Countdown to the Cup: Half Empty or Half Full?

Countdown to the Cup: Half Empty or Half Full?
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Oujia Board is one of four 2004 Cup winners likely to run this year.
There are two ways of looking at this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, especially the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I). It is either a depleted group of horses that doesn't measure up to most Breeders' Cups or there is still plenty left to provide a championship-caliber afternoon of racing.

Lets look at the Classic first. For those still mourning the loss of Ghostzapper. Afleet Alex, Roses in May, Giacomo and all the other top-class horses who have fallen by the wayside, it is important to note that as of now, the Classic is expected to draw the winners of the 2005 Jockey Club Gold Cup (still to be run), Woodward, Travers, Santa Anita Handicap, Stephen Foster, Pacific Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Haskell Invitational (all grade I), as well as the winners of the grade II Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, Dwyer Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby, and Kentucky Cup Classic. No matter how you look at it, regardless of who is missing, this is still going to be a strong race.

And as for the Breeders' Cup on the whole, four of last year's eight winners are expected to return – Better Talk Now (John Deere Turf), Ashado (Emirates Airline Distaff), Singletary (NetJets Mile), and Ouija Board (Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf).

Other American stars include the undefeated Lost in the Fog; Leroidesanimaux, three-time grade I winner this year, including last Sunday's Atto Mile (gr. IT) at Woodbine, and winner of eight straight races; the undefeated Alabama (gr. I) winner Sweet Symphony; Bobby Frankel's dynamic duo of Megahertz and Melhor Ainda; a talented group of 2-year-old colts headed by brilliant stakes winners First Samurai, Stevie Wonderboy, Private Vow, and Sorcerer's Stone; and a host of top-class European horses, including English Derby (Eng-I) winner Motivator, last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I) winner Bago, Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner Powerscourt, and possibly Irish Derby (Ire-I) winner Hurricane Run and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) winner Oratorio, not to mention classy milers Rakti, Dubawi and Starcraft. Expect a European or two for the Classic as well.

As for the American classics, the loss of Afleet Alex and Giacomo obviously hurts, as did last year's loss of Smarty Jones   and the recent setback to Funny Cide, who is recovering from a sore back. But there still will be a representation of classic horses. Perfect Drift finished third in 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I); Imperialism was third in the 2004 Derby; Rock Hard Ten was second in the 2004 Preakness (gr. I); and if Nick Zito starts either or both Andromeda's Hero and Royal Assault, you'll have the runner-up in the 2005 Belmont (gr. I) and the third-place finisher in the 2004 Belmont.

Juveniles March On

Sorcerer's Stone, trained by Pat Byrne turned in an extraordinary performance in Sunday's Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. II). Stretching out from 5 1/2 furlongs to a mile, he blew the field away after turning for home and drew off to an 8 1/2-length victory, coming home his final quarter in a brilliant :24 flat. The son of Gulch out of a Slew o'Gold mare still has to work on his lead changes, but he's undefeated in three starts, and has a pedigree to suggest distance will be no problem whatsoever.

Not bad for a colt who was a $130,000 RNA in 2004 and 2005, and had to be withdrawn from another sale. Three months after his second RNA at Keeneland, he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs, defeating Private Vow, who would go on to win his next three starts, including Saturday's Futurity Stakes (gr. I) by nine lengths.

Private Vow is by the Unbridled stallion Broken Vow   and boasts a strong European tail-female family, tracing to English Derby winners Shirley Heights and Sea-Bird. His dosage profile of 4-2-9-2-3 is about as perfectly balanced as you can get, with the emphasis on class. So, look for both these colts, like First Samurai and Stevie Wonderboy, to develop into top-class 3-year-olds.

The Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) also looks to be an interesting East vs. West showdown, with undefeated Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) winner Wild Fit taking on the East's two big guns, Adieu and Folklore, who demolished her field in Saturday's Matron Stakes (gr. I), romping by 14 lengths in faster time than the Futurity.

The scheduling of the Futurity and Matron pretty much leaves the participants of the two races hung out to dry, either having to go from seven furlongs straight into the Breeders' Cup off a six-week layoff or squeeze a race in between. The change in distance back to seven furlongs is a good one, but the races likely should have been run a week earlier.

Trainers of horses competing in the Hopeful and Spinaway have shown no desire to run back in the Futurity and Matron, so there is no reason for the extra week. And most trainers pointing for the Champagne (gr. I) and Frizette as their final Breeders' Cup preps are not likely to subject their young horses to three grade I stakes in six weeks by running in the Futurity and Matron. If the Futurity and Matron were run on the big Woodward weekend, it at least would give trainers four weeks to the Champagne. NYRA could get lucky this year, with Private Vow and Folkore possibly coming back for the Champagne and Frizette, but that is only because they were so dominant on Saturday. It is still asking a lot.

QE II Passengers Likely Heading to Belmont

Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) should be a hotly contested race, with Godolohin's Dubawi, who already is committed to the Breeders' Cup Mile, facing off against Rakti and Starcraft. Dubawi, winner of the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) turned in a huge work at Newmarket Tuesday morning with Frankie Dettori aboard.

With Leroidesanimaux's 7 3/4-length romp in the Atto Mile, and Artie Schiller heading for the Kelso BC (gr. IIT) at Belmont and Singletary pointing for the Oak Tree BC Mile (gr. IIT), America could have a strong three-pronged attack for the Mile.

In Other Breeders' Cup News:

-- Although there is big lull in the major stakes action this weekend, there is one significant race, with Perfect Drift going in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II), a race in which he was upset last year as the 1-2 favorite by 27-1 Freefourinternet.

-- Bob Baffert said his big hope for the Sprint, Woke up Dreamin, will run next in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) on Oct. 1, where he could take on Pomeroy, Battle Won, Silver Wagon, and I'm the Tiger. Baffert still is undecided where he'll run Roman Ruler next as his prep for the Classic.

-- Looking for a forgotten longshot in this year's Filly & Mare Turf? Watch out for Wonder Again, who will be back on her home course and could jump right back into the thick of things with a big effort in the Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT). She never runs a bad race and has not had the best of luck in her last few races, including last year's Filly & Mare Turf. All she needs is for her big stretch run to be timed correctly and she can beat any turf filly around.

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