Opinions & Observations From the Breeders’ Cup Pre-Entry Teleconference Today

(Richard Mandella / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

For the better part of the last 9 months and 22 days, there has been a lot of talk about this year’s Breeders’ Cup Championships — which is now just 9 days away from the starting gate at Santa Anita Race Course in Arcadia, CA.

There’s been a lot of buzz. A lot of sizzle. A lot of words. Perhaps, more has been said, written, jotted, scribbled, typed, dribbled, and punched into Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and every other medium known to man than any other time in Breeders’ Cup history. Even when there was a mainstream media. Even when there was still a newspaper on your doorstep. Even when those newspapers would still cover horse racing.

Seriously.

So much news.

Yet, so little good news.

For the worst part of those 9 months and 22 days, very little of the conversation has been about the horses — and who is earning their stripes and invitations to the world’s best two days of Thoroughbred racing.

Very little of the talk has been about the trainers, and jockeys — who work every single day of the year with just a glimmer of hope to make it to the Championships with just a single horse and a single prayer.

Nearly none of the chatter has been about the owners — who, literally, begin every year with a dream of catching that elusive lightning zap in a worn out bottle of your favorite adult beverage.

For the last 10 months and 22 days, we have been overwhelmed by the awful news that has come out of Santa Anita, one of the world’s most scenic, iconic and historic racetracks in the history of the greatest sport on Earth — which has suddenly become known now as one of the most dangerous.

We have had to explain how 32-some horses have perished while running over that racetrack — that looks so pretty, yet has been pretty awful. We have had to apologize why this sport — our sport — would or could tolerate such a debacle. We have had to try and make sense why the track owner would not rip the racetrack up by the roots and replace it with a new one; a safe one. We have had to stomach a racetrack owner that has blamed the problems on everything and everyone from God to riding crops.

And, we have had to answer why — why, in God’s name — would the Breeders’ Cup Championships not be moved to another venue; another racetrack; another world and far, far away from Santa Anita.

Truthfully?

This year’s Breeders’ Cup Championships may be the year where we adopt the old adage:

“No news is good news.”

Or, at the very least, a slight modification:

“No more bad news is going to be really good news.”

But…hold on…maybe not?

On Wednesday — the day where Breeders’ Cup announced all 188 pre-entries for this year’s mammoth event — the Breeders’ Cup held its’ annual Teleconference for the media to pose questions to some of the game’s best participants

Jim Gluckson, the affable and talented guru of all media relations for the Breeders’ Cup, lined up some of the game’s most notable and successful trainers, and better spokespersons.

All credible sources. All with incredible resources.

On the phones, to answer all questions, were trainers Shug McGaughey, Chad Brown, Bill Mott, Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert.

To their ultimate credit, the Breeders’ Cup did not try to block any of the tough questions. And, they came. Time after time.

“In light of the situation at Santa Anita and the significant number of deaths that have occurred there, did you or any of your owners consider not coming to the Breeders’ Cup, or have concerns about participating in this year’s event?”

Time.

After time.

After time.

And, all five of the participants didn’t hesitate to provide some of the toughest answers.

Some may say that the participants had become the newest political pin-ups. Some may argue that the spokespersons had turned into spin doctors. Some may be skeptical.

Not me.

Every word seemed heartfelt.

Every sentence seemed to be constructed with honesty as a period.

Every comment seemed intent on purpose, and driven with conviction.

Time.

After time.

After time.

(Chad Brown / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

“I was watching with concerns,” said Chad Brown, one of the most notable trainers in the world today. “We were looking on from the East Coast and taking note. We talked about it. We had some conversations. But ultimately, I didn’t avoid entering any one of our horses in the Breeders’ Cup due to any of those issues. We have a lot of confidence in the track and all the protocols that have been put into place. We feel good.”

(Bill Mott / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

Bill Mott showed no sign of capitulation.”No. None of our owners expressed any concerns or reluctance in going. Not to me,” he said. “They (Santa Anita) have done everything in their control to ensure a safe racetrack out there, and we agree with a lot of the things that the team has put in place out there to have a safe racetrack and a safer sport.”

(Richard Mandella / Photo by Gene McLean)

Richard Mandella, known for his deep commitment to credibility and professionalism, was staunch in his defense of his hometown track. “No,” he said quickly when asked about having any concerns about Santa Anita hosting the Breeders’ Cup. “If anybody looks at the numbers in California over the last 6 months, they look very good compared to the rest of the world. We’ve had a couple of injuries, and that’s never good, but this is a pretty tough game, too. I think the racetrack is very good right now; very safe.  It’s going to be a very good event.”

(Trainer Bob Baffert / Photo by Gene McLean)

And, Bob Baffert — ever the salesman — concurred.

“I’ve been very fortunate over the last year. We haven’t had very many issues at all,” said the Hall of Fame trainer. “This is a beautiful racetrack. People love coming here to watch the races. I know that everyone here is wanting to put on an event that is great. One that everyone can enjoy…And, I think it is going to be a great Breeders’ Cup.”

A great Breeders’ Cup.

That is what this industry needs more than anything right now.

Great horses.

Versus great horses.

Great races.

Great times.

Great fun.

That would be, after all, great news.

And, it sure would be nice to have some of that back in the headlines.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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