October 30, 2008

EURO Rising

In light of recent events with the souring U.S. economy and overall poor reputation amongst the world community, it should come as no surprise that we've lost our dominance in international racing as well. The Euro based horses won 3 of 4 turf races and for good measure pulled off a couple upsets over the main track. And let me tell you, the Brits were on hand in numbers to revel in their success. I must have been in the Euro zone of Arcadia as the accents were thick on the bus ride back and throughout the pubs of Huntington Avenue. "We did it... we got first AND second!", proclaimed one expat. Quipped another, "Curlin who?"
To add insult to injury (to my pocket book, anyway) the next morning at breakfast the Lads next to my wife and I were calculating their U.S. witholding tax on their $6,000 profits (nearly 10,000 British pounds). Even our Sunday afternoon trip to the beach to watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from Duke's Bar at Malibu was crashed by a British family, fully stocked with Breeders' Cup accessories (presumably bought with 50 quid from winnings). They all bellied up to the tiki bar next to us ordering Mai Tais and toasting Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator.

In spite of my inept handicapping, I could not have enjoyed the warm and sunny day any more at Santa Anita -- the majestic racetrack beneath the San Gabriel mountains. You could clearly tell this wasn't the track's first rodeo. The 51,000 plus horse lovers were nothing for this facility to handle. After watching the post parade for the Classic go by the grandstand, I realized that I forgot to make my mother's bets. Rather than booking them like my brother would have done, I scurried to the ticket windows and had all bets placed within two minutes! Now this wouldn't have been possible during many Saturdays at Oaklawn Park, not to mention Belmont, Saratoga or Del Mar, at least not on the "big event" days I've attended.
There have been multiple criticisms of Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic surface, particularly after Curlin's out-of-the money showing. Not a single horse won on the main track without previous success on either turf or a synthetic track, making any dirt form irrelevant. My personal argument is not that the surface favors turf runners, but rather thwarts the chances of a speed horse from winning, i.e. Pace no longer makes the race! The empirical data I provide is that a truly "neutral" track surface should result in front-runners winning at approximate percentages to those of stalkers and closers at various distances. However, only one dirt race resulted in any horse close to the lead winning (Midshipman in the Juvenile) and most winners came from the clouds. This is one lesson I will remember for the future, whether it be the Santa Anita Derby or next year's Breeders' Cup card, also slated for Santa Anita.

The biggest winner of the day was Dubai's Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum and his family. His wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, owns Classic winner Raven's Pass and Juvenile Turf winner Donativum. Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stud campaigns Juvenile winner Midshipman and owns the stallion Elusive Quality, sire of Raven's Pass. After being so kind to American owners by inviting runners such as Cigar, Silver Charm and Curlin to run for the gaudy purse money offered at the Dubai World Cup, Sheik Mohammed now has returned stateside to claim our richest prize. Let's hope this trend does not continue! They certainly have a live bullet going into next year's Derby with Midshipman. Speaking of The Derby, we finally have a several month reprieve to recharge our handicapping batteries prior to the spring Derby trail in February. I know that I sure need a break!

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