Just wondering, but …

* How is Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old gelding who has won two Grade 2 races this year, ranked three spots higher in the latest NTRA Horse of the Year poll than Zensational, who’s won three Grade 1 races as a 3-year-old against older horses? I mean, c’mon. Zensational this year became the first 3-year-old to sweep the Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien at Del Mar.

* Isn’t it a bit hypocritical of Jess Jackson to skip the Breeders’ Cup this year with Rachel Alexandra, citing Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface as the sole reason why the 3-year-old filly won’t run, and in the same breath not completely rule out running the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro in next year’s Dubai World Cup over a proposed new Tapeta artificial track?

Said Jackson on an NTRA teleconference recently: “That (Tapeta) would preclude the appearance of Rachel unless something changes my mind about the risk that false tracks have to the horse itself.”

Would a World Cup purse of $10 million be enough to change his mind? Jess doesn’t need to worry about where his next pay check is coming from, but he does have a fondness for the bigger purses.

* Maybe Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar need to take a page from Fairplex Park’s book in regards to the latter’s policy of free admission and parking for off-track wagering at the Barretts sales pavilion. When the Southland’s big three are off-season, they need to take a hard look at their policy of charging fans to come in and bet. I can understand the tracks’ argument for charging general admission for live racing, although I don’t agree with it. But charging for off-track betting, in my opinion, is ridiculous, especially for a sport clamoring for new fans.

I can hear it now:
Wife: “But George, they don’t charge us to go in and play the horses when we’re in Vegas.”
Husband: “I know Phyllis, but just think — we can sit here and imagine the horses are in the paddock, and when we hear Jay Cohen play Call to the Post, well, it’s almost like we’re really there.”

22 thoughts on “Just wondering, but …

  1. Re: Fabulous Strike vs. Zensational

    Maybe because the Triple Bend, Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien are phony Grade 1s. At least Fabulous Strike was beating the reigning sprint champion Benny the Bull and Canadian champ Kodiak Kowboy (who won the Carter I might add). Do those sound like “Grade 2s?”

    Taking grades at face value is a shortcut to thinking and something the racing punditry does far too often.

  2. I don’t think Benny the Bull has won a race this year. Didn’t Fabulous Strike scratch out of a race to avoid Munnings?

    They’re both top sprinters, but Zensational has done more this year.

  3. Yes, Benny the Bull hasn’t won a race this year, but that’s mostly due to Fabulous Strike having beaten him in two of his three starts. How many Eclipse Award winners has Zensational been beating? Or any horse equivalent in talent to Benny the Bull?

  4. Just wondering, but why can’t Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar take a page from Fairplex Park’s book in regards to the latter’s policy of providing a safe “real dirt” track?

  5. Patrick, I don’t think Benny the Bull is the same horse. True, he might be better than what Zensational has beaten thus far, but it’s more how Zensational has won rather than who he’s beaten. Baffert says he’s the fastest horse he’s ever trained and he’s ultra high on the colt. That’s good enough for me because the guy knows his horses.

  6. Stephen, anyone who took my post as a knock against Fabulous Strike obviously must be an East Coaster. Never said he doesn’t deserve to be ranked, he just doesn’t deserve to be ranked ahead of Zensational.

  7. It’s “HOY Poll” not an Eclipse award vote. Beyond Rachel being ranked first there is absolutley no relevance to any other horse in this poll. Why don’t you pick on Macho Again or Forever Together being ranked higher than Zensational with fewer G-I victories ? And of course it’s about who you beat. Why do you think that Zenyatta got one first place vote compared to Rachel’s 15 votes? Maybe because she hasn’t beaten a quality horse this year other than Life Is Sweet in her grand total of 3 races. The better question would be why is Zenyatta ranked ahead of Gio Ponti? You stated that sometimes it’s the way you iwn and not who you beat. I’ll put up his Arlington Million against her Hirsch and you can explain to me why she is ranked above him.

  8. Zensational may be something special when it is all said and done. However, the truth is he has beaten up on a group of allowance horses and claimers. Sure he has done it impressively, but Fabulous Strike beat the best sprint field assembled in America to date (Vanderbilt at ‘Toga). As for Bafferts comments, he made the same claim about Midnite Lute last year, so that must be taken with a grain of salt. If Zensational loks Fabulous Strike in the eye, there is no way he is oign by. Furthermore, California racing and the Breeders Cup have done a great disservice for the past two years by putting the sport’s marquee event on an unproved surface TWO YEARS IN A ROW!!! That would be like putting the superbowl on some new surface that half the sport has never been on…only in this sport that we love but that is so poorly managed. It’s too bad for you left coasters most of all because you are robbed of the opportnity to see the best horse in the last 30 years and maybe ever John Nerud was recently quoted as saying she may be THE best horse he has ever seen in his 90+ years. Now that is enough for me because Nerud not only knows his horses, but he has been around a few truly GREAT ones himself (and one of the all-time legends of the sport)!!!

  9. James- Fabulous Strike would have to get close enough to look Zensational in the eye for your comment with no reasoning behind it to even have a chance of coming true. Zensational is exceptionally fast and the quickest horse I can remember seeing. He hits a lightning fast top speed effortlessly. Watch his replays and you can’t help but be impressed.

    Rachel is great only in the context that she is a three year old filly. Beating Macho Again doing his best imitation of a chandelier in the stretch is not a great performance for many horses. Rachel ran a great race but Zenyatta would have won that race by 3 or more lengths the way it set up.

  10. Art,

    If you take Baffert at his word that Zensational is the best sprinter he’s ever had, that’s one thing. To use that as evidence to argue that Zensational is necessarily better than Fabulous Strike without objective evidence (e.g. a race between the two) is misguided. Beattie would surely say the same things about Fabulous Strike if you asked him.

    You say you like the way Zensational has been winning his races, but what’s inarguable is that the way he’s been winning is primarily a function of what he’s been running against (i.e. not much). One could argue that Fabulous Strike hasn’t looked as flashy in winning because he’s been facing tougher company. That doesn’t prove he’s better than Zensational, but it explains why people in the poll rate him higher than Baffert’s colt.

  11. Patrick … didn’t say Baffert said Zensational was the best sprinter he ever had. Go back and read. Baffet said Zensational is the “fastest” horse he’s ever trained. He’s already gone on record as saying Midnight Lute is the “best horse” he’s ever trained, and of course Lute’s back-to-back BC Sprint victories back up that belief. Baffert knows how to get a horse ready to win the Sprint, he’s going to be on a track we already know he likes and he’s as fast as the dickens. He’s going to be one tough sonofagun to beat if he makes it to the BC Sprint. You’re right, he hasn’t beaten much, but I stand by my statement that I like the way he’s won his races. You can only beat what lines up in the starting gate that day. Heck, a lof of people to this day still discount what Rachel Alexandra has done this year, saying she hasn’t beaten anything, or scoff at Zenyatta’s win in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar when she closed much ground in the last eighth of a mile against a mediocre group in a race that had zero pace. You can tell quite a bit about a horse without him or her facing top-caliber opposition. I happen to think Zensational is a top-class sprinter, and I don’t need Baffert’s eyes to tell me that. I’ve seen it myself three times in person now. Bet against him on Breeders’ Cup day at your own risk.

  12. James … you’re wrong. Baffert never said Midnight Lute was the fastest horse he’s ever trained. He said Midnight Lute was the best horse he’s ever trained, and I’m sure he stands by that statement to this day. There’s a big difference.

  13. CJK — When you vote another horse above another, doesn’t matter if it’s HOY poll, Eclipse voting or whatever, you still think that horse is either better or has had a better year in their respective division. In regards to Fabulous Strike and Zensational, there is no doubt Zensational has had a better overall campaign. I’d have him higher in the poll. Rachel is voted higher than Zenyatta because she’s won eight times this year compared to the latter’s three and she’s done things this year no other 3-year-old filly has ever done or hasn’t done in quite some time.

  14. Oh, and James … about the Breeders’ Cup. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a fan of synthetics and I think they will be a thing of the past within five years in California, but I’d much rather have had the BC at Santa Anita this year and last than at Monmouth Park in 2007 when fans needed a boat to get to the windows and the track was dangerously sloppy. Like BC president Greg Avioli pointed out, there were no breakdowns at Santa Anita last year and that can’t be totally discounted. As for Jess Jackson skipping the Breeders’ Cup with Rachel Alexandra, well, a good argument can be made that the sloppy track he let her run on in the Haskell was far more dangerous than one try on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride. Jackson is skipping the BC this year for one reason and one reason only — because Curlin lost last year and he’s still blaming the surface when, in fact, Curlin would have lost on turf or dirt that day as well. Rachel has already proven she can run on a synthetic, winning over Keeneland’s Polytrack as a 2-year-old, and there is no valid reason not to run her this year. Most every trainer I have talked with who dislikes synthetics dislikes them because of the injuries that crop up after weeks and months of training on the artificial tracks. One or two works and a race on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride would not harm Rachel, any more than one freak bad step on a dirt track would. It’s his horse and he should do what he wants, but to blame the fact she’s not coming on synthetic tracks is a cop out in my opinion.

  15. Art,

    Okay, Baffert thinks highest of Midnight Lute. Check. Let’s not deal in semantics because it’s off-topic. Nor was my part of the discussion about Zensational’s prospects for the BC Sprint. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

    That’s great if you think Zensational is a beast, a view that’s widely shared. I don’t have a problem with it whatsoever. However, I think you’re capable of making a better argument than, “This horse here’s got 3 Grade 1 wins against older horses while that other horse has two Grade 2 wins.” That doesn’t tell me anything other than I should take what the American Graded Stakes Committee says at face value. And I never do. Remember, these races are assigned grades beforehand not after.

    “You can tell quite a bit about a horse without him or her facing top-caliber opposition.”

    In the short term, I would agree. Long term, no we really don’t. But that’s another issue for another time (and another commentator).

  16. Hmmmm, so confusing “best horse” and “fastest horse” is semantics? I think not. They are two different ponies, Patrick. You’re the one who wrote it, so how can it be off-topic? And let’s see … Zensational, a 3-year-old, has beaten older horses this year and won three Grade 1’s at the same time. No matter how you cut it, a Grade 1 win means a lot in stud value, more so than a Grade 2 or Grade 3. I understand the stakes races are graded before they’re run. I’ve been around the block, far too many times than I care to admit :-) Fabulous Strike has beaten Benny the Bull this year. Big deal. Benny’s not the same horse he was in 2008. I’d put a lot more stock in beating Benny if it was last year’s version. Sorry, but I haven’t been that impressed with Fabulous Strike. That was the whole point of my original post, that in my opinion, Zensational has looked better this year than Fabulous Strike, who last won a Grade 1 two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s not a good horse, but I’d be voting Zensational above him in the poll. Disagree about your “long term” comment regarding judging horses and how they race against less than top-caliber opposition. I saw Street Boss break his maiden in his first start at Del Mar and knew right off he was going to be a top-class sprinter. Yes you can tell many times, even long term, about a horse by how he or she runs, not by whom they beat. Just like you correctly point out that one must take how the stakes committee ranks races with a grain of salt. I believe we just have to agree to disagree in this instance. You’d obviously rank Fabulous Strike higher, and I’d do the opposite. Hopefully, they meet in the Breeders’ Cup and we find out who’s best.

  17. You can go ahead and continue to rip me for misquoting Baffert if it makes you feel better. It isn’t helping your original argument, however.

    “No matter how you cut it, a Grade 1 win means a lot more in stud value.”

    Who cares? If Fabulous Strike had five Grade 1 wins this year, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing because he’s a gelding. Nor would it mean he’s better than Zensational or worse than Zensational.

    Listen, I was compelled to comment about your originial statement in the first place not because your opinion about Zensational was wrong, but because the argument supporting that opinion was weak. Now in this latest reply you start talking about residual value, which is completely irrelevant when comparing racetrack performers. Fact of history: Alydar was always going to have more residual value than Affirmed, but that didn’t make him the better racehorse.

    Owners and trainers always let the public know their mind is constantly on residual value, but we (i.e. racing fans) really don’t give a damn unless we have a financial interest too. The press doesn’t need to play that game too.

    It really doesn’t matter where I rate Fabulous Strike. My intent was to provide a plausible argument to you and your readership as to why he is rated higher in the poll to which you referred, and to challenge you to make a more compelling argument for your opinion, which was not necessarily wrong. Some things just can’t be done effectively by taking shortcuts (i.e. writing 2-3 sentences).

    Finally, I don’t think we’re far apart on the short/long-term question. When I spoke of “long term,” I was arguing that we don’t know if a horse is a champion or not until we see how he fares against top caliber company. You seem to be saying we don’t need to see that to know a horse is top class, which is something else entirely. Street Boss was top class indeed, but no champion.


  18. Patrick — no ripping, just a spirited debate, which is good. I respect your opinion because you obviously know the sport well. Always better to debate with a knowledgeable fan.

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