Classic Preview: It's All Here
Photo: Benoit
Lava Man has won seven in a row in '06.
There will be story lines aplenty in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I). You want a battle of the royals? It's got it. You want the blueblood vs. the blue collar? It's got it. You want to see the lovable losers get their chance at redemption? It's got it. You want to see the possible coronation of one of racing's most revered kings? It's got it.

So, where to start? Most eyes will be fixed on Darley Stable's Bernardini, who has rattled off effortless victories in the Withers (gr. III), Preakness (gr. I), Jim Dandy (gr. II), Travers (gr. I), and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). If he can defeat the best older horses in the nation Nov. 4, he surely will be anointed one of the ones. But the Classic should not be one of his typical cakewalks, at least not on paper. If it is, you can bet the superlatives and accolades will come gushing forth afterward.

Standing in Bernardini's way is the hard-nosed, hard-running, blue-collar horse Lava Man, who has compiled quite a record himself this year. Not only did the former claimer become the first horse ever to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic (all grade I) in the same year, he added the grade I Charles Whittingham on the grass and the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), in which he conceded eight-10 pounds to a field that included five graded stakes winners. A victory by Lava Man would silence his critics and place him right outside the pantheon of all-time great geldings.

As for the battle of the royals, you have the brothers Sheikh Mohammed (owner of Bernardini) and Sheikh Hamdan (owner of Invasor) squaring off, not only against each other, but against Sheikh Mohammed's arch rival Coolmore, who will send its top miler, George Washington, into the fire, racing him on dirt for the first time. Whenever racing's two titans--Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammed--go toe to toe in a major race, you can expect some fireworks.

Invasor, the Uruguayan Triple Crown winner who was forced to miss his showdown with Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup due to a fever, has won all three of his starts--the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap, and Whitney (all grade I)--since coming to America.

OK, so that takes care of the royalty portion of the Classic. Now come some of the feel-good stories. How gratifying would it be to see Perfect Drift, one of the most reliable and consistent horses of the past several years, win the Classic in his fifth attempt? The 7-year-old gelding has become almost a cult figure, especially in Kentucky, and a victory would set off quite a rousing ovation.

And then there is the hard-luck Sun King, who usually is right there against the best, but is still looking for that big score after placing in seven grade I stakes at two, three, and four, including tough defeats in this year's Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) and Whitney. And don't forget one of the most maligned Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners in years, Giacomo, who still is looking for the respect normally accorded the winner of the Derby.

There's more. Brother Derek, who had nightmare trips in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is back and looking for redemption.

Another European star is David Junior, who has won major 1 1/4-mile races, and who also will be making his dirt debut, while coming off a four-month layoff.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride. It should be one to remember.

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