Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Case for Zenyatta

If you're still one of the hardened, Zenyatta doubters, even with the brilliant mare's historic near miss on Churchill's dirt, against the boys and amongst the finest Thoroughbreds, well, take time out from telling your 5-year-old there's no Santa and listen up...

Let's take three issues among national media/horse racing experts/bloggers that were or can be argued the day after the Breeders' Cup Classic. Please allow me to speak for Zenyatta and her connections, even though at this stage of her career such explanations are truly unnecessary.

Claim #1: Zenyatta beat mostly cream puffs on her way to winning 19 straight, right?

This requires a "yes," and "no" response. When a decent claiming horse wins three straight, everyone jumps aboard willingly, betting the nag down to 3-5 hoping to cash. But when Zenyatta, racing at the top of the sport's long and deep talent ladder, rips off Grade 1 win after Grade 1 win, her connections are accused of playing it soft and easy.

First of all, let's admit that the world's greatest fillies and mares weren't beating down the door ready to face Zenyatta. Zenyatta's connections can't be blamed (pun, ouch not intended) for trainers and owners ducking her. But ladies and gentlemen these weren't exactly races restricted to statebreds or starter allowances that Zenyatta was winning; they were Grade 1 races for goodness sakes!

Are Zenyatta's connections guilty of taking an easy, conservative road to the Breeders' Cup Classic? Sure. But who among us would take the sportsman's route and travel cross country or even across the world risking a chance at history? Anyone can talk a good game, miles away from the shed row. Why don't you take your dwindling 401K and invest in an aggressive small, capital fund and maybe double your money? The risk simply isn't worth the possible reward when it's your money.

Team Zenyatta mapped out a plan for 20-0 and came within a head of pulling off. They should have been roundly applauded, instead of being skewered by supposed experts. "Expert" being loosely defined as someone who has made at least one winning bet.

Claim #2: Staying close to home for 17 out of her 20 wins wasn't in Thoroughbred racing's best interest.

Allow me to answer with a question for you: Why would or should Zenyatta's connections complete and compete a series of races for the good of all Thoroughbreds? Winning is the name of the Thoroughbred game and Zenyatta's connections amazingly put her in the best position to win for three straight years!

Claim #3: Against a good/great field on dirt, Zenyatta's weakness would be exposed.

This knock was answered around 6:48 pm Eastern Standard Time on Saturday. Even though she was markedly slow, even for her, getting into stride, Zenyatta did everything but win yesterday. More gallant in defeat than Blame was in winning - he had the better trip at his favorite track.

As for the Horse of the Year discussion - Without Zenyatta racing yesterday, far fewer racing and sports fans care about the sport. A Zenyatta win was what almost everyone was routing for and isn't that worth something for the sport, Zenyatta and her connections?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


...Blllaaaaame has won it!

While the Churchill lights where hot and bright and Trevor Denman ramped up his voice for a call into history (think Al Michael's asking if we believed in miracles), the curtain abruptly fell on Zenyatta's Hollywood ending.

That's horse racing. And Blame joins the ranks of Touch Gold and Birdstone as spoilers of history and the possibility of horse racing taking over the sports page for at least one day.

But who knows, maybe the collective sports mind will pay attention despite the ending that came up just a neck short. One thing fans and gamblers alike should be able to agree on is that Zenyatta is a fantastic Thoroughbred and a true champion. As usual she ran up to her competition and sent us all away winners - whether we cashed a ticket or not.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breeders' Cup Saturday

Of course I mentioned four winners in yesterday's blog, but didn't play any of them straight up or hit them in an exotic betting. On to expectations for Saturday.

Juvenile Turf

The Europeans were shut out yesterday, which makes me wonder if horses like Manatoba and Master of Hounds will follow suit by under preforming? Of these two I like Master of Hounds better for a least a piece of the action. Deciphering Dreams is interesting in the fact that he refused to go through an opening and had to alter course in his first stakes try - finishing third in the Grade 3 Pilgrim. Pluck will have a lot of ground to make up, if he wants a top four finish. But the one I like the best is Soldat, who regressed off a big stakes win at Saratoga on a yielding Belmont course. He should rebound here for the win.


As noted yesterday, the best part of the Churchill's dirt track was towards the middle. The F&M Sprint also showed the value of previously winning at Churchill as Dubai Majesty was an easy winner. Cash Refund, Riley Tucker, Atta Boy Royand Warrior's Reward have all won under the Twin Spires and will come from the middle of the track with Cash Refund probably going off at the highest price of all. All this being said Smiling Tiger gets my nod for the win coming for the east to the dirt. Contrarian, I know.

Turf Sprint

What a great way to kick off a Pick 6...yikes. As it should be, there is lots of speed to contend with over the 5 furlongs. Can any one horse hold through a 22 second quarter and 45 second half? Most likely not. The two most likely beneficiaries of a red, hot pace are Chamberlain Bridge and Silver Timber. Chamberlain Bridge likes to win and likes to win at Churchill. If he can get first run off the rail, he'll be tough. Since being claimed by Chad Brown, Silver Timber hasn't done much wrong winning 6 of his last 8 races. I like them both with Central City who will throw down a sub 22 second quarter and then go as long as he can.


The Breeders' Cup was not kind to chalky runners yesterday, so why should it be so on Saturday - take a stand against Uncle Mo on this stance alone. In the Filly Juvenile, Awesome Feather and R Heat Lightning basically ran around the track together off the rail while finishing one, two. The three most likely candidates - besides the chalk - are Boys At Tosconova, J. B.'s Thunder and Stay Thirsty. Box them all and cheer for something.

The Mile

For my full take on The Mile follow this link to Goldikova's Three-Peat: Are Your a Skeptic or True Believer. In short it comes down to Goldikova and Proviso. Something tells me Bill Mott is going to have a big day on Saturday.

Dirt Mile

The only way I can figure this race is like this: Mad Flatter takes to the front in the three-path, keeping Tizway to his inside or forcing him to go out and around him. Here Comes Ben and Thisskyhasnolimit bide their sweet time in mid-pack waiting to make a move. Toss at his post and cross your fingers last year's Vineyard Haven and Gayego doen't show up.


Europeans may finally turn the tide, maybe not. No Arc winner has doubled his/her win into a Breeders' Cup victory. Workforce may be special, but I think he is up against too much history, no matter how special he may be. If this race falls together for one horse, it's Al Khali. There really is no pace horse here and Al Khali may dictate soft easy fractions of 25, 51, 1:16, etc. and prove hard to catch. He and Winchester may just trade punches one more time heading to the wire together - damn the Euros.


Zenyatta's final run into history, right? If not her, then who? Haynesfield is on the muscle and appears ready to carry his speed a classic distance one more time - drawing outside Quality Road helps his chances greatly. Blame sits right in the middle of the track and owns three wins from four Churchill starts and will be Zenyatta's main challenge from off the pace.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thoughts on Friday's Breeders Cup

No picks, just some impressions of Friday's Breeders' Cup races....


Is it possible to have a speed duel in a 1 3/4 marathon? Sure if Eldaafer and Gabriel's Hill decide to go at it early. If one defers, there's a chance for a loose-on-the-lead type clicking off 25-26 second quarters around three turns. I like Gabriel's Hill to do just that at some pretty hefty odds. With all these Breeders' Cup races Churchill experience does count and A.U. Miner and Prince Will I Am both will bring big prices to the table if they can pounce on some tiring speed up front.

Juvenile Turf

Big improvement or proven form is the main question here with several foreign invaders tossed in for confusion. Winter Memories will answer both questions with another big effort. In her last, she seemed to win for fun coming six wide. Allure d'Amour ran a few ticks faster than Winter Memories will registering a very similar Beyer speed figure coming off a maiden score - of course she is breaking from the grandstand this time. Kathmanblu and More Than Real are stakes placed and looked to be the main closing threats along with chalky 'Memories. Finally Tale Untold looks battle-tested and beat 18 of 19 competitors in her last while gaining late.

Filly and Mare Sprint

This tricky race can only be parred down to five for me: Champagne d'Oro beat a decent Test field at Saratoga with ease. Her latest fourth place finish at Keenland was simply a tune up for this. Dubai Majesty loves Churchill with three wins from six starts, but has yet to win at the tricky seven furlong distance. Friday may be her day. Informed Decision is likely to reach her highest odds this year and she simply relishes the seven furlong distance, winning seven of eleven. The deftly managed Rightly So is 7-3-1 from 11 starts and 3-for-3 at seven furlongs; her last a front-running romp at the Spa. Whether or not Secret Gypsy goes, Rightly So could actually have the front to herself.

Juvenile Filly

Pace will not be the question here. There will be plenty of competition for the front and either a very strong-willed two-year-old will lead them all the way around or more likely a mid-pack or deep closer will come flying late. Awesome Feather intrigues me the most since horses coming off the deep, sandy track at Calder usually put up slower times and can be vastly underrated - even if they are 5-for-5 like Awesome Feather. According to Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch neither R Heat Lighting nor Tell a Kelly looked comfortable over the Churchill strip this week, so I'm tossing two of the chalkier prospects. Off of her Frizette win, A Z Warrior may be the favorite, and is almost a must use off that last effort. Coming from the other end of spectrum, Richard Dutrow had a 13-length maiden winner Believe in A.P. cruise at Philly Park on October 9. Will she be an all of sudden champ or just a chump filling the field?
Indian Gracey gets favorable post number 1. She is a threat to hit the front and just keep going here. Delightful Mary has made a very favorable impression working on dirt for the first time after two Woodbine synthetic track wins. A relatively unknown trainer/jockey combination and lack of dirt racing experience will provide high odds for anyone willing to take a shot.

Filly and Mare Turf

Midday is one of several terrifying European invaders. She seems push-button in winning three straight Group 1 wins. Play against her at your own risk. For some reason I am attracted t0 the chances of Eclair de Lune - a foreign invader that won the coveted, Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington's European-like turf. You'll get a price for her. Harmonious seems to have a lot to overcome despite her talent - facing older competition for the first time and stepping out an eighth of a mile longer. Too much for me.

Ladies Classic

A two-horse race for me - one leading early or one coming late. Life at Ten has worked extremely well since her Grade 1 smash, winning Belmont's Beldame easily. The one-hole could be problematic, unless pilot Johnny V. saves all the ground, only to swing out late to win. Blind Luck will simply take her time and lope around until the real running starts on turn for home. Impressive win at Churchill in May.

Important Note: In looking at Churchill's racing charts the last three days, the middle of the track - both long and short, on the dirt - is the place to be. Horses are consistently winning in the two-, three- and four-path. Unless track maintenance plays with the track this weekend, the rail is not the place to be.