Anything can happen on any given day is an old axiom used in sports that usually rings true. There are two other good rules of thumb I like to follow in sports: Europeans are better golfers than Americans and European horses are better than Americans in turf races. My Chicago-based opponent witnessed the former during the Ryder Cup in September at Medinah Country Club, and he will have a front row seat to the latter when Excelebration defeats Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile next Saturday at Santa Anita.
Other than his career debut, Excelebration has won every start that did not involve Frankel. In his 5 starts against the proclaimed “greatest horse of all time,” Excelebration had 4 respectable runner-ups and a third. Overall, Excelebration has run in 7 Group 1’s at a mile with a record of 3-3-1. Though Frankel had his number, Excelebration has put daylight between himself and all other comers in all of his 2012 efforts. With this consistency alone, Excelebration is easily Europe’s best miler not named Frankel.
In Excelebration’s 3 Group 1 victories (all at 1 mile on grass), he proved he can handle any kind of ground. He zipped a mile in 1:34.60 two back when winning the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. In that victory, he soundly defeated Europe’s 2nd best chance in the BC Mile, Moonlight Cloud.
Last weekend, he sloshed to a victory on soft ground at Ascot in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. In that race Excelebration was bottled up, crying out for room and when found he found daylight, he exploded with nothing more than a shake of the reigns, while running a sub-24 second final quarter over the boggy going.
There is no debating Wise Dan’s talent, but he has only 5 grass tries. In his 2 Grade 1 wins, the horses who hit the board are considered also-rans in next week’s big race (if they even make it at all). Wise Dan doesn’t have the record, experience or success of his arch rival. The only thing he has on his side is that the Breeders’ Cup is on his side of the pond. But don’t forget, eastern-based horses have historically fared poorly when racing’s biggest day takes place in the Golden State. In fact, Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders’ Cup 5 times with 4 Europeans taking home top prize in the Mile. I think it is safe to say there is more than enough evidence to prove Excelebration will help run their record to 5 for 6.
Hey, now wait a minute! Americans have won more majors than Europeans in 34 of the last 40 years, including 2012, but … enough about golf. This debate is about the horses, and while it is true that the majority of America’s best horses run on dirt, we still put together a pretty solid turf group, especially at a mile. Keep in mind, that in the last eight runnings of the Mile, five Americans have won the race, while only one European has claimed the trophy. Sure, Goldikova did it three times, but Excelebration is no Goldikova … I repeat, Excelebration is no Goldikova.
Yes, I agree, Excelebration was no match for Frankel. That was proven five times over. I do believe, however, that Wise Dan has had a better career, and is coming in with better form, than any of the five Americans (Court Vision, Kip Deville, Miesque’s Approval, Artie Schiller, and Singletary) who have won the Mile in recent years. I really cannot understand why the Lord of Versatility continues to be doubted, but I consider him the best horse in North America with no exception.
Any type of ground in Europe maybe, but the very firm turf of Santa Anita, in the heat, and after a very long trip, might be another story. Goldikova adapted well to American racing, but the list of Euros who don’t, especially when all aspects of the Breeders’ Cup come into play, is a long one.
Meanwhile, Wise Dan is truly a horse who can run on anything. Starting the year on synthetics, moving to dirt, before finally switching to grass, he is an unlucky loss away from sweeping the table in a series of graded stakes while traveling from track to track. I say bring on the firm California turf, because chances are great that Wise Dan will love it, just like everything else.
History has taught us that it’s a real crapshoot whether or not Excelebration will show us his best stuff next week at Santa Anita, but I really hope he does. That will be the only way he can truly challenge the juggernaut that Wise Dan has become. Anyone that has seen Wise Dan run all year long, let alone his last three races on turf, knows that he is a serious racehorse at his peak. As for as whom he’s beaten, I’m surprised that you would bring this up considering he absolutely had Cityscape for lunch two starts back. That’s the same Cityscape who was Excelebration’s top rival in his two big wins this year. In short, Wise Dan passes my eyeball test with flying colors. His wins in New York, Toronto, and Kentucky were utterly dominant. Americans need not worry this time … Wise Dan is the real deal.