THE CENTAURIAN is a columnist covering international racing on a Facebook page. However this time Borrowdale Park gets one of the few bouquets he has been handing out recently.
Followers of my column on Facebook (@zimracing) will know that I hold American horse racing in very low esteem and they may even believe my views are ill founded and too emotive. These are fair assumptions but are wholly wrong. It is opportune to illustrate my feelings now as we have just seen the running of two well publicised race meetings – the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita and the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in Australia.
The meetings could not have been more different.
We could talk about many aspects of the race meeting – the publicity and hype for both was high, the quality of horses was just OK for both meetings, jockey quality was very good – Frankie did both meetings for example, the purses were excellent – circa US$ 6 million for both top races and then there was the attendance levels.
I think attendance might say much about the product. Interestingly both meetings attracted about the same number of racegoers – about 41,000 on each day – but this is down on past peaks at both meetings of 60,000 – saying something about the image of racing. This aspect is the subject of another article – where I will be castigating the media and the limp-wrists!
But it’s the courses I want to talk about – they could not be more different. Flemington is a big, sweeping turf, galloping track with a circumference of over 2,100 metres and a straight of over three furlongs – this is proper racing. One fairly tight turn at about the 2000 metre post – but nowhere near a hazard being so far from home when horses are not flat out.
The Melbourne Cup was won by Vow And Declare ridden by Craig Williams for Aussie trainer Danny O’Brien at 10/1 – Master of Reality with Frankie aboard ran a close second before being demoted to fourth by the stewards. Interestingly for me, this horse is by Frankel who never raced beyond 2000 metres – but look at its dam – L’Ancresse – a Darshaan mare – this is where the stamina must have come from to see out two miles (3200 metres)
Can you believe that after such a race the first 23 home were covered by just 10 lengths – Rostropovich spoilt the stat by cracking a pelvic bone and basically pulled up. The first nine home were covered by just two lengths – again this is proper, heart pumping, exciting racing of the highest order – and I don’t often say such things about Australian sport – but this was a terrific race.
Now consider Santa Anita. To me it would be better if they raced whippets there – it’s a toy by comparison to Flemington or Borrowdale Park. The dirt track is just 1600 in circumference and the straight is about a furlong and a half – or 350 metres. Madness. The grass track is actually inside the dirt track and has commensurately diminutive distances – what nonsense is this?
The track is a tight one with two sharp bends at either end of 400 metre straights with horses travelling flat out whilst running on the second bend before the short finishing straight. The lateral forces on these horse’s legs must be severe and injury inducing – and clearly are.
Vino Rosso beat MacKinzie because the latter could not stay the 2000 metre Classic distance – and jockey, Irad Ortiz put four lengths between to two – so there were no “also rans” within two lengths of the winner and only two within 10 lengths of the winner!
Despite the size of the purse there were only 11 runners competing. (Mongolian Groom broke down and had to be put down)It was pretty clear as the horses turned into the straight there were only two horses going to contest the finish and that was about as exciting as watching Jeremy Corbyn trying to make a point in Parliament. This is dire, dire racing indeed and is typical of what can be seen in America.
For me, it can’t be about anything other than the tracks because the bloodlines, the jockeys, the trainers, the purses are fine – it’s these pitiful, dangerous, badly thought out tracks of dirt – I haven’t researched them all yet I can say they are pretty much the same. Rubbish.
In my view, American horse racing does not have what it takes to survive, let alone prosper in its current format – and certainly not when the element of gambling is added back in against all else on the internet. Finally, with the issues of Lasix, whip use and horse fatalities, I guess the nails are already in the coffin lid of US racing – it won’t take much to close that lid, hammer in the nails and bury the whole thing – and what a tragedy that would be over the next few decades.
The answer has to be about revamping the concept completely – the wheel doesn’t need reinventing – the examples are there in abundance – across Europe, Southern Africa and the Antipodes. Make American racing great again Donald!
See what I mean about tracks in the pics included here.