It is clear by now that Sunday Silence may not be much better than Easy Goer at 1 1/4 miles, but he is better.
Easy Goer may still be the better horse at longer distances, but that is academic, because 1 1/2-mile races aren't written by racing secretaries that much anymore, and even if they were, Sunday Silence's trainer, Charlie Whittingham, is too smart to run his colt in them.
There are still those die-hards around, however, who maintain that Easy Goer would also be better than Sunday Silence at 1 1/4 miles, if he had someone other than jockey Pat Day on his back.
It is the right time for Shug McGaughey, Easy Goer's trainer, to find out. McGaughey owes it to himself, the horse and owner Ogden Phipps, to see whether Easy Goer will run more consistently and make fewer mistakes with a more active jockey.
Easy Goer and Day have won 12 races together, but after they lost by a long neck to Sunday Silence last Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park, the score for the year was Sunday Silence 3, Easy Goer 1.
Chris McCarron, riding Sunday Silence for the first time because of Pat Valenzuela's suspension for drug use, wasn't as worried as Arthur Hancock about Sunday Silence protecting his lead in the final strides of the Classic. In his box seat, Hancock, the principal owner of Sunday Silence, was on his knees by the time the 1 1/4-mile race was over.
McCarron reached the wire with Sunday Silence much the way he finished on Alysheba in the Classic the year before at Churchill Downs. Alysheba held off another Day-ridden McGaughey colt, Seeking the Gold, by about the same margin as last Saturday's, but McCarron never had the feeling that he was going to lose that one, either.
If Easy Goer is indeed a horse for the ages, he should have been able to overcome Day's tentative handling, because he had dead aim on Sunday Silence through Gulfstream's 952-foot stretch. Day hit Easy Goer 15 times through the lane, while McCarron, true to Whittingham's prerace instructions, didn't strike Sunday Silence once.
"It was a great temptation to hit him a few times," McCarron said. "But you only want to hit a horse when you feel he's not doing his best. I never felt I needed to hit Sunday Silence. When he started to drift in a bit, I just waved the stick at him on the left side and he straightened out."
Whereas McCarron's ride was similar to last year's Classic, Day's ride was a lot like the one he gave Forty Niner against Winning Colors when the filly won the 1988 Kentucky Derby. Perhaps puzzled with what to do with Winning Colors' ability to get off to an uncontested early lead, Day stopped and started with Forty Niner, and their surge in the stretch left them a neck short at the wire.
For an objective opinion on whether Day needs to be replaced on Easy Goer, Thad Ackel qualifies as much as anybody. Ackel trained Great Communicator, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 1988, and attended this year's races only as a spectator. His roots--and his accent--are Louisiana, and although he's considered a California trainer now, he has no allegiances to the camps of either McGaughey or Whittingham.
"I know Pat Day's record but the plain truth is that he doesn't fit this horse," Ackel says. "You've got a patient horse and a patient jockey, and that's not a very good combination when you're trying to beat a horse as quick as Sunday Silence."
Ackel saw Easy Goer up close at Gulfstream for the first time, going to the paddock before the Classic, and although McGaughey shrugs off references to the colt's puffy ankles, Ackel believes that they should be the source of concern.
"He's got a couple of osselets (enlargements of the fetlock joints usually caused by excess fluid)," Ackel said. "And it looked to me like there's some calcification there. I was surprised that such a good horse could have ankles like that."
Whereas Sunday Silence is an easy horse to ride--Whittingham said that at least a dozen jockeys could have handled the assignment if he hadn't given it to McCarron--Easy Goer has given Day problems.
Last year, when he was beaten by Is It True in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Easy Goer broke poorly and then in the stretch run tried to jump track marks from the starting gate.
Easy Goer has had several other bad starts--in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and now in Saturday's Classic. On Saturday, he also had trouble changing leads--shifting weight by changing lead feet--coming out of the stretch turn. Sunday Silence, by contrast, changes leads so easily that McCarron can't even tell the horse is doing it.
"He reminds me of John Henry a lot the way he changes leads," McCarron said. "You can't even feel it. He does it effortlessly."
Still, Easy Goer will be a formidable opponent if he meets Sunday Silence in next fall's Classic at Belmont Park. The distance won't be 1 1/2 miles, which it was when Easy Goer beat Sunday Silence for the only time in this year's Belmont Stakes, but those sweeping turns at the New York track will help McGaughey's colt.
They have already helped him. Easy Goer ran second at Belmont in the first race of his life, but he has won six straight there since then.
Horse Racing Notes
Breeders' Cup officials are lucky that On the Line, who was clobbered at the start of Saturday's Sprint, was able to be removed from the track without much delay after the race. If On the Line's leg injury had required his being destroyed on the track, the delay would have taken the Classic, the day's final race, past the twilight zone and into darkness. The same thing happened at Churchill Downs last year. The Breeders' Cup is playing it too close to the vest with its post time for the final race.
Zilzal, the English colt, has been retired and will stand at stud at the farm of his owner, Sheik Mana al Maktoum, in Kentucky. Zilzal, the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Mile, was typically washed out in the post parade, delayed the start when he wouldn't get in the gate and then broke slowly before finishing sixth. His jockey, Walter Swinburn, was critical of the way the outriders handled Zilzal. "If they had just left him alone, he would have been all right," Swinburn said.
Sunshine Forever, who was last in the Breeders' Cup Turf and didn't win a race all year after winning the male grass title in 1988, has been retired. . . . Star Lift, the French horse who was third in the Turf, has been turned over to Wayne Lukas, who also trains Steinlen, the Mile winner, for owner Daniel Wildenstein. . . . Caltech, who despite his name has never run in California, is headed for Hollywood Park. The Budweiser International winner led until mid-stretch in the Turf before finishing fifth.