Handsome Mike, frontrunning winner of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), is headed for the Breeders' Cup Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park although a decision on which race is still to be made, trainer Doug O'Neill said.
O'Neill, speaking by phone Oct. 19, said Handsome Mike will either run in the $5 million Classic (gr. I) at 10 furlongs or the $1 million Dirt Mile (gr. I) for owner J. Paul Reddam.
"It's up to Mr. Reddam, of course, but in my opinion the distance (of the Classic) wouldn't hurt him at all," O'Neill said. "The Dirt Mile looks pretty tough, so I have a feeling it will be the Classic."
O'Neill said Handsome Mike, a 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy out of the winning Smart Strike mare Classic Strike, "is doing fantastic" since his two-length score Sept. 22 at odds of 19-1 in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia's Parx Racing.
The trainer of Reddam's 2012 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner I'll Have Another was serving a suspension at the time Handsome Mike won the Pennsylvania Derby. O'Neill's chief assistant, Leandro Mora, was the winning conditioner.
Although it was just the second win from 10 lifetime starts for Handsome Mike, O'Neill said he was not surprised by outcome. Among the horses he defeated in the 1 1/8-mile test were Travers Stakes (gr. I) dead heat winners Golden Ticket and Alpha.
"He's always trained like a grade I winner but we were never able to get him over the hump before," he said.
The dark bay or brown colt has had one published workout since the Pennsylvania Derby. He drilled six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 handily over Santa Anita's main track Oct. 15.
Prior to his breakthrough victory, Handsome Mike had placed fourth in a pair of grade I events, the Secretariat Stakes on the Arlington Park lawn and the Haskell Invitational on dirt at Monmouth Park.
Handsome Mike was bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis. He raced for Liviakis and trainer Melody Conlon three times in California as a 2-year-old, including his maiden score at Santa Anita one year ago, before being purchased privately by Reddam. He has compiled a 2-1-1 record from 10 races overall with earnings of $756,780.
O'Neill said he also plans to start Richard's Kid, third in both the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) and Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), in the Classic for Triple B Farms and partners, who recently acquired him privately.
"He's doing great; he's doing super," O'Neill said of the 7-year-old Maryland-bred son of 1999 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Lemon Drop Kid. "He's training really well. We intentionally have had all our Breeders' Cup horses training here at Santa Anita to get used to the heavier track, and I love the way he's training."
O'Neill's other probable Cup starters are Know More and possibly He's Had Enough in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and recent European import Cogito in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). All three race for Reddam.
"We've got a lot of ammo," O'Neill said.