LOUISVILLE — In horse racing, this was the year of almosts. So it stood to reason that this would be the Breeders' Cup of almosts.
Goldikova almost won her fourth straight Breeders' Cup Mile, instead losing by just a length to Court Vision and Turallure, with the former edging the latter by a nostril at the wire.
Michael Matz's Union Rags almost won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, despite being forced wide early and drifting out in the stretch, only to see his rally lose out to front-running Turfway Park star Hansen by a head.
The part-time model Chantal Sutherland almost became the first female jockey to win a Breeders' Cup Classic, only to have her mount, Game On Dude, get caught in the stretch by her ex-boyfriend Mike Smith, who was riding WinStar Farm's Drosselmeyer.
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"I wish I could offer an excuse," said Game On Dude's trainer, Bob Baffert, "but I can't."
And it was all apparently almost interesting to the general public. The announced attendance of 65,143 was the lowest ever for a Breeders' Cup Saturday at Churchill Downs.
This came on the heels of Friday's attendance figure of 40,677 for the ladies' day version of the Breeders' Cup. That was down 2.3 percent from last year's Cup at Churchill.
But then you can trace this "almost" curse back to last year's Breeders' Cup when the legendary Zenyatta came from completely-out-of-it last place to almost but not quite catch Claiborne Farm's Blame at the wire in one of the most dramatic finishes in Classic history.
Apparently impressed by the "almost" win, the sport's experts voted Zenyatta "Horse of the Year."
Maybe that was some kind of curse.
Think back to last May's Kentucky Derby when the overwhelming favorite Uncle Mo almost made it to the starting gate only to be sidelined by a mysterious ailment that ended up shelving the Todd Pletcher-trained star for the entire Triple Crown series and most of the summer.
Then the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, almost won the Preakness, only to lose by a half-length to Shackleford. Then in the Belmont, Animal Kingdom's jockey, John Velazquez, nearly fell off when his horse stumbled badly at the start.
So there would be no Zenyattas this year, a horse that captured the public's imagination. There would be no Blames, a horse that won three Grade I races a year ago and still didn't take home the most prestigious trophy.
There was no marquee name or delicious story line to bring the average fan out to the track on Breeders' Cup day.
Not that the day lacked good races, or decent stories, starting with the classy Bill Mott, who won the Ladies' Classic with Royal Delta on Friday, then repeated the feat in Saturday's Classic with a horse in Drosselmeyer that had won exactly one race since taking the 2010 Belmont.
(Have we spotted a trend here? The top three Classic finishers (Drosselmeyer, Game On Dude and Ruler on Ice) all ran in the Belmont. Drosselmeyer won it last year. Ruler on Ice won it this year. Game On Dude ran fourth last year. ("It looked like them Belmont winners did well coming in here," said Larry Jones, trainer of fourth-place finisher, the filly Havre de Grace.)
Then there was Aidan O'Brien, the famous Irish trainer who looks something like a boy himself, watching his own boy, 18-year-old Joseph, ride St Nicholas Abbey to a win in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
The finish of the Mile was thrilling for its razor-like margin, even if sentimental favorite Goldikova got a view of it from behind.
And in the Classic, a Sutherland victory would have been ground-breaking — "She rode a great race," Baffert said — but Smith made some history of his own, tying Jerry Bailey's record of 15 career Breeders' Cup victories.
That was the same Smith who was on board Zenyatta for that "almost" win last year.
How long did it take Smith to get over that loss?
"Until now," he said.