From "Countdown to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Newsletter"
If the first three Breeders’ Cup Challenge races were any indication, the road to the 29th Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita (NBC 8-9 p.m. ET) is going to be one fun ride. Fort Larned’s victory in Saturday’s Whitney (gr. I) at Saratoga marked the halfway point, in a sense, as three of the six “Win and You’re In” races for the Classic have now been run. With three down—and all three were won by different horses—and three to go, it’s clear the Classic is anyone’s race.
Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack Hammer’s Ron the Greek won the first “Win and You’re In” race in the Classic division when he took Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster (gr. I) June 16. The 5-year-old son of Full Mandate has been a gem of consistency this year for trainer Bill Mott, winning 2-of-5 starts, including the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March and was a fast-closing second to Fort Larned in the Whitney. Ron the Greek has won 7-of-20 overall and Mott indicated that Belmont Park’s Sept. 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I)—the fifth “Win and You’re In” for the Classic, would be next for Ron The Greek.
Bernie Schiappa, Diamond Pride, Mercedes Stable and Lanni Family Trust’s Game On Dude seems fully intent on bettering his second-place finish in last year’s Classic at Churchill for trainer Bob Baffert, as he’s done little wrong in four starts this year. The 5-year-old son of 1998 Classic winner Awesome Again won the San Antonio (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February, the Californian (gr. II) at Betfair Hollywood Park in June then won the “Win and You’re In” Hollywood Gold Cup there in his last start July 7. Game On Dude, who also won the Santa Anita Handicap and Goodwood (gr. I) in 2011, has won 8-of-18 overall and is being pointed to Del Mar’s August 26 TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I), the fourth “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic. Game On Dude will likely make his final prep for the Classic in Santa Anita’s Sept. 29 Awesome Again (gr. I, formerly the Goodwood), which looms as the final “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic.
Janis Whitham’s homebred Fort Larned wasn’t high on the Classic radar prior to the Whitney, but his rousing 1 1/4-length win over Ron The Greek turned heads and stamped the Ian Wilkes trainee as a major contender. The 4-year-old son of E Dubai won Gulfstream Park’s Skip Away (gr. III) in March and Prairie Meadows’ Cornhusker (gr. III) in June before the Whitney and has won 7-of-17 overall. He could go next in Saratoga’s Woodward (gr. I) Sept. 1, or wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). Regardless of where Fort Larned starts next, Wilkes is looking forward to Santa Anita in the fall.
“The 1 1/4 miles (of the Classic) I don’t think will be a problem,” Wilkes said. “The Woodward is possible, but we have to think about how to get to the Classic and work backwards. The main thing is, he’ll tell me. He’s been going since early in the year. We’ll see how he is, and he will tell us.”
While those three runners have already gained automatic berths into the Classic, there are several viable candidates waiting in the wings with credentials that warrant respect, both from the handicap division and the 3-year-old division.
Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation has won 4-of-5 starts this year for trainer Donnie Von Hemel but will need to better his fifth-place finish in the Foster should he want to bridge the gap to Ron the Greek and the rest of the major contenders. The 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor won the Razorback (gr. II) and Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park this winter to go with the Pimlico Special (gr. III) in May and is 8-for-14 lifetime.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Mucho Macho Man impressed winning Belmont’s Suburban (gr. II) for trainer Kathy Ritvo and showed in his third-place finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) that he can negotiate a classic distance. The 4-year-old son of 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Macho Uno also won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) in March and is 6-for-16 lifetime.
Potentially the most intriguing member of the handicap division is Zabeel Racing International’s Richard's Kid, who was second to stablemate Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup and will look to win his third Pacific Classic on Aug. 26. The 7-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid has won 11-of-35 overall and seems reborn since returning to Baffert’s barn after a failed year and a half stint in Dubai where he went 0-for-5.
Preston Stable’s Flat Out, third in the Whitney, enters the second half of the season as the freshest horse in the Classic hunt for Mott, having started just twice since February. The 6-year-old son of Flatter was favored in last year’s Classic for former trainer Scooter Dickey on the basis wins in the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup and second-place finishes in the Whitney and Woodward but finished fifth at Churchill. This year the 5-for-18 lifetime runner has run four times, just twice for Mott, having started off his summer with a second-place finish in the Monmouth Cup (gr.II) in July and will likely return in the Woodward.
While the 3-year-old division is missing Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another and Belmont hero Union Rags, there’s plenty of talent that will be testing the handicap runners later this summer and fall.