By Robert Knolhoff Jr.
Back in late March, here was a Chilean-bred racehorse, a 4-year-old by Northern Hemisphere standards, denied entrance into the world's richest race, and then unable to match strides with a pair of Dubai-based 3-year-olds on the undercard. Six months later, could this same horse possibly be the one to command center stage on opening weekend of yet another glorious autumn meet at Belmont Park, home to this year's World Thoroughbred Championships, and in much more subtle fashion write a postscript for a chapter of his homeland's racing history?
After watching Lido Palace realize his best strides in the final sixteenth of the Sept. 8 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) to move clear of Albert the Great and defending Horse of the Year Tiznow, you'd have little reason not to answer "yes."
Amid the considerable activity in the winner's circle following the stirring one-length victory of his colt in one of the season's finest standards, trainer Bobby Frankel grabbed Jerry Bailey's elbow and one-lined to the winning rider, "That trip to Dubai was worth it after all, wasn't it?" Considering how far Lido Palace, a grandson of Forty Niner, has come since his purchase from Chile by owners John W. and Jerome Amerman last year, every minute Frankel has spent nurturing the best of the smooth-muscled colt has been time well spent.
"The key to the South American horses is time," offered Frankel. "You have to give them four or five months. That way, if you have to stop on them for any reason, you've given yourself the time to do that. We received Lido Palace last winter, and I took it real slow, keeping him in training all the while, but not racing him until March. He can run all day and he's still getting better."
Frankel waited until this September, the 30th anniversary of Chilean-bred legend Cougar II's runaway performance and subsequent disqualification in the 1971 Woodward, to join as select a quartet for the 11*8-mile Woodward as imaginable. The Woodward would be the rubber match between Lido Palace and Albert the Great, who was victorious in the July Suburban Handicap (gr. II), but two lengths behind Lido Palace at Saratoga in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I). With an affinity for Belmont in the style of modern-day stars like Creme Fraiche and Sky Beauty, Albert the Great was the Nick Zito-trained favorite to rebound over his home oval. As if just to remind everyone that he, not the retired Point Given, is America's reigning Horse of the Year, the towering chocolate-brown Tiznow bedded down at Belmont during midweek and exuded a presence befitting his title, suggesting his back troubles were ably corrected by trainer Jay Robbins. Making just his third start since winning the 2000 Preakness (gr. I), Red Bullet was confidently entered beside the aforementioned three.
To no one's surprise, Albert the Great was in front early, but to his inside Chris McCarron challenged that lead early with the 4-year-old Tiznow, not conceding the lead after a second quarter-mile in :22.74. Lido Palace was close enough on the outside, well clear and moving with effortless grace in third. Jorge Chavez maintained his advantage on Albert the Great well out onto the track, and after a mile in 1:34.67, three superb Thoroughbreds were called on for their best. Over a crowd-thrilling 12 seconds, Bailey inched Lido Palace closer and closer, and only nearing the wire wrested control from the leader, with Tiznow continuing bravely inside, where he remained the entire trip. Tiznow finished a half-length behind Albert the Great. Country Be Gold rallied ahead of Red Bullet for fourth in the five-horse field. The final time was a respectable 1:47.42.
Awaiting his return at Barn 2, longtime Frankel assistant Jose Cuevas, who galloped the winner on race day morning, remarked, "He's so mellow, like a human. He's getting stronger and stronger."
Right on cue, the son of Rich Man's Gold--Sonada, who is not Breeders' Cup eligible and may not return in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), for whom Frankel has Aptitude, emerged from the test barn, strong and slick.
As for his continued storybook season, Frankel dismissed any overstatement. "Don't wake me up from the dream. Please, let me sleep." PACE PLAY
History similarly caught up with 6-year-old With Anticipation in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT), when the nearly pure white son out of Fran's Valentine mimicked his top-class mother by winning a prominent race, only to have his number taken down by the Monmouth stewards. Otherwise, the season-long switch to the turf for the veteran campaigner has proven flawless. And after winning the $500,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) on Woodward Day by 2 1/4 lengths over world travelers Silvano and Ela Athena in pace-controlling fashion, the George Strawbridge homebred moved one step closer to a start in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) over the same course.
Augustin Stable owner Strawbridge added Fran's Valentine to his broodmare band some years after her disqualification in the initial Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and her foal of 1995 has been in the hands of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard from day one. "He's a special horse," remarked Sheppard. "I've had him since he was a yearling. To break him and train him for over five years and then watch him become a multiple grade I winner is just amazing."
Over recent autumns, the Man o' War has risen to the head of New York's premier grass events, but with many local stars, including King Cugat and Forbidden Apple, awaiting later events, this year's eight-member cast was strengthened from overseas. German-bred Silvano emerged as the sport's latest anointed "globe trotter" after winning the Arlington Million (gr. IT) with regular partner Andreas Suborics. Also on hand were the enchanting Ela Athena, the 5-year-old roan mare with beauty queen looks and a tomboy constitution, and Mutafaweq, the occasionally brilliant 5-year-old seeking to present Godolphin racing their third Man o' War trophy in four years.
World-recognized credentials aside, pace, or a decided lack of it, would decide this year's edition of the 11-furlong autumn classic. A perfect harmony between the eternally patient Pat Day and the confident, front-running With Anticipation was evident into the first turn after a brief challenge to supremacy inside by Ela Athena. Day sat motionless down the backstretch, and with each fraction, first in :24.65, then :50.18, and six furlongs in 1:15.11, the story became more and more apparent--the free-moving leader would not be caught. Jostled a bit on the clubhouse turn and hemmed in for much of the trip, favored Silvano emerged clear in midstretch and put in a demonstrative rally for second, a neck ahead of Ela Athena, who finished second last year to Fantastic Light. The clock was stopped in 2:15.11, implying With Anticipation flew home the closing half-mile. Continued. . . .