Seasons greetings race fans, it's that time of year where we dance around the Festivus Pole and 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 and a few Festivus ales we're ready to unveil the 2017 Racing Festivus for the rest of us...
“Feats of Strength”
Arrogate completes miraculous comeback from horrendous start to win Dubai World Cup. If you saw the look on Bob Baffert’s face when the replay camera showed his face at the break of the World Cup, you would have thought he lost a family member. Arrogate, coming off a win in the $12 million Pegasus in January, broke horribly and had to rally around the whole field and catch a game Gun Runner in the stretch to capture the $10 million race at Meydan. It’s a race that blew up twitter afterwards with unworldly comments regarding Arrogate’s performance. Truly a feat of strength.
Bob Baffert and Mike Smith have a day on the Belmont Stakes card. What a day these two had on the Belmont undercard. Sure, Todd Pletcher took home the goods in the big race, but these two had a day for the ages. Smith won five of seven races on the card, the first time he won that many at Belmont Park since 1991. He teamed with Baffert to win four of his five wins. Smith’s major wins were with Songbird (Hollendorfer) and the coming out party for West Coast in the Easy Goer, who would later win the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby to challenge for 3-year-old honors. Other winners on the day for the two included Mor Spirit (Met Mile), Abel Tasman (Acorn) and American Anthem (Woody Stephens).
Mark Casse pulls off back-to-back Woodbine Mile wins with World Approval. After figuring out that his big white horse is best at the mile distance on the weeds at Saratoga, attempting to win his second consecutive WoMile was clearly on his mind. With Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez aboard, the son of Northern Afleet led gate-to-wire holding off the 3-year-old Lancaster Bomber. He would go on to win five-of-six races on the year capping it off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Honorable Mention: Chad wins his first Triple Crown race, Gun Runner’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and finally Voodoo Song winning four races during Spa meet for Linda Rice (h/t @135tribox).
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 Late Pick-5. We love the late Pick-5. Don’t take it away from us after Saratoga is over. Please? I’m asking nicely. Teasing us on Cigar Mile Day is nice, but c’mon man.
Prince of Wales lacks Plate winner (again). Holy Helena’s connections continued the trend for the Queen’s Plate winner to skip the $500,000 middle jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown. I get it that there are surface differences that cause owners to pass on the signature race at Fort Erie Race Track. Why can’t we have nice things? Holy Helena became the second filly in six years (see Inglorious) to get trounced in the Alabama in open company. Will we ever see another Canadian Triple Crown winner? Got to be in it to win it. Sound familiar?
Derby draw woes. Make the points earned through the prep season mean something. Let the connections choose in the order that they came in on the Derby leaderboard. Remember Lookin at Lucky drawing the rail? Would have never happened and he could have been a Triple Crown threat. It’s too much of a crapshoot and the best horses should have the opportunity to choose their gate.
That’s a wrap for this year’s Racing Festivus. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at some 2018 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.