The Breeders' Cup always manages to leave behind a little piece of itself that creeps into the brain, spawning questions and opinions. For example, why can't our equine superstars retire on a winning note any longer? In the past 10 years, we've seen Cigar lose his last two starts, and three of his last four; Skip Away his last two; Silver Charm his last four; Best Pal his last two, and six of his last seven; Bertrando his last four; Unbridled his last three; and Lure his last two. Of the champion fillies, Serena's Song lost her last seven; Sky Beauty her last two; Bayakoa her last three; Paseana her last two; Silverbulletday her last four; and Jewel Princess her last five. Holy Bull never got a chance to close out his career with a victory, as he broke down in the Donn Handicap (gr. I). So, what happens this year? The four marquee names, Fusaichi Pegasus, Riboletta, Lemon Drop Kid, and Beautiful Pleasure not only all conclude their careers with a defeat, they finish out of the money. Fusaichi Pegasus departs dropping two of his last three, while Lemon Drop Kid and Beautiful Pleasure lose their last two. Racing, like everything else is cyclical, but this has been one long, disturbing cycle.
My two cents on NBC's controversial moving camera. Not having seen the telecast live, I can only imagine the difficulty locating horses at the back of the pack or moving on the inside. And the Juvenile (gr. I) finish was a mess. That said, I admit I've never seen racing portrayed in such dramatic style, especially capturing the speed of the horses and the fury of closers charging down the stretch. The problem is, no one knew where they came from, and one just had to watch the edge of their TV screen to see who came bursting into the picture. The people interested in aesthetics say the camera should be used live, while the people who have a monetary or rooting interest disagree. Although NBC seems intent on utilizing this camera live, we must forewarn them that it could prove a disaster in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), where it is imperative to catch action from the quarter pole to the eighth pole. As historical archivists as well as entertainers, NBC must make sure they do not lose memorable classic moments that can never be replaced.
If someone at NBC had been a bit sharper, the telecast could have utilized a great slow motion shot of the Classic (gr. I) stretch run by pointing out Mick Kinane losing his right rein on Giant's Causeway. After flicking his whip against the side of Giant's Causeway's head, Kinane dropped the rein, then fumbled trying to get it back, while pulling hard on the left rein. He then reached over and hit the horse right-handed, causing Giant's Causeway to jump back on to his left lead, as the rein dangled well below the colt's neck. By now, both horse and rider were out of sync. This was incredibly revealing camera work that went to waste.
How about an unsung hero award to John's Call? This 9-year-old warrior ran his heart out and just missed, despite having a hole close in front of him turning for home, causing him to briefly lose his momentum at a crucial time. The photo in The Blood-Horse of him gritting his teeth at the wire tells the whole story.
Finally, please no more Fusaichi Pegasus bashing. This was a magnificent horse, who had some nagging physical problems, yet still provided racing fans with unforgettable thrills throughout the year. He came into the Classic off only one mile race against 3-year-olds since mid-May and three very slow breezes at Churchill. Lemon Drop Kid's trainer Scotty Schulhofer said, "It goes against all logic. If he wins, Neil Drysdale is no trainer, he's a magician." To make matters worse, Fusaichi Pegasus, who had ankle surgery at two, and who went into the race with a quarter crack and a patched foot, was forced to run over an extremely souped-up track, which very well could have been stinging his feet or jarring his ankles (on which he wore front bandages). We'll never know, but considering hardly anyone believed he'd ever make it to the Classic, let's be thankful he was at least given the opportunity, despite all the incentives to retire him. This was a very special horse.