Countdown to the Cup: Fields Taking Shape

Countdown to the Cup: Fields Taking Shape
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Zenyatta

Now that the preps for the Nov. 5 and 6 Breeders’ Cup have been completed, it is time to go over all the races and see who will be and might be showing up.

A number of trainers and owners are uncertain in which races their horses will be participating, so expect to see several prominent hopefuls pre-entered in two races. For a few it’s name your poison: Zenyatta or Goldikova. The final choices should prove interesting.

This first column will deal only with Saturday’s races. Friday’s races will be discussed in the next column later in the week. 

 

CLASSIC

The Classic should draw a full field once again, with a number of intriguing horses possible. Of course, we have the big four right now: Zenyatta, Lookin At Lucky  , Blame  , and Quality Road  . Lookin At lucky is getting heavily supported in Europe, with William Hill, Ladbrokes, and Stan James all listing him as co-favorite with Zenyatta at 4-1. The other major bookmakers have it close with Zenyatta 7-2 and Lookin At Lucky 4-1. If you like Blame or Quality Road, you’ll find value, with Blame between 6-1 and 7-1 and Quality Road 7-1 to 9-1. Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Haynesfield is pretty much 8-1 all around. 

The field will not be solidified until the connections of Gio Ponti  , Rip Van Winkle, and Gitano Hernando decide what to do. The first two may be pre-entered in both the Classic and TVG Mile (gr. IT), while Gitano Hernando, who finished fourth in Saturday’s Champion Stakes (Eng-I), could go in the Classic or Emirates Airline Turf (gr. IT).

 

Gitano Hernando, winner of last year’s Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride, narrowly won a race on the all-weather at Dundalk last month, but needed the effort following a layoff. In the Champion Stakes, he was being pushed along almost four furlongs out, but was never able reach contention due to the pedestrian pace. He seemed to get stronger in the final furlong and although he couldn’t catch the three in front of him, he ran on well to be beaten only 3 1/4 lengths, passing two horses in the final 100 yards. Because of the crawling early pace over the good-to-soft course, the final time was a slow 2:08 2/5 for the 10 furlongs. The decision now is whether to try the dirt for the first time in the Classic or stretch out to 1 1/2 miles in the Turf. The added distance should be no problem for him.

 

Also likely to line up for the Classic are Richard's Kid  , Fly Down, Morning Line  , First Dude  , Etched, Musket Man, and the Japanese invader Espoir City, who was given a good prep last week in Japan just to get him ready for the Classic. He was allowed to put on more weight than normal during his layoff and should be sharper and fitter for the Classic. An impressive winner of the Japan Dirt last year, his two grandsires are Sunday Silence and Brian’s Time, the two most successful stallions ever to stand in Japan. He definitely is the most intriguing horse in the race, and is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Tuesday (Oct.19)

 

Although Paddy O'Prado   is more likely for the Turf (gr. IT) or even the Japan Cup (Japan-I), he probably will be pre-entered for both the Turf and the Classic. If the track should come up sloppy on Nov. 6, it will give the colt’s connections an interesting option, knowing how well he handled such a track in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

 

TURF

 

There are still several important unanswered questions, mainly concerning the Europeans. The Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I) and Prix Niel (Fr-II) winner Behkabad, the favorite for the Arc de Triomphe who finished fourth, despite a dreadful trip in which he had no running room for most of the stretch run, is a definite runner. The hard-knocking Sans Frontieres, winner of the Irish St. Leger (Ire-I), Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Eng-III), and Princess of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-II) also looks to be on his way. Trainer Jeremy Noseda loves his U.S. invasions.

 

Canadian International (gr. IT) winner Joshua Tree could come back in three weeks for Aidan O’Brien, who says his main Turf contender Fame and Glory is now doubtful after a hard race in the Arc. O’Brien could substitute Irish Derby (Ire-I) and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) winner Cape Blanco, who tired in the Arc, but would be more suited to an American-style race. Also heading back here for the Turf is Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner Debussy, who ran a good third in the Champion Stakes after setting all the pace.

 

There is uncertainty as to where the top-class Wertheimer filly Plumania will run. A winner over the boys in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) and a good second to Midday in the Prix Vermeille (Fr-I), she ran an inexplicably horrendous race in the Arc, finishing 17th of 19. That performance was too bad to be true. She was dull throughout the running and her connections feel she deserves another shot. They still haven’t decided whether  to run her in the Turf or the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Another horse who ran surprisingly bad in the Arc is Prix Foy (Fr-II) winner Duncan, whose biggest claim to fame before that was a second to the budding star Harbinger in the Hardwicke Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot.

 

The most notable question mark is Juddmonte’s Workforce, winner of the English Derby (Eng-I) and Arc de Triomphe. As this point he is considered probable following an excellent work over the weekend, and his presence obviously would have a major impact on the race.

 

English bookmakers are taking some good money on Dangerous Midge, who was nothing more than a decent handicap horse until his four-length score in Newbury’s Dubai Duty Free Arc Trial (Eng-III) last month. His trainer, Brian Meehan, is never one to shy away from the Breeders’ Cup.

 

As for the Americans, they actually are a solid bunch, with Winchester, Paddy O’Prado, Champ Pegasus, and possibly Bourbon Bay and Telling, all legitimate contenders.

 

If Bill Mott decides to run Al Khali back off his fourth in the Canadian International, he could prove to be America’s main hope after the nightmare trip he had at Woodbine. He probably ran the most amazing race of anyone over the weekend. Odds-on to finish up the track turning for home, he was trapped in heavy traffic at the back of the pack, was steered all the way out to the middle of the track for running room by Alan Garcia, and, despite still be last of nine at the eighth pole, was closing fastest of all to be beaten a total of three-quarters of a length. This has to be as improved a horse as there is in training, and his closing punch has been devastating in his last two starts with a change of tactics. The way he’s running now, he is one American horse capable of out-kicking the Euros. He has been shipped to Churchill Downs, and although Bill Mott is not thrilled running him back in three weeks, he still is seriously considering the Turf if the horse is doing well.

 

MILE

 

What can you say except the obligatory “She’s Baaack.” Can anyone remember the Mile without Goldikova? The question here, as mentioned earlier, is will Gio Ponti and Rip Van Winkle take a crack at her? If they do, it’s going to be one heckuva race. And even if they don’t, you still have the persistent Paco Boy, a three-time group I winner who has been beaten three times by Goldikova and finished behind her when they were two-three in the Prix Jacques le Marois (Fr-I) behind Makfi. This is a top-class colt in his own right and deserves one more shot.

 

Even if Gio Ponto doesn’t run, the Americans will be extra tough this year, with the dazzling speedball Sidney’s Candy, as well as Proviso, who has become machine-like in victory after victory; last year’s Mile runner-up Courageous Cat, who is just now rounding into form after a layoff; the late-charging Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) winner Court Vision; and the often-brilliant The Usual Q.T., winner of the Eddie Read (gr. IT) and second in the Woodbine Mile. Sidney’s Candy, who reportedly is in the process of being sold (although that report has not had legs so far), worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 at Hollywood Park Monday.

 

Possibilities include Shadwell Mile (gr. IT) runner-up Society’s Chairman, the up-and-coming 3-year-old Grand Rapport, winner of the Kent Stakes (gr. IIIT) and second in the Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT); Oak Tree Mile (gr. IT) winner Liberian Freighter; and Monmouth-based multiple stakes winner Get Serious.

 

But there is no doubt that Goldikova is going to be awfully tough to beat, especially with the long Churchill Downs stretch.

 

DIRT MILE

 

This has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of all the Breeders’ Cup races – to watch and handicap. Run for the first time at a mile on the dirt, the Dirt Mile will be run out of a straightaway, which makes it, for the first time, a true mile test.

 

Godolphin will fire a potent one-two punch in Vineyard Haven, who should improve off his third in the Forego (gr. I), and Gayego, winner of the Presque Isle Mile. Their main threat likely will come from Tizway, a natural miler who won the recent Kelso Handicap (gr. II) by five lengths in 1:34 2/5, his first start since finishing a strong third to Quality Road and Musket Man in the Met Mile (gr. I). Remember, this is a horse who was good enough to finish third in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) behind Summer Bird and Quality Road.

 

From the West comes a real sleeper in Crown of Thorns, who has proved to be a dangerous foe at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles. Plagued with injuries throughout his career, he could be ready for a breakout performance if he handles the dirt. One of the local horses is Here Comes Ben, winner of four straight, including his breakout race in the Forego at odds of 9-1.  

 

Earning his way into the race is Kentucky-based Mad Flatter following his 6 1/4-length romp in Saturday’s Spend a Buck Handicap (gr. III) at Calder.

 

Also heading for the Dirt Mile is Thiskyhasnolimit, who is coming off a good second to Lookin At Lucky in the Indiana Derby (gr. II).

 

Trying to conclude his career on some kind of a high note is last year’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird, who has been a disappointment this year.

 

The connections of Bribon are still deciding between the Dirt Mile and Sentient Jet Sprint (gr. I), but as of now are leaning toward the Sprint. Don’t dismiss the possibility of Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) winner Redding Colliery shortening up for the Dirt Mile. He has good miler’s speed, which helped him open a huge lead at Hawthorne.

 

Dakota Phone is a horse who could go here or in the Marathon, based on his late-closing third-place finishes in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Pacific Classic (gr. I), but his victory in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap (gr. II) and third in the recent Goodwood at nine furlongs, suggests he’d be a good fit in the Dirt Mile.

 

SPRINT

 

If you have a fast sprinter this year, who also possesses a touch of class, then this is the year you might want to try for the Sprint. With the two best sprinters in the country, Discreetly Mine and Majesticperfection, on the sidelines, the race is up for grabs. Godolphin’s lightly raced Girolamo, winner of the Vosburgh (gr. I), could go off as the favorite, but certainly is no standout. His likely challengers include Bribon; Smiling Tiger, winner of the grade I Ancient Title and Big Crosby; the lightly raced Wise Dan, winner of the Phoenix (gr. II) at Keeneland; Smile Stakes (gr. II) winner Big Drama; the international traveler Kinsale King, winner of the Golden Shaheen at Meydan and a solid third in the Golden Jubilee (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot for Carl O’Callaghan; Vosburgh runner-up Riley Tucker; Triple Bend (gr. II) winner E Z’s Gentleman, who was recently third in the Ancient Title; and Atta Boy Roy, winner of the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II).

 

Although the Dirt Mile seems a fit for the late-running Warrior's Reward, winner of the Carter Handicap (gr. I), trainer Ian Wilkes said he is pointing him for the Sprint, based on his "gut feeling" and that the abundance of early speed will help his horse on that long Churchill stretch.

 

Other good sprinters out there are Hollywood Hit, Scenic Blast, Wildcat Brief, Bank Merger, Supreme Summit, Cost of Freedom, and Rule by Night. Expect a couple of those to show up here.

 

JUVENILE

 

Hold on to your hats for this one. Undefeated Champagne (gr. I) winner Uncle Mo is on the verge of stardom and could be one of the most exciting young horses we’ve seen in a while. But his stablemate Stay Thirsty, second in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), is no slouch and looks to be a horse to watch on next year’s Derby trail. Rick Dutrow, who has had his share of top horses, can’t recall a more promising young prospect than Hopeful winner Boys At Tosconova. These three Beasts from the East will square off against California invaders Jaycito and J.P.’s Gusto, the one-two finishers of the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I).

 

Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) winner J.B.’s Thunder could run in the Juvenile or wait for the rich Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs.

 

Kenny McPeek looks to have the possible favorite for the BC Juvenile Turf in Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Rogue Romance, but he hasn’t ruled out a switch to dirt for the Juvenile.

 

WinStar Farm will be looking to keep their amazing year going by sending Grey Stakes (gr. III) winner Blue Laser. Sapling (gr. III) winner Madman Diaries has been working steadily at Monmouth Park, but hasn’t run since the six-furlong Sapling on Sept. 4. Despite a well-beaten third in the Garden State Stakes, the regally-bred Astrology, a maiden winner at Saratoga, will represent Steve Asmussen in the Juvenile.

 

Two impressive Todd Pletcher colts, Curlinello, second in the Garden State, and Santiva, runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity, will take a pass rather than knock heads with Pletcher’s two heavy hitters.

 

Another 2-year-old who has shown tremendous promise is To Honor and Serve, who is coming off two monster performances (one in defeat) and definitely is a horse to watch. As of now, the plan is to run him in the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) and then the Remsen (gr. II), but trainer Bill Mott will keep an eye on the BC Juvenile in case there are any major defections.

 

Two others who bear watching are Mountain Town, a strong runner-up in the Champagne for Rick Dutrow; and Riveting Reason, third in the Norfolk and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I)

 

JUVENILE TURF

 

The key to this race is whether McPeek decides to run Rogue Romance here or in the Juvenile. The others to keep an eye on are Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Air Support, Summer Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Pluck, and With Anticipation (gr. IIIT) winner and Pilgrim runner-up Soldat.

 

Also looking at the Juvenile Turf are Bourbon runner-up Cozy Kitten and Summer Stakes runner-up Rockin Heat.

 

Immediately after getting beat 10 lengths by the brilliant Frankel in the Royal Lodge Stakes (Eng-II), Klammer’s trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam announced that the colt would be sent to American for the Juvenile Turf, so he will at least provide some kind of barometer regarding the incredible talents of Frankel, who came back and easily won the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I).

 

A possible starter is Willcox Inn, who closed well to finish third in the Breeders’ Futurity.

 

TURF SPRINT

 

This looks like a wide-open affair with no standout. Two of the top prospects are fillies, with the brilliant Unzip Me, impressive winner of the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Hollywood Park last month, and Rose Catherine, winner of the Turf Amazon and Lena Spencer Stakes both definitely running.

 

They’ll be facing Woodford Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Silver Timber, Woodford runner-up Central City, Turf Monster winner Chamberlain Bridge, Nearctic Stakes (gr. IT) runner-up Grand Adventure, and possibly last year’s Turf Sprint winner California Flag, who finished last of 11 in the Woodford.

 

Disappointing in the Nearctic was 2-1 favorite Bridgetown, who failed to threaten, but who could run back at Churchill.

 

Tropic Storm showed sprinter’s speed in the Oak Tree Mile before tiring slightly to finish third. He previously had won the one-mile Windy Sands Handicap on Polytrack and was beaten a nose in a five-furlong allowance optional claimer in :55 2/5. Also possible from California is Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Quick Enough, who ran the six furlongs in 1:08 2/5. Prior to that, he was beaten a nose in the five-furlong Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar and won an allowance optional claimer in :55 2/5, a race in which he was claimed from Mike Mitchell by Doug O’Neill for $40,000.

 

MARATHON

 

Although it is run on Friday, taking a quick look at the now 1 ¾-mile race, we have Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) winner Prince Will I Am, who also is a possible for the BC Turf; Greenwood Cup winner A.U. Miner, who was third in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II), Giant Oak, second in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and Washington Park Handicap; Eldaafer, winner of the Turfway Park Fall Championship (gr. III) and third in the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II); and from the Aidan O’Brien stable, Bright Horizon, winner of a two-mile handicap race at the Curragh in his last start.

 

Alcomo, winner of the Brooklyn and second by a neck in the Greenwood Cup, has not run since July, but has been training steadily and long, working seven furlongs twice and then a mile twice.

 

Temple City looked like a strong contender following his victory in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) at Del Mar, but he ran last in the Hawthorne Gold Cup in his most recent start. However, he worked five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Hollywood Park Sunday, so he obviously bounced out of that race in good shape.

 

Trainer Mike Mitchell says Where's the Remote, who came from last at the eighth pole to finish second in the Clement Hirsch (gr. IT), will be pointed to the Marathon.

 

The most recent horse to enter the Marathon picture is Dogwood Stable's hard-knocking Atoned, who was third in the Turfway Fall Championship. He is training Kentucky with Neil Howard.

 

To comment on this story, visit Steve's blog at Countdown to the Cup: Fields Taking Shape.

Most Popular Stories