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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yes, Virginia, There is Life after the Breeders’ Cup

After basking in the gloaming of a reasonably successful Breeders’ Cup—one, however, that only firmed the penumbra position of real dirt racing in America—it was back to business as usual with a host of premature retirement announcements. Among them, lightly-raced synthetic sprinter Zensational who will stand for $25,000 at Hill ‘n’ Dale—exactly what the sport needs, another Unbridled’s Song son breeding! Conduit will race once more before standing stud in Japan, while Mastercraftsman will stand in Ireland.

Beyond the promised return next year of geldings Cloudy’s Knight, Presious Passion and Mine That Bird, I’m most looking forward to Summer Bird who should only ripen into a magnificent older dirt horse, the quality and quantity of which (not withstanding Curlin) has been severely lacking in recent years as so many 3-year-olds (Street Sense, Hard Spun, Big Brown, etc.) retired well before really proving themselves on the racetrack. Others returning include Cannonball who embarks on a Pacific Rim campaign, beginning in Hong Kong and then on to Australia, before heading back to Ascot next summer, and Rags to Riches’ half-brother Man of Iron who will aim for Dubai’s spring carnival.

Those fillies and mares retired or likely to be retired include Music Note, Cocoa Beach, Zenyatta, Ventura, and Seventh Street—but the good news is, in 2010, we will be able to enjoy the likes of Goldikova, Informed Decision, Sara Louise, Rainbow View, Dar Re Mi, and Rachel Alexandra (not to mention a Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs).

Sayonara, Azeri ($2.25 million), Magical Fantasy ($1.8 million), Lady Joanne ($1.6 million), Ginger Punch ($1.6 million) and Laragh ($850,000)—Japanese buyers raided the fall sales on Tuesday, coming away with all of the aforementioned G1 winners. They also acquired G1-placed Jardin and the unraced Loves Only Me, half-sister to European champion 2-year-old Rumplestiltskin, whose dam is a full-sister of Kingmambo, out of the champion Miesque. Talk about some nice bloodlines!

Among those who failed to meet their reserve at Fasig-Tipton were Diamondrella ($1.1 million) and Honey Ryder ($1.25 million), while those removed from the sale included recent G2 Raven Run winner Satans Quick Chick, G1-placed Silver Swallow, G1-placed Dubai Majesty, G1-placed Justwhistledixie, and Xtra Heat’s promising daughter Elusive Heat.

Finally, a plethora of analysis and commentary regarding the paramount issue du jour—who should be Horse of the Year—is out there, and you’ll find none better than those of Lisa Grimm (Superfecta), Teresa Genara (Brooklyn Backstretch), Gary West (West Points), Jeff Scott (The Saratogian) and, for historical perspective, Kevin Martin (Colin’s Ghost).

As I alluded to in a previous (albeit abbreviated) post, I (and other more highly-respected industry insiders) firmly believe this year deserves co-Horses of the Year, as both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are equally worthy. It's not like it hasn't happened before.

And don’t give me that bullshit about the Breeders’ Cup being the “World Championships” (it’s not—deal with it) or it “cheapening” the award by not selecting one over the other—this isn’t the damn electoral college or something equally profoundly important. It’s just a stupid award which, frankly, no one outside of the industry will even care about so why affect discord and hostility among what few fans remain? Let’s be adults, put aside our bias about the horses’ owners and their campaigns, and just celebrate two equally spectacular performances. Honestly, this sport does its damnest to piss people off on the smallest things rather than take on and fight the really important battles.


Teresa said...

The breeding stock sales always make me feel a little sad--while we always know what's going on with the stallions and where they are, the mares just kind of disappear, and it's hard to get news of them. It's even worse when they head overseas.

But your last paragraph considerably brightened my spirits...would that such a thing were possible.

(and thanks for the link)

alan said...

I don't understand your point in the last paragraph. Controversy and debate is what makes the world go around, especially in an endeavor as subjective as horse racing. Give the award to one or the other (personally, I couldn't really care less to whom because, as you say, it's just a stupid award), let the fans of the loser cry and vent and stomp their feet, and move on. Awarding it to both is a copout which accomplishes nothing. Maybe they should put them on skates and have a shootout to decide.

SaratogaSpa said...

The award is based on a tally of individual votes, so unless the voters collude beforehand or someone changes the voting process, I don't even know how you could engineer a "tie" vote.

Unknown said...

Loved your comment - "...don’t give me that bullshit about the Breeders’ Cup being the “World Championships” (it’s not—deal with it)..." That it IS the "World Championship" is the core argument advanced by the Zenyatta over Rachel Alexandra crowd. The other side shoots back that one amazing race does not make a championship season.

But I don't agree that it's just a stupid award - it's in the records books - it becomes part of racing lore. It elevates one horse over the other in a very concrete way.

For that reason, and because both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta had perfect, albeit very different, years, I agree that they should share it. If Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand could share an Oscar, Rachel and Zenyatta can share an Eclipse.

coeurdefer said...

Got a question. Certainly there is "life" after the BC, but is there life for a good to great horse after being sold to Japan?

And sorry, in this country barring a TC winner, the BC is of major importance for the industry and Eclipse/HOY honors...unless you are privy to some information that I am not or you are one of these anti-syn advocates. Yeah. You're right. RA is the better of the 2 horses, synthetics are ruining US racing and RA didn't show up because the trainer and connections properly managed the schedule for the complete racing calendar. Yeah, that's right and I'm gonna buy it hook, line and sinker! Sorry, I'm not biting. But keep trolling, you'll find many that devour the synthetic argument.

The greats do it any where, any time (yeah, I know about Z's scratch) and field or distance. RA took the early campaign...Z was managed for the calendar to the BC.

And yes, I do believe the BC is our championship race venue.

alan said...

I agree that the Breeders' Cup is hardly perfect as a "World Championship." But it's the closest thing the sport has, and, in my opinion, to dismiss it as "bullshit" is to reward a dickhead like Jess Jackson who skipped it and deprived us all of the race we wanted to see for nothing other than his own selfish and egotistical purposes. She was too tired my tired (of hearing his crap) ass.

coeurdefer said...


That post was pretty funny! I won't get into trainer styles (or horsemanship skills for that matter) with regard to RA and Z....but that was pretty funny!!!

Your observation re: "bullshit" is dead on. Thanks for the smile. And I think there are more issues facing RA than "just a bit tuckered" and surface concerns. But I don't pay the bills and the connections did what they thought was right...barring undisclosed illness for RA.

Thanks to RA, MTB, Summerbird and Z for a good year (thank God). As fans, a good year is worth the weight in gold for the horses involved in any HOY debate.

440yards said...

Here are the data:
Zenyatta beat more winners of grade I races (19 compared to Rachel Alexandra’s 12).
Zenyatta beat horses with more combined earnings than Rachel Alexandra.
Zenyatta showed up at the Breeder’s Cup and won the Classic for the first time in history.
Zenyatta is the only horse to have ever won two different Breeder’s Cup events.
Zenyatta has more earnings than Rachel Alexandra.

Last year, Jess Jackson campaigned Curlin to a second Horse of the Year title. Curlin ran a disappointing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but still won the title. I remember reading dozens of pieces advocating his case. They made the point that despite his fourth place finish (and perhaps declining form), he should win the title because Mr. Jackson kept him in training as a 4-year old instead of sending him to stud service. Additionally, he made the trip out west to race on a synthetic course when conventional dirt was clearly his best surface. It would have been a shame had he not received Horse of the Year honors.

Haven’t the Moss’ done the same thing? They have kept an excellent mare in training when, at the end of 2008, we already regarded her as one of the greatest mares of the decade. AND they entered her in the classic. Mr. Jackson, however, apparently learned nothing from last year’s experience. Sportsmanship is and has been a factor. Mr. and Mrs. Moss out sported Mr. Jackson.

My prediction – Zenyatta wins Horse of the Year.

Anonymous said...

Summer Bird is going to Japan later this month to compete in the Japan Dirt Cup! I love this horse.

Valerie Grash said...

I just wasted a good hour of my life composing a thoughtful counter-point argument to some of the comments made here, but then (and forgive me, sane commenters—ignore the sarcasm as it was not intended for you) I realized what level of intellect I was addressing, so here you go.

Yeah, a hockey shootout comparison when a player and goalie go mano-a-mano is comparable to voting for an award and co-winners “accomplishes nothing”—as if this is some life-and-death scenario where there must be ONLY ONE. And Jess Jackson’s a dickhead for, what, buying a filly from an ultra-conservative owner and setting her upon a campaign the likes of which is rarely if ever seen these days? The same guy that didn’t rush Curlin off to the breeding shed after his 3-year-old campaign as MANY others did and continue to do? The same dickhead who will race Rachel Alexandra NEXT year? Man, what an ass!

And, boy, I must be one of those anti-synthetic people because I don’t drink the Breeders’ Cup kool-aid about being the “World Championships”—it’s not just an entirely artificially-created moniker dreamt up by some public relations/consulting firm—an artificial construct, just like “Win and You’re In” (but only if your nomination fees were paid, and you still need to pay entry fees). Just because they say it is must make it so. And, god knows, we have to have ONE race decide a champion—a campaign that actually challenges the horse by running again and again vs. the best competition available is nonsense. Just manage to do the minimum possible until one race—well done! Let’s reward that conservative attitude!

Congratulations, Man of Iron! The best stayer on the planet! Yeats? Viewed? Who’s dat? Oh, THANK GOD we know now that Dancing in Silks is THE best sprinter in the WORLD?!? Where the hell has he been hiding? In non-graded stakes races restricted to California-breds? And Furthest Land is the BEST “DIRT” miler in the WORLD! In his last race on REAL DIRT, he finished fourth, over six lengths behind, a field of CLAIMING HORSES!! Oh, yeah, man! I’m chugging that freakin’ kool-aid now!

How did this blog entry become a referendum for or against synthetics, or a vehicle for folks who still want to propagandize Zenyatta’s “superiority” over Rachel Alexandra? Those “statistics” claiming Z’s superiority are not only arbitrary is their selections, but also completely without perspective:

“Zenyatta beat more winners of grade I races (19 compared to Rachel Alexandra’s 12)”—How many of those 19 and 12 were G1 winners this year? How would a 3-year-old filly run against more G1 winners as opposed to a 5-year-old mare racing against older horses? How many horses where actually in each field of each race?

“Zenyatta beat horses with more combined earnings than Rachel Alexandra”—same argument. Lifetime earnings or earnings this year? And how many of those were from one big overly-inflated purse?

“Zenyatta showed up at the Breeder’s Cup and won the Classic for the first time in history”—yes, she did.

“Zenyatta is the only horse to have ever won two different Breeder’s Cup events”—yes, she is.

“Zenyatta has more earnings than Rachel Alexandra”—ditto. $2.7 million is for one race. Otherwise, she earned $630,000 for 4 races this year. In 8 races Rachel earned just under $2.75 million.

You could just as provocatively argue that Rachel Alexandra ran on more tracks (7 vs. 3), in more states (6 vs. 1), and more times in open company (3 vs. 1). She also won by greater margins, in faster times and by setting more records. Yeah, ignoring those facts makes Zenyatta CLEARLY superior.

They are BOTH amazing horses!! Why are we fighting over this?!?

SaratogaSpa said...

Valerie-I would argue some of us are not fighting over this:)
Most of us are in the same tent.
For what it is worth, I would lean towards RA slightly over Zenyatta for HOTY..but no matter what happens I hope it is not a Co-HOTY situation-I hope one wins outright over the other -because that will spur on even more debate from the losing side and more talk about this game we all love-through the winter and into 2010 (and beyond), which in the end is great for the game of horseracing.

440yards said...

I have to admit your post made me laugh – in a good way. How fortunate we are to be able to argue about two of the best horses many of us have ever seen. FYI – Zenyatta’s wins over grade 1 winners is for this year only (same as Rachel’s). Her win over horses with lifetime earnings is for this year only. AND Zenyatta posted a better equibase speed figure than Rachel Alexandra this year. Thanks for your blog; you do a great job.

alan said...

C'mon Valerie, you know as well as I that the only reason Curlin wasn't retired after his three-year old season was because of the issues over the horse's ownership. Otherwise, he would have been off to stud faster than you can say Kendall-Jackson.

Becky said...

I'm not gonna weigh in on the Z vs. RA debate, but 440yards, you can't make the comparisons you just did between a 3 year old filly and a 5 year old mare.

Anonymous said...

Becky, what is wrong with 440yards comparisons? He made it clear that those stats are for this year. This year, Zenyatta beat more grade 1 winners of this year. This year, Zenyatta beat earners of more money this year.

the Source of the James said...

Maybe the BC Classic isn't the World Championships, but winning certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to world respect.

Check out the latest IFHA rankings...

Anonymous said...


Only ONE (1) of Zenyatta's 15 opponents in her first four races this year has won a graded stake THIS YEAR.

Zenyatta beat 8 winners of 2009 Grade 1 races. If someone one a G1 last year, or two years ago, and can't win a graded stake this year, do you think they're the same level of competition?

the Source of the James said...

Anonymous said...

"If someone one a G1 last year, or two years ago, and can't win a graded stake this year, do you think they're the same level of competition?"

Maybe I'm missing the point, but that makes no sense at all.

Whatever the relative merits of the competition this year, Zenyatta proved in the Breeders Cup Classic that she could not only beat the same top horses that Rachael did, but that she could dominate them in a way that Rachael could not (in the Preakness at least where she only won by the skin of her teeth and Calvin Borel.

And we should never forget that while Zenyatta was putting everything on the line in one of the biggest races of the year, Rachael was back in the barn munching oats.

The bottom line is that Jess Jackson screwed the pooch by ducking the BC Classic, betting that
A... Zenyatta would not run in it and
B... that she would lose if she did.

He thought he had HoY and OoY locked up, so he stayed home.

Betcha he hasn't has a good nights sleep since.

Anonymous said...


You're the one who brought up "number of G1 winners beaten." I'm only pointing out that beating a former great that's lost a step or two isn't the same as beating them at their peak. Looking at a horse's form from the current year compares Granny Smiths to Macintoshs rather than to Apple Butter.

You tried to make it sound like Zenyatta beat a stellar cast all year long, when in reality she beat a couple of has beens, some never will bes and her stablemate who was probably entered to disguise the lack of quality in those fields.

If your response is BC CLASSIC, BC CLASSIC, then let's hand the 3 year old championship to Mine That Bird, the winner of the biggest race for 3 year olds.

the Source of the James said...

Anonymous said...

"If your response is BC CLASSIC, BC CLASSIC, then let's hand the 3 year old championship to Mine That Bird, the winner of the biggest race for 3 year olds."

Actually, had Mine That Bird not faded as the year progressed (probably as a result of the wear and tear of being the only horse gutsy enough to show up in the money for all three Triple Crown races), an argument could have been made for him, especially since he came within a nats hair of beating RA in the race of her life.

Still, while the Breeders Cup is not the end all be all, to throw it out entirely is just plain sour grapes.

The fact is, it was a magnificent race won by a magnificent horse and one that fans will be talking about for years to come.

440yards said...

I don't know how much clearer I can get. This year, Zenyatta beat horses, who this year, won a combined total of 19 grade I races, this year. They didn't win those races last year. They didn't win those races two years ago. They won those grade I races this year, and this year, Zenyatta beat them. Any questions?

Anonymous said...


Yes, I have another question. Where did you learn to add?

2009 G1 wins of Zenyatta opponents
2 - Life is Sweet

2 - Einstein
4 - Gio Ponti
1 - Mine That Bird
1 - Richard's Kid
2 - Rip Van Winkle
3 - Summer Bird
1 - Twice Over
16 not 19.

If your numbers aren't correct, of course people assume you're counting things you claim not to be.

gpence61 said...


Is this the same Anonymous who said:


Only ONE (1) of Zenyatta's 15 opponents in her first four races this year has won a graded stake THIS YEAR."

Now you're saying it's 16?

440yards said...


Twice over won two grade I's this year, the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes and the Foundation Stakes. However, I was mistaken. Regal Ransom won the UAE Derby and the Superderby, both of which are grade II races, not grade I races. I apologize.