The Tweeters’ Cup: Part One

It’s taken me a few days to (nearly) recover from this year’s jaunt to the States, and the accompanying wagering challenge; and in this first of two posts I’d like to review the event via the medium of twitter.

For those of you not familiar with the micro-blogging platform, it’s essentially a mechanism for aggregating information and opinion… and for venting one’s spleen into the semi-conscious ether!

Let’s roll back time a week or so to the keen anticipation of Team GB Racing, and so many horses training on the track in the crisp early Californian sun…

Clockers’ Corner, an inglenook at the far left of the cavernous Santa Anita stand, is a hive of racing enthusiasm. Where normally I guess there might be a dozen or so horsemen, and a handful of punters with stopwatches – hence the name – at this time, the Thursday before Breeders’ Cup weekend, the place is thronging. Excitable aspirant owners, horse fans, trainers, grooms, entourages, and, of course, journo’s.

They start before dawn and it’s chilly. As the sun rises from beyond the San Bernardino mountains, steam rises everywhere: from the exercising horses’ flared nostrils, the racing throng’s chattering mouths, and the open tops of so many polystyrene coffee cups.

Despite the presence of maybe 250 people, it is possible to be alone with the horses at this time. And that is a surprisingly intimate joy buried within the jamboree that is Breeders’ Cup weekend. If you ever get the chance to go to Breeders’ Cup, or Kentucky Durrrby, or any of the other big race meetings in the States, try to get to the track early a couple of days ahead of the main event. This is exclusively for racing people.

Onwards, and the action was imminent.

It was an inauspicious start for one of the key European riders, as his mount fell tardily from the gate in the first race on Friday.

Mercifully, things would improve for the soon to retire Spencer.

While waiting for the four Breeders’ Cup races on Friday, Hallowe’en, another quaint little quirk of Santa Anita, the hound in the carriage…

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And then it was time. Euro interest from the get go as we had four of the fourteen starters in the opening Juvenile Turf, a race Britain and Ireland had won five times in the past six years. Contrast that with Wesley Ward’s wecord of no wins from sixteen starters entering this year’s event.

In what was to be emblematic of the two days’ results, Ward not only won, but he also saddled the second, as Hootenanny – a Royal Ascot winner earlier this year – bested Luck Of The Kitten. It was a fine ride by Frankie Dettori, and a third win in four years for the Magnier / Tabor / Smith axis. And it was a maiden Breeders’ Cup win for Ward, who was absent from California, instead choosing to remain in Florida to watch his son race in a cross-country contest.

If that sounds like the doting daddy, take a moment to consider the macro perspective: on Monday of this week, Ward began a 30 day suspension for administering banned substances – in this case, clenbuterol. That narcotic stain is one that I’m afraid Breeders’ Cup makes little attempt to be seen to wash away, and is far from incongruent with the rescinding of the ban on Lasix for juvenile events at BC which came into effect this year.

[Lasix is a drug which helps prevent horses from bleeding during races. It is also on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substance list for human consumption, as it is perceived to be a masking agent for other drugs. It may well act in that capacity in the equine arena, too].

That volte face was at the behest of “the horsemen”, as was the reversion to dirt from a synthetic surface called Pro-Ride a couple of years back, despite evidence that the synthetic surface was far kinder to the horses and resulted in less training and racing equine deaths.

It was only a few years ago that talk was of a Lasix-free Breeders’ Cup. It seems that will never happen, and there has to be a shadow of doubt cast over proceedings when known cheats (he’s been caught and banned, right?) like Ward enjoy success on the biggest stage. I personally wouldn’t be in a huge rush to encourage trainers with drug offences on their records over to our major meetings, especially in the light of the current administration’s alleged zero tolerance to steroids. But let’s get back to the horses…

The ‘clean’ overseas team could fare no better than fifth, and that with the promoted reserve, Faithful Creek, whose run was only granted when Hugo Palmer’s Aktabantay pulled up sore behind. That two of the British/Irish quartet finished in the last three was disappointing, all the more so when one of them – War Envoy – was sent off the 7/2 favourite.

Next was the Dirt Mile, and the shortest priced favourite of the entire meeting, Goldencents.

Goldencents left the gate the 7/10 favourite and, in an astonishing front-running performance, he surged through impossible early fractions to resist the late rolling lunge of Tapiture and top ten jockey, Rosie Napravnik. It was one of the bravest performances I’ve seen from a horse, absolutely titanium tough. The good news for this boy is that he’s now off to stud to pass on some of that genetic ruggedness to BC contenders of the future.

Here’s that brute performance, well worth a watch:

The third of four Breeders’ Cup races on Friday was the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and it was the first race in which I had a fairly strong fancy. The horse in question was called Lady Eli, and I knew she was good after watching this tape of her winning a key prep called the Miss Grillo:

She was 13/2 with one UK bookie, and a general 11/2 and 6/1 chance and, as is always the way with such things, I didn’t have nearly enough on.

Lady Eli hacked up by just shy of three lengths, with material margins separating the next five home. She returned just 2.4/1 on course.

The British and Irish were again sent packing, having claimed this pot the last twice, with Osaila third, Prize Exhibit fourth, and Qualify only eighth. I couldn’t resist a punny quip about the third placed horse:

The last race on Friday of Breeders’ Cup interest was the Distaff, and there was another strong favourite in the shape of Untapable. Drawn on the outside, she would need to be brave and strong as well as fleet to get this job done. The long and short of it is that she was, and she glided down the outside of the fatigued Iotapa to prevail by a length and a quarter from Don’t Tell Sophia, who just nosed out Iotapa for the place.

Winning rider Rosie Napravnik shocked the media and stands in her post-race interview by announcing her retirement after Saturday’s BC races, due to the fact she is pregnant. Way to go, Rosie! 🙂

So that was Friday. Just time for a bit of dinner – see below – before some zeds and an early start for the main event… stay tuned for Part 2 on Friday!


The Rib and Rib Combo. Maybe just one ribs next time...

The Rib and Rib Combo. Maybe just one lot of ribs next time…

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