Steve Haskin's Classic Report: Godolphin Throws a Curve

Steve Haskin's Classic Report: Godolphin Throws a Curve
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Fantastic Light, surprise entry in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
On Tuesday night, most people were convinced Godolphin would run Fantastic Light in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Sakhee in the Turf. On Wednesday morning, those people were proven wrong when the Godolphin braintrust pulled a switcheroo that sent a shockwave of disbelief rippling through the backstretch.

At 9:30 Wednesday morning, after watching his Breeders' Cup horses gallop on the Belmont training track, Bobby Frankel was all smiles. "Today is a good day, my man. Today is a good day," he said. Just before noon, after hearing that Aptitude had drawn post 12, it wasn't such a good day.

By early afternoon, with the ebb and flow of emotions easing into a sense of reality, it was time to finally put the Breeders' Cup Classic into focus. And the focus when you get right down to it is pretty bizarre. It's not every day that a championship race in the U.S. does not have the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Travers, Woodward, Whitney, and Pacific Classic, but does have the winners of the English Derby, Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and Irish Two Thousand Guineas.

The questions surrounding Godolphin's decision were: why would Godolphin run a horse with a grass pedigree over a horse with a good dirt pedigree, and why work Fantastic Light five furlongs in a rapid :59 4/5 on dirt with jockey Frankie Dettori aboard and then put him in a mile and a half turf race? What made the decision even more surprising were the comments of Dettori who seemed pretty emphatic the day before that Sakhee should run in the Turf and Fantastic Light should go in the Classic.

"The thinking is that Sakhee has acted better on the dirt," racing manager Simon Crisford said. "Frankie has not sat on Sakhee on the dirt, so how could he have an opinion? The Sheikh (Hamdan) didn't talk to Frankie for his opinion."

As for Sheikh Hamdan's decision being based on the fact that he also has Mutamam (who races in Sheikh Hamdan's name) in the Turf, Crisford said. "That has nothing to do with it, as all Godolphin horses come under one banner."

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor added, "I think Sheikh Hamdan made the right decision running Sakhee on the dirt. The horse has the class to run on any surface. Yesterday, I could see he was focused in his work. He's very professional, and the way he handled the track, I'm very happy to run him on the dirt. We need to do something new, and we want to see the Arc winner come back and win the Classic. He has a good turn of foot and I believe a mile and a quarter is the best distance for him. We'll see Saturday, but I have a feeling he'll run a big race.

"Fantastic Light would have worked on the dirt anyway, because in Dubai our horses train on the dirt for turf races. Fantastic Light has a great chance in the Turf. Last year, he was very unlucky, and this year he's a different horse. He's stronger and more professional."

So, what does one make of Godolphin's decision? It wasn't running Sakhee in the Classic we found unusual, it was running Fantastic Light in the Turf. Our feeling is that Godolphin simply did not want to run both horses against each other, and felt a victory by Sakhee would catapult the colt's reputation to legendary heights. In that respect, they are correct. A victory would make the son of Bahri one of racing's all-time greats. It might not do quite the same for Fantastic Light, who doesn't possess the electrifying brilliance of his stablemate. Now, which horse has a better shot of winning is another matter. Sakhee did enough in the morning to convince his connections he deserved this chance at immortality. Whether they were right in their assessment, we'll find out shortly.

OK, so now we've straightened out the Godolphin situation...sort of. Fast forward to the post position draw. Frankel, who had said all week that this was biggest concern, had just seen only one of his first five horses draw a post he was happy with, and that was You in the Juvenile Fillies. Now came the most important one of all. Frankel did not want an outside post for Aptitude. Shortly after hearing track announced Tom Durkin announce the 12-post, Frankel got up from his chair and left the Marquee tent through one of the side entrances.

"One good draw – You," Frankel said. "Now they have to be a few lengths better than I think they are. The worst one was Aptitude's draw. I hate that mile and a quarter, starting on the turn. The one good thing is that I have a good rider (Jerry Bailey). Let him worry about it. He wants to win just as much as I do. The only positive thing I have going for me is that he loads late."

It must be noted, however, that the two Breeders' Cup Classics run at Belmont were won by horses who broke from post 14 (Unbridled) and post 11 (Cigar). And as Frankel said, he does have Bailey up, and there's no one you'd rather have on a horse who needs to get a good position.

As for the other draws, Orientate, on the rail, and Black Minnaloushe, in post 3, likely will be charging to the lead from the start. Albert the Great, breaking from post 9, will have to be hustled to get into the battle, and Freedom Crest, who drew the far outside in the 13-horse field, will really have to break sharply to put himself into contention. Both European stars, Galileo and Sakhee, drew well, coming out of post 5 and 6, respectively.

Tiznow was out at his usual time Wednesday morning and turned in a monster gallop. Running out in the middle of the track, he was really motoring and reaching out with authority. This gallop was similar to the way he was training before last year's Breeders' Cup. He seems to be doing better each day and is showing a great deal of enthusiasm.

Galileo and Black Minnaloushe, as well as the other Coolmore horses, arrived at JFK at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday after an uneventful flight, in which all the horses behaved beautifully, according to trainer Aidan O'Brien. They checked into the quarantine barn at Belmont at 6:50 p.m.

On Friday, we'll have a separate report on some of the longshots to keep an eye on, from all eight races, based on works and appearance. Also, which horses – contenders and longshots – have caught our eye in the morning.

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