But just before leaving for Arlington Park, Mandella found out Pleasantly Perfect would not be permitted to run in the Classic, due to the bleeders rule in the state of Illinois. The colt had bled from the nostrils in the Goodwood, and because he had also bled in a workout in February of 2002, he was a two-time bleeder, which meant he would not be allowed to race in Illinois for 30 days after his last bleeding episode.

So, Mandella put Pleasantly Perfect away and brought him back for a winter campaign. After finishing third in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) and fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Pleasantly Perfect came down with a sore foot. A month later, he started suffering from slight body soreness and was forced to miss the Hollywood meet.

"Finally, just before we moved down to Del Mar, he put it all behind him," Mandella said. "He had a very smooth Del Mar meet, and I realized he was going to be ready for the Goodwood. I'd give him one more good shot to make the Breeders' Cup, and either he was good enough or he wasn't."

It turned out he was, winning the Goodwood off a seven-month layoff. He showed what little effect his half-length victory had on him by coming back 10 days later and working five furlongs in company in :583/5. At first, Mandella was not happy he had worked so fast, but after thinking about it, he concluded it was what the horse needed to indicate his sharpness.

The next work would be different. This time he'd go it alone and be more relaxed. Mandella told exercise rider Crystal Brown, "I want him to breeze by himself today. Have your stick with you, just to make sure he's serious about it. Keep him off the fence, about three horses wide and go at a nice steady clip. I don't want him to break off with the pony and get away from you. Just have him on his toes. I'm figuring he'll go in :59 and change by himself. If he does better than that, it's because he's doing good."

Pleasantly Perfect is very sensitive about someone touching his ears, and Mandella had a tough time holding his head still to put the blinkers on. He told groom Humberto Correa to make sure he braided the colt's forelock for the race Saturday, so the loose hairs didn't get under his blinkers and bother him. As he walked alongside the horse on the way to the track, he was amazed how big and strong he was. "He's a big guy, isn't he?" he said. "I wish I was that big. I'd be a nasty bastard."

Mandella was waiting for Pleasantly Perfect to break off at the five-eighths pole when the colt came charging past him. "How did I miss him?" he said. "Well, at least I can't be unhappy with it, can I?"
When Witzman found out the time and told Mandella the colt had worked in :574/5, he said, "I don't believe it; I don't believe it. Maybe he is better than last year."

Mandella told Brown the time of the work, and her response was one of equal surprise. "What? Are you serious?" she said.

There was no doubt Pleasantly Perfect was ready for the race of his life. Even with Mineshaft, Candy Ride, and Empire Maker gone, the Classic still was a top-class race, with any of the 10 starters having a legitimate chance to win. A victory by Medaglia d'Oro or Perfect Drift would likely lock up Horse of the Year honors, with Congaree and Ten Most Wanted also having a shot at the title.

Medaglia d'Oro was coming off a nine-week layoff, but Frankel had him fit and razor sharp. On the Sunday before the Breeders' Cup, he worked the colt in company with Watchem Smokey, with Pat Valenzuela up. When Medaglia d'Oro walked alongside Watchem Smokey, Valenzuela, who would be riding Congaree in the Classic, told Frankel, "Hey, Bobby, the only
way he could look any better is if I was on him."

Baffert felt he finally had Congaree right where he wanted him, and was just happy to make the race after the colt suffered a quarter crack the week before. "He weighed 1,140 pounds when he was kicking (butt) here this winter," Baffert said. "But then he got light on me and went down to under 1,100 pounds over the summer. Now he's back up to 1,150 pounds. He's ready and you're gonna see the real 'Congo' on Saturday."

The surprise entry was Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, who had originally been scheduled to run in the Discovery Handicap (gr. III). It was then decided to run instead in the Empire Classic against New York-breds, but that plan also was changed, with the Sackatoga Stable gelding finally winding up in the Breeders' Cup Classic off a 12-week layoff.
The day before the Breeders' Cup, a shower of ash fell on Santa Anita from the cloud of smoke that had blown westward. With continuing temperatures hovering around 100 degrees and Santa Ana winds predicted for Breeders' Cup day Oct. 25, there was the fear of unhealthy conditions. But the winds never materialized and the fires stayed to the east, as blue skies gave way later in the day to a light veil of haze.

The crowd of 51,648 made Medaglia d'Oro the 5-2 favorite, followed by Ten Most Wanted at 4-1, Perfect Drift at 5-1, and Congaree at 6-1. Pleasantly Perfect closed at 14-1.

But by the time the horses were being saddled for the Classic, all eyes were on Mandella, who had swept both 2-year-old stakes with Halfbridled and 25-1 shot Action This Day and dead-heated for the win in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) with Johar. Only D. Wayne Lukas had won three Breeders' Cup races in a single year, having accomplished the feat back in 1988.

The start was a rough one for Medaglia d'Oro, who was bumped by Congaree. That forced Jerry Bailey, on Medaglia d'Oro, to challenge for the early lead, rather than track Congaree.

"I broke a bit slow, but just enough where Congaree decided to close the door, and I couldn't let him go on the lead alone," Bailey said. "If he did close the door, I wouldn't get out for a while, so my only option was to let him run up in there, even though I knew I was taking a chance of running a pretty quick pace."

Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree were at each other's throats every step of the way through testing fractions of :22.79, :46 35, and 1:10.32. The first turn proved to be a disaster for Ten Most Wanted, as Funny Cide bore out into Perfect Drift, which forced Pat Day to check sharply on Ten Most Wanted, taking him out of contention.

Solis, meanwhile, was able to settle Pleasantly Perfect in eighth, about 10 lengths off the lead. He rallied between horses, moving to within five lengths of the leaders at the quarter pole. "He was sharp, but he relaxed right away," Solis said. "When I got to the backside, I started to look to see who was in front of me, and right away I saw Gary Stevens on Perfect Drift. He was one of the horses to beat, so I followed him to the inside. Gary asked his horse and he didn't seem to be responding, so I said, 'OK, it's time to go out now.' I got him in the clear and he felt so strong I knew he was going to give me a big run down the stretch. I switched my stick to my left hand and he just went by those two horses."

Pleasantly Perfect rolled right on by Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree and drew off to a 11/2-length victory in 1:59.88 for the 11/4 miles.

Medaglia d'Oro finally got the better of Congaree in the final yards and eased clear, holding off the late charge of Dynever, who nipped Congaree by a neck for third. Hold That Tiger, who loomed a threat nearing the quarter pole, faded to fifth. Congaree came back with several gashes on his flank, caused by the whip of Valenzuela, according to assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes.

As Pleasantly Perfect crossed the finish line, a tremendous roar poured out from the grandstand in recognition of what had just transpired.

Continued...

Most Popular Stories