This Week in Racing: The good, the bad, and the gut-wrenching

December 11, 2017 04:24am
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Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire

This week in racing will always be remembered as tragic. The world of racing was rocked to its core by the horror of seeing the devastation of wildfire on the San Luis Rey Downs training center. Rockingham Ranch and Peter Miller's four-time stakes winner, California Diamond, was just one of 46 horses to lose their lives in the catastrophic disaster. The death toll is unthinkable. Viewing it unfold was unwatchable. It's one of those things in life that you can never imagine happening, and only hope is that it never happens again. Our hearts broken, one small things helps -- the outpouring of love and support shown for everyone effected. The racing community is a tight-knit one. A group of like-minded individuals with the equine in common. Through each other, the healing process will begin and continue. At a time like this, more than any other, we come together as one.

On the racing front, we were reminded of what makes this sport so great, by what happened far from home. Going out in high style, the Irish-bred Highland Reel demostrated one final time what a remarkable racehorse he is. The 5-year-old son of Galileo took advantage of the occasion that was the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase to marvelously cap a career that needs to be remembered for a long time.

On Sunday in the Far East, he stalked the early pace for as long as he saw fit, before striking the lead in the turn for home with
partner Ryan Moore. A host of challengers looked to make that lead short-lived, however. None other than the Breeders' Cup Turf hero, Talismanic, was the one who emerged as the biggest danger, and in fact, appeared ready to run right by, but of course, Highland Reel had other ideas in mind. In a telling display of courage and class, the Aidan O'Brien-trained superstar quickly rebuked the strong challenge and strode off to his seventh career Group 1 triumph. It was a wonderful career that saw him tested time and time again in all corners of the globe. Highland Reel didn't always win, but he made his presence felt each and every time. In the process, he made the entire world of racing a smaller place. ZATT's Star of the Week is ... Highland Reel!



The occasion of Wednesday's fourth race at Lingfield was significantly smaller than the glitz of Sha Tin, but the result was nearly as noteworthy. Away from the races for just over three years, it was remarkable to see a big, strong version of Toast of New York return to the racing game a winner. Surely trained masterfully by Jamie Osborne, the handsome son of Thewayyouare had first come to international prominence with an impressive score in the
2014 UAE Derby. American race fans will remember him best as the then 3-year-old's big performance in that same year's Breeders' Cup Classic, where only a diminishing nose and a highly questionable decision to let the result stand by the stewards kept him from entering the winner's circle at Santa Anita. Injury forced him to miss the 2015 Dubai World Cup, and also prompted an early retirement. After disappointing early results at stud, Toast of New York was returned to training way back in March of this year. 

While it was fantastic to see an excellent runner come back to earn his fourth career victory in nine starts, the enthusiasm should be tempered with the fact that there was not too much in this 10 furlong, four-horse race. Things will only get tougher from here, as his connections consider both the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup in the near future. Those would be extremely tall orders indeed for a horse away from racing for so long. Having said all that, the fact that he could come back as good as he did says plenty about both the horse and the training job. The experience should also do him a world of good moving forward. Whether or not he can prove to be one of the world's best once again, it was uplifting to see him win on Wednesday.

Not so uplifting was the debacle that was two-straight Grade 1 races Saturday at Los Alamitos. First off, the field sizes of nine -- not nine each, but nine total -- were simply awful. The Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity and the Starlet Stakes, arguably two of the biggest races of the season after the Breeders' Cup, could only attract a field of five and a field of four, respectively? It's a trend that cannot continue for these races, and one that is bad for American racing as a whole. Then we had the stewards ruin the better of the two races with a ridiculous decision to take down the deserving winner of the race for a minor bumping infraction. Perhaps it was political. Perhaps it was ineptitude. Either way, it stunk.

As for the races themselves, both official winners, McKinzie and Dream Tree remained unbeaten, and although one won by stewards' error, and the other won a race of little more than allowance quality, both are well-bred and ran well enough to continue on the Derby and Oaks trails. In fact, the former was carried a bit wide on the first turn, was very game down the lane, and should improve whenever career start number three comes up. Adjudged runner-up, Instilled Regard, also demonstrated that he belongs with graded stakes horses, but it was Solomini, the rightful winner in the Futurity, who was best on Saturday. Following up a good second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the son of Curlin continues to demonstrate that he is one of the best of this division.




Finally, I like to give a little love to horses who may not get much of the national attention, but they consistently get it done on their home turf. Mobile Bay is a good example of this. The Louisiana-bred son of Lone Star Special is a homebred for Tigertail Ranch. He's also a racing millionaire. On Saturday at Fair Grounds, the 5-year-old horse returned from a 10-month layoff to gamely defend his crown in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic. The nose victory over Grande Basin was his third straight victory and his 11th in 26 career starts. A winner of the Grade 2 Super Derby back in 2015, Mobile Bay also raised his career record in his home state of Louisiana to: 18-8-5-2.

 

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ZATT's Star of the Week
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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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