What went right and wrong in Breeders' Cup?

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

2020_11_04_Tiz_The_Law_NTWAB
Tiz The Law snacked on the grass outside his barn at Keeneland last week. His sixth-place finish as the 3-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic had bettors criticizing jockey Manny Franco. (NTWAB screen shot)

Las Vegas

The successful bettor during last week’s Breeders’ Cup cashed winning tickets by playing familiar names like Authentic, Monomoy Girl, Gamine, Knicks Go and even Whitmore. Or maybe even hitting the “all” button and getting a 73-1 shot to come through.

The losing bettor tore up tickets and even cursed names like Magical, Jackie’s Warrior, Rushing Fall, Leinster and Yaupon.

But because hell hath no fury like a favorite scorned, no horse was more scrutinized in the aftermath of Keeneland than Tiz The Law. And no jockey was more criticized than Manny Franco was for his ride in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

A steady stream of public money came in on the colt that was once a cinch for Horse of the Year. There was talk of a quintuple slam, remember? The Belmont and the Travers fell right in line. The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and the Classic were merely faits accomplis.

But when Authentic front-ran the Derby, those dreams went out the windows of Sackatoga Stable’s caravan of school buses full of owners. After skipping the Preakness, Tiz The Law was supposed to be fresh and ready for last weekend.

Then came that ride. That curious ride that saw Tiz The Law go to the front. Then get held up going into the first turn. And on the backstretch. Where he was put back into the traffic that he had already skirted. Then asked for something in the homestretch. And showing a couple signs that he wanted to go. And having nothing left.

A 3-1 post-time favorite finished sixth. An Eclipse Award? Gone. Ticked-off gamblers sounded off – but not as forcefully as trainer Barclay Tagg.

“The jock said he was rank on him,” Tagg said. “The winner was rank. (Franco) should have just followed him around. I had him ready to run, but I can’t ride them.”

In fairness Tiz The Law did show signs of being rank when he was in the final turn, throwing his head around as if he wanted to be anywhere else. Or wanted anyone else riding him.

“My horse never settled for me,” Franco said right after the race. “He was pulling me the whole way hard.”

Probably because he wanted to go. Maybe that was why Tiz The Law did not respond in the stretch. It was the equine equivalent of screw you.

Lead owner Jack Knowlton was diplomatic, but his lines were spaced far enough apart to find reading room between them.

“I guess it was our turn to not get the good trip,” he said. “We won three Grade 1s and were second in the biggest race for 3-year-olds, and he had the trip every time.”

Was that shade being thrown at Franco’s ride or Franco’s achievements? All year it was suggested that a 25-year-old jockey who has not reached the heights of the Brothers Ortiz or John Velázquez or Javier Castellano might not be up to the biggest moments so soon in his young career.

When Franco won the Belmont and Travers, his supporters – including Tagg and Knowlton – said he proved the critics wrong. But there was a persistent feeling that Tiz The Law was just so powerful that he made up for whatever Franco might have done wrong.

A Twitter firestorm was only appropriate, because that site attracts the knee jerks. Calmer opinions prevailed late this week, including the notion that Tiz The Law might not be suited to 1¼ miles. True, he won the Travers by 5½ lengths, but that was against a so-so field from which the unproven Uncle Chuck was the second choice. In hindsight that was a paid workout.

Franco’s Classic ride was suspect, but maybe Tiz The Law was, too. If bettors take some truth serum, the plenty who did not pay into Authentic’s 4-1 odds in the Classic would confess that they never thought the real Horse of the Year could get 1¼ miles once let alone twice.

While trashing Franco, then, how about praising Velázquez in getting his first Classic win after 19 Susan Lucci-like misses? It is no coincidence that his three rides on Authentic produced the horse’s best Beyer Speed Figures of his career – 105 in the Derby, 105 in the Preakness and 111 last weekend. Only Robby Albarado’s brilliant ride at Pimlico on Swiss Skydiver prevented a Derby-Preakness-Classic sweep for Authentic.

Even if Franco had challenged Authentic early, who is to say that the race would have wound up any different than their duel two months earlier at Churchill Downs? Did Tiz The Law have a 111 in him? Probably not.

A re-rematch is not in the cards. Authentic has been retired to stand at Spendthrift Farm, the Kentucky breeder that spent $9.5 million to buy two-time Distaff champion Monomoy Girl last weekend – and keep her racing at age 6. Like it or not, 200-times-a-year boys are worth more than once-a-year girls in the Thoroughbred breeding business.

Meanwhile, Tiz The Law will race at age 4 with Knowlton and Tagg targeting the $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park, Florida. That is 1⅛ miles, the very distance of the Belmont Stakes that he won in his halcyon summer.

And yes, Franco will be replaced. Knowlton announced Thursday that, what do you know, Velázquez will take the ride in the Pegasus.

Think about that. A change in November that went smoothly for an event in January. I had best leave the rest of that thought unwritten.

Racing notes and opinions

Franco is not the only jockey being blasted for his performance in the Breeders’ Cup. And not even the best. Ryan Moore, perhaps the best turf rider in the world, has come under fire after going 0-for-6 for trainer Aidan O’Brien at Keeneland. Most glaring was Circus Maximus. Moore waited too long to urge the 11-1 shot to make a run late in the Mile, leaving the door open for 73-1 long shot Order Of Australia to come off the also-eligible list and score the second-biggest upset in Breeders’ Cup history. In a column for the British website SportingLife.com, respected turf writer Mike Cattermole pointed out that Moore has ridden only 4 of 14 Group/Grade 1 winners for O’Brien this year, as many as journeyman Seamie Heffernan. “Looking beyond 2020,” Cattermole wrote, “you do wonder whether the incredibly successful partnership Moore has had with Team Ballydoyle will be continued. Certainly some bookmakers have already stoked up the rumor mill with short-priced quotes about Colin Keane getting the job.” Moore, 37, is hardly a has-been, and if a hasty move were to be made, one need only look to Frankie Dettori to see how revenge works. Eight years ago Dettori was dumped by Godolphin around the time he developed a drug problem. He has since won four Breeders’ Cups, three runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and 39 English and Irish Group 1s, including the last two riding titles at Royal Ascot. Dettori turns 50 next month, and by all accounts the drug troubles are in the past. One would think there might be 13 good years left for Moore.

The winning time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic has turned into a multiple-choice quiz. The timer suffered from premature determination, showing a first quarter-mile of 17.19 seconds. Only horses outfitted with Space X rockets could have done that. This week Equibase and the Breeders’ Cup explained that “a photo eye at the start of the race was inadvertently tripped.” My bet was a sparrow did it. Other than that wrong readout, no fractions were posted, and a track-record final time of 1:59.19 was finally announced Saturday night long after the race. Then based on a video review this week, Equibase revised it to 1:59.60, still a track record, but two lengths slower. It also announced fractions of 23.20, 46.84, 1:10.32 and 1:34.64. Trakus, the system that uses GPS chips that are put into each horse’s saddle cloth, begged to differ. Its fractions read 23.20, 47.06, 1:10.84 and 1:35.00 with a final time of 1:59.82, yet another length slower. All this may seem picayune, but this goes to the greater issue that bubbled up this summer of less than credible timing in the U.S., where anachronistic run-ups remain a flimsy framework for the minutes and seconds that follow. If an embarrassment in America’s richest race will not get tracks to fix this, then nothing will. And I am afraid nothing will.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. An eventful Breeders’ Cup weekend in Kentucky is the subject of the current episode. Trainer Brad Cox talks about his four championship victories. Alicia Hughes of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association looks back on the races – plus an eventful sale that guaranteed the return of two star mares to the racetrack. The RFRP is available at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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