Seasons greetings race fans, it's that time of year where we dance around the Festivus Pole to discuss Thoroughbred Racing’s Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances. Whether it’s time to gather round the table and enjoy a wonderful Festivus meal or a few Festivus ales, we're ready to unveil the 2016 Racing Festivus for the rest of us...
“Feats of Strength”
Nyquist pulls off rare Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby double. For only the second time in 32 years, the Juvenile winner donned the roses on the First Saturday in May. Nyquist joined 2007 Derby winner Street Sense in earning this prestigious double. While the rest of the year didn’t pan out for the son of Uncle Mo, his conquest was clearly a feat of strength.
Arrogate blisters his foes in the Midsummer Derby. The record stood for 37 years at one of the historic racetracks in North America. Arrogate shattered it in his earth-devouring victory in last summer’s Travers Stakes. The son of Unbridled’s Song rolled home a 13 1/2-length winner over his closest foe, completing the mile-and-a-quarter trek in 1:59.36. No runner had ever run a sub 2-minute Travers since its inaugural race in 1864. He backed up his win at Saratoga with a come-from-behind victory over California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita, showing his performance at the Spa was no fluke.
Tepin travels across the pond to collect a rare victory at Royal Ascot. No filly had a better spring and summer than the mighty Tepin. The globetrotting daughter of Bernstein won her fifth straight capturing the Queen Anne Stakes at venerable Royal Ascot. She became the first American-based winner of the prestigious Group 1 race that leads off the meeting. Shipping overseas and facing males on foreign soil, without the benefit of lasix, surely found her a spot in the Feats of Strength for 2016.
Honorable Mention: Frosted dominates the Met Mile in impressive fashion.
Now it's time for 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”
National Pick-4 returns, fades away. As a big proponent of the National Pick-4 wager, this horseplayer was excited when one was announced for the weekend of Aug. 20 featuring two races from Del Mar and Saratoga, respectively. Included in the Pick-4 were the Pacific Classic, won by California Chrome and the Alabama, won by the sensational 3-year-old filly Songbird. The National Pick-4 was the wager that drew me in to the sport in the 2000’s with wagers surrounding nationally-televised events. It ended up handling approximately $618,000, not a bad figure, with little marketing surrounding the wager. We need more wagers like this to generate more bettors and viewers to horse racing. If they could connect races on the big Derby trail races that are televised I could see it help grow the sport as well as increase viewership.
Eclipse Awards is a non-televised event. A no-brainer to achieve a Post Time Grievance. Okay, so awards shows are boring, I get it. However, a cable channel exists that exclusively televises horse racing. Why can't the annual awards show can’t be shown live? It has to be a money issue. A chance to showcase the best trainers, jockeys and horses of the year, including a Triple Crown winner. This was a golden opportunity to promote the sport and it went right out the window. Aye yi yi.
Preakness Rain. Did it really have to rain two years in a row at the Preakness? The second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown once again was decided on a sloppy track. The downpour benefited the west-coast mudder Exaggerator and prevented Nyquist from sweeping the first two classics. I’m giving the business to the weather gods on this final airing of grievances for 2016.
That’s a wrap for this year’s Racing Festivus. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some 2017 prognostications, Kreskin-style. Happy holidays!
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.