of fans? To my way of thinking, what is particularly unjust about Stardom Bound's situation is the underlying, implied yet unstated bias behind the turn of her Derby fortunes.
Dana over at Green but Game has an excellent post about people twittering the issue, and notes the inevitable idiotic comment emerged: “Stardom Bound doing right thing staying w/ fillies. After Eight Belles, why would any owner consider taking the boys on? What’s the point?”
Indeed, are we still stuck in that mental rut? Do the names Rags to Riches, Zarkava, Goldikova, Vodka, Daiwa Scarlet, Riva San, Zarita, Tuesday Joy, Samantha Miss, Sun Classique and Ventura mean nothing?
How about Ruthless, Chris Evert, Gallorette, Bewitch, Black Helen, Lday’s Secret, Shuvee, Tosmah, Beldame, Serena’s Song, Personal Ensign, All Along, Urban Sea, Dahlia, Affectionately, Silver Spoon, Two Lea, Busher, and Top Flight?
The point is, regardless of gender, a horse is allowed to be challenged and excel to the best of its abilities. Whether or not Stardom Bound is permitted to demonstrate her gutsy talent on the greatest stage possible for a 3-year-old in North America is shaped by perception and expectation, both of which appear to have irreversibly shifted this past weekend onto an alternative trajectory. That’s a shame.