I just got back from the Breeders’ Cup, so I will hold off looking at what we were learned on the football front this weekend until I can settle in and get my bearings again. Before I shift my head entirely back into football, though, let’s just take a few minutes to close down my thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup. After months of preparing for the races, and a great, hot day enjoying them, here’s what sticks in my mind:
1. Zenyatta is as impressive as advertised. I only wish that she had been entered against the boys.
2. I have always been cynical about synthetic surfaces. I obviously am not opposed to protecting horses and their health. It’s just that am not convinced that we have conclusively proven that synthetic surfaces actually do that. After seeing these races played out I am more convinced than ever that synthetics are not a force for the positive. The biggest story of the weekend was the surface – it decided which horses could win and which couldn’t. With one minor exception, all three top finishers in every race not run on turf was a horse that was either a turf or synthetic specialist. That one exception is Midnight Lute, and though he has seen his best success on dirt even he had a 2006 synthetic win. No horse that had found success on dirt – that means horses from New York, Churchill, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Dubai and so on – didn’t get a sniff of anything. It’s hard to accept this as a legitimate World Championships when the surface determines which horses have the opportunity to be World Champions or, more specifically, which one’s can’t. It also means that the horses that would win the three legs of the Triple Crown – all on dirt – would be in a significant disadvantage for a Breeders’ Cup run on synthetic. That’s ridiculous.
3. I had never been to Santa Anita before. My feelings were mixed. I had heard that t was a spectacular place. I partly agree. The setting is spectacular. The feel of the place when you walk in is positive. The food and drinks were poorly organized and faced with long lines, but that’s not the fault of the place. There is a lot going for it. Ignoring the surface, though, something just didn’t entirely grab me. I liked the track, but it didn’t even begin to touch Saratoga at the top of my pile for race tracks I love. I would like, though, to return to Santa Anita again on just a normal day to see what it is like when it isn’t faced with artificial pressures.
4. The energy and buzz of the crowd from the second the Turf was over to the start of the Classic was one of the coolest things I have ever been around in my career as a sports fan. The place was electric. Watching Curlin take the lead in the stretch, though, and knowing it wasn’t going to happen, was yet another crushing, soul sucking setback dealt out by a sport that can be very cruel to those who love it. I literally saw people cry. I also saw a lot of shockingly big win tickets on Curlin tossed onto the floor.