Sunday, April 19, 2015

Beyern Bounce

In a previous post, I mentioned the Bayern Bounce. For those who had watched the Breeders' Cup Classic, you know exactly what I am referring to.

At the break for the Classic, Shared Belief gets slammed as Bayern rockets out of the gate...sideways. There was a lot of debate about whether or not the eventual winner should have been disqualified. The main question was not whether or not he slammed into Shared Belief, but whether or not he did during the "jump" from the gate. Stewards give jockeys certain wiggle room when coming out of the gate. Seeing as it can be difficult to steer a charging horse to begin with, stewards give extra consideration when that horse is coming out of the gate. Whether or not the stewards made the right call is not really my concern. What is done is done. What is my concern is how long the complaints continued.

Was it the Bayern Bounce that cost Shared Belief the race? Maybe.
Maybe the gelding was simply out gunned that day too.
Would a horse the size of California Chrome been as affected? Maybe not.

Shared Belief is fairly small as far as race horses are concerned. That may of had a hand in the stewards decision. The bump would not have been as bad on a "normal" opponent. Does that change the fact it possibly changed the outcome of the race, causing Shared Belief to lose? Nope. It is just a theory. That bump had to hurt the little guy, even it was "just" his horse ego.

It reminds me of Goldikova.
In her fourth Breeders' Cup Mile win, she got beat up in the stretch. Being little as well, she got bounced around something fierce. I was waiting for an inquiry to be posted, but it never was. Like Shared Belief, it affected the outcome of the race. I don't know why it was dismissed, but it was. Nothing more than a theory and an interesting thought to ponder.

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Modern Records Broken

As I was walking through the lanes of bloggy nostalgia, I came across a post about my favorite racehorse.
The horse holding this honored position is the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!

Much to my heart's regret, the great Cigar recently became the late, great Cigar. The beloved champion and fan favorite passed away October of 2014.  I was fortunate enough to see the stallion twice at Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions. I know people always anthropomorphise animals-especially race horses-by saying things like "that horse knew he was special". Well, I'm sorry, but Cigar new he was special! There were plenty of other Champions in that presentation that acted like...well...horses. This wasn't disappointing. I love seeing famous horses being horses. Finding pictures of Zenyatta covered in mud or Wise Dan in blanket enjoying a paddock makes me happy. However, Cigar was able to be a horse while still knowing who he was. The stallion simply walked differently. Stood differently. Took in his surroundings differently.   Like Secretariat, he knew where the cameras were. He posed. He knew we were there to see him.

Cigar was also the only horse I have had 'look through me'. I first heard that phrase in the Seabiscuit movie when Tom Smith was getting his first look at Seabiscuit. The narrator lets us know that Smith felt like the horse looked through him. Cigar did that to me. When they brought him around to my side of the pavilion, he had his head up, staring at the distance as I happily clicked away. He ignored me for probably seven shots, and then-without shifting his head-he dropped his gaze to me. I was able to get one photo before I simply froze under his stare. With what I could only describe as horsey satisfaction, he returned his focus to whatever he looked at before. Is it possible that he was simply looking at me and the power of his legend is what caused me to pause? Sure. Does that make as good of a memory? No.
Is that what I actually think?

Back to the title of this post.
In what has become not so recent years, some of Cigar's records were challenged and broken. There was a big fuss made about how these records were finally defeated, but I had to question...were they? If by number, they certainly weren't as impressive.

Now, before you get your hackles up saying I'm just a Cigar follower, both the horses in question are also atop my favorites list: Curlin and Zenyatta.

Curlin beat Cigar's record for most earnings in won in North America. Cigar held that for years before Curlin came along, finally nudging the legend out of the winning position. However, Curlin earned more in fewer races. Cigar had to win more to earn that much. Arguably, he worked harder for it. So, how did Curlin beat him?

Were his connections just more direct with what purses the races they entered held? Curlin's connections sought out fame and fortune, whereas Cigar's did a lot of traveling to share their wonder horse. Because of this, he may have missed out on some bigger winnings.

Have the purses themselves increased? Think about the Breeders' Cup Classic. The purse to the winner has definitely grown there.

So, is that really a fairly broken record? I'm not so sure. This holds true not just for Curlin beating Cigar, but for whomever Cigar beat as well. With more and more money being poured into purses, I think the focus needs to be shifted on how many Graded Stakes did they win. How many were Grade Is? That is where records become impressive.

That thought brings us into my next case: Zenyatta's winning streak. As the mare pounded away at her competition while writing her legend, a lot of hype came about when she was getting ready to challenge Citation and Cigar's win streak. Any horse stringing together his many Graded wins is impressive. Was Zenyatta's triumph over these two boys as impressive? Undecided. While she did extend that streak to 19, she did it over a much longer time span than Citation or Cigar. On one hand, that shows formidable staying power. It is no easy feat to stay at the top of this game for that many years. On the other hand, she was not run nearly as much as her counterparts.

This is simply a different way to view titles and records. So often we place importance on success without looking at the path that got them there. Sometimes, we look at and reward success to a fault. Not allowing the horse to flounder and comeback.  I wonder how many more wins Zenyatta had under her girth after that close loss at Churchill. I wonder how much more money Curlin could have pulled together before the allure of the breeding shed stuck him into retirement. I wonder how many good horses were retired before they could become great simply because they broke a record. Thinking back to a horse named Aggie Engineer. He didn't manage to win until he was 5.  After that, he pulled together some more wins and decent efforts in Graded company. He was a good horse-in his own respect-that managed to sneak into greatness given the time. I wonder how many other horses were denied true greatness in favor of inflated reward? That sounds like another entry for another day. In the meantime...

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.

More Than Blood

This is a post I have been meaning to get out forever. One of the topic horses has been standing at stud for 3 years. This idea started to percolate when he was only 2. However, as we are in full swing of the current foaling season, I figured there was no better time to discuss blood vs. the X factor.

People spend a lot of time and money on bloodstock agents. These people work tirelessly to make sure that horses are matched together in a hopeful perfection. Although, it would seem their time would be better suited to worshiping an X factor deity.

You cannot plan for that special horse. You cannot replicate that special horse, but you can keep trying.
My strongest case for this dates back to Barbaro. My heart still breaks for the would-be champion. Often after the Derby, my gut lurches as it relays to me that "nope. That one will not be winning the Triple Crown."
"But gut!" my heart argues, but my gut refuses to listen. Refuses to let me forget it's nagging reassurance that it is always right. Of course I still get caught up in hope and band wagoning as I attempt to ignore its prediction. I cheered for the plucky Funny Cide despite my gut cringing as the gelding took the lead in the Belmont instead of stalking the pace. I really wanted to believe Calvin when he said Mine That Bird would take the Crown. I was devastated that I'll Have Another was pulled from the Belmont. I was very hopeful that California Chrome would win one more for his fans. However, I also always grudgingly have that conversation with my gut. "Well, you were right...again. No Crown for me this year."  The only time my gut and heart were equally impressed and jumping on the same band wagon was after watching Barbaro.

I eagerly awaited his Preakness run. That horse had power, grit, heart, and class. That horse would also meet an untimely end before his potential could be fully realized. Regardless, his connections wanted to try again. So came into the world Barbaro's two full brothers, Nicanor and Lentenor.

Very few have probably heard of these two. Fewer actually remember them. Both of them turned in some wins at the allowance level. They made decent efforts in some Graded Stakes, but neither ever hit or neared the level of talent their brother held.

Same dam. Same sire. Same connections. Same hopes. Completely different outcomes. It makes you wonder what really makes a champion? Michael Martin Murphey hit the mark in his song "Run for the Roses." In the verse that I inevitably get teary at, he says, "From sire to sire, it's born in the blood. The fire of the mare, and the strength of the stud. It's breeding, and it's training, and it's something unknown, that drives you and carries you home."

I think that about sums up breeding. You need a certain quality of blood to increase your chances of creating a champion. Sure. I think we can agree to that logic. However, that X factor, that "something unknown" cannot be bred. It cannot be passed down. Dynaformer and La Ville Rouge were pressured into hopefully creating another Barbaro. They did not. Secretariat saw how many mares a year in hopes of making a "Big Red Jr."? He never did.

So good luck to all those foals who have hit the ground so far and all those we're still waiting for. I hope you hit the ground running with the "unknown" on your side.

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.

California Chrome vs Shared Belief: It Continues...

A lot has happened since my last post.
California Chrome was named 2014 Horse of the Year.
Shared Belief won the much anticipated rematch.

And yes...people are still complaining, still fighting, and still missing it.
I have to give fans credit thought. There is a lot more, "dude...chill out...they are both great" comments floating around the Internet with this rivalry.

However, the fallout from the Horse of the Year decision was fairly despicable. Personally, I was not terribly impressed with the nominees to begin with, but I have been spoiled with having the power house Wise Dan as a shoe in. Of the choices, I was surprised to find out anyone was...well...surprised! Kentucky Derby winners almost always get "bonus points" when it comes to voting. Throw in a Preakness victory, and they almost give you the title there. Obviously, this is not always the case, but it does seem to sway a lot of voters.

Regardless, the win did not warrant the reaction it received from some fans. Comments flung about how: the voters did not use their brains; the voters were swayed by emotion; California Chrome didn't deserve to win; Shared Belief is a better horse (yet no comments about how he wasn't even a finalist...); blah blah blah! Seriously though, do these people note realize how voting works? They didn't just go up to the casual fan and ask "who do you like?" Nope. (Although...if they did California Chrome STILL would have won. Remember the Vox Populi Award? Chromies do.) The voters have more prerequisites than "I like horse racing!" Still, they can vote how they want. Sure, they will look at number and types of wins, times, the company they beat, etc., but there is no stopping them from simply going "I like this horse." There were plenty of things to sway the other two candidates out of contention. Let's be honest...after the Bayern bump in the Classic, he wasn't going to win. Although people do use logic, the heart wins a lot too. As for Main Sequence, I cannot say, but I can speculate a lot of people were playing the what if game. "What if Wise Dan hadn't been sidelined most of the season?" There are some ideas that had to be floating around in the minds of votes, just as I can guess some simply went "I can't stand Steve Coburn." (Again, I have nothing against the guy. There are other owners I have bigger problems with.)

Anyway, California Chrome won guys. Get over yourselves. Besides, it wasn't but a few short weeks before you got your win as well! The 2015 San Antonio Stakes was an anticipated rematch between the two stars after Shared Belief got the bump in the Classic. Both horses had a good race; both horses had no excused. Shared Belief came out on top. No Chromies, don't diss the little guy. No Beliefers, don't take away big guy's HoY title. I think Shared Belief has more heart and grit than California Chrome does. I think that came out during the San Antonio. Chrome had no excuses during that race. It just seemed like Shared Belief wanted it more, and so he won it.

Again, I think we need to get away from the name calling and horse hating. Pick a side when they are in a race together if you'd like (or bet the exacta box), but we should be enjoying this rivalry. I am. I am loving the fact we had two, strong three year-olds stay sound enough to come back in the 2015 season. I am grateful to the owners for sharing these horses with us. I am looking forward to watching this rivalry grow. I am eagerly awaiting the next rematch.

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.

Friday, January 9, 2015

California Chrome or Shared Belief?

Whew. It's been a long vacation, but what better way to get back into the swing of things than to talk about two of the hottest guys this season?

So, which camp do you fall under? Team California Chrome or Team Shared Belief? Remind me again why we have to choose?

I have a guilty pleasure...I love reading Internet comments. Even though they always upset me, I read them anyway. They make me think. They make me question. Recently, I have noticed a rise to GO CHROME vs SHARED BELIEF RULES! It got me thinking...which one do I like better?

This was tough.  I was a fan of Shared Belief to win the Kentucky Derby well before he was injured and taken off the Derby trail. I was saddened that I wouldn't get to watch the gelding dominate. As for California Chrome, I picked him out because I liked him name. Trace might say "her favorite color is chrome". Then he started to stack together wins. Then he went to the Kentucky Derby. A Kentucky Derby I was fortunate enough to see live. I liked him. I liked his story. I liked Sherman's story. I liked his owner's story. I liked the fact I was able to go back to the betting window to cash out on my win.

I am not going to break down stats and stories of these horses. No, I'm going to focus on the division I have seen cropping up between these two horses.  Why? Why do we do this? We take two great horses...pick one to back...and insist that the other isn't worth their weight in salt.

Point #1
When the two aren't even in the same race, the other camp feels the need to go "So and so would have won!"
Would they have? Who's to say. This is horse racing. You could be the hands down favorite and that X factor crops up and destroys your chance (like ripping your leg open at the start of the Belmont...or having a big brown colt ram into you at the start of the Classic).

Point #2
"So and So's connections are better than So and So's."
(This is going to be more California Chrome based. I've seen Shared Belief's great races but not seen nearly as much pre and post race coverage as I have for Chrome.)

Well...that would be an opinion wouldn't it? A lot of people thought Coburn's reaction at the Belmont (and his jab at Churchill during the Preakness) was uncalled for and simply unprofessional. Personally, I think the press knew he was a hot head and should have left the heart broken optimist alone after such a devastating loss. Perhaps after a day to calm down and reflect, he would have been able to talk with a little more thought and composure.

Now, does this bad part of Chrome's connections take away from the good? What about Art Sherman? Does he not get any points for what he has done? Personally, he seems to be a pretty level-headed and straight forward. He presents well and has said anything worth the hate.

Finally (and admittedly, this took me awhile to enforce in my own life...I'm still working on it), why hate on the horse because of his people? Does that take away from the horse's accomplishments? No. I still have a few trainers or owners that make me gag. Does that mean I can't like their horse? It really shouldn't, but to many people it does.

Point #3
You're going to miss it!

All this mess and hate filled commentary to the other side reminds me very the great war: Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra. People are STILL going on about how much better one mare was over the other. Most recently, there was a Rachel lover hating how little "love" the mare got on her Facebook page. Yea, first's Facebook. Are the mares really counting how many 'likes' they get in a day? Second thing, Zenyatta's team is still keeping that horse in the public's eye meaning there is more opportunity for 'love' to be had.

I digress...

However, I do remember when this battle raged on. When you read comments or talked to people about the two horses, you had to have a side. You had to root for one mare over the other. Because of this attitude along with me being young and dumb, I choose a side. My siding with Zenyatta probably had more to with being angry that Rachel beat Mine That Bird in the Preakness, and, remember that hating the connections point I just made? Yes, there was some of that involved to.  Still, I lost the opportunity to enjoy the accomplishments of an exceptionally talented filly because I had to choose a side.

So fans, if you have missed either of these great boys this season because you like one over the other...STOP! It is horse racing. You don't have to love Seabiscuit and hate War Admiral. You don't have to root for Jess's Dream and throw Cozmic One aside. Enjoy California Chrome and Shared Belief for what they are: great. Like them both. Bet an exacta box. Enjoy the talent we are lucky to see return for a 4 year old campaign.

I'm looking forward to a great rivalry between these two. All I can say is I hope everyone else can too.

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.