Is It Time For an International End of the Year Award???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Andrew Hawkins of South China Morning Post…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

World racing deserves its own Oscars, similar to America’s Eclipse Awards

The world racing year that was 2014 will be toasted in the next seven days with two separate awards functions on either side of the Atlantic – but what would happen if elements of both were combined to essentially create the Oscars of world racing?

In the United States, the annual Eclipse Awards will be held at Florida’s Gulfstream Park racecourse on Saturday night.

The awards are selected by a voting body of approximately 250 people, comprised of Daily Racing Form (DRF) columnists and writers, members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB) – effectively representing the rest of the American racing media – and racing secretaries belonging to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). The awards are completely subjective and at the hands of the voters, much like the Oscars.

There are 17 categories – 12 for horses, five for the human participants – but the jewel in the crown is the Horse of the Year.

In what has been an incredibly open season in American racing, there has been an immense debate about the merits of each of the Horse of the Year candidates – as well as some of those that missed the final cut.

There’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome, who lost form in the middle of the year but returned to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before winning at Del Mar to close his season. Notably, he won on both dirt and turf, as well as winning on a synthetic surface right at the end of 2013.

Then there is his Breeders’ Cup Classic conqueror Bayern, an inconsistent front-runner who has been scintillating at his best but won the Classic in controversial circumstances and also flopped badly in two of the premier three-year-old races, the Preakness Stakes and the Travers Stakes.

Completing the trio is English import Main Sequence, who won four staying Grade One races on turf – far from a strong division in the US, although at his last start, he did hold off subsequent Hong Kong Vase winner Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The debate between racing fans has made for some tense arguments and a fair bit of slagging, in particular both by and towards the California Chrome fans affectionately (or disparagingly) referred to as “Chromies”.

For the analyst, though, it has raised the question: what constitutes a worthy winner of Horse of the Year? Is it consistency across the course of a season? Is it raw ability? Is it the backstory or the ability to win the hearts of fans?

Each voter tends to have a different opinion, which makes the end result totally unpredictable. Speaking to three American fans on Thursday, all three were confident they knew who would win the Horse of the Year award – and all three nominated a different horse.

It’s dramatic and a fitting conclusion to a stellar year.

Then, on Tuesday night in London, the equine stars of 2014 will be honoured at the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Ceremony, celebrating the horses that finish atop the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.

Those rankings, compiled by handicappers representing each member jurisdiction of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), are more of an objective exercise than the Eclipse Awards. Well, as objective as opinions can be in racing, an inherently subjective game.

Unlike the Eclipse Awards – where voters tend to look at a horse’s overall season – one spike performance can put a horse at the top of the rankings. While it is difficult to know whether Just A Way’s Dubai Duty Free romp was a spike, given he was tested at distances outside his comfort zone for the rest of the year – his win in the Yasuda Kinen over a mile was followed by three runs at a mile and a half – the six and a quarter length win at Meydan in course record time will be enough to see him claim the World’s Best Racehorse title.

The battle for second was made interesting by Epiphaneia’s four length Japan Cup win and Able Friend’s performance in the Hong Kong Mile. Able Friend is expected to be rated 127, and he is expected to be rated on par with Europe’s top three-year-olds Australia, Kingman and The Grey Gatsby, as well as his Champions Mile conqueror Variety Club. Where Epiphaneia rates among those is up for debate, with Japanese handicappers traditionally harsh on their own races, but he may take outright second on his own.

If the rankings were to be applied solely to American racing, then Bayern (125) would be Horse of the Year ahead of California Chrome and the now-retired Game On Dude (both on 124).

Really, though, where is the drama? Where is the excitement? It’s all pretty sterile and predictable, and while it recognises excellence, it fails to recognise one of racing’s strengths – its uncertainty.
Instead of a tradesmanlike approach to comparing horses, races and performances, simply using ratings, how would experts from different countries measure up form from around the world?

So, The Griffin would like to propose a new showpiece racing event in January each year, which we humbly suggest should be named ‘The Griffins’.

Combining the best of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Ceremony with the Eclipse Awards – international racing awards voted on by racing officials and journalists from around the world – it would be racing’s answer to the Oscars.

Instead of a tradesmanlike approach to comparing horses, races and performances, simply using ratings, how would experts from different countries measure up form from around the world?

How would an Australian assess California Chrome against Bayern? How would an Englishman decipher Able Friend against Designs On Rome?

And then, take it one step further. In voting for Horse of the Year, how does one assess California Chrome against the likes of Able Friend, Just A Way, Australia, Kingman, Variety Club, Treve and Lankan Rupee?

How would an Australian assess it? How would an American? An Englishman? A Hongkonger?

It would be hard to compile a voting body that would be totally fair to every jurisdiction, though.

One way is to give every IFHA member an equal vote.

That would mean the member countries of the IFHA – Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chad, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela – would each get, say, five votes, creating a voting body of 290.

The flaw in this is obvious, though.

Say the United States, where the vote would likely be split between Bayern, California Chrome and Main Sequence. In Hong Kong, it would probably be split between Able Friend and Designs On Rome. In Australia, it could go any way with horses like It’s A Dundeel, Fiorente, Protectionist, Lankan Rupee and Terravista all possibilities.

In smaller countries with one standout, though, their horses would be likely to garner more votes. Take Macau, where Wonder Mossman would likely receive the top points from all judges.

What’s not to say Macau’s five voters would all give him top points, while Hong Kong’s five voters are split between Able Friend and Designs On Rome. That would leave Wonder Mossman ahead of both of John Moore’s superstars.

While a 10-1 points scale like the Eclipse Stakes would even it out in the end, with horses from bigger jurisdictions likely to scrape more of the minor points, it still seems a bit skewed.

However, recognition deserves to be given to countries with stronger racing as determined by the IFHA. The IFHA publishes a list of the top 100 races each year based on a three-year rating average.

At the end of the 2013 season, the list had 26 races from Australia, 20 from the United States, 17 from England, 11 from France, nine from Japan, six from Hong Kong, four from the United Arab Emirates, two from Ireland and Germany and one each from Singapore, Canada and South Africa.

If votes were awarded proportionally, though, it would then be skewed towards horses from Australia, the United States and England, making it racing’s version of the Coalition of the Willing.

Instead, we suggest that every IFHA member gets a certain number of votes, while the countries represented on the top 100 list get a far greater representation.

However it would be decided, though, the simple question is: who would win the Horse of the Year award?

While this blog’s personal top three would be Just A Way, Able Friend and Bayern, with a slight leaning to Just A Way, it is unlikely that the Japanese galloper would win. His Dubai success seems a distant memory, replaced by his slightly dull efforts stepped up to 2,400m, and the performances of Epiphaneia and Gentildonna since would probably come to the fore of voters’ minds.

Instead, the winner would probably be a horse like Adelaide, who won in Ireland, the United States and Australia and was placed in England and France, or Variety Club, another who would get support from multiple countries. Or maybe the focus will be on the winners of those traditional big races – the likes of California Chrome, dual Derby winner Australia or Arc winner Treve.

Nevertheless, these are all hypotheticals and they will never be answered. They can be debated and argued, but at this stage there is no definitive answer bar the view of world handicappers on individual performances.

It would be a win for the racing industry if one day, the world’s Horse of the Year is decided by the global racing community based on their efforts across the span of a season.

And besides, we haven’t even touched on the red carpet – John Moore in a safari suit would be all that is needed.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Could Churchill Use The Popularity of the Kentucky Derby to Make Positive Changes in Horse Racing???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gary West of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Churchill could spark change

Imagine a run-up to the Triple Crown that didn’t include the Florida Derby or the Fountain of Youth or the Louisiana Derby. Such an upheaval to so traditional a road is unlikely, of course, but if it did happen, if an imperative forced the highway to take a dramatic detour, then after a few shocking moments and a few more aftershocks it would probably be good for racing.

Yes, good for racing, salubrious even. The sport must make dramatic changes. Wagering on horse racing has declined 2.41 percent from a year ago, according to Equibase; purses are down, too. The stakeholders must shake off their inertia and embrace change. Racetracks can’t operate like little fiefdoms, nor states like islands. In the struggle to achieve uniform medication rules, Churchill Downs could do the sport a great service if it would strip the Florida Derby, the Fountain of Youth and the Louisiana Derby of all their precious Kentucky Derby qualifying points, and, even better, nullify the Lecomte, Holy Bull, Tampa Bay Derby and Risen Star Stakes, too, along with, don’t forget, the Delta Downs Jackpot.

Such extremes probably wouldn’t be necessary. A warning might suffice, making clear that all of Florida’s and Louisiana’s Derby preps could be erased from the ruddy Derby roadmap, effective in, perhaps, 2016. That warning would allow their advocates a little time to recover from apoplexy and attempt to do something about it.

And that, of course, would be the actual goal, their doing something about it. The threat of such a seismic shift would contribute to the longterm health of the sport if it forced Florida and Louisiana to adopt, at the very least, the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule of the model rules recommended by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Keep in mind that these model rules developed by veterinarians and scientists are based on years of research and piles of data, not on horsemen’s hankering. The rules are strict, but also organic, incorporating the latest findings and analysis. And the rules’ adoption is positively essential if racing is to prosper, for they’re the foundation of the uniform rules that the sport desperately needs.

For any number of reasons, one of them being that Churchill owns the Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, it’s a wild idea, linking the Kentucky Derby points to uniform rules. Then again, it’s even wilder, perhaps crazy, that there are no nationally uniform medication rules, and that’s really the point.

In the last year, horse racing has made significant, even great, progress towards the adoption of uniform medication rules. As a result, in the next year the number of states operating under the model medication rules will increase from four to 16. But, most notably, six states have yet to adopt the rules — Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. They’re stuck in a morass of bureaucracy and, in some cases, stupidity. Churchill Downs could encourage them out of that morass, as could the American Graded Stakes Committee.

The American Graded Stakes Committee has added eight graded stakes for 2015 and two of those, the Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream Park and the Penn Mile at Penn National, are run in states that have not adopted the model medication rules. But Pennsylvania “should be very close to fully implementing” the model guidelines, according to Dionne Benson, who’s both a veterinarian and an attorney and so ideally qualified as the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. And in Florida, she said, horsemen have endorsed the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule; they’re not to blame. The obstacle to fully adopting the rules in Florida, she said, is largely legislative. Florida and Pennsylvania, in other words, have made significant progress in the general direction of uniform medication rules.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, has not. Oklahoma allows for the race-day use of phenylbutazone at a level that’s 2-1/2 times what the RMTC recommends in its model rules. In addition, Oklahoma permits the use of another pain-killer, flunixin (Banamine), and of two corticosteroids. Flagrantly and ponderously out of step with the progress throughout the sport, Oklahoma has the most permissive medication rules in the country. It’s a level of permissiveness that not only indulges some people’s inclination to rely more on medication than horsemanship, but also threatens to harm the bettors, the sport and, most important, the jockeys and horses. Regulators and horsemen there damage the sport and abuse its fans by not embracing medication reform and, more specifically, the model rules.

And so perhaps it’s not coincidental that the Springboard Mile is not among the eight races that in 2015 will be graded for the first time. Will Take Charge, the runner-up in the 2012 Springboard Mile, went on to be the next year’s champion 3-year-old. And at least the first three finishers in Sunday’s renewal at Remington Park in Oklahoma City — Bayerd, Shotgun Kowboy and High Noon Rider — appear to be very promising. Based on the quality of its competitors, the race is on the cusp of being graded. But based on the recalcitrance of Oklahoma’s medication policies, neither the Springboard Mile nor any other stakes in Oklahoma will be graded anytime soon, even though Remington Park itself has publicly and officially supported the model rules.

Based on the quality of its competitors, the race is on the cusp of being graded. But based on the recalcitrance of Oklahoma’s medication policies, neither the Springboard Mile nor any other stakes in Oklahoma will be graded anytime soon, even though Remington Park itself has publicly and officially supported the model rules.

Clearly the American Graded Stakes Committee has paired progress on medication reform with grading. Grading stakes is a powerful tool, and in this regard the committee is using it wisely for the amelioration of the sport. The message is that no racing jurisdiction can prosper as an island. The next step would be to downgrade existing graded stakes in states that have not adopted the model rules. Pennsylvania, you and your Penn Mile have a year. Florida, you have a year before the Donn and the Gulfstream Park Handicap slip to Grade 2.

But in some jurisdictions, Churchill Downs has an even more powerful goad, those cherished Kentucky Derby points that determine who’ll be in the roseate field. Would Florida lawmakers continue to loll in their morass if their derby were about to be relegated? That’s a question Churchill could ask for the good of the sport — might even enjoy asking.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Ben’s Cat Keeps Winning, Thriving as He Approaches Age 9

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Dick Jerardi of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Anything is possible with awe-inspiring veteran Ben’s Cat

How many soon-to-be 9-year-old horses, after winning 28 races, including 22 stakes, in 44 career starts, could earn their highest Beyer Speed Figure in start No. 45? How many soon-to-be 9-year-old horses could get their biggest margin of victory in more than four years? How many soon-to-be 9-year-old horses could run against a really accomplished group of sprinters last Saturday at Penn National and make every last one of them disappear in the stretch?

The answer to all of those questions is the same horse: Ben’s Cat.

Seriously, how is this possible?

The answer is that with Ben’s Cat, anything is possible.

The horse made his debut May 8, 2010, as a 4-year-old. He won his first eight starts. He could have been claimed for $20,000 and then $25,000.

After winning the Fabulous Strike Handicap for the third consecutive year, with ascending Beyers starting at 100 and then 103 and then an incredible 104 on Saturday, Ben’s Cat has now earned $2,320,990 for owner-trainer-breeder King Leatherbury, whose voice-mail greeting says only “Leatherbury.”

I would suggest “King,” but no matter the greeting, Ben’s Cat is some testament to an amazing career that, like Ben’s Cat, shows no signs of ending.

Ben’s Cat has really made his reputation as a grass sprinter, with five straight wins in the Mister Diz at Pimlico; two wins and two photo losses in the Turf Monster at Parx; three wins and a photo loss in the Parx Dash; and a win, a narrow loss, and an impossible-trip third in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup at Penn.

Leatherbury has maintained for years that Ben’s Cat is even better on off tracks. The evidence backs him up. Ben’s Cat is 4 for 5 with a third on off tracks. The third came after a brutal trip in the 2011 Six Bits at Penn, the forerunner to the Fabulous Strike. So, Ben’s Cat really could be working on four straight in the race he just won.

The Beyers suggest he is at his very best at six furlongs on the main track. In eight six-furlong dirt races, Ben’s Cat has won seven, with that bad-trip third at Penn. Three of his five career triple-digit Beyers are at six furlongs on dirt. The hint was his first three starts, all big wins at six furlongs.

By the way, Ben’s Cat’s first two Beyers were 56 and 68. When he needed to start getting bigger figures to win, he did, getting a 91 Beyer in his third career race. Since those first two starts, he has earned a Beyer between 90 and 98 exactly 24 times.

If the “how to manage a horse” book is ever written, Leatherbury’s management of Ben’s Cat needs to get a chapter. Yes, he could have put up the money to supplement Ben’s Cat to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and, yes, it would have been fun to see how he would have done. But do you think Ben’s Cat would still be this good a month from his ninth birthday if the trainer had not kept putting him in winning spots where he would have to run hard but not so hard that he could not keep running?

What was so fascinating about Ben’s Cat’s win last Saturday was how he did it, sitting casually behind an across-the-track speed duel and then exploding away from the field in the stretch as if the race had just started.

Prior to Ben’s Cat, Leatherbury had never had a $1 million earner in a career built mostly through the claiming box. Ben’s Cat blew by $1 million in 2012 and has earned almost $1 million more over the last two years. So, why not $3 million?

Ben’s Cat needs a mere $679,010 over the next two years. If he adheres to the same schedule and wins at his normal rate, he absolutely will get there.

What if he is slowing down? Watch Race 4 from last Saturday at Penn National. That is your answer.

Has a horse ever gone beyond $3 million in earnings during his 10-year-old season?

I can’t imagine.

But I know one horse who can do it.

Ben’s Cat.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Could A Turf Race In November at Del Mar Decide Horse of the Year????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bob Ehalt of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Doug O’Neill’s suspension shows why little makes sense in horse racing

As odd as it may seem, Horse of the Year may ultimately be decided through a race at Del Mar … in November.

It’s been that kind of a year.

In a racing season filled with the likes of injuries, scandals, and a Triple Crown near-miss, just to name a few, the appearance of Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner California Chrome in a turf race just might be remedy for the bad taste lingering from the controversial and widely panned Breeders’ Cup Classic.

According to trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome will be given a workout on the turf on Nov. 23 and if all goes well, the California-bred will run in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Nov. 29 at the track’s inaugural fall meet.

Considering the dilemma facing Eclipse Award voters, the ability of a dirt star like California Chrome to display a new dimension by adding a Grade 1 turf stakes to his resume could be enough to propel him to frontrunner status for racing’s most coveted prize.

At the very least, it would supply the kind of a satisfaction that the BC Classic was supposed to supply.

Instead, the decision by the Santa Anita stewards not to disqualify the victorious Bayern for bumping the favored Shared Belief at the start of the race has created a situation in which some voters seem intent on administering their own brand of justice by using their Eclipse Award ballots to offset the stewards’ verdict.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic was painted as the race that would settle the Horse of the Year debate, but in its aftermath turf star Main Sequence emerged from the Breeders’ Cup as the No. 1 choice in the final National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. Bayern and California Chrome, who was third in the BC Classic, were second and third, respectively.

Main Sequence is a perfect 4-for-4 this year — all in Grade 1 stakes — and turned in an exceptional effort to beat Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Yet, aside from the Breeders’ Cup, Main Sequence faced only modest competition in his turf victories.

In contrast, this year’s crop of 3-year-old males turned out to be a sensational group with runners like Bayern, California Chrome, Shared Belief, Tonalist and Toast of New York, who was second in the BC Classic. Given that level of depth and competition, it would only seem proper to honor the best member of that class as the year’s best horse.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic, though, may have pulled the plug on that notion.

Yet now, there may be a chance for redemption. The Hollywood Derby would give California Chrome a fourth Grade 1 win in 2014, two more than any of his 3-year-old rivals. His four-bagger, with the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness, also carries more clout than Main Sequence’s quartet and has enough of a cushion to push his three 2014 losses into the background.

Plan B, in case California Chrome fizzles in his turf work, would be to run in the Native Diver, also on Nov. 29. It’s on the dirt, but is only a Grade 3 stakes and would lack the charisma that could come from a Grade 1 win on a new surface. Naming California Chrome Horse of the Year off a final push from a Grade 3 stakes seems a stretch.

So for now, the intrigue of finding out whether the grass will be greener for California Chrome has the Horse of the Year debate back on the right track. Instead of focusing on the actions of three stewards, there will be a race to ponder and an outcome that will be put under a microscope by discerning eyes.

It’s a dramatic improvement from the quagmire racing currently has on its hands … just as long as California Chrome doesn’t bump anyone.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

O’Neill’s Suspension Highlights Problems In Sport

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Dwyre of Los Angeles Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Doug O’Neill’s suspension shows why little makes sense in horse racing

Horse racing is the only sport where its customers are best served by putting on blinders.

It isn’t always a mess. Just most of the time.

We have gone through a 2014 Triple Crown season where a potentially beautiful story of California Chrome, a beloved trainer and a couple of first-time owners turned beastly at the Belmont Stakes. There, the horse didn’t win and one of the owners lost his common sense.

The Breeders’ Cup is 10 days away. It is a two-day spectacular, held for the third consecutive year at beautiful Santa Anita. The Breeders’ Cup generally overcharges the public, but also generally delivers. This year, two of its biggest stars, Wise Dan and Beholder, are out because of injuries. Assume ticket prices won’t go down.

Now, to top it off, we have Doug O’Neill saga, Part 2.

O’Neill is the Southern California trainer who guided I’ll Have Another to the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012, then scratched the horse the day before the Belmont because of a tendon injury. He served suspension time after that for a milkshake violation (giving a horse excessive carbon dioxide) in August 2010. He denied guilt.

Now, he is serving more hard time.

Because of the discovery of a drug called Oxazepam in a horse named Wind of Bosphorus at Belmont Park in June 2013, O’Neill will not be able to be the trainer of record for any entrants in the Breeders’ Cup. One of his horses, Goldencents, is defending champion in the Dirt Mile.

When hit with the most recent violation, O’Neill tried to negotiate a suspension that would start after the Breeders’ Cup. But then, the Breeders’ Cup invoked its “convicted trainer rule,” and exiled O’Neill to some sports bar in Santa Monica to watch. No word on whether he will wear prison stripes.

The O’Neill case is just another example of why Lakers exhibition games can make the sports front page and horse racing doesn’t.

What’s the deal? What is the ticket-buying, $2 gambler to think? Is O’Neill Jeckyll, or is he Hyde? A sinner or a saint?

Should we be proud of racing for taking a firm stance, even if it always invokes its punishments months and years after the crime? Does racing use test labs in Antarctica?

Or should we be questioning why, and how, horse racing has made a post office poster boy out of O’Neill, who, by most accounts, and by personal experience, is a decent, hard-working, fun-loving guy?

Like much of what happens in racing, with its alphabet soup governing boards (CHRB, TOC, CTT, etc., in California alone), little is clear and little makes sense.

O’Neill’s 2010 violation was from a horse named Argenta, who was lucky to make it around the track. Argenta, off at 20-1, finished sixth of eight horses in that race. Argenta didn’t need to be milkshaked, he needed rocket boosters.

In the 2013 violation in New York, Wind of Bosphorus was transferred to three different stalls in the days before the gelding ran. O’Neill, who wasn’t in New York when the horse ran, said he had to look up Oxazepam and learned it was mostly used by people with irritable bowel syndrome or by recovering alcoholics.

It is also used as a calming medication, and that might help a horse. Why would it be on racing’s Class-2 banned list if it had no enhancement qualities?

Fans who want to care about racing, who want to go to the track and put down a few bucks without having to be chemists or conspiracy theorists, will soon just start throwing up their hands and finding a water polo game.

O’Neill is the kind of person with whom you want to have dinner — funny, smart, charming. He spent the entire 2012 Triple Crown season answering, with incredible patience and good humor, the same media questions, each phrased slightly different but all basically the same query: “Why do you cheat?”

Before that 2012 Belmont, and before he scratched I’ll Have Another, the New York Racing Assn. ordered all Belmont Stakes horses stabled in a detention barn. At whom do you suppose that was aimed?

In the midst of all this, O’Neill allowed himself to be roasted at a charity event. One roaster, Tim Conway Jr., delivered the classic blow: “Most horses, when they are done, go out to pasture. Doug’s go to the Betty Ford Center.”

Would a bad guy, a cheater, smile through all this? Is he the Lance Armstrong of horse racing or a wronged Peyton Manning? Or is he the greatest con artist since Paul Newman in “The Sting.”

One race official summed it up thusly: “I love Doug O’Neill, but how many times can you say the dog ate the homework?”

According to a 2011 article in HBPA.com, the website for the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., thoroughbred racing in the U.S. had 38 jurisdictions, each with its regulatory agency. There are 18 racing test labs, six accredited. Is one of those that Antarctica lab that takes six months to find a test tube?

In essence, horse racing in the U.S. is a sport in which everybody is in charge. And nobody. You can laugh about the travails of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig, but at least you know at whom to laugh.

Hate Doug O’Neill or feel sorry for him. Just don’t try to figure out his sport. Don’t question why they never penalize the vets, why there aren’t security cameras in every stall, why every major decision takes 10 months and 80 meetings and then can be negotiated.

Don’t question why a suspended O’Neill is allowed to work out a deal with his assistant, Leandro Mora, to share in any Breeders’ Cup winnings.

Just put on your blinders and come on out.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Saturday’s Stakes Provided Preview of Breeders’ Cup

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gary West of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

What did we learn?

To get here, he took the long way around. He missed the Triple Crown because of a foot issue and didn’t make his first start of the season until May 26. And he was forced to take the Lewis-and-Clark route again Saturday to win the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. But Shared Belief has arrived. He’s the early favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the top 3-year-old in the country and the leading candidate for Horse of the Year.

Although the victory confirmed Shared Belief’s status, the journey was more troublesome and demanding than anybody could have expected, and so, ironically, it might have created some doubt about the unbeaten gelding. He won, yes, but he won by only a neck, and he had to work so hard to get there, had to pour so much of his energy into the effort, that he came out of the Awesome Again looking vulnerable.

Tonalist, on the other hand, came out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup looking like an improving colt who, having shed his blinkers, has seen his future. He has figured out what he really wants to do. He doesn’t want to stalk the pace, an unsuccessful tactic best left in the Travers backwash; no, he wants to settle into that long stride of his and then rally.

At Belmont Park, he, too, had trouble Saturday. Tenth early, he had to check and alter course approaching the second turn. That was where Moreno angled into the path of Wicked Strong, who appeared to clip heels, which unseated his rider, Rajiv Maragh. (Maragh reportedly has a broken arm.) Tonalist then waited behind horses, advanced through traffic and ran the final quarter-mile in 24.71 seconds to complete the 1-1/4 miles in 2:02.12 and win by nearly two lengths over Zivo.

Shared Belief’s trouble was arguably more costly. He entered he first turn at Santa Anita three-wide, but Sky Kingdom and jockey Victor Espinoza floated the 1-5 favorite out into the six path, and conspiracy theories were blooming before the field straightened for the run down the backstretch.

“They tried some tactics on him,” Shared Belief’s jockey, Mike Smith, said after the race. But, Smith said, Shared Belief was superior to any tactic devised to beat him. As it turned, though, he was just barely superior.

Sky Kingdom’s stablemate, Fed Biz, led the field into the second turn, where Shared Belief, still forced to race wide, began to rally. Just as he needed months to overcome his foot problems, and just as the champion took all summer to redefine himself and rise within his division, he needed the length of the stretch to overcome the wide trip, but he got there.

The new Santa Anita surface was quick but not speed-favoring, and Shared Belief’s winning time of 1:48.58 didn’t sparkle. The speed figures and quantifiers won’t dazzle. But the victory, his seventh in as many starts, will shine brightly as evidence of his determination.

And so, Shared Belief has arrived. But Tonalist is threatening. Yes, with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Tonalist could possibly sweep away all the chips. Wicked Strong, who looked as if he were going to run well before his mishap Saturday, deserves a shot at the Classic, too. And of course, California Chrome, whose conspicuous talent was muffled by a compromising and uncomfortable inside trip in the Pennsylvania Derby, could refurbish his reputation and return to the head of the class with a win in what’s shaping up to be an outstandingly compelling Classic.

Super Saturday featured six major stakes in New York and five more in California, all with Breeders’ Cup implications. And so here are some more thoughts and observations:

Granted, the championship races sit more than a month down the road, and on that road more preps remain, but at this point, American Pharoah, who’ll be favored in the Juvenile, looks like the most likely Breeders’ Cup winner. He set the pace and drew clear with instant acceleration when asked in Saturday’s FrontRunner Stakes and won by more than three lengths. It was a stylish, jaw-dropping victory, but in the context of the day’s races it looked even more impressive. American Pharoah ran the 1-1/16 miles in 1:41.95. A race earlier at Santa Anita, Beholder won the Zenyatta Stakes over the same 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.19. And so, a 2-year-old making just the third start of his career ran about a length faster than a two-time champion.

Private Zone became the first horse in 24 years — and only the fourth ever — to win the Vosburgh Stakes back-to-back, and in doing so, he became one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. A tough-as-woodpecker-lips veteran, to borrow a phrase from Chargin’ Charlie Beckwith, Private Zone put away the speedy Happy My Way, momentarily lost the lead and then fought back to win by a neck and complete the six furlongs in 1:08.95, a strong clocking for the day at Belmont. If he can take that effort to Santa Anita, he’ll be hard to beat Nov. 1. But after winning last year’s Vosburgh, also by a neck, Private Zone finished 10th as the 3-1 second-choice in the Sprint.

Reunited with jockey Rosie Napravnik and racing in blinkers for the first time in her career, Emollient seemingly returned to top form, and just in time for the Filly & Mare Turf, where she finished fourth a year ago. Ninth in each of her two prior races, Emollient won Saturday’s Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita by a half-length over Parranda. Still, Stephanie’s Kitten could be the best American hope for the Filly & Mare Turf. Showing a tactical dimension that had been absent from her recent efforts, Stephanie’s Kitten raced in fourth early and rallied three-wide at Belmont to win the Flower Bowl Stakes by more than a length over Abaco.

Vyjack looked like a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with his performance in the Kelso Stakes. But his trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, indicated the veteran could remain in New York instead and wait for the Cigar Mile on Nov. 29 at Aqueduct. Vyjack rallied on the turn and wore down River Rocks in the stretch to win by a length and complete the mile in a lively 1:34.05. Itsmyluckyday, the odds-on favorite, finished third and left his trainer, Eddie Plesa, pondering the options, which include the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dirt Mile. Not originally nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, Itsmyluckyday would have to be supplemented.

Since arriving in this country, Main Sequence has won three major stakes, all in a photo finish, the latest being the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont. His trainer, Graham Motion, said Main Sequence, who has a history of sluggish starts and gate problems, gave his most “professional” performance Saturday despite ducking in and bumping the runner-up, Twilight Eclipse, at the finish. Main Sequence should be a player in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Angela Renee put herself in the Juvenile Fillies with her victory in Saturday’s Chandelier Stakes. She finished strongly, but the final time, 1:43.45, wasn’t going to frighten any rivals. After the wire, the runner-up, Conquest Eclipse, galloped out beyond the winner. The favorite for the Juvenile Fillies will probably emerge from the Alcibiades at Keeneland or the Frizette at Belmont.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Will the Derby and Preakness Wins Be Enough For “Chrome” To Hold Off Shared Belief for Three Year Old of the Year????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Double Crown title streak could end

As any schoolchild knows, every 3-year-old since 1978 who won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness failed to win the Belmont Stakes and complete the Triple Crown. But did you know there’s an even longer streak regarding the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown?

Since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971 through last year, 16 horses have won the Derby and Preakness – and every single one of them won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old: Canonero II (1971), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2001), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2007), I’ll Have Another (2012) and … wait, not so fast on adding California Chrome (2014) to the list.

After Shared Belief’s impressive victory against his elders in the Pacific Classic last Sunday, he inched ahead of the idle California Chrome in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Horse of the Year poll. (Shared Belief and California Chrome are now ranked second and third behind the 7-year-old gelding Wise Dan.)

You have to go back 45 years, before the dawn of the Eclipses, to find a 3-year-old who won the Derby and Preakness but was not acknowledged as the division’s champion: That would be Majestic Prince in 1969. He beat Arts and Letters by a neck in the Derby and by a head in the Preakness, but Arts and Letters beat him by 5 1/2 lengths in the Belmont and then reeled off consecutive victories in the Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. (He also won the Blue Grass and, in between the Preakness and Belmont, the Met Mile.) Arts and Letters was understandably acclaimed as the champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.

It looked as if things might go the same way a couple of times since. Twenty years after Arts and Letters, Easy Goer had a very similar streak after falling short to Sunday Silence in the Derby and Preakness. He was heavily favored to complete the turnaround in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but then Sunday Silence beat him for the third time in four meetings and was deservedly a nearly unanimous choice.

In 2003, it seemed that Empire Maker had edged ahead of Funny Cide when he beat him in the Belmont, giving him a 2-1 lead in head-to-head meetings and a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 victories. Neither one of them, however, won a race past June, and by the time ballots were due in December, Funny Cide’s Derby and Preakness made it seem to a majority of voters that he had been the more successful 3-year-old and deserved the nod.

The 2004 voting would have been interesting if Birdstone had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After denying Smarty Jones’s bid for the Triple Crown by beating him in the Belmont, Birdstone returned to win the Travers. Would a BC Classic victory have pushed him past the Derby-Preakness winner? We’ll never know since he finished seventh, and Smarty Jones was an easy Eclipse winner.

So, the question now is whether Shared Belief can catch up to a Derby-Preakness winner. Let’s say he makes his fourth and final start of an unbeaten 3-year-old season in the BC Classic and wins it, beating California Chrome in their only meeting. Would it be enough? California Chrome would still have a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 wins (Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness vs. Pacific Classic and BC Classic), but Shared Belief’s two big victories would have been against older horses instead of the uninspiring 3-year-olds whom California Chrome was walloping last spring.

Still, winning the Derby and Preakness is a powerful double that tends to look even better in hindsight. The discussion then comes down to accomplishment vs. talent. It’s possible that one could simultaneously believe at season’s end that Shared Belief is the better horse but that California Chrome accomplished more this year.

It would be a fascinating debate if we get that far. Maybe the best part is that this could develop into more than a one-race rivalry: California Chrome is scheduled to race as a 4-year-old, and Shared Belief is a gelding with an unlimited future on the track. These things are always best settled on the racetrack, so here’s hoping.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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