Is luster off Grade 1 races late in the year?

Horse Racing


There’s no use fighting it. Not even the traditional calendar has a chance. The 2017 Thoroughbred racing season, as far as championships go, lasted 10 months and a few days, effectively ending the moment Win the Space trundled home last in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.

That’s the way John Gaines wanted it when he invented the Breeders’ Cup, and that’s the way it’s been these last 34 years, with only a handful of exceptions to prove that rules are hard to rattle.

And yet, in the time-honored spirit of whistling past a strip mall, there will be nine more Grade 1 races run this year, with little impact beyond the parimutuel results and the personal records of those involved.

Seven of the nine are run in Southern California, a blissful weather ghetto immune to the forces of nature. Okay, it could rain, and the breeze off the Pacific during Thanksgiving weekend can turn Del Mar into wind tunnel. But Del Mar didn’t ask for the Matriarch and the Hollywood Derby. The historic events were dumped at the seaside when Hollywood Park folded.

Likewise Los Alamitos is an odd place to run Grade 1 races like the CashCall sponsored Futurity and the Starlet in early December. Then again, with recent winners like Mastery, Mor Spirit, Dortmund, Abel Tasman, and Take Charge Brandi, they could probably run the races down Main Street in Seal Beach and retain Grade 1 status.

This column has wished out loud — though apparently not loud enough — that both the La Brea and the Malibu be offered the first week of January at Santa Anita rather than the last week of a meaningless December, as far as championship credentials go. As for the American Oaks, to be run on Dec. 30 at Santa Anita, it has become nothing more than a classy afterthought.

Horses like Precisionist, Ferdinand, Southern Image, and Shared Belief would have had their 4-year-old records suitably embellished had their Malibus been run a few days later. And despite finishing a troubled third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar, Mind Your Biscuits would have been in the thick of this year’s Eclipse Award conversation if his Malibu score — on Dec. 26, 2016 — had been counted in 2017 alongside his wins in the Grade 1 Golden Shaheen and the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship.

Anyway, it won’t matter who wins the La Brea or the Malibu. Abel Tasman and West Coast have the 3-year-old titles nailed down, and there will be no impact on a sprint division led by Paulassilverlining and Roy H. Let some filly run off the screen in the Matriarch or the American Oaks. Lady Eli still gets her long-deserved crown as female turf champ.

The Cigar Mile has a few champions dotting its three decades of history, but none of them — including Cigar — won the race and an Eclipse in the same year. As for the Clark, though meaningless in terms of 2017, its result bears watching. Recent winners include Saint Liam, Blame, Wise Dan, and Gun Runner, all champions the following year.

Assuming, of course, Gun Runner is voted Horse of the Year and champion older male. It should be unanimous, but I guarantee there will be a stubborn cadre of holdouts — like stranded Japanese soldiers who didn’t get the word — determined to vote for Arrogate based on his dramatic win over Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup. Or his 2016 Travers. Or his bankroll.

Or maybe on his Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, which finds Arrogate still on top of the Australian juggernaut Winx (22 straight wins) and the John Gosden duo of Wonder Woman (Enable) and Flash (Cracksman). Gun Runner is up there, too, five pounds below Arrogate, after beating Arrogate by five lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at level weights.

But that does not matter to the Longines formula, which basically holds that the best thing you’ve ever done is how you will be judged the rest of your life, unless, I suppose, charges are filed. If I could be remembered only for those three home runs I hit against the Pirates in Little League that magical weekend, I’d die happy.

Arrogate’s ranking is derived from his Dubai World Cup — a fine night, no argument — despite his fall from grace in three subsequent starts.

“The fact that Arrogate has flopped every time he’s run since Dubai is neither here nor there, since the ratings do not fluctuate like handicap marks,” wrote Tom Kerr in The Racing Post. “Arrogate could have finished last in a claimer and been retired to pull tourists round New York’s Central Park and he’d still have topped the list.

“As such, the ‘World’s Best Racehorse’ is a misnomer,” Kerr concluded. “The rankings would more accurately be designated ‘World’s Best Racehorse Performance [Of The Year]’ — or WBRPOTY, for short.”

The Longines people will have one more bite of the Arrogate apple come January when the final rankings are announced. But since none of the horses within 10 pounds of Arrogate’s 134 will be running between now and then, look for his people to gather for their second straight Longines bauble in London, which he won last year in the face of California Chrome’s Horse of the Year title.

Then, come 2022, both California Chrome and Arrogate will be up for the Hall of Fame. Time will tell.



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