Seldom do horses win a major stakes in a common gallop like Borrego won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Oct. 1. But you only have to go back three weeks, to Sept. 10, to see a similar romp, when Saint Liam won the Woodward (gr. I) in a laugher.
Belmont Park track announcer Tom Durkin, who will call the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships races for the 22nd time Oct. 29, had some fun calling both races.
In the Woodward, as Saint Liam pulled away from the field, Durkin shouted, "Jerry Bailey looks like a statue in the stirrups. Saint Liam is just galloping here." Saint Liam won by just two lengths, but the manner in which he dominated the field--combined with previous victories--should land him the favorite's role in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
Durkin got even more enthusiastic in his call of Borrego's stunning performance. "Borrego is inhaling horses one at a time with a sensational blitz on the far turn," he called out. "A wild move by Borrego." Borrego's margin of victory was 4 1/2 lengths, and this colt now has scored back-to-back grade I races after not winning a stakes in his first 17 career starts.
Another horse who put on a show was Rock Hard Ten, whose one-length margin of victory in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) Oct. 1 was deceiving, though it was not in the same league as Saint Liam and Borrego's easy wins.
Jockey Gary Stevens looked like he could have reeled in the front-running Roman Ruler at any time, and never did go to the whip.
An anticipated return from surgery by Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) Stakes winner Afleet Alex would make this already intriguing Classic that much more interesting.
Borrego has always been a very good horse whose come-from-behind running style has played against him in many of his starts, where he either hasn't gotten a quick enough pace or has been hustled early to be within a few lengths of the leader. Garrett Gomez allowed the son of El Prado to drop back 10 1/4 lengths from the front in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), which he won by a half-length with a powerful stretch run. He was 11 3/4 lengths back in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and certainly benefited from the fast pace.
Borrego was second in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, and competed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. As a 4-year-old, he finished second or third in three graded stakes. He has tested trainer Beau Greely's patience, but Greely has been rewarded with the two biggest wins of his training career.
Five-year-old Saint Liam was a good horse at three, but he really gained attention last year when he nearly upset Ghostzapper in the Woodward, hanging tough in a stretch duel before losing by a neck. The son of Saint Ballado improved further this year for trainer Rick Dutrow, winning three grade I races in five starts.
Rock Hard Ten has been highly regarded since winning his debut as a 3-year-old in February of 2004. The son of Kris S. finished second to Smarty Jones in the Preakness, then won the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) before a dismal performance in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I). He's won four straight grade I or II races ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles since returning in December for trainer Richard Mandella.
The Classic is not going to be a walk in the park for anyone.