It's crunch time. That means it's also time for decisions. With three Breeders' Cup Classic preps to be run this weekend, trainers with Classic hopefuls must decide which race will most benefit their horse.
Although most have made their decisions, one trainer who is still wavering is Todd Pletcher. With Harlan's Holiday coming off an impressive return to the races in the Pennsylvania Derby, Pletcher is trying to decide whether the Pegasus at the Meadowlands Friday night or Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup will best suit the colt as a prep for the Classic.
Harlan's Holiday went into the Pennsylvania Derby not having run since the Preakness Stakes. Turned over Pletcher two weeks after the Preakness, the son of Harlan came back with a vengeance, easily defeating Godolphin's Essence of Dubai by 4 1/2 lengths. Essence of Dubai substantiated the form by easily winning last weekend's Super Derby.
"We're going to enter in both races and see who's running," Pletcher said. "Where we go will depend on the likely pace scenario and the weather. We're not ducking anybody. We just want to figure out the best way to get to the Classic. If you look at his cycle, we feel his third race back is his best, as it was in the Florida Derby. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a significant race and could mean a lot to the horse's reputation as a stallion prospect, but the Pegasus is a mile and an eighth, and that might suit him better right now. The Meadowlands surface seems to have evened out and isn't as speed favoring as it was earlier. We'll look at everything and make our decision Thursday or Friday and just hope it's the right one."
Speaking of Godolphin and Essence of Dubai, assistant trainer Tom Albertrani said the son of Pulpit has already entered quarantine for 30 days and will then be returned to Dubai to freshen over the winter. Albertrani said that E Dubai could be Godolphin's sole representative in the Classic. Plagued by a nagging foot bruise, the Suburban Handicap winner has been training well of late, and has an outside chance of making the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 5. But Albertrani feels he'll most likely train up to the Classic.
"The foot took longer to heal than we thought," Albertrani said. "He's been training very well, and will work again in a few days. If we have to train him up to the Classic I have no doubt he'll be ready."
Albertrani said last year's classic runner-up Sakhee likely will run next in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, which would eliminate him from Classic consideration. That could leave Sheikh Hamdan's Nayef, winner of the Juddmonte International, as a possibility for the Classic. But Albertrani said he hasn't heard anything regarding the plans for the son of Gulch.
The big race this weekend is Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup, which is shaping up as a match-up between the 3-year-old Repent and the 5-year-old Lido Palace. If Harlan's Holiday should show up in the Gold Cup, it will make for an interesting battle between him and Repent, whose trainer, Kenny McPeek, had Harlan's Holiday taken away from him after winning two grade I stakes earlier in the year.
Another major threat in the Gold Cup is Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew, who like Lido Palace is trained by Bobby Frankel. Milwaukee Brew has a big chance in the Gold Cup, unless Belmont is in one of her moods where she lavishes affection on speed horses and spits in the eye of closers. Two other closers hoping for a fair track are the hard-knocking Evening Attire and the 3-year-old Nothing Flat. So, as of now, there are no speed horses in the Gold Cup. Godolphin's Express Tour, who made Lido Palace work hard in the recent Woodward Stakes, has a ton of speed, but Albertrani said he's more likely headed for the Meadowlands Cup.
Kiaran McLaughlin, however, said he may consider running Abreeze, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Cup Classic after getting caught up in a speed duel with There's Zealous. The son of Danzig previously had finished second to Evening Attire in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup at 1 1/4 miles after winning three straight allowance races by daylight, including two in the slop. And don't forget, Pletcher also has the speedy Balto Star sitting on ready just in case, although he is more likely for the Kelso Handicap or the Shadwell Mile on the turf. But he is coming off a huge performance in the 1 3/8-mile Man o'War Stakes on turf, in which he was caught in the final hundred yards by With Anticipation.
Sunday's Washington Park Handicap at Arlington will feature Macho Uno, who captured the Massachussetts Handicap this past spring. Following a third in the Suburban and a fourth in the Whitney, the son of Holy Bull was sent Adena Springs Farm in Canada for a brief freshening. He breezed five furlongs in 1:03 at Arlington Monday to the satisfaction of trainer Joe Orseno. One of his main rivals will be the hard-hitting Tenpins.
Pleasantly Perfect, a fast-closing fourth in the Pacific Classic, likely is heading for the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap the following week, where he'll take on Pacific Classic and Hollywood Gold Cup runner-up Momentum.
On the European front, Aidan O'Brien will have to decide whether to run Hawk Wing or Rock of Gibraltar in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. O'Brien said Rock of Gibraltar will run only if the ground softens. Either way, O'Brien then has to decide whether to point Rock of Gibraltar or Hawk Wing to the Classic, with the Mile being the alternative.
As everyone is well aware, 3-year-old titans War Emblem, Came Home, and Medaglia d'Oro all will be trained up to the Classic off a nine-week layoff.