Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, November 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM
THE CUP RUNNETH OVER
By John Piesen
After two days of hits and misses, some tough beats, and thanking the stars I wasn’t at LAX on Friday morning, it came down to the Breeders’ Cup Classic...and it wasn’t looking good for yours truly.
Up to that point in the Cup, over two days and 13 BC races, New York-based horses were checking in at 0-for-39, and Todd Pletcher, the king of all he surveys in New York. was 0-for-7, with the likes of Princess of Sylmar, Havana and Verrazano.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure I was in trouble in the Classic. After all, my top pick was Palace Malice, based at Belmont Park and trained by -- you guessed it -- Pletcher!
Always the optimist, I figured that since Cot Campbell, the majority owner of Palice Malice, is a good southern boy from Aiken, S.C., that would wipe out the curse of Gotham, although admittedly that would be a stretch.
As it played, Palace Malice made a menacing outside move on the second turn, but before I could whistle the first refrain from Dixie, a big, white-faced horse emerged from right behind PM, and blew by him as though his feet were encased in cement at Gruman’s Chinese Theater.
That, of course, was Will Take Charge, and a quarter-mile later, WTC lost one of the most expensive bobs in racing history, starting with Horse of the Year.
New York? 0-for-42.
Oh, the humanity.
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But don’t cry for the Toddster. After taking some potshots at Santa Anita, the next day at Aqueduct, Todd won three straight races, including a 200K stake with Stopshoppingmaria, named for Maria Repole, the filly’s owner who seemed quite happy in the winner’s circle celebration.
I was more happy for Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, and a heart transplant survivor. At 4 foot 10, she’s got the guts of a Watergate burglar, and twice the personality.
My friend Steve Haskin knew. At least he knew at the finish line while he brandished a recorder in Kathy’s face during his closeup on national television. Later we would discover that the Breeders’ Cup telecast topped at 1.6, a rating that I understand compares favorably with women’s beach badminton.
The Classic was one indeed. A collision of two worlds the petite sweet thing trainer, and a 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey making a comeback for the ages, against the baddest man on the racing planet since the Carter Administration and a rider, who except for a few buddies at South Beach, was an unknown himself six months ago.
The finish looked too close to call, but I knew Macho won. Why? Because Steve Haskin was hangin’ with Kathy, not D. Wayne Lukas. I’ve known Steve 40 years, since our Hightstown days, and one thing about Steve: I’ve never known him to miss a photo.
Although I was ripped at myself for picking Palace Malice, I felt worse for Will Take Charge, his connections, and those many folks world-round, who supported him at the windows. If the nose had gone the other way, Oaklawn Park would have had to borrow from the Bank of Arkansas to pay off the winners.
Amazing when you think of it.
Here’s a horse who started the by winning the Smarty Jones Stakes (oh the irony) at OP, and winds up the certain 3-year-old champion -- and (switch noses) Horse of the Damn Year.
There also should be a special Eclipse for Will Take Charge as the only 3-year-old still standing. Orb and Oxbow already have been retired, and Palace Malice probably will be retired. Those are the three winners ofhe Triple Crown races, a Triple Crown in which the best WTC could do was finish sixth, and was beaten a total of 45 lenghs. And right here of my mousepad is the finish of the ’93 Apple Blossom showing two-tine Horse of the Year Azeri nosing Take Charge Lady, the dam of Will Take Charge.
And speaking of dams, just want to point that Leslie’s Lady, the dam of two-time BC winner and two-time champion Beholder, is none other than the late, great Bob Holthus, a major trainer in the Central Time Zone, who gave us the likes of Lawyer Ron and Pure Clan in his final years.
What a legacy Beholder is for Bob Holthus?
Despite all the media raves for this Breeders’ Cup, and the Cup and Distaff were highlights, there were as many bummers, starting with NBC shooting the races with eight or nine camera angles. Why couldn’t they show the whole race from the damn blimp?
The absolute worst angle was the start of the Distaff. The three broadcasters spent a half-hour discussing how important the start and first 100 yards would be. And then they shoot the first eighth from a camera BEHIND the gate, making it impossible to know what was going on.
I did hit Beholder, but on several other races. I was doing great the first half-dozen angles, at least until they got to the stretch shot.
An hour earlier, Wise Dan won the Turf Mile for the second straight year, and from what everyone says, clinched a second straight Horse of the Year.
I seem to be a minority of one.
Don’t mean here to knock Wise Dan, He’s a wonderful animal with a wonderful record, but his people insist on maintaining this insanely successful pattern of ducking the big boys in the Classic, and go instead in the Mile where WD is canonized by the media for beating a nice Grade 3 turfer Za Approval.
Now I’m seeing that the media, some of whom attend a horse race once a year, will give Horse of he Year to Wise Dan in a landslide that will make the Chris Christie victory look like a squeaker.
And will someone explain to me how Wise Dan will get Horse of the Year, and Much Macho Man champion older horse?
How does that work?
For a few minutes I was going to praise long-time colleague John Pricci (no relation).
After looking at a laundry list of Wise Dan’s for Horse of the Year in the NTRA rankings, I was shocked to see Pricci putting Will Take Charge on top. Way to go, John. Alas, I then checked his Top Ten and realized that somebody obviously goofed, and ran his list of 3-year-olds.
John, you coulda been a contender.
And if the Beyer ratings float your boat, it must be reported that once again, Game On Dude, the King of the Beyers, missed the cut.
Day Two of the Cup could not have gotten off to a worse start.
First, NBC blew off the live showing of the first BC Race -- the Juvenile Fillies.
As for the race itself, it produced a ghastly spill, costing the promising 2-year-old filly Secret Compass her life, and sending Hall of Famer John Velazquez to the hospital, where he had his spleen removed in addition to sustaining internal bleeding.
Johnny’s family was flown back to New York in the owner’s private jet, but John remains hospitalized in LA. We join the racing world in praying for his complete recovery.
She’s a Tiger wound up beating Ria Antonia (32-1) by a nose. Following a lengthy look at the films, the stewards took down the winner. I thought it was a terrible DQ. Ria Antonia had the length of the stretch to get past She’s a Tiger and could not. Moreover, since when do 2-year-olds run absolutely straight?
Especially in a case where there’s a six-million pot riding in the High Five?
Ten minutes after the spill and the DQ, an NBC talker told us we were watching a "sensational" Breeders’ Cup.
Don’t take us for fools.
PIESEN CUES: Moments after he made his second score at Monmouth this year, a 100K show play on a 2-year-old trotter at Colonial, the Mad Bomber was escorted by a Monmouth official to the front gate, and handed him a letter telling him that he was no longer welcome at the lovely Shore gambling palace. Sorry to see that the Bomber is running out of places to bet.
Please tell me what’s wrong with this picture. Personally. I would ban the Bomber for calling during a Breeders’ Cup race.
Much sorrier to read that Larry Barrera passed this week at 54. I got to know Larry when he was helping his late dad, Hall of Famer Laz Barrera, during Affirmed’s memorable Triple Crown campaign. Also remember Larry as being Steve Cauthen’s best friend and mentor during those tumultuous times. Later on, Larry trained horses, the best of whom was Grade One winner Rich Cream.
A good man. Much too young.
This has been a rough go for best friends of New York sports icons. Just last summer, Jim Hudson, the Jets’ Super Bowl safety, Joe Namath’s best friend, and a horse trainer after football, passed away in his native Texas at 71.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but a week after announcing a new COO, NYRA terminated the publication of the Aqueduct attendance figures.
Thanks for tuning in. A reminder that we have winners almost every day online at www.johnpiesen.com, and also on the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. I’m enjoying a successful Aqueduct meet, and check out the forthcoming December issue of American Turf Monthly for my hard-hitting Fair Grounds preview. See you back here next Friday.