BREEDERS' CUP FEATURE
OCTOBER 13, 2012
by James Scully
The final preps are in the books for most Breeders' Cup horses and this is a good time to take a look at the prospective fields.
I will begin with my early thoughts on Saturday's championship races.
Classic: Game on Dude will be a clear favorite in the 1 1/4-mile centerpiece event, the $5 million Classic, and there is little separating the next five or six contenders.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Game on Dude is five for five on the dirt track at Santa Anita, posting a convincing 3 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Awesome Again most recently, and owns terrific BRIS Speed numbers. The gelding is always a front-running threat but can race close to the pace if needed. And he will have the services of southern California's leading rider, Rafael Bejarano.
"This horse is just getting better and better, and when he gets on dirt, he's a different horse," Baffert confidently stated following the September 29 Awesome Again.
The only real question is the 10-furlong distance; Game on Dude surrendered the lead in deep stretch of last year's Classic, finishing nearly two lengths back of longshot Drosselmeyer, and one could make the argument that 1 1/8 miles is his best trip. But that's a tenuous position given his victories in this year's Hollywood Gold Cup and the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. Game on Dude will be a very attractive "single" candidate for bettors in multi-race wagers (Pick 4 etc).
The next group of contenders can be lumped together:
Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man and To Honor and Serve are all quality runners who look capable with a career-best, but the 1 1/4-mile distance should be a legitimate concern for their backers. Ron the Greek captured this year's Santa Anita Handicap as well as the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, but he is far from consistent, recording a dull sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last out, and could leave himself too much to do with his plodding run style. Flat Out exits an encouraging win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but has not proven himself away from Belmont Park.
Dullahan is on the fence for several races at this time, with the Classic, Mile and Turf all options, but will likely wind up in the most prestigious event (Classic) given that none of the Breeders' Cup races are held on his favorite surface, Polytrack. The three-year-old has finished no better than fifth in his last three starts on dirt and turf.
Mile: Wise Dan is a star attraction in this year's Breeders' Cup, but this will be no "gimme" for arguably the world's second-best miler.
The Mile shapes up to be a three-horse race, with Wise Dan's main opposition coming from a pair of classy Europeans, Group 1 winners Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud. The international challenge could also include Group 1 winner Elusive Kate.
A graded winner on dirt and synthetics, Wise Dan switched back to turf following a head second in the Stephen Foster, the only setback in his last seven starts, and proceeded to dismantle his competition with stunning ease, recording eye-catching victories in the Shadwell Turf Mile, Woodbine Mile and Fourstardave Handicap.
The exciting chestnut has worked his way into the Horse of the Year discussion and is drawing poor-man comparisons to superstar Frankel. And barring the surprise addition of Frankel (unlikely but the door is not completely shut), Wise Dan will have an excellent opportunity to prove his worth against a pair of quality rivals.
Animal Kingdom, last year's Kentucky Derby winner and champion three-year-old male, is scheduled to return in this spot off an 8 1/2-month layoff, but his main target is the Dubai World Cup next March and it's probably best to look for more down the road.
Juvenile: An east-west showdown is shaping up between Shanghai Bobby and Power Broker.
Unbeaten Shanghai Bobby is more accomplished, posting impressive wins in the Champagne Stakes and Hopeful Stakes in his last two outings, but the Todd Pletcher-trained colt faces the difficult task of shipping to California.
Power Broker is the local star, breaking his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths when trying dirt in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes on September 29, and hails from the mighty Baffert stable, which will send out serious contenders in at least five Breeders' Cup races this year.
The Juvenile will be ripe for a major upset if Shanghai Bobby and Power Broker both come up short.
Turf: It's been a common theme in recent years -- the American turf colony is subpar and Europeans will be the top contenders in the 1 1/2-mile Turf -- and international raiders have accounted for six of the last seven runnings, the lone exception being English Channel in 2007.
Thankfully for the home team, Point of Entry appears cut from the same cloth of an English Channel and has the potential to restore a little pride for the Americans.
It will be a difficult task. St. Nicholas Abbey is scheduled to make a title defense for Coolmore/Aidan O'Brien and 2011 Turf runner-up Sea Moon is targeting the race as well. Japan's Trailblazer already had a prep over the course, rallying for second in the Arroyo Seco MileChinchon, Imperial Monarch and Bayrir could add further depth to the overseas contingent.
Point of Entry will enter the Turf on quite a roll for trainer Shug McGaughey, capturing his last five starts, including a trio of Grade 1 events in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Sword Dancer and Man o' War. He didn't face top company in those starts, but accomplished them in the right way, scoring comfortably each time.
The four-year-old Dynaformer colt is the lone American-based entrant with a legitimate win chance.
Dirt Mile: The Dirt Mile is typically one of the most contentious Breeders' Cup races on paper and this year should be no different.
After being held at a one-turn distance the last two years at Churchill Downs, it will be contested at two turns at Santa Anita.
The Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park on September 29 served as a possible key race, producing Dirt Mile contenders in Jersey Town and Shackleford, and Emcee is another potential live East Coast-based candidate following his smashing 4 1/2-length score in the Grade 1 Forego at seven furlongs.
Todd Pletcher is contemplating running Dominus and Rule, and Fed Biz, Handsome Mike and Rail Trip are among the leading West Coast-based prospects.
With no standouts in the Dirt Mile, bettors will go in many different directions.
Turf Sprint: Santa Anita hosted the inaugural running of the Turf Sprint in 2008 and the about 6 1/2-furlong affair produced a major shocker when Desert Code upset his rivals at 36-1. That kind of outcome is possible once again this year.
Unbridled's Note merits respect off his victory in the local prep, the September 28 Eddie D. Stakes, but that was the three-year-old colt's turf bow and he won't be an imposing presence against a much deeper group of challengers on November 3.
Bridgetown is another logical win candidate following his victory in the Woodford Stakes at Keeneland and the Pletcher trainee finished second in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita.
California Flag, the 2009 winner here, is aiming to regain his title.
The Turf Sprint has the early feel of a dartboard race that could be up for grabs.
Sprint: The Sprint looks like a race where the California-based horses could dominate, and Amazombie will be the horse to beat in a title defense.
The 6yo was freshened off a convincing score in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby on July 29 and did not run poorly when finishing fourth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, only 1 1/4 lengths back of the winner. Trainer Bill Spawr did not have his charge fully cranked off the 69-day layoff and Amazombie figures to move forward off the performance.
The top three finishers -- Coil, Capital Account and Jimmy Creed -- are all very dangerous as well.
Coil, a Grade 1 scorer at 1 1/8 miles last year, has been re-configured into a top-class sprinter by Baffert, who also has the lightly-raced 5yo Capital Account (a dead closer with century-topping BRIS Late Pace numbers in all six starts this season) at the peak of his game. Jimmy Creed looks like a rapidly-improving three-year-old for Richard Mandella who turned in a very encouraging effort when making his dirt debut in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
I expect the Sprint winner to come from one of those four.
Filly & Mare Sprint: Groupie Doll could put on a show in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
The four-year-old filly discovered her best form earlier this spring for trainer "Buff" Bradley, posting smashing Grade 1 wins in the Madison and Humana Distaff, and received a much-deserved four-month freshening afterward. She returned to the races this fall with the same zeal, crushing the competition in the Grade 2 Presque Isle Masters and Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, and her best is at a different level from the rest of the fillies and mares in her division.
Multiple Grade 1 winner It's Tricky could be the top rival (unless she opts for the Ladies' Classic), but she's never won outside of New York (zero for three) and could be a little over the top after a very disappointing performance in the Beldame Stakes at Belmont. Musical Romance, last year's female sprint champion, and multiple Grade 1 winner Turbulent Descent will also warrant respect.
But Groupie Doll will need to need to show up with less than her best to lose.
Juvenile Turf: Chad Brown, who captured the 2008 Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita, is loaded for bear in the Juvenile Turf with Balance the Books and Noble Tune, superb winners of the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland and Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park.
Joha exits a win in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on Keeneland's Polytrack and while the Juvenile is still under consideration, the Juvenile Turf makes much more sense; he would be a front-running threat on Santa Anita's turf.
Oak Tree Juvenile Turf scorer Dry Summer is a leading California-based contender and at least a couple of potentially dangerous Europeans expected.
Brown Almighty is also intriguing. From the first crop of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, the promising chestnut colt exits a troubled second (elevated one spot by the stewards) in the Bourbon Stakes and could continue to show more in the Juvenile Turf with a clean journey.