2011 BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC WRAP-UP

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 05: Drosselmeyer, ridden by Mike Smith, crosses the finish line to win the Breeders' Cup Classic during the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 5, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Another Breeders' Cup has come and gone, leaving us with the usual assortment of bombs and upsets, along with huge questions with some of the Eclipse awards. Overall, business was down slightly at this year's Breeders' Cup, but I'm not sure that's a surprise to anybody; it was going to be very hard to match or top the level of interest generated by Zenyatta in 2010.  In that perspective, the numbers aren't that bad.  It is a little disconcerting when you consider that there was an extra race this year (Juvenile Sprint), but that's the way it fell.

My posting will probably be a little light the rest of the week as I'm going to unplug for a few days (or at least as much as I can).  I'd like to say a special "thanks" to all those that stopped by to read or comment this weekend (or at any time throughout the season).  I greatly appreciate it.

Okay, enough with that, let's take a look at the Classic.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Right after the Classic finished on Saturday night I thought to myself, "well, that's a fitting end to the season!" The race really fell apart in the final furlongs and, sadly, is a perfect reflection of the Classic division during most of 2011.  The Trakus data (below) from the race is particularly telling as to how almost everyone in the field stopped running at the quarter-pole.  And while some of the post-Classic headlines described Drosselmeyer as "flying down the stretch" to win, the reality suggests that everyone else was slowing down significantly.

Drosselmeyer is a grinder and he did exactly what a grinder is supposed to do when a race falls apart: clean it up. He consistently churned out 12+ second splits at each and every furlong, and that was enough to get him to the finish line ahead of everyone else. Sometimes that's all you need.

Trakus Fractions
Horse 1/4 1/2 3/4 Mile Finish
Drosselmeyer 24.95 49.19 73.67 99.03 124.02
Game On Dude 23.59 47.66 72.50 98.04 124.30
Ruler On Ice 25.33 49.45 73.98 99.00 124.45
Havre de Grace 24.03 48.22 72.98 98.55 124.55
Flat Out 24.42 48.54 73.33 98.75 124.58
So You Think (NZ) 23.77 47.96 72.74 98.31 124.60
To Honor and Serve 23.89 48.00 72.72 98.14 124.66
Ice Box 25.35 49.54 74.07 99.23 124.77
Rattlesnake Bridge 25.97 50.61 74.97 99.70 124.92
Uncle Mo 23.66 47.78 72.60 98.09 125.21
Stay Thirsty 23.77 48.10 72.89 98.54 125.24
Headache 24.05 48.23 73.05 98.67 125.37

 

 

Trakus Internal Splits
Horse 1/4 1/2 3/4 Mile Finish
Drosselmeyer 24.95 24.24 24.48 25.36 24.99
Game On Dude 23.59 24.07 24.84 25.54 26.26
Ruler On Ice 25.33 24.12 24.53 25.02 25.45
Havre de Grace 24.03 24.19 24.76 25.57 26.00
Flat Out 24.42 24.12 24.79 25.42 25.83
So You Think (NZ) 23.77 24.19 24.78 25.57 26.29
To Honor and Serve 23.89 24.11 24.72 25.42 26.52
Ice Box 25.35 24.19 24.53 25.16 25.54
Rattlesnake Bridge 25.97 24.64 24.36 24.73 25.22
Uncle Mo 23.66 24.12 24.82 25.49 27.12
Stay Thirsty 23.77 24.33 24.79 25.65 26.70
Headache 24.05 24.18 24.82 25.62 26.70

 

That's a pretty disappointing final quarter mile for Havre de Grace; she wasn't able to mount much of anything in the later stages and produced a 51+ second final half-mile.

Uncle Mo tossed in the towel at the top of the lane, which I don't think surprised anyone,  He was questionable at the distance from the start and he just didn't have enough races this year to suggest he was ready to run big at 10 furlongs.

As we can see by the final times, there was a large pack of horses that all finished within a half-second of each other at the wire; that's generally not a sign of a really good race.

Some other interesting tidbits from the Trakus data:

  • We all know that ground loss is such a huge factor in horse racing, but it becomes readily apparent when you look at a race like the Classic and the performance of a horse like Ruler On Ice.  Ruler On Ice actually ran the slowest race in terms of overall MPH (36.3), but he covered the least ground of any horse in the field (6,651 feet, 52 less than Drosselmyer and 22 less than Game On Dude).
  • The slowest final furlong of the race was run by Uncle Mo at 7.15 seconds.
  • Headache covered the most ground of any horse in the field (6,720 feet), a whopping 49 feet more than the wide, late run of Drosselmeyer.  It was a tough trip for Headache.
  • Rattlesnake Bridge finished up pretty nicely but could never overcome a disasterous start that saw him run the first quarter mile in almost 26 seconds.

It was a strange year in the Classic division, and a strange end to the Classic itself. 

Normally, the Breeders' Cup clarifies the end-of-the-year award picture.  This year, however, there are three Eclipse awards that are essentially unsettled following this weekend: Three-Year Old Colt, Older Male, and Horse of the Year.

Three-Year-Old Colts

I don't think there is any other way to put it: the three-year-old division is just a mess. At this point, Caleb's Posse has to be a leading contender for three-year-old honors - I mean, he's been as good and as consistent as any of the others. Five stakes wins on the year, including the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the G1-King's Bishop. That's a good resume.

Stay Thirsty has two sparkling wins at Saratoga, as well as a win in the G3-Gotham earlier in the year.  That might be enough to push a lot of voters his way and he's probably the leader of the division at this point... but that 11th place finish in the Classic is hard to overlook.

Ruler On Ice ran well in the Classic but he really hasn't done much since the Belmont.I can't see him winning the honors.

Derby winner Animal Kingdom hasn't run a race since the Belmont.  He's probably a top 3 kind of horse, but I don't think he's done enough to win.

Looking at sprinters and milers we could consider The Factor, but he was probably as inconsistent as anyone else. When he was good, he was good.  When he wasn't, it was a little ugly.

Shackleford? He seemed to really wear down at the end of the year and hasn't won a race since the Preakness.  He's a tough horse but you got to win some races at some point to take home a divisional championship.

Uncle Mo? He wins the award for having his name typed the most times during the season.

I'm sure there are others we could add to the list and debate endlessly, but the point still remains: there wasn't a truly dominant and consistent three-year-old in 2011, a fact that will probably be reflected in the voting.

Older Male

Ugh.  And you thought the three-year-old colts were a mess.  The older horse division was as inconsistent as any this year, and the Classic didn't clear it up one bit. 

Game On Dude has a claim to this title merely due to the fact that he won a couple of Grade 1s during the year and ran well in the Classic. But he finished behind Acclamation in the Pacific Classic and Acclamation was a lot more consistent and won a lot more races than Game On Dude.

Flat Out? Tough to put him ahead of Game On Dude after that Classic performance.  He also finished behind Havre de Grace two times.

Tizway? He missed the Classic, which might actually be good for his chances this year.  That same thing goes for Acclamation; missing the Breeders' Cup might have helped.

After that I haven't a clue.  Drosselmeyer?  I suppose his name should be thrown into the mix, even if the Classic was his only graded win of the year. 

Horse of the Year

Honestly, there really isn't a "horse of the year" this season.  There were horses of the month, of the summer, of the fall, of a specific day, but I think that while the overall depth of the division was good, the top-end talent was lacking compared to prior years. 

Havre de Grace did so many good things this year, and she's probably still the leader in the clubhouse, but I felt like she needed to at least finish 2nd in the Classic to wrap-up the title. She didn't do that and was a non-threatening 4th.

Drosselmeyer won the big one, but he didn't win anything else of consequence during the year.  He was Horse of the Day, but that's about it. 

Beyond Havre de Grace, I think we end up looking at horses that didn't run against her this year - horses like Acclamation or My Miss Aurelia

I'm not one to believe that juveniles are ever Horse of the Year material unless they do something extraordinary (like a Secretariat), so while I understand why some are beating the My Miss Aurelia drum for HOY honors, I just don't think she's done enough.

Acclamation won over multiple surfaces this year and, as I wrote earlier, was ultra-consistent. He beat Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic, a flattering result when you consider how the Classic unfolded. 

Similar to the other categories we could probably throw out several more name, all of which could have a case made for them as to why they are "Horse of the Year", but I think most horses suffer from the same lack of consistency as the Grade 1 level. At the very minimum, the Eclipse Award voting is going to be interesting to follow.

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