By his own admission, trainer John Scanlan is a bad loser -- a man who curses and throw things in defeat. So when he heard Wednesday that Toccet had drawn the far outside post the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Scanlan's first reaction was to leave the post position draw breakfast at Arlington Park. He walked, smoked a cigarette, and got his head together. By Thursday morning, he was philosophical instead of bitter.
"It's like seven twice, ain't it?" Scanlan said of the No. 14 hole. "I would have liked to have been seventh--or in the three or four hole--14 is my lucky number anyway, because I was born on the 14th of August. I'm still trying to figure out whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. But I'm trying to think positive, so I figure it's a good thing. It's not like he's going to be running for the lead in the first place, so hopefully he can just get out there and tuck in a little bit going into the turn, save some ground as much as possible, and then work his way to the leaders down the backside. Then I think everything should be fine."
Bred and raced by Daniel Borislew, Toccet is one the favorites in the in the Juvenile (6-1 on the morning line), having won three of his four career races, including the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Oct. 5. In the Champagne, he defeated Icecoldbeeratreds by 1 ½ lengths.
Toccet's fast progression was not a real surprise for Scanlan.
"Right from the get-go, he was good," the trainer said. "He was a little 2-year-old, feeling good all the time. But he just showed talent right from day one. He worked faster than everybody else, and he wanted to go on and on and on. I send out about three or four horses together every day, and let them pick each other apart. I find out who can hang with who and who can't. I keep putting them into divisions, until I get to an A team, B team, and C team. He was A-plus."
But Toccet's first start was a disappointment. At Colonial Downs in July, he finished third in a maiden-special-weight event, beaten 11 ½ lengths.
"Not a good start," Scanlan recalled. "He broke from the one hole, and he got shut off on the fence leaving the starting gate. And he got shuffled back to dead last. Then he clipped heels going into the three-eighths pole. Then he (jockey Phil Teator) had to take him up, and he (Toccet) was so wide in a six-horse field, that it was more like he was in a nine-horse field. When he finally straightened out for home he came running, obviously showing he wants to go farther and farther. I thought he would win, and I (was so disappointed that I) was banging chairs afterward."
Added Scanlan: "I just hate to lose, but I don't ever hurt anybody "
Toccet rebounded to break his maiden by 10 lengths at Laurel Park in August, then captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance by 8 ½ at Pimlico in September. With his Champagne Stakes effort, Toccet moved up from regional to national prominence.
"I thought he had a great performance," Scanlan said. "It rained, it (the track) was cuppy, it was deep. The wind was blowing hard all day. The rail was dead, and he was on the fence. But he came running out of there. What really impressed me was how fast he took off that last sixteenth of a mile and could have gone farther. Icecoldbeeratreds got tired, and Toccet took over. I'm looking for a repeat in the Breeders' Cup."
Even though Scanlan would be more confident in a post position closer to the rail, he is still optimistic that Toccet will turn in a good performance because "no matter what I ask him to do, he does it. Everything, I don't care what it is. Go get my car. Take me to the barn in the morning. Go get me a coffee."
And Scanlan is relieved that the race is being run at its longest ever distance of 1 1/8 miles.
"If it had been a mile and I was in the 14 hole, I would have been on my way home. I would have had to leave. We would have needed a miracle horse, and I don't know about a miracle here. The mile and an eighth is the only reason we're staying. Why take a chance on having all the traffic problems? We'll probably have them anyway, but maybe we can overcome them. But going a mile, we would have had no chance."
Win or lose, Scanlan said his first Breeders' Cup would be a memorable experience.
"I'm loving it. I find that I'm very kid-like. To see all these great trainers and all these great horses -- and to actually have a chance to win my race -- makes it overwhelming. To see all these champions gathered at one spot is great."