Back on the beam after a slow start to the 2013 campaign, Little Mike is set to defend his title against a solid field of domestic and foreign entrants in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Little Mike scored a rare win for U.S. interests in the 1 1/2-mile Turf last year. The four prior renewals were won by European runners, as were six of the previous seven. The only break in that run was provided by English Channel in 2007.
A small foreign contingent, while still powerful, does not appear to be as formidable this year. It is led by Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Fugue, a 4-year-old filly who was third in last year's Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
The John Gosden trainee is coming off a win over males in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) at Leopardstown Sept. 7 at 10 furlongs. Made the 3-1 favorite on the morning line for the BC Turf, The Fugue will look to become the third female winner of the BC Turf, following Pebbles in 1985 and Miss Alleged in 1991. Female entrants in the Turf have become rare since the Fillly & Mare Turf was introduced to the Breeders' Cup in 1999.
Trained by Dale Romans for owner/breeders Priscilla and Carlo Vaccarezza, 6-year-old Little Mike looked like his old self—the one that won three grade I races last year—in his most recent start. Coming from slightly off the pace, the gelded son of Spanish Steps snatched victory in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) by a nose from Big Blue Kitten Sept. 28 at Belmont Park.
It was a first victory in five starts this season for Little Mike, a 13-time winner of nearly $3.5 million over a 26-race career. To be ridden from post 4 by Mike Smith, Little Mike blew out five furlongs in :59 4/5 over the Santa Anita main track Oct. 26. He is 6-1 on the early line.
Big Blue Kitten, winner of both the United Nations and Sword Dancer Invitational (both gr. IT) prior to the Turf Classic, and Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner Real Solution (by disqualification) are two other leading contenders. They are owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, enjoying a phenomenal 2013 campaign, and trained by Chad Brown, who has shot to the top of the nation's training ranks this year.
Another leading United States-based contender is Phipps Stable's five-time grade I turf winner Point of Entry . The Shug McGaughey trainee is on the comeback trail following a victory in the June 8 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont in which he sustained a condylar fracture of his left hind cannon bone.
Indy Point, a star in Argentina who is now in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, is another that deserves a long look after capturing the John Henry Turf Championship (gr. IIT) over the course in scintillating style. He won the 1 1/4-mile race in 1:57.47. Gary Stevens has the return call.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien will attempt to register a fourth victory in the BC Turf with the 3-year-old Galileo colt Magician. The winner of the Tattersalls Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) in May has not raced since giving way in the one-mile St. James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I) June 18 at Royal Ascot.
With a win, O'Brien would tie Sir Michael Stoute for most wins in the BC Turf.
There was one scratch from the original field of 13 pre-entries. Grandeur, who became ill on his flight from Great Britain, will not take part.
|Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov 2 3:22 PM PT|
|1||Vagabond Shoes||Victor Espinoza||John W. Sadler||15-1|
|2||Teaks North||Martin Garcia||Eric J. Guillot||30-1|
|3||Twilight Eclipse||Julien R. Leparoux||Thomas Albertrani||20-1|
|4||Little Mike||Mike Smith||Dale L. Romans||6-1|
|5||Skyring||Luis Saez||D. Wayne Lukas||30-1|
|6||Tale of a Champion||Joe Talamo||Kristin Mulhall||30-1|
|7||The Fugue||William Buick||John H.M. Gosden||3-1|
|8||Point of Entry||John Velazquez||Claude R. McGaughey III||4-1|
|9||Indy Point||Gary Stevens||Richard E. Mandella||9-2|
|10||Big Blue Kitten||Joe Bravo||Chad C. Brown||6-1|
|11||Magician||Ryan Moore||Aidan P. O'Brien||8-1|
|12||Real Solution||Javier Castellano||Chad C. Brown||8-1|
Little Mike on the Santa Anita track at the Breeders' Cup: