An unprecedented number of Breeders’ Cup champions are returning in 2008 to either defend their crowns or launch attempts to win races in a different classification. Five winners of Breeders’ Cup contests from a year ago at Monmouth Park are back looking to repeat their heroics, four in the same race, and one in a new division.
Heading the list, of course, is 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner and Horse of the Year Curlin , who seeks to join Tiznow (2000-2001) as the only two-time winners of the Classic. Curlin was briefly tried this season on the Turf in an effort to broaden his horizons, but a second-place finish in the Man o’ War (gr. IT) hastened his return to the Classic division, where he will leave the gate Saturday as a powerful favorite to make it back-to-back triumphs in North America’s richest race.
Unlike Curlin, Ginger Punch will not be favored to repeat her heroics from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) this time around due to the presence of the undefeated star Zenyatta. Ginger Punch has had an active 2008 campaign, winning five of seven contests, including three grade I victories. But her nose win in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) over Lemon Drop Mom and her defeat to Cocoa Beach in her most recent, the Beldame (gr. I) a month ago, have made some question whether she is tailing off just a tad heading into Friday’s Ladies Classic.
Ginger Punch showed her mettle a year ago in battling back to defeat Hystericalady, whom she will face again, in the Distaff, and there is no doubt she has the heart of a champion. But she did finish eight lengths in arrears of Zenyatta in April’s Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), so she does have her work cut out for her.
Midnight Lute is taking a different path in his effort to score again in the Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). Due to various injuries, Midnight Lute has run just twice since his tour de force run last year at Monmouth. Bob Baffert sent him out to a runner-up effort in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) a month after the Sprint, and then the 5-year-old was off until August, when he finished a disappointing 10th in the Pat O’Brien Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar.
Midnight Lute has been training forwardly for this year’s Sprint, throwing bullets works in all over the place for the past month, and must be considered a major threat in a race that did not come up as deep as it usually does.
Another 5-year-old with threatening form is Kip Deville, who seeks to double up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT). Kip Deville has enjoyed an impressive, if light, campaign this season, taking the Maker’s Mark Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland and the Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park before a fifth-place effort in the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) over yielding turf in September. With Big Brown in retirement, Kip Deville represents the major hope for glory for his owners, IEAH Stables and Pegasus Holding Group.
Indian Blessing is the fifth returning champion from 2007, although she is ineligible for the race she won a year ago, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Indian Blessing will try the newly minted Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at seven furlongs this time around.
Bob Baffert has sent Indian Blessing out seven times thus far this season, and has been rewarded with five wins and two runner-up efforts. She scored runaway wins in the Test and Prioress stakes (both gr. I) and will be very dangerous again this time around.
Some previous champions are again returning to the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) this year. Better Talk Now, the race’s winner in 2004, will be making his fifth straight appearance in the race. He has finished seventh, second, and fourth since winning, and is now a 9-year-old.
Red Rocks, the 2006 Turf winner who managed third in the race a year ago, is also back again. He defeated Curlin in the Man o’War, but has been beset by injuries since that July effort and will be coming in off a four-month layoff for owner Paul Reddam.