A total of 92 horses were entered Wednesday for the 19th Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. After weeks of speculation and rumors, European superstar Rock of Gibraltar was entered in the Mile, where he was installed as the even-money favorite by Arlington Park oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. The son of Danehill, who had been pre-entered in both the Mile and Classic, drew post 10.
One horse who was an unexpected no-show in the Filly & Mare Turf was Voodoo Dancer, who came down with a respiratory infection, according to trainer Christophe Clement.
While the Mile drew a full field of 14, the Turf drew only eight horses, the smallest field in the history of the race. The only other race to draw a full field was the Juvenile, where undefeated Sky Mesa was made the lukewarm 3-1 favorite.
The $4 million Classic drew a field of 12, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem installed as the 3-1 favorite, followed by Medaglia d'Oro at 7-2 and Came Home at 4-1. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Hawk Wing, a stablemate of Rock of Gibraltar, was made the fourth choice at 5-1.
An interesting scenario developed when War Emblem, who has been all but committed to the lead by trainer Bob Baffert, drew post 3, while Godolphin's E Dubai, the other speed horse in the race, wound up on the rail.
"All he needs is a clean break," Baffert said. "My main concern is E Dubai, but he's in the one-hole, so we're together. But the key will be the break. He's doing really great. He had gotten sour on me during the summer, and that was his way of telling me he wasn't a happy horse. But he's been training super, and all I can do is get him ready the best I can.
Baffert said he wasn't surprised that War Emblem was made the favorite. "He has the best record and the best credentials," he said. "He's the Kentucky Derby winner and people like that."
War Emblem has been sold to Japanese interests (who take control after the Classic), and although blood tests have all come back negative, there is a stipulation in the deal that the colt be tested after the race for the West Nile virus. "They were concerned about West Nile," said Richard Mulhall, manager for the late Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation. "But once the blood tests come back negative, the deal will be completed. Mulhall said he has no idea if the new owners have any plans to run War Emblem in the Japan Cup Dirt before retiring him to stud.
Medaglia d'Oro's trainer Bobby Frankel, said he felt his horse would be the favorite. "I was surprised he made War Emblem the favorite," he said. "I thought I'd be, but it's a horse race. I don't care if I'm the favorite on the morning line, I just want to win the race. War Emblem matured earlier than everyone, but now Medaglia looks like a man among boys."
When asked how he determined who would be the Classic favorite, Battaglia said, "This was very close, but I made War Emblem the favorite, because he is the favorite everywhere he's run, and he's beaten Medaglia d'Oro in two of their three meetings. Remember, he was 6-5 in the Pacific Classic. People love to bet this horse. Medaglia d'Oro has won only one grade I in his career.
"Off his record, Came Home should be the favorite, but nobody bets on him. He was 10-1 in the Pacific Classic. I really didn't know what to do with Hawk Wing. I think he's a very good horse, and it wouldn't surprise me if went off as the favorite. If Rock of Gibraltar was in the Classic, I might have made him the favorite."
Frankel's other horse in the Classic, Milwaukee Brew, drew post 12, but Frankel said he's not concerned at all, being the colt has so little speed and can be taken back and tucked in near the back of the pack.
"Unlike last year, I got a lot of good draws," Frankel said. " Everything has gone perfect." Frankel has two horses in the Mile, Beat Hollow and Aldebaran, and wasn't disappointed that Rock of Gibraltar went in the race. "I'm not worried about Rock of Gibraltar, because the pressure is off me," he said. "If I lose, I'm supposed to lose, but if I win I'm a genius. Beat Hollow is doing great and should improve off his last start (Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland). Aldebaran has been sprinting, so he might not be as far back as people think." Beat Hollow drew post 2, with Aldebaran in post 7.
Mike Dillon, racing manager for Rock of Gibraltar's co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson, said the decision to run in the Mile was made only this morning. "He was very good at a mile all year, and (Aidan) had Hawk Wing for the Classic, so, better the devil, you know, stick with what he does best. He'd never been on a left-handed track and never been over a mile. There was temptation to run in the Classic, but we'd love to win the Mile. It would be terrific to beat the Americans in that race."
One of the shortest-priced favorites on the Breeders' Cup card is Azeri, who was made the 6-5 favorite for the Distaff. Trainer Laura De Seroux said the daughter of Jade Hunter is doing great and seemed to handle the track beautifully in her first gallop Wednesday morning. She drew post 4, with the speedy Imperial Gesture right alongside in post 5.
"Obviously, post positions don't have much influence in an eight-horse field, but all the speed is outside Azeri," she said. "I imagine Azeri and Imperial Gesture will be very close together at the start. Take Charge Lady will be close and I'm sure Summer Colony won't be far behind."
As for Azeri getting hooked up in a speed duel with Imperial Gesture, De Seroux said, "Have any of the horses gone in eight and change (referring to the three-quarter split of 1:08 4/5 in the Lady's Secret BC Handicap)?"