(Without any pressure on the front end, Caravel went gate to wire to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint…Wonder what would have happened if Golden Pal had hooked early? / Photos by Coady Photography)
To borrow and paraphrase from one of the greatest movies of all time — “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” — we offer up our own version we like to call “The Unbelievable, The Beautiful & the Reprehensible” of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which concluded on Saturday’s version of “Gone With the Wind” at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
Like most, if not all, major events — including the previous Breeders’ Cups — there were some unbelievable moments that take the breath; that shutter the eyes; that blow the mind. And, this year’s version was no different. There were times in plentiful supply, and just what the doctor ordered for the greatest sport ever created.
Like most, if not all, major events — including previous Breeders’ Cups — there were some beautiful moments, as well. Memories that become photographs to album in the mind. Scenes that replay over and over on a continuous loop, never to be forgotten or replaced. Lovely pauses of time and life that make you feel alive and glad to be in the moment. There were those “paintings” that will forever stir, too.
And, like most, if not all major events — including previous Breeders’ Cup — there were some reprehensible things that soil the times, if not completely, at least in part. There were moments that left you and others shaking your head in absolute amazement, and not in a good way. There were things that stopped you in the moment and made you question who was in charge, and why was this happening — especially on our biggest stage — without explanation or remedy. There were times when you knew — in your heart and your stomach — that these moments need to be made totally public and transparent; addressed; fixed; explained; apologized for; and promised to never happen again. Unfortunately, there were way, way, way too many of these over the two days, as well. Way too many.
Over the next couple of days, we will cover each. Today’s edition: “The Reprehensible:”
(Caravel, not Golden Pal, in front / All Photos by Coady Photography)
The Start of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint / Golden Pal Incident:
There is a very big question — if not a cloud — still hanging over the 2022 Breeders’ Cup, which was held at Keeneland.
Not the ones that lingered and threatened the Saturday festivities with rain, mind you.
The one that still remains about the unfortunate, costly, and, perhaps, illegal start of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Saturday.
And, this issue should now become the purview and responsibility of the Horse Racing Integrity & Safety Association. A full investigation should be conducted. A public hearing should be called. A full review of the incident should be conducted. And, the matter should be adjudicated in full view of public and press.
If this industry wants transparency, then each race demands that it be conducted fairly and equitably. From start. To finish. And, quite honestly, no one knows if that was the case in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Or not.
Here’s the details:
At the start of that 5.5-furlong, gas-pedal-to-the-saddle event, it appeared that post time favorite, Golden Pal, may have reared and lost balance. That happens some times in racing. And, when it does in this particular race, it is not only compromising but habilitating.
But what makes this situation so serious is that it appeared, in some camera angles, that the Assistant Starter, who was assigned to this stall and Golden Pal, was still holding the reins of the horse when the gates popped open. And, it appears on some camera angles, that the horse was not only compromised by the rearing incident, but also by the fact that the Assistant Starter was still holding on.
This is not to allege that the Assistant Starter did this on purpose, or maliciously, or with intent to harm or danger. No way. Things are not perfect in this world, and the starting gate of a horse race may be one of the most imperfect spots. In fact, the Assistant Start may have help prevent Golden Pal from either flipping or injuring himself in the gate. If they did, they should be congratulated for doing their job.
But, in fact, none of that or those facts matter. Not now. If it was by accident, and still affected the result? The Stewards had a way to resolve and the ability to ensure the welfare of the betting public and the credibility of the racing game and institution. The Stewards could have declared Golden Pal a non-starter.
In any case, there are several things that should have happened, right then and there.
First, the Stewards — who have not had a very good time of things of late — should have hit the “Inquiry Light” to let the betting public know that they would be and were reviewing the start of the race to see if the horse was, indeed, held at the start and compromised from a fair and equitable beginning.
Most of all, though, the Stewards had an obligation to investigate immediately if the horse could have been or should have been declared a non-starter in the race and that all bets wagered on the horse should be returned to those holding betting slips on that individual.
No question. Should have happened. Right then. Right there.
Secondly, the Stewards should have issued a ruling on the gate incident. If, in fact, the Assistant Starter was still gripping the reins of Golden Pal at the start and that fact caused a delay in that horse’s start and compromised its’ chances of winning, then the Stewards had an obligation to declare that the horse was a non-starter. And, all bets on that horse should have been returned.
No question. Should have happened. Right then. Right there.
Third, the Stewards should have released video and still camera evidence to the general public that supported their decision on the controversial manner in question. Was there video evidence that exonerated the Assistant Starter and proved that Golden Pal did, in deed, have a fair start? Was there video evidence to the contrary? Was there still camera evidence of either? Are we even sure that the Stewards reviewed the situation?
It should have been revealed. Transparency. The betting public — which gases this economic engine — deserves no less. No question about it. Should have happened. Right then. Right there.
Fourth, TVG and all electronic and/or print media covering the event should have demanded that those images, pictures, videos should have been published so the viewing public and the bettors could have reviewed and witnessed the evidence that was available at the time. By investing OUR dollars we have a right and Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland and the Kentucky Racing Commission has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the credibility of each and every event.
Fifth, it is hard for me — and others — to believe that the jockey camera, which many of the riders wear in the races, was not equipped in that race with the heavy post-time favorite. It is hard for me — and others — to believe that track photographers and TV camerapersons were not focused on the start of the race in general. And, it is very difficult for me — and others — to believe that there was not a video zoom target on Golden Pal.
After all, this horse was the favorite, and this horse is entirely dependent on a fast and clean start. Has been all of his racing career. Has been in very previous race at Keeneland, where he has been unchallenged in the past.
If the horse’s start was compromised, then the rules are very clear. The horse should have been declared a non-starter and all monies returned. Period.
If the horse’s start was not compromised, then leave the result stand, as is — which is what happened.
We all know that the Breeders’ Cup depends on the revenues from its’ Championship Days to financially support the institution. We all know that includes all net proceeds from the betting handle. If there was an estimated total of $2 million bet on Golden Pal in that race (in all the pools), then the commission could amount to a significant sum and approximately $400,000 in net receipts.
But, truthfully, that does not matter, either. Not a single dime. What does matter is the integrity of the race and the security of the wagering dollar from the betting public is protected.
For now, the integrity of the race is still in question, and the wagering dollar from the betting public was not fully protected. Not until evidence is produced to unequivocally convince all that Golden Pal was not compromised at the start.
But in either case, the Stewards should have hit the inquiry; reviewed the tape; and made a public disclosure.
To ignore this care publicly is to endanger the credibility of this sport, and that is both malfeasant and unnecessary.
At this point, both the KY Horse Racing Commission and HISA now have a responsibility to review and make public any and all findings.
What happened on race day, though, was reprehensible.
(Cody’s Wish and Cyberknife battle to the wire / Coady Photography)
Public Disclosure of All Photo Finishes Should Be Required:
There were several close finishes in the Breeders’ Cup events throughout the two-day extravaganza. On a number of occasions, the end result was held in limbo until the results of a “photo finish” were examined and revealed.
Again, this is not uncommon in the sport. Happens often and amazingly results in finishes that are ultimately decided by inches, or less.
But there is one requirement that should be instituted in all cases that result in photo finishes.
All photos should be made available to the public. As soon as they are finalized. And, as soon as they are available to be produced on all media outlets utilized by the racetrack — including, but not limited to in-house A/V productions and any and all televised productions. Any. All.
This is not to allege that the photos are being altered.
This is not to insinuate that the photos are being misread.
This is not to suggest that the result is being changed and corrupted.
It is, though, an effort to protect the integrity of the game in a very simple way.
Simply put, all bettors have a right to see and review the photo finish that determine the winner; the runner-up; the “Show” horse; or any subsequent placing.
It is an obligation that the track and all of racing officials have to ensure the public that their individual wagers are being accredited and validated.
The public deserves no less.
If they get less — like on this past Saturday — then that is reprehensible.
(Breeders’ Cup Chalets in the background had no PA System on Friday / Coady Photography)
Keeneland’s On-Track Public Address System:
I attended the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on Friday. My group was hosted in one of the racetrack Chalets on the final turn. The ticket cost was not inexpensive, even though my host picked up the tab. (A beautiful person.)
And, for the vast majority of the time, I found the accommodations to be both comfortable and rewarding:
The viewing area at the rail was ample and offered great views.
The food was ample and easily accessible.
The drink was chilled to perfection and served with both a smile and style.
But there were several accommodations that were simply intolerable, and, should happen on or at a Championship Day event. Never.
First, there was no public address system or sound available to the many fans in this area of the facility. As a result, no one could hear the broadcast of the race call. And, as a result, we had absolutely no idea what horse was either leading or retiring at any point during the race.
Can you or anyone else imagine attending the Super Bowl or the World Series and not being able to hear the PA announcer? Can you? Seriously?
Secondly, some of the TVs that were equipped to broadcast the races inside the Chalets were not getting and reproducing the signal properly. There were many interruptions. There was pauses. Sometimes the signal froze for several seconds. Can you imagine attending the Super Bowl or the World Series and suffering through these kind of in-house interruptions?
Third, the portable bathroom facilities were in desperate need of servicing very early in the day and only got worse as the day progressed, as one could imagine. Ugh.
Fourth, while there were shuttle carts available to the Chalet customers and fans prior to the races, there were none to be found following the day’s activities. And, if you parked on “The Hill” or “The Meadow?” Well, it was like hiking the Red River Gorge after an all-day fun-fest at Natural Bridge.
Finally, once in the car and headed out, the caravan of big buses that were lined up to shuttle on-track customers to other parking venues refused to allow car drivers access to the roads. And, when I mean refused? They came within inches of risking life and limb to eliminate any access. Zero. None. Even though the buses could not move, the bus drivers union apparently didn’t want anyone else to escape, either. Even if we were going a different way and route and never delayed the bus drivers in any way. Southern hospitality? I think not.
(Forte roars past Cave Rock at the finish of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile / Coady Photography)
Baffert & Team Intolerable As Always:
Despite the fact that the man didn’t win a single Breeders’ Cup race and only won one Maiden Special Weight race (with a 2-5 favorite) in two days, it seemed as if both TVG and the networks were hellbent on interviewing the embattled trainer Bob Baffert, who has spent much of the last two years suing both Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Racing Commission and is still not allowed to step foot on any property owned by the Louisville-based Thoroughbred operation.
As he is want to do, per usual, Baffert turned most of the questions and discussions back to himself and his past glories.
When asked about Flightline and his incredible run at history, Baffert mostly turned the conversation to American Pharoah (a horse he trained) and how he handled the pressures of winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
When asked about great horses of Thoroughbreds past, Baffert admitted that Flightline should go down in history as one of the best — right alongside American Pharoah, Justify, and Arrogate. Of course, they were other horses that Baffert trained.
When TVG couldn’t corral Baffert, they sought out Tom Ryan — a Baffert ally, friend and defender. Before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a reporter asked Ryan what the “secret weapon” of Cave Rock was, and what made him so good.
Ryan responded quickly with something like: “Bob Baffert is his secret weapon.”
Interesting choice of words, don’t you think?
Sadly, there were no subsequent interviews when Cave Rock “caved” in the stretch and failed as the 2-5 favorite of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That would have been good TV.