By Gene Kershner
It's that time of year where we dance around the Festivus Pole and discuss Thoroughbred Racing’s 2013 Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances. Time to gather round the table and enjoy a wonderful Festivus meal and a few Festivus ales as we're ready to unveil this year’s Racing Festivus for the rest of us...
“Feats of Strength”
Stevens and Lukas steal the limelight old school style. 50-year-old Gary Stevens won the Preakness aboard Oxbow, the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Beholder and the Breeders' Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man to cap a terrific year after a seven-year layoff. Stevens was named the winner earlier in the week of the Big Sport of Turfdom by the Turf Publicists of America. D. Wayne Lukas teamed with Stevens in the Preakness and added the Travers win with Will Take Charge in addition to a nose loss in the Classic during a big comeback year for the 78-year-old conditioner.
Calidoscopio's incredible closing finish in the Brooklyn. NBC's Larry Collmus described Calidoscopio's win as "he came from the clouds" after trailing by a whopping 22 lengths during the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap. The 2012 Breeders' Cup Marathon winner bred in Argentina became only the second 10-year-old horse to win a graded stakes race with the win. You can watch the incredible finish here on the sloppy Belmont track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes in the mile and a half race.
Will Take Charge's late season charge. After struggling through the Triple Crown season, the 3-year-old who stands well over 17 hands tall, stole the show once the summer racing season began. Big wins in the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap surrounding a nostril loss in the Breeders' Cup Classic should vault the Lukas-trained sophomore to divisional honors in January. He ran a herculean 11 times during 2013 and finished the year 11-5-2-0, earning nearly $2.9 million during the year, clearly a feat of strength.
Ok, so here’s what you’re really looking for, the annual airing of grievances…also known as “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”
“Airing of Grievances”
NYRA increases attendance prices at Belmont and Saratoga for 2014. Clubhouse admission prices will rise $3 (or 60%) to $8; and general admission will be increased $2 (or 67%) to $5 for patrons attending both Belmont and Saratoga in 2014. Bettors will be a little lighter in the wallet. Come on NYRA, how about a season pass for the faithful that show up daily at the two venerable tracks? I can see you fleecing the unsuspecting tourist, but the loyal bettor that keeps your handle up. Promises of increased customer service to enhance the experience, ring hollow when you can't hear the sound system.
Derby Points System current year revisions still shun Illinois Derby. It was more than obvious of the snub that parent company Churchill Downs pulled when eliminating the Illinois Derby from its new points system in 2013, and when changes were promised in 2014, the race is still on the outside looking in. You can bet that Churchill officials were holding their collective breath hoping that 2013 Illinois Derby winner Departing didn't win the Preakness. The Illinois Derby is run at Hawthorne Race Course, the rival Chicago track to Churchill-owned Arlington. Draw your own conclusions, but I’m continuing to air a grievance here.
Ontario government turns back on Fort Erie. The folks at the border oval have had to resort to presenting a festival-style meeting over a three-week period in August that still will require government approvals to extend thoroughbred racing into the 116th year at the Fort. It's a shame that the jewel across the bridge could be shuttered in 2014. I got a lot of issues with your provincial governing, Ontario!
Breeders' Cup will return for third straight year to Santa Anita. Am I really upset that I have to go back to beautiful Santa Anita next November for Breeders' Cup XXXI? From a personal standpoint the answer is, of course not. But what about the original mission to showcase racing's best across the country at various tracks? Since 2006, the Cup has rotated between two tracks, with one miserable underwater venture at Monmouth Park in 2007. I'll give BC Ltd. credit for renaming the Ladies' Classic back to the Distaff this year, but the original mission and plan seems to be thrown away for the siren of Hollywood. Sorry, but I'm calling you on it, BC.
That’s a wrap for this year’s Racing Festivus. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at some 2014 prognostications, Kreskin-style. Happy holidays, racing fans.