With the older horse division all but decimated following the loss of Left Bank, Street Cry, Sky Jack, Seeking Daylight, and Mizzen Mast, it was up to the 3-year-olds to pick up the slack.
The good news was that, unlike past years, the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Travers, Santa Anita Derby, Pacific Classic, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass were all still in training and in top form. The bad news was that, with the exception of Blue Grass and Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday, all of them have been banned from the entry box by their trainers until the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
The banners hanging from the Bob Baffert, Bobby Frankel, and Paco Gonzalez barns were all identical: "Nine Weeks or Bust!" That's how long they are grounding their respective 3-year-old stars War Emblem, Medaglia d'Oro, and Came Home in an effort to keep them in one piece for racing's biggest day.
That left last Saturday's Woodward Stakes void of 3-year-olds. All is not lost, however, as Travers runner-up Repent is scheduled to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Harlan's Holiday is being considered for either the Gold Cup, Washington Park Handicap, or Pegasus.
If the Woodward is to have any impact on the Classic, it will depend on whether Lido Palace's owners John and Jerry Amerman decide to shell out the $800,000 supplementary payment. That decision will not come until they and trainer Bobby Frankel see how the Chilean-bred does in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Frankel, of course, also has Medaglia d'Oro and Milwaukee Brew pointing for the Classic.
Milwaukee Brew, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and Californian Stakes, could be the forgotten horse after his defeats in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. With his style of running, he was way too far back in the Hollywood Gold Cup to make much of an impact on the speed-favoring race. And he certainly wasn't suited for Del Mar, especially in a 14-horse field. If Belmont is playing relatively normal in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he could run a big race. But it is Arlington that should really suit him.
Milwaukee Brew, Lido Palace, E Dubai, and Repent should provide a good nucleus for the Gold Cup. And with Gander, Evening Attire, and possibly Harlan's Holiday, you have the makings of an excellent race. Another who is being considered for the Gold Cup is Momentum, who should be sitting on a huge race. Trainer Craig Dollase said he'll nominate Momentum to the Gold Cup, Washington Park Handicap, and Goodwood Breeders' Cup, then make a decision in about a week.
As for Lido Palace's hard-earned Woodward victory, Frankel doesn't believe it was as bad as many thought. He felt the horse was too sharp, added to the fact that he was bottled up most of the way. He was also going against a severe speed bias, and in order to catch Gander and Express Tour, his rider, Jorge Chavez, had to hit him 23 times right-handed, the first five before he even reached the quarter pole.
On paper, his closing three-eighths in about :38 was dismal compared to the :36 3/5 it took the front-running Imperial Gesture to come home in the Gazelle. And his critics also were not impressed with the fact that his final time was two ticks slower than the filly's. But as Frankel said, "Let's just say he won a grade I having a bad day."
Lido Palace is a grinder and is not going to explode past you with one quick move. He gradually wears you down like he did Albert the Great and Tiznow last year. But in order to do that effectively he can't be sitting right behind a :45 4/5 half, which was almost a full second faster than the opening half in the Gazelle, and some two seconds faster than he's used to running. So, for now, we'll give him credit for winning the Woodward for the second straight year against a speed biased track and see if he can improve off this effort in the Gold Cup against much better competition. If he can't, it is highly unlikely we'll be seeing him in the Breeders' Cup.
Other interesting horses pointing for the Classic are Macho Uno, who gives Frank Stronach a strong one-two punch with Milwaukee Brew, and the improving Pleasantly Perfect, who finished a solid fourth, beaten only 2 3/4 lengths, in the Pacific Classic. He is bred to run long and is just now coming into his own. Both these colts are scheduled to meet in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington the day after the Gold Cup.
In Saturday's Kentucky Cup Classic, Dollar Bill, who keeps picking up checks despite not coming close to winning, will once again try to find the winner's circle. He'll take on Abreeze, Hero's Tribute, Nothing Flat, Pure Prize, Tenpins, and There's Zealous.
Over in Europe, although Hawk Wing was nipped at the wire by Grandera in Saturday's Irish Champion Stakes, the son of Woodman is still considered one of Europe's main threats on Oct. 26. Hawk Wing was one of the many victims of a coughing epidemic that spread through Aidan O'Brien's yard this summer, and the trainer said before the race he might not be at his best. This is a top-class colt, whose best distance looks to be a mile and a quarter.