With Anticipation's near-white coat was barely visible as he crossed the finish line 55 lengths behind the venerable Sir Bear in the 2001 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Six years old at the time, With Anticipation's racing career looked pretty bleak.
Perusing a Keeneland condition book for the 2001 spring meeting, Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard found an allowance race on the turf to which With Anticipation was eligible. Though 2 1/2 years had passed since With Anticipation's lone turf race, Sheppard entered the gelding. He had nothing to lose.
Eighteen months later, With Anticipation sits atop the United States' turf division for the second consecutive year. Sunday afternoon, he enters Belmont Park's $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at 1 1/2 mile seeking his fourth consecutive Grade I victory and 16th career win.
Four Turf Classic winners have gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Turf: Manilla in 1986, Theatrical in 1987, Tikkanen in 1994 and Buck's Boy in 1998. Turf Classic also-rans have also had some success in the 18 runnings of the Breeders' Cup. The most notable was 1992 Turf Classic runner-up Fraise, who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Turf in his next start.
Bred and owned by George Strawbridge Jr., With Anticipation became only the third horse in history to win the Sword Dancer (gr. IT), Saratoga's premier turf race, in back-to-back years. He followed that feat almost four weeks later by taking the Man o'War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park for the second year in a row.Making those victories even more impressive is the fact that With Anticipation looked beat at the quarter-pole in both, but found that extra gear when it counted.
"It's been a fun time," Sheppard said. "He's just been an unbelievable horse over the last two years and for him to win the Sword Dancer and Man o'War in consecutive years is a great accomplishment. I'm very proud of him. Horses like this make you want to go to the barn every morning.
"His Man 'o War was excellent and he came out of it in good shape. I don't think it hurts us that we've got a race between the Sword Dancer and the Turf Classic. It may even play to our advantage."
Last year, Sheppard opted to skip the Turf Classic with With Anticipation in hopes of having a fresh horse for the Breeders' Cup Turf and Japan Cup. It didn't work. With Anticipation had the lead early on in the Breeders' Cup Turf but faded badly and finished seventh. His Japan Cup wasn't much better. After racing close to the pace, With Anticipation dropped back to ninth. Those races are his two worst efforts on the turf.
"I think it's a little hard to keep a horse like him at that peak from that length of time," Sheppard said. "He had been quite busy and we were looking at the Breeders' Cup Turf and even beyond to the Japan Cup. I thought a little break would help, but it didn't. We're hoping to make the Breeders' Cup with him this year, but we won't be going back to Japan."
Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day will be in for the ride on With Anticipation.
Of the 10 others entered in Sunday's Turf Classic, Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has the best chance in upending With Anticipation. Frankel, who seemingly has an endless army of top horses, will use a three-prong Edmund A. Gann-owned attack at the big gray freight train with Denon, Timboroa and Lord Flasheart. Frankel, who won last year's Turf Classic with Timboroa, knows With Anticipation quite well. Earlier in the year, Frankel's Beat Hollow defeated With Anticipation in a pair of Grade I races - Churchill Downs' Woodford Reserve and Belmont's Manhattan Handicap. With Anticipation turned the tables on the Frankel barn over the summer, defeating Turf Classic rival
Denon in both Monmouth's United Nations (gr. I) and the Sword Dancer – by a neck and head, respectively.
"Sure I've got respect for him," said Frankel of With Anticipation. "He's a nice horse."
Frankel was a happy man when heavy rains hit the New
York metroplolitan area Thursday afternoon. Denon, who could be Frankel's best chance for a second Turf Classic title, apparently excels over a turf course with "give" in it. Additionally, Denon had not raced since the Sword Dancer.
"I'm hoping that will help us," Frankel said. "With Anticipation had another tough race (the Man o'War) the other day. I've got a fresh horse."
Jockey Edgar Prado in the Turf Classic will ride Denon, a 4-year-old Pleasant Colony colt. Denon is a multiple Grade I winner, having won the 2001 Hollywood Park Derby and 2002 Charlie Whittingham Handicap.
Timboroa is a world-class turf router who won the 2001 Turf Classic in gate-to-wire fashion and finished third to eventual Turf Champion Fantastic Light in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Timboroa, however, has not raced this year, having exited his last-place finish in November's Japan Cup with an ankle chip that had to be surgically removed. While preparing for his return earlier in the year, Timboroa pulled a suspensory, which needed ample time to heal.
"He's healthy," said Frankel of Timboroa, who has recorded five published workouts since early August. "The worst thing that happens is he gets beat. I've got him ready to run."
As was the case in last year's Turf Classic, Timboroa should be in the right place at the right time. Of the 11 entered, the 6-year-old horse plays out as the only true frontrunner in the field.
Timboroa, a two-time winner at 12 furlongs, will be ridden by jockey John Velazquez.
Lord Flasheart, the third part of the Gann/Frankel entry, has never beaten this caliber and is winless in two starts at 12 furlongs. Frankel entered Lord Flasheart, who was fifth behind With Anticipation in the Sept. 7 Man o'War, because the 5-year-old loves a soft turf course.
Perhaps the most intriguing horse in this year's renewal of the Turf Classic is Ulundi, a 7-year-old British-bred gelding. Back in April of 2001, Ulundi won the Group II Scottish Champion Hurdle Handicap. This August, Ulundi was beaten a neck in one of America's most prestigious races - the Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Exercise rider Pat Murphy, who has worked with Ulundi on a daily basis over the last couple of years, said the gelding is one-of-a-kind.
"I don't think there's another horse that can accomplish what he has over the jumps and then get beat a neck in the Arlington Million," said Murphy, who works for Ulundi's trainer, Paul Webber."We took a canter around the turf course on Thursday morning. Today he galloped about three quarters of a mile in the slop. He's seven and this is the best he's ever been."
According to Webber, Ulundi excels on firmer ground. Although more than two inches of rain fell in the metropolitan area over the last 24 hours, Webber said he would likely run Ulundi even if the course were "off" for the Turf Classic.
"I had a look at the course this morning and it would probably be labeled 'good' in England," said Webber.
"If we have another two inches of rain, I'll probably scratch him. If we scratch I may send him to California for the Clement Hirsch."
The Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship (gr. IT) is 10-furlong race on Oct. 6th at Santa Anita.$750,000 Belmont Turf Classic (gr. IT), 1 1/2 mile, 3 & Up
1 Whitmore's Conn/Randy Schulhofer/Shaun Bridgmohan
2 Blazing Fury/Jimmy Toner/Jose Santos
3 Delta Form/Jenine Sahadi/Gonzo Almeida
4a Timboroa/Bobby Frankel/John Velazquez
5 With Anticipation/Jonathan Sheppard/Pat Day
6 Man From Wicklow/Richard Violette Jr./Javier Castellano
7a Lord Flasheart/Bobby Frankel/Kent Desormeaux
8 Ulundi/Paul Webber/Pat Eddery
9 Revved Up/Ch