Before you can find this year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, you first have to find any horses who can come home the last quarter-mile or three-eighths in racehorse time. Then you can go on from there.
But so far, that has been a fruitless search, which is why the European predators lurking out there should be drooling over the thought of chasing down prey who might not be fleet enough to escape them in the final quarter mile.
For instance, in California, a state not exactly known for its deep, demanding racetracks, the final quarter miles of its three premier stakes for older horses -- the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic – were run in :26, :25 4/5, and :26, respectively.
Does this mean that no one coming from California can win the Classic? Hardly. In a year like this, it might not take a quick final quarter to win. In the Big Cap and the Pacific Classic, the opening fractions were pretty brutal for a mile and a quarter race, even in California, so the slow final splits were understandable. But races like that favor the deep closers, which is why Milwaukee Brew was able to swallow up his field in the Big Cap. He wasn't suited to Del Mar, and will now head East for the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
In Saturday's Kentucky Cup Classic, the good news is that we likely added a classically bred colt from one of the nation's great stables to the Breeders' Cup Classic picture. Pure Prize, a son of Storm Cat out of Heavenly Prize, finally showed some of the potential he displayed early in his 2-year-old campaign. The bad news is that we still haven't found that sharp closer, as the final three-eighths were run in a brutally slow :39 2/5, with Pure Prize running only two ticks faster than that. Runner-up Dollar Bill, whose trips to the winner's circle have been few and far between, was way too far back and closed in a respectable :37 2/5, while beaten only three-quarters of a length.
Both these colts will be big longshots in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But again, you can't totally throw anyone out in a year like this, especially when the three likely favorites – War Emblem, Medaglia d'Oro, and Came Home – are all 3-year-olds and all likely to be either on or right off the pace. So, for all you persistent Dollar Bill fans who are still waiting patiently for his big day to come, don't give up now.
For those who plan on rooting against Lido Palace in the Jockey Club Gold Cup believing it is highly unlikely his owner John Amerman will cough up $800,000 to run in the Breeders' Cup, be aware that trainer Bobby Frankel says a huge performance will be enough of an incentive for him to go for it.
"If I tell him to put up the money he would, without a doubt," Frankel said. "He would have put it up last year. I don't feel awkward about doing it, because I'm not telling him to do something he doesn't want to do. If he does put up the money and Medaglia d'Oro should beat him, he realizes the situation going in. He's a big boy. Don't think I wont tell him he's gonna have a tough time beating Medaglia d'Oro."
The size of the European force for the Classic is still in question. The two logical candidates are Hawk Wing from the powerful Ballydoyle Stable and the hard-knocking Nayef, who is in the best form of his career. The Godolphin decision-makers are still trying to figure out where they stand. They have E Dubai in this country trying to make it back from a foot injury, and there is still a chance that Essence of Dubai could make it if he should turn in a monster performance in the Super Derby. But the UAE Derby winner just doesn't look to be that caliber at this point.
Of course, all eyes have to be on Sakhee, who would add a good deal of glamour to the Classic should he run. But Godolphin isn't quite sure what they have right now. Sakhee seems to have tailed off on the turf as well as the dirt, so his future is up in the air for now.
Godolphin, who lost their big horse, Street Cry, to injury, will likely shoot for Australia's Cox Plate with Grandera, but they just loaded another bullet into the cylinder. Last Saturday, Moon Ballad, a distant third in the English Derby, came off a three-month layoff to win the 1 1/4-mile Select Stakes at Goodwood in course-record time. Not only did the son of Singspiel win in hand, he broke the record by a full second.
Although Moon Ballad appears to have mostly grass breeding, Singspiel's dam is the great Canadian filly Glorious Song, while Moon Ballad's broodmare sire, Shaadi, is by Danzig out of a Hoist the Flag mare. In two dirt starts, he romped in an allowance race in Dubai before finishing fourth in the UAE Derby. The Champion Stakes is the next logical stop, but we'll have to see what comes out of Godolphin's next big brain trust meeting.