No one can accuse Toccet's owner Daniel Borislow of not going down without a fight. With each decisive victory by the son of Awesome Again, Borislow has become more frustrated by his colt's defeat in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), in which he virtually lost all chance after breaking from the 13 post.
As a result of this frustration, Borislow raised eyebrows last week when he took out a full-page ad in the Dec. 7 issue of the Daily Racing Form, challenging Padua Stable's Satish and Anne Sanan to run their undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication in the Dec. 21 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) to decide who really is the best 2-year-old in the country. He also said he was willing to make a horse vs. horse wager, putting up $200,000 to $100,000 from Padua that Toccet beats Vindication.
Toccet has surrounded his ninth-place finish in the Juvenile with impressive victories in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, Laurel Futurity (gr. III) at Laurel, and Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct. Despite these wins, Borislow realizes Toccet's chances of winning the Eclipse Award are slim to none. Even if Toccet should add the Hollywood Futurity, the majority of the voters likely will have already filled out their ballots.
Borislow admits the ad and the extensive fall campaign he and trainer John Scanlan have put Toccet through are unconventional, especially by today's standards. But he feels it's time for racing to revert back to the days when champions were tough, hardenend campaigners, and he's convinced he has the horse to prove his point.
"The ad is really waking people up," Borislow said. "I even spoke to Bob Baffert (Vindication's trainer), and he's been great about it. I believe in having a good time, and I'm fortunate that I don't give a damn what other people think. The one good thing is that it's bringing a lot of attention to Toccet, and that's what I'm looking to do.
"I've noticed that the writers over 40 have been positive in their comments about our racing the horse, because they've seen what champions did back in the 70s and 60s. Almost every one of them had the solid 2-year-old base that Toccet has been getting. And that's why you used to have Triple Crown winners years ago and don't any longer. Most horses now don't have the 2-year-old base you saw in horses like Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, and Affirmed. Maybe there have been a million like them since, but they never got a chance to prove it, because their owners were afraid to do the unconventional."
Borislow and Scanlan are amazed at Toccet's resilience and insatiable appetite for work. "John said to me this morning, 'I wish (the Hollywood Futurity) was this week,'" Borislow said. "This horse is amazing. Most horses will lose weight after a race and lay down. He starts eating immediately afterward and keeps getting bigger and stronger. John has to walk him four times a day. To have a horse who loves what he's doing like this horse does, I have to be the luckiest person in horse racing. And what makes it even more amazing is that he's a May foal. I admit the Hollywood Futurity is going to be tough, having to travel out there, and it's not the race I would have picked. But he loves to travel and he loves to race, and we're just hoping that if he wins, people will at least give the voting some thought.
"One of the reasons I took out the ad was because I was concerned about John. People were saying the owner is dictating everything and he was merely in the background. John is worse than me. He doesn't like hearing what we're doing is crazy. He's the one who says if we don't run him we're going to be in big trouble. The ad was meant to make him feel more comfortable and tell people we're not crazy."
As for the Breeders' Cup, Borislow says the race did not prove who was the best 2-year-old. "That race was total bull," he said. "Besides the 13 post, that was a speed-biased track, and although the races was at 1 1/8 miles, it gave no indication how good a horse is going long. That's why Hold That Tiger has to be a helluva horse to run the race he did. With our post, we had zero chance. This race taught me to never ever run a horse in a race when statistics tell me not to. I gave them every advantage to become champion.
"I also learned never give Chop Chop (Jorge Chavez) instructions. I felt the best thing was to break out of there running and get to the rail. It turned out to be the worst instructions, as he got hung out there the whole way from that post. This horse trains people, we don't train him. He wants to run the way he likes. He's teaching us everything, and we weren't teaching him anything."
Scanlan added: "Dan has gotten so much positive feedback from this. Even Baffert thought it was fun. The truth is, I can't give this horse any time off. After the Remsen, he cleaned out two hay racks before he even got home to Laurel. If he keeps getting better the more we do with him, what are we supposed to with a horse like that? Racing is a slap-in-the-face business. You get slapped in the face every day. If you can't have fun, what good is it? This game is chicken one day and feathers the next, and right now we're having chicken."