When the dust settles following this weekend's major stakes, we could be saluting the geriatric set if 8-year-old The Tin Man and 7-year-olds Perfect Drift and Meteor Storm come away with victories in their respective races.
The Tin Man, victorious in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) in his last start, is the likely favorite for Saturday's $250,000 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT) at Santa Anita, Perfect Drift - coming off a fourth in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) - will be one of the choices in Turfway Park's $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), a race he won in 2003, and Meteor Storm will be trying to come back off a nine-month layoff in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT).
Perfect Drift's trainer, Murray Johnson, had originally penciled in Saturday's Hawthorne Gold Cup, but decided to stay at home and run the gelding over Turfway's Polytrack surface.
"He's worked on Polytrack and went exceptionally well over it," Johnson said. "He's run on all types of surfaces and has handled them all well, so I don't see why he won't handle Polytrack. I'm a big believer in it. If he were to perform less than we expect, we won't be looking at Keeneland or Hollywood races in the future. We have to find out if we should be looking at (synthetic) surfaces for him.
"You hate to fall on your face and run a bad race, and if we were to run poorly on Saturday, we're not going to blame Polytrack, and we probably wouldn't go in the Breeders' Cup. Hopefully, he'll come out of the race in better shape than the horses coming off the dirt, and he'll go into the Classic a happy horse."
Johnson will be replacing jockey Mark Guidry with Julie Leparoux, who has dominated Kentucky racing this year.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Johnson said. "He was the leading rider at Keeneland and has won more races than anyone on Polytrack. We're looking for little bit of extra confidence, and I think he'll bring it to the race. Right now, the agreement is just for this race. I'm sure he has commitments to other trainers, and that suits us."
Johnson said there are several factors in Perfect Drift's ability to come back every year and be competitive in the Classic.
"He has great bone structure and strong joints and ligaments," he said. "He's put together very well, and he's been allowed to have extended breaks - not just from racing but from the racetrack - and that has helped keep him mentally happy and enjoying what he's doing."
Wally Dollase will be attempting to get The Horizon Stable's Meteor Storm back to the races after the son of Bigstone had an ankle chip removed following his victory in the Dec. 15 William McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder.
"Actually, we were going to retire him, but the timing didn't work out," Dollase said. We were negotiating with a farm in the Southern Hemisphere, but we couldn't get what we wanted for him, so we decided to put back in training. He's been training exceptionally well, as usual, and is still a class act. A mile is not his best distance; he's a better horse at a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half, but he has run some good race at a mile.
"We're giving him this race and hope he can make one big move in the stretch. He's stabled at Belmont and has been able to work over the course three times. It all depends on the competition. The plan is to get this race into him and go on from there. Ashkal Way is the horse to beat, but he comes from way out of it, and we might be fairly close, which could give him an advantage. You can rate this horse with a finger.
Dollase said they are still negotiating to sell the horse, and it is likely Meteor Storm will be retired next year to a farm in South Africa.
"I told the people two months ago we were going to race him and, had they come in earlier, we probably would have sold the horse to them."
Meteor Storm will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who has been extremely close to the horse.
"Castellano loves the horse," Dollase said. "He worked him three times on the turf and says he's real sharp now. He's the one who suggested we put blinkers on him, and it was a good move."
Since the addition of blinkers four races back, Meteor Storm has won the McKnight and finished second in the Canadian International (gr. IT) and Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT).
The Tin Man, trained by Richard Mandella, will be trying to continue his remarkable 8-year-old campaign following his wire-wire victory in the Arlington Million, victories in the grade II American Invitational Handicap and San Marcos Stakes, and a second to David Junior in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I).
The son of Affirmed has won four of his five starts since returning from a 14-month layoff following a fourth in the 2004 Clement Hirsch.
The Tin Man, who has been raced sparingly throughout his career, has won 11 races from 26 starts for earnings of $2,976,860.