I love New York. The 18th running of the Breeders' Cup and the first conducted under the banner of the World Thoroughbred Championships was spectacular, and New York racing fans were a big reason. In an uncertain era of terror when many people would prefer to hide under their beds, New Yorkers turned out enthusiastically in numbers that exceeded all expectations. After the horrifying mishap involving Exogenous that began the day, Belmont Park came alive with 52,987 fans in a way unique to America's greatest city. Many of those were from out of town or overseas, but the people of New York really came through. All credit to the New York Racing Association and NTRA/Breeders' Cup teams for keeping their marketing and operational focus on the event at a time when some suggested moving the championships to another city because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Instead of ignoring the tragedy that destroyed a great symbol of the city and took thousands of lives with it, officials dedicated the event to the attack victims and their families. The creation of the NTRA Charities-New York Heroes Fund was a meaningful and significant way to bring this industry together spiritually and financially to support those families affected by the World Trade Center disaster. The day wasn't perfect. Fans braved cold and blustery conditions, and concession stand lines were long. In addition, horseplayers couldn't help but notice the dirt track had an unevenness that made for bizarre riding tactics, where horses on the deep, slow rail were taken back and swung to the outside for better footing. Isn't there a way track superintendents can deal with obvious track biases more effectively? Despite those flaws, this year's World Thoroughbred Championships will be remembered for years to come, and the return of this event to New York can't come soon enough.
TITLE TALK Though the day is called the World Thoroughbred Championships, the eight Breeders' Cup races will not determine all Eclipse Award division titles. There are still some key races to be run this year. Here's one look at the current championship picture. The 2-year-old winners, Johannesburg in the Juvenile (gr. I) and Tempera in the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), moved to the head of their classes after defeating pro tempore leaders Officer and You, respectively. Officer may seek redemption in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). The Distaff (gr. I) really clouded the 3-year-old filly division when Unbridled Elaine won in the final jump. Flute and Exogenous were atop the division before the Distaff. Xtra Heat will get support based on her record and game effort in the Sprint (gr. I). The retired Point Given already locked up the 3-year-old male division. Tiznow secured the older male crown with his repeat triumph in the Classic (gr. I). The older female division is a complete grab bag, with any one of a half-dozen fillies and mares possible. Fantastic Light earned the male grass division in the Turf (gr. IT). The female counterpart is not so clear-cut, with California-based Janet likely to give European Banks Hill, winner of the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), a challenge, especially if she wins the upcoming Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT). Squirtle Squirt probably earned the sprint title with his hard-fought victory over Xtra Heat in the Sprint. Jerry Bailey will win another Eclipse as leading jockey and Robert Frankel should repeat as outstanding trainer, even though Jay Robbins will get much-deserved support for his handling of Tiznow. Horse of the Year? Tough call, but Point Given figures to wrest the crown away from Tiznow despite never competing against older horses.