Horseplayers have been waiting all year for Monday. It's the day post positions will be drawn for the 29th Breeders' Cup on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita. For many, delving into the past performances of the 15-race pari-mutuel frenzy is more exciting than trying to find the Kentucky Derby winner. Unfortunately, the general public never has felt the same way.
Even when it has compelling story lines that flow into the mainstream -- the Alpha mare Zenyatta trying to finish her career undefeated, Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer -- the Breeders' Cup is pretty much a closed set. If you're passionate about racing, it's 9½ hours of must-see TV. If not, you might tune in on NBC for the prime-time debut of the grand finale, the $5-million Classic, and that's about it.
As always, there are many standouts -- Horse of the Year front-runners Wise Dan and Game On Dude, grass specialist Point of Entry and Todd Pletcher's three undefeated 2-year-olds, Shanghai Bobby and the fillies Dreaming of Julia and Kauai Katie. None of them, however, is a name recognized by anyone unfamiliar with the Daily Racing Form. The 4-year-old Animal Kingdom, in the Mile, will try to become the first Derby winner since Unbridled in 1990 to earn a Breeders' Cup trophy, but don't expect that to lead SportsCenter.
For the thoroughbred world, that doesn't detract one bit from a weekend featuring stakes worth $25.5 million. "All the best horses are there,'' Pletcher said. "The competition is always so stiff and deep. Sometimes you can run lights out and finish fifth.''
Injecting controversy to the big show is the limitation on Lasix. For the first time, horses in the five races restricted to 2-year-olds -- Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile Sprint -- will not be permitted to run on the popular anti-bleeding medication. Pletcher, who calls himself "pro-Lasix,'' has some reservations.
"Well, it is uncharted waters,'' he said, "and the juveniles we have entered have all run on Lasix. I don't anticipate it's going to be any problem, and I certainly hope that it's not . . . If they haven't bled prior to the race, then I think the chances of them bleeding during the race will be diminished.''
One of Pletcher's most prominent owners, Mike Repole, decided not to send his 2-year-olds to Southern California. "I just don't want to be a lab rat for something that might not work and put the horse in a bad position,'' Repole said.
It's also the third time in five years Santa Anita has hosted, and it will be there in 2013, too. The past two Cups were at Churchill Downs, and letting two tracks monopolize the event undermines the original mission to make it a movable feast. Repole considers it "a disgrace" that Belmont Park has been bypassed since 2005.
At least no one is dishing any dirt about Santa Anita's main track. At the 2008 and 2009 Breeders' Cups, no New York-based horse won over the Pro-Ride artificial surface. After three years and frequent problems with drainage, the Great Race Place switched back to sand and loam in December 2010.
"I think America is about traditional dirt racing,'' trainer Bill Mott said. "I'm glad Santa Anita is back to a dirt track, and I hope that's the way they keep it.''