Yes, give Bayern credit. He's a fast horse and a game horse, and his name is etched in the history book as the winner of the 2014 Breeders' Classic. But he didn't win the race. The stewards won it for him.
Bayern should have been disqualified. Absolutely 100 percent, he should have come down from atop the tote board.
Many times, stewards, whether in a Breeders' Cup race or a $4,000 claimer, will excuse incidents that happen right out of the gate. The theory, I guess, is horses veer in and out at the start all the time, and the rest of the field has plenty of time to recover. That might or might not be a good way to look at things when adjudicating the races, but what the Santa Anita stewards clearly failed to take into account is how much of an impact Bayern's antics at the start had on the race. It's unimaginable that he would have won had he not impeded Shared Belief at the start and had Shared Belief not in turn bothered Moreno.
When Bayern took a sharp left out of the gate, the entire complexion of the Classic changed. Bayern is not a versatile horse. He has one way of going and one way of winning. He has to have the lead and needs to clear other horses. When he doesn't, you get the Travers, in which he packed it in and finished last, 20 lengths behind the winner.
Yet almost nobody thought he could possibly get that kind of trip in the Classic because of the presence of Moreno. Moreno is the same kind of horse. He breaks sharp, goes to the front and dares them to catch him. With Moreno having drawn inside of Bayern, he was certain to vault out of the gate and go for the lead. If that had happened, Bayern would have either gotten caught up in a suicidal speed duel or had to race from just off the pace, something he's not comfortable doing. Had Moreno had a normal Moreno trip, Bayern just was not going to win this race.
So Bayern, with Martin Garcia aboard, body slammed Shared Belief and caused him to plow into Moreno, who, all of a sudden, wasn't battling Bayern for the lead but was fifth. And Bayern was out in front by himself, two lengths clear of Toast Of New York, who, by the way, also bothered Moreno.
Then there's Shared Belief. He was the favorite in the race and would probably have been named Horse of the Year had he won. He was knocked silly at the start, which set off a nightmarish trip, from which he could never recover. He lost all chance at the start and finished fourth.
When asked about the problems at the start, Shared Belief's jockey Mike Smith had this to say: "I think it cost me the race."
Being a steward is not an easy job. They make decisions -- sometimes tough decisions -- that determine millions of dollars in bets and, in this case, $5 million in purse money. Had Bayern been taken down, he would have had to have been placed behind Moreno, which would have meant that instead of his owner picking up a $2.75 million check, he would have gotten zero. That said, they have to get this right, and they didn't.
What would have they decided if this were the fourth race on a Thursday? That question always gets asked when stewards fail to take down horses in the sport's biggest races. It's human nature to react differently when $10,000 is on the line instead of $5 million, and anyone would have had to think twice about taking a horse down in a race of the magnitude of the Breeders' Cup Classic. Let's hope they really did treat this like any other race and didn't do what they did because it was the Classic.
This might be the first time in history that stewards decided the Horse of he Year title. Even if you disagree with their call, you have to give it to Bayern. Coming into this, he had won two $1 million races (the Haskell and the Pennsylvania Derby) and then defeated the best field of dirt runners assembled all year to capture the Classic over Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, Belmont winner Tonalist and the undefeated Shared Belief.
Turf winner Main Sequence has decent Horse of the Year credentials, and so does Distaff winner Untapable. But when there is a male dirt horse who wins the races that matter, he is the one who deserves to be Horse of the Year, and I will have no problem voting for Bayern.
He had a very good day Saturday at Santa Anita. Too bad the same can't be said for the stewards.