BREEDERS’ CUP “TEAMS UP” FOR SANTA ANITA
The recent announcement confirming the Breeders’ Cup will be run at Santa Anita on November 1 and 2 may have caused a little head scratching from the casual sports fan. Why on earth would these World Thoroughbred Championships decide to hold their two-day extravaganza at this dark and clouded venue that has been just full of bad news? After some careful contemplating and a little ciphering, this Hillbilly turf writer has come up with a conclusion. In the best interest of everyone in the sport, they need to run the Cup at Santa Anita. Now, let’s explain our reasoning.
Considering the horse tragedies that have occurred since December 26, 2018, I too have thought long and hard about what’s been happening on the left coast. People that never talk horse racing with me have asked my opinion on the matter as they have seen the negative stuff plastered on the national news. I don’t think anyone can answer as to why 30 horses lost their lives between opening day and the latter part of June. Unfortunately, injury is a part of any sport and these four-legged mountains of strength are also very fragile. Like head injuries are a part of football, breakdowns are regretfully a part of horse-racing. Nobody wants it to happen, but it does.
Being that I truly love the Breeders’ Cup and recognize it as the greatest two-day sporting event known to man, many thoughts have gone through that small amount of gray matter that resides between my ears. To me it really boils down to a very simple philosophy that an old and dear friend of mine shared with me. He said “you can’t teach talent”. Here is how that rings oh so true in this case.
As a competitive guy that coached baseball from little kids up through summer teams for our local high school, I would often times call on this wisdom from Duncan Howse. Let’s face it, some players have “it” and some players do not. Everyone will struggle at times because failure is a part of living. Nobody goes undefeated in life, that’s as certain as death and taxes. So when your cleanup hitter strikes out in back-to back at bats, you don’t yank him out because next up might yield a bomb. You had him batting cleanup for a reason…right? Your ace pitcher blows up in a start and gets shelled, but when it’s his turn to throw again, you roll him out there with confidence. These are the times when character is revealed. When challenged with adversity, how will you respond?
Let’s connect the dots. Santa Anita is one of those “it” places. One of the most divine properties on earth, if you have ever been, you understand there is a level of talent here that you just can’t teach. The vision shared by Charles Strub and Hal Roach when they opened the gates back in 1934 has spread joy throughout the hearts of millions. When you sit in the grandstand and watch these magnificent athletes with the San Gabriel Mountains as the back drop it provides a “postcard” type feeling. The statues of Seabiscuit, John Henry, and Zenyatta are just a whisper of the superstars that have run to glory here. History and tradition are running strong, much like the superstars that have toed the track. There are many great things that have gone on for decades at this iconic venue that go unpublicized.
“There is so much work that goes into this sport that the mainstream doesn’t know about,” says veteran trainer Doug O’Neill who sponsors scholarships and other opportunities for backside workers. “There are literally thousands of people that devote their lives to the well-being of these horses. For them it is truly a labor of love and caring for these equine athletes is how they put food on the table. I have been fortunate enough to run horses all over the world, but I don’t think there is any place more scenic or better than Santa Anita.”
Nine times the Cup has runneth over in Arcadia, California. In 2016, the event set a two-day attendance record (118,484) amidst some of the most memorable races ever. As a proven performer, the Breeders’ Cup decided they didn’t need to yank their shortstop out of the lineup because of some errors and a couple of bad hops. A combination of things have likely contributed to the tragedies over this six-month time frame and the powers that be have taken steps to alleviate as many of the likelihoods as possible. Situations are going to happen, it is how you handle them that maters most. Santa Anita has rallied in many ways and taken more batting practice while fielding extra ground balls. I give credit to the Breeders’ Cup for understanding you have to let players play. The easiest way to get out of a slump is step into the box, swing the bat. There are many great people at Santa Anita from the administration to the groom and they all are working in the best interest of the equine athletes.
“I applaud the Breeders’ Cup for standing by Southern California racing and giving us a much needed boost in what has been a trying time for all,” says O’Neill. “It is super exciting to have the of the greatest days in racing coming back to Santa Anita.”
On November 1 and 2 a fastball will be coming down Main Street and I have a feeling we will hear a thunderous crack of the bat. They don’t call it “the Great Race Place” for no reason.