Whew! Anyone else exhausted after this weekend (or, should I say, after the last couple of weeks?) it seems like we handicap for weeks with an eye on the Breeders' Cup and then, in the blink of an eye and a blur of pari-mutuel tickets it's over. I'll have a longer re-cap in the next day or so as I pull together a bunch of the numbers from this past weekend but here are some random, unfiltered thoughts on the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita (and my experience in Arcadia)
- Santa Anita is such a beautiful setting for a day at the races. The view, the weather - it's simply perfect. It's too bad we can't combine the great features of several tracks for one perfect Breeders' Cup location: the capacity and ability to handle huge events of Churchill Downs, the big turf course at Belmont and the media mecca that is New York, the fantastic atmosphere and weather at Santa Anita - every location has something to offer.
- After Friday's card I pretty much was trying to play any horse that I thought would be up near the lead on the main track due to the paved highway that was the Santa Anita main track. Track biases are kind of a funny thing - just knowing one exists doesn't necessarily help you pick winners. After all, sometimes you can't predict a horse like Royal Delta will go out and take the lead (I sure didn't). At the same time, it can lead to confidently back a horse you already like.
That was the case for me in the Classic; I liked Fort Larned leading up to the Breeders' Cup but when I saw the way the track was playing, I loved him even more. He went gate-to-wire in winning the Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows earlier this summer, so I knew he could win on the lead. The only question was whether would make sure he got it. He did (thankfully), and when you combine the lead with the fact that he was closest to the rail (which was also the place to be), it became very tough for any other horse to get by the winner in the stretch. I would have played Fort Larned regardless to the way the track was playing (I loved his versatility), but the bias pushed me to back him hard.
- I'm still baffled by the results of the Turf. Little Mike? Really? Who knew he could rate and win? Not I.
- With Wise Dan winning the Mile in stylish fashion, it looks like we'll have a non-Classic winning Horse of the Year for the fifth consecutive season. Starting with Curlin to Rachel to Zenyatta to Havre de Grace, the last Classic winner to take HOY was the year Curlin won the Classic at Monmouth to capture the first of his back-to-back honors.
- If I had a vote for the Eclipse award, which I don't, my top 3 HOY votes would be Wise Dan, Royal Delta and Groupie Doll. While one can make arguments for horses like Game On Dude or Ron the Greek (or even Point of Entry), those three horses were clearly the best in their division's while the others had question marks.
- The speed bias at Santa Anita was a hot topic of discussion everywhere this weekend, including the auxiliary press area. Honestly, the way the races unfolded didn't surprise me mainly due to the fact that I've seen my home track of Emerald Downs play in a similar manner on numerous occasions. There are days when it doesn't matter what the splits are on the front end, the speed is going to hold like you wouldn't believe. Emerald also has a reverse bias on occasion; if it's a day with really heavy rain the rail tends to get really tiring and you'll see race after race after race where the speed will hit the 8th pole and then absolutely collapse. It doesn't matter if they go 48+ for the half all alone, if you're not coming late down the middle, you've got no shot to win. Of course, as I wrote above, just knowing a bias exists doesn't tell you exactly which horse will take advantage, but it can at least give clues as to which ones will be compromised.
- One of the great things this weekend was finally getting to meet some great people in person that I've conversed with on-line the last few years. Special shout outs to Equispace (Gene Kersner of the The Buffalo News) , Molly Jo Rosen (@FocusedFilly) [who was kind enough to ask me to join her and Bruno DeJulio on their Post Parade Radio Show on Saturday morning] and all the great folks from Woodbine (including media director Keith McCalmont) that I had the pleasure to dine with on Friday night at the media hotel (*cough* George Vancouver *cough*) - it was great to finally meet all of you and the countless others that love to follow this sport, which leads me to my last point from the weekend...
- Horse racing is truly a unique sport in terms of the interactions of the fans with the game itself. We aren't spectators, we're participants. Whether you're an owner, trainer, player, breeder, wagering company or track official - we all feel like and are a crucial part of the sport. We all know the problems within the sport, some of which are incredibly important, others that are the product of petty bickering. But at the end of the day, we're all in it together and we all (or at least most of us) love this sport.