Eleven thoughts on Friday's and Saturday's 14 races and the events surrounding them.
1. The quiet hit of the weekend: the 50 cent minimums on trifectas, Pick 3's and Pick 4's. For the first time, Churchill Downs and the Breeders Cup lowered the minimums on bets other than the superfecta, and it was a resounding success. In the Classic alone, the handle was up $2.3 million on the trifecta, $250k on the Pick 3, and $750k on the Pick 4. The bet allows players with smaller bankrolls to take stabs and make more combinations, which can only increase their rate of return. And it helps avoid the tax man by lowering the amount you cash on a ticket, which is the trigger for getting a W-2. Can we make these permanent?
2. Six Eclipse Awards were settled for sure: Uncle Mo (2yo colt), Awesome Feather (2yo filly), Blind Luck (3yo filly), Lookin at Lucky (3yo colt), Zenyatta (older female) and Blame (older male) will all be unanimous winners or pretty close to it. Dubai Majesty is probably going to win the Filly Sprinter award off of her BC win, but it won't be unanimous.
3. It's the next 4 Eclipse where things get interesting. Big Drama won the BC Sprint but still may lose the male sprinter award to Majesticperfection, who thumped him in August before getting hurt. Proviso had the best year of any turf filly in the States, but just lost to Goldikova. Can one win in the US trump 4 Grade 1's when you beat the other horse in question. The male turf division is a complete mess, as Dangerous Midge won the Turf but it was not only his only win in the US this year, it was his only Grade 1 win period. Winchester won two Grade 1's but lost to Dangerous Midge. Gio Ponti won two Grade 1's but was 2-for-7 overall. Can Paddy
O'Prado (who ran in the Classic) back into the award despite losing to Winchester in his only start against older males on the turf? (We'll get to Horse of the Year in a minute.)
4. The weekend was full of wonderful performances, but the first jaw dropper was Uncle Mo's win in the Juvenile, which was even more impressive than his 4 1/2 length margin. The horse was never asked for run until the top of the stretch, and when asked, he opened up willingly. We have our doubts that he'll get a mile and a quarter with that breeding, but he's truly something special and one of the best 2yos we've seen in a while.
5. The next jaw dropped came 40 minutes later with Goldikova's scintillating win in the Mile for her third straight title. The highlight of the race was the replay watching her groom (who came over from France with her), cheering and sprinting down the dirt track as she flew down the stretch cheering her on. One of the great moments of fandom we've seen in the sport.
6. If anyone had Dakota Phone in the Dirt Mile without hitting the "all" button, please email us and let us know how you came up with a horse that was 1 for his last 19 and finished DAFL in his only dirt start in the last 2 years. He was the second horse we tossed in that race after the now-retired Mine That Bird.
7. We can't let the day go by without heaping on the criticism of John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher for not scratching Life at Ten before the Distaff on Friday night. Both knew the horse wasn't 100% or acting right, yet let her run, in effect, setting fire to several million dollars that were bet on her. Both should be fined and suspended.
8. We were wondering why Dangerous Midge's owner wasn't at the track yesterday, but think we've found the answer: http://tinyurl.com/25boe2r.
9. We've been high on Blame all year, and were happy to see him run well yesterday. The focus of the Classic is going to be on Zenyatta's loss rather than his win—that's just the nature of what happens when a strong favorite who everyone likes loses. (Birdstone over Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont is a recent example.) And it's a bit unfair, because he's legitimately a very good horse and a worthy winner.
10. What can you say about a horse that starts the race 16 1/4 lengths behind the leaders, is 15 lengths out with a half mile to go, and loses by a head? Whose move on the turn and down the stretch was the best losing effort since Easy Goer's in the 1989 Classic? That it's amazing that this has never happened before. Dead closers are always at the mercy of the pace, traffic, tiring horses, dirt getting thrown in their face, and track biases. Until yesterday, Zenyatta overcame all of that every single time. And yesterday she fell a neck short. We don't think she lost much in defeat at all, it reminded us how difficult it is to win championship races over and over again and just appreciate what she did for over 3 years.
11. So who's Horse of the Year? On paper it's easy: Blame won the Stephen Foster, Whitney and BC Classic, beating every horse of consequence in the process. But we know that Zenyatta is going to get a lot of votes, some as a makeup for last year, some as a career achievement award, and some because people thought she was the best horse yesterday. Hell, people like Joe Drape said that Zenyatta was HOTY no matter what happened yesterday. We completely disagree—Blame won it fair and square on the track—but it'll be fun to see who actually gets the hardware in February.
And this concludes our horse racing coverage until March, when we'll jump back in and see if Uncle Mo is still the leading horse on the Kentucky Derby Trail.