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...
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