By Bill Finley
To the surprise of no one, the Breeders' Cup announced last week that the next three tracks in line in the rotation to hold racing's championship day are Santa Anita (2019), Keeneland (2020) and Del Mar (2021). With Churchill also a regular stop on the Breeders' Cup tour, it would appear that the list of racetracks being considered for the series includes only four locations. For now, that may be the case, but Breeders' Cup CEO and President Craig Fravel insists that New York has not been forgotten.
It only seems that way. The last time a Breeders' Cup was held in New York was in 2005 and the next possible time it come could come back there is 2022. That's a 17-year hiatus for Belmont–one of the sport's most iconic tracks and one that happens to be located just outside the border of the most important city in America.
Fravel said NYRA management did not apply for a Breeders' Cup when bids went out for 2019 through 2021 and they probably wouldn't have been chosen if they had. The problem comes down to the facility. Mainly, it's not a very good place to hold an event in November in the northeast, as Belmont has no heat.
“Although we haven't done any formal studies on the situation there in a while, both of us, the Breeders' Cup and NYRA, believe that there is a lot that needs to be done to do it right and do it well there,” Fravel said. “Back when I started in 2011, we were looking at Belmont and there was a lot that needed to be done so far as infrastructure and temporary improvements that were needed just to sort of weather-proof it for cold weather. What needed to be done was extensive. If anything, seven years later, the plant probably needs more work than it did then.”
NYRA executives have spoken about a significant renovation project at Belmont, which would likely include downsizing the facility and, perhaps, making it suitable for year-round racing. However, they have yet to reveal any specific plans or put forth a timetable for when the track might undergo the type of changes it needs to be a suitable Breeders' Cup host site.
Fravel said another problem is that the Belmont Park parking lots are not lit, and with the Breeders' Cup preferring to run the Classic as late in the day as possible, there would be the problem of sending people into darkened lots after the end of the races.
“Pending the redevelopment effort at Belmont, NYRA has asked not to be considered [to host a Breeders' Cup],” Fravel said. “We have had regular conversations with them about the status of that effort and what work will be done. I am very hopeful that some time in the near future there will be some definitive time frame on those improvements. They know more about that particular element than I do. You can do anything, but it would be so much more fun to have a Breeders' Cup there after they have done their renovations.”
Another factor that makes Belmont a less-than-perfect site for the Breeders' Cup is that it is held the same weekend as the New York Marathon, which makes finding hotel rooms difficult. Fravel said that is an issue, but one he feels can be dealt with.
Accelerate Trounces 'Em
For whatever reason, Accelerate (Lookin at Lucky) never seemed to excite anyone. Having already won two Grade Is on the year, including the Santa Anita H., that didn't make a lot of sense. But the story changed Saturday when he not only won the GI Pacific Classic–he won it by 12/12 lengths under substitute rider Joel Rosario. Granted, there have been better Pacific Classics, but it takes a very good horse to win any Grade I race by 12 1/2 lengths. The runner-up, Pavel (Creative Cause), is himself a Grade I winner.
He's clearly the best older horse in the country and, right now, is the horse to beat in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill, where his trainer is likely going to feel major pressure to get the job done. Sadler is 0-for-41 lifetime in the Breeders' Cup. His woes continued last year when Accelerate finished ninth in the GI Dirt Mile and Stellar Wind (Curlin) was eighth as the second choice in the Distaff.
After the Pacific Classic, Accelerate's connections were campaigning for Horse of the Year, saying that if Accelerate wins the GI Awesome Again and the Breeders' Cup Classic he deserves to be considered a serious rival to Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy) for the title.
In any other year, Accelerate might be a lock for Horse of the Year, but the power of the Triple Crown is such that there's nothing any horse can do to unseat Justify. How about bringing him back next year and hoping that Bob Baffert doesn't have still another Triple Crown winner in his ridiculously loaded arsenal?
This Trainer Will Never Fire His Jockey
Veteran jockey Luis Rivera Jr. pulled off a rare feat Saturday at Monmouth when he both rode and trained a winner. Rivera is the trainer and jockey of Strawberry Red (Regal Ransom), who won the day's first race, an $8,000 claimer. It was his first mount this year, his third start as a trainer and his first career win as a trainer. Rivera, 51, has won 1,559 races as a jockey.
“I like to keep busy,” said Rivera. “I've been around horses my whole life. I like doing everything with them. I'm at the track at 5:30 every morning to gallop horses, then I check in on this one and then I ride whenever and wherever I can. It gets tougher to get mounts when you get older and I wanted to do more with my time so I decided to take out my training license and see what happens.”
Rivera is also the answer to a trivia question-Who was the first jockey to ride Holy Bull? In an Aug. 14, 1993 maiden race at Monmouth, Rivera guided Holy Bull to a 2 1/2-length win. Mike Smith rode him in each of his subsequent 15 career starts.
No Turf, No Problem for Chad
The only thing that could possibly slow down Chad Brown as this year's Saratoga meet was supposed to be bad weather. Brown has long ago proven that he's more than just a grass trainer, but turf horses remain the strength of his barn. Conventional wisdom was that he could have, for him, a subpar meet if a lot of races came off the turf.
It's been one of the rainiest Saratoga meets in memory and, through yesterday's card, 43 races had come off the turf. Yet Mother Nature has proved to be no match for Brown. He won two more races yesterday at Saratoga, giving him 31 on the meet and 15 more than his chief rival and the runner-up in the standings, Todd Pletcher.
Imagine the meet he'd be having if all the races had stayed on the grass.