By Gene Kershner
The 2012 Breeders’ Cup (BC) is in the books and the 29th anniversary of the event that was the brainchild of the late John Gaines most certainly delivered the goods. Even though handle and attendance were both down in comparison to 2011, the racing product did not disappoint.
Attendance for the two days at Santa Anita was down 6.9 percent (89,742 versus 96,496 in 2009) in comparison to the last time the Cup was held at the California track. Of course, in 2009 hometown hero Zenyatta was a big draw and she impacted that year’s Saturday attendance figures significantly.
Nonetheless several results stuck with me the most while observing the two days of 15 championship races:
“It Never Rains in California.” That was a quote from trainer George Weaver, who handled Bona Ventures Stables’ Summer of Fun who finished third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and it certainly did not disappoint. The context of our conversation was that Summer of Fun did not like the moisture in the turf up at Woodbine and that would prefer a firmer grass course. This was also the case for Juvenile Turf winner George Vancouver whose trainer Aidan O’Brien who had struggled in Great Britain on soft ground and really loved the firm turf of the Santa Anita course, upsetting the field at odds of 9-1. The weather at Santa Anita was just gorgeous all weekend and couldn’t have been better for the big weekend.
Animal Kingdom’s monster final furlong time in the Mile. The come home time for the 2011 Derby winner in the BC Mile was less than 11 seconds (0:10 4/5). Animal Kingdom roared home picking off four horses in the stretch only to finish a length and a half behind ultimate winner and likely Horse of the Year Wise Dan. He was steadied early in the race and had nowhere to run until he finally split horses in the final eighth of a mile to finish strong. Compared to the 2012 Kentucky Derby field that has been decimated by injury, the 2011 group also had a strong showing from third place Derby finisher Mucho Macho Man, who lost a stretch duel with Fort Larned in the Classic.
Strong TV ratings. With a solid lead-in by a Notre Dame football game that went into triple overtime with Pittsburgh, the prime time telecast drew a 2.2, which according to NBC was 83 percent higher than last year’s telecast on ESPN. The Classic went off at 8:43 p.m. ET and the aforementioned tight stretch duel provided NBC with yet another thrilling race on the main network. Earlier in August, the network televised the first dead heat in over 100 years in the Travers at Saratoga.
Filly Power. As the Friday BC card usually highlights the majority of the filly races (five of six races), two fillies stole some of the spotlight from the boys on the Saturday card. Groupie Doll, the fabulous Bowman’s Band filly, overcame a strong speed biased track to be the only horse to win coming off the pace to win the Filly and Mare Sprint. She was much the best in pulling away from the field winning by over four lengths in winning her fifth straight race. The other filly to win on Saturday, did so against males, when Jim Rome’s Mizdirection captured the 6 ½-furlong Turf Sprint coming down the hill. With morning line odds of 20-1, the Mizzen Mast filly was crushed at the windows down to 5-1 and proved to be a horse for the course, winning her third straight race on the Santa Anita turf.
Maragh’s Marauders. While Mike Smith was named the weekend’s outstanding jockey with his wins on Royal Delta and Mizdirection, Rajiv Maragh quietly won two BC races himself. He was aboard D. Wayne Lukas’ upset winner Hightail in Friday’s Juvenile Sprint and Groupie Doll in the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday. The New York-based rider continues to improve and made the most of his mounts during this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
It’s time to start looking forward to the few big races remaining this year like the Clark Handicap and the Cigar Mile as well as sorting out who will be on my year end Eclipse ballots before we close the book on 2012.