Alpha and Golden Ticket made history 14 months ago when they became the first dead-heat winners of the prestigious Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course. Both have had their ups and downs since then, and Fri., Nov. 1, the two will hook back up in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
It will be their first meeting since the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), the first race for each after the Travers, when Golden Ticket finished third and Alpha checked in sixth.
"That's pretty neat," said Alpha's trainer, Kiaran McLauglin. "I'd take another dead-heat here."
Alpha, a highly thought of son of Bernardini who missed by a neck in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) before running unplaced in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), failed to fire in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) a year ago, finishing last. A trip to Dubai followed, with his better of two races there being a fifth in the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II).
"Last year his feet were bugging him, and he had some little things, no big deal," said McLaughlin. "He came back from Dubai doing great. He ran well in the Mile there. The trip wasn't a negative. The truth is I hadn't done so well with him for a couple of starts before that.
"We ran him in the Suburban when he came back, and he didn't do great. But he got a lot out of it, and it was a better race than it looked. The Whitney after that wasn't ideal, but the Woodward worked out great."
Godolphin Racing's Alpha scored by a head over Flat Out in that grade I test.
"He's doing well and we're happy to be here," said McLaughlin. "He's a sound, clean-legged horse. We think he's one of the 12 best in the country, and then you wind up running into five that are better than you."
Golden Ticket has won three times since the Travers, two in allowance/optional claimers and the Prairie Meadows Handicap. He finished second in the Stephen Foster Stakes (gr. I) in June and fourth in the Awesome Again (gr. I) a month ago. The 4-year-old is owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners and was bred by WinStar Farm.
"We have no complaints," said trainer Ken McPeek of the son of Speightstown . "We gave him a month break in August. Really, he's been flawless; he hasn't gotten the breaks in some of his races, but he's done well against top company. He's a notch below the horses in the (Breeders' Cup) Classic, but this is a good spot for him. The mile is an ideal distance, and we're hopeful for another grade I."
Both Golden Ticket and Alpha have flashed versatility, running in mid-pack or on the lead. The trip in the two-turn Dirt Mile will be key, but the race is absolutely wide open following the scratch of Graydar . And who is to say that these two old friends won't be hitting the wire close to one another at Santa Anita Park.
"It's unlikely that we would get another dead-heat," noted McPeek, "but that would be just fine."