Countdown to the Cup: Classic Foundation Shaky, But Still Standing

With all signs pointing to Candy Ride being put away for the year, and with Perfect Drift all but certain to bypass the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), America's richest race likely has lost two of its biggest stars, and there is some uncertainty regarding Mineshaft.

Breeders' Cup officials, however, still have not given up on Candy Ride or Perfect Drift. Discussions are still going on with Candy's Ride's owners Sid and Jenny Craig and their attorney regarding the $800,000 supplementary fee and forfeitures, and Breeders' Cup senior vice-president Pam Blatz-Murff said she didn't understand the comments made by trainer Ron McAnally last week that Candy Ride probably will be retired for the year.

"If the horse is hurt I can understand it," Blatz-Murff said, "but we've still been communicating with the Craigs and their attorney."

It must be noted that Candy Ride has not had a workout since his victory in the Aug. 23 Pacific Classic. As for Perfect Drift, Blatz-Murff said they still haven't given up in their attempt to convince trainer Murray Johnson and owner Dr. William Reed to run.

William Farish, co-owner of Mineshaft, has not committed his star 4-year-old to the Classic, and will wait to see what happens in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) before making any decisions.

Farish is looking to retire Mineshaft on a high note, and may feel a victory in the Gold Cup will all but lock up Horse of the Year honors regardless of who wins the Classic. On the other hand, Farish is one of the few true sportsmen left in the game, and the question is, will he create another huge void in the Classic and deprive the sport of seeing a true champion close out his career in a championship race?

He can make a good case for going and not going, depending on what his priorities are. On one hand, he has an opportunity to have Mineshaft close out arguably the most brilliant 4-year-old campaign since Spectacular Bid (right up there with Alysheba's) and make the horse one of the hottest stallion prospects this country has ever seen. On the other hand, a victory in the Gold Cup would allow him to retire the horse without having to send him out to California and risk ending his career with a defeat. And he still would be in great demand as a stallion.

One fact that has not been mentioned is that Mineshaft has been in this country for 11 months and made one start in every one of those months except one, when he was given August off. He will have made up for that by running twice in September. The Classic would make it 11 months out of 12. He also raced in every month while in England, from his career debut in April until September, meaning he has run at least once in 18 of 20 months. On top of that, of his 17 career starts, every one was at a mile or farther. Of course, a victory in the Classic would truly put the final stamp on not only his class and brilliance but his durability. And in the end, his greatness.

If he doesn't run, those who feel he took the easy way out and passed up his chance at achieving greatness will not rank the horse up there with champions like Cigar and Skip Away, who never passed up a championship event. But unlike those two great horses, Mineshaft is heading to stud with a pedigree to die for and a potential monstrous stud fee, so Farish is in a different type of situation. The bottom line is that he will have a difficult decision – the sportsman in him vs. the breeder and businessman. Of course, everyone hopes the sportsman wins out for the sake of the sport and the Breeders' Cup, but whatever he decides, all we can do is accept the decision and move on.

Even if Mineshaft, Candy Ride, and Perfect Drift all defect, the Classic will not exactly lack for talent. Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree alone give the older horses a stronger base than they had last year. Add Volponi and Evening Attire (although he is no certainty either), and you have the winners of the Breeders' Cup Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup. And if Moon Ballad should run big in the Gold Cup, he will be a major force in the Classic.

All Empire Maker has to do is run a good race in the Gold Cup and he will team up with Travers (gr. I) and Super Derby (gr. II) winner Ten Most Wanted to form a powerful 3-year-old team. Remember, Empire Maker goes into the Gold Cup with only one race in nearly four months, and facing Mineshaft, Moon Ballad and several other top-class older horses, he only needs to hold his own and move forward off the race. And let's not forget what a huge race Hold That Tiger ran against Mineshaft in the Woodward Stakes off a layoff and having very little form in Europe.

As for Ten Most Wanted, he had to run down a gutsy, undefeated horse in Soto to win the Super Derby, while dropping back from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/8 miles. Pat Day rode him with great confidence and seemed to have Soto measured all the way. He certainly left plenty in the tank. The son of Deputy Commander is back home after his successful foray to the East and South, and with the way he has developed over the summer, he should be a serious contender in the Classic.

Soto lost nothing in defeat other than his unbeaten streak. He was picking up 13 pounds off his record-setting win in the West Virginia Derby (gr. III) and showed he can compete with any 3-year-old in the country. He put up a good fight against a Travers winner and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up, and should only keep getting better. He is versatile, fast, and most important, as game as they come. Having won his last race in a blazing 1:46 1/5, he might have simply regressed a little over what appeared to be a deepish racetrack. Trainer Michael Dickinson said he'll decide in three weeks whether or not he'll run in the Breeders' Cup.

Baffert Heading East with Juveniles

* Bob Baffert will be heading to Belmont Park with a pair of 2-year-olds prepping for the Breeders' Cup. Baffert will run Cooperation, fourth in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II), in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Victory U.S.A., third in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I), in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I).

Look for big races in the Champagne from beaten Hopeful (gr. I) horses Notorious Rogue and Birdstone, who should improve dramatically off that race after having excuses. The latter is trained by Nick Zito, who won the Champagne three straight years from 1998 to 2000. Hopeful winner, Silver Wagon, is expected to ship up from his home base at Calder. Hopeful runner-up Chapel Royal also is expected to run.

* Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) winner Iron Deputy has undergone surgery to remove a chip in his ankle and will miss the Classic.

* Bill Mott will have to decide in which direction he wants to go with Jamaica Handicap (gr. II) winner Stroll, who has developed into one of the promising young grass stars. The 3-year-old son of Pulpit showed what he's made of by going through the narrowest of openings along the hedge in the Jamaica, then bursting clear to win by two lengths over the first three finishers in the grade I Secretariat Stakes. Not many horses would attempt to go through a hole that small. Jockey Jerry Bailey said his boot scraped along the hedge.

* Shake You Down, who looks to be as fast as any horse in the country at 6 furlongs, will be trained up to the Sprint (gr. I) by Scott Lake after winning an allowance race at Belmont by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:08 3/5. Earlier in the year, the son of Montbrook ran 6 furlongs in 1:07 3/5, 1:08 1/5, and 1:08 2/5. He also picked up three graded stakes wins along the way.