Tiznow is back to defend his Classic title.

Tiznow is back to defend his Classic title.

Skip Dickstein

Classic Preview: Unknown Territory

How odd is the field for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)? It will not include the winners of the grade I Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Travers, Whitney, Woodward, and Pacific Classic. But it will include the winners of the group I English Derby, Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes, Irish Two Thousand Guineas, St. James's Palace Stakes, Hong Kong Cup, and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. It seems as if the wires got crossed somewhere along the way.

To make it even more bizarre, not a single horse who competed in any of the Triple Crown races this year will be in the Classic. The first seven finishers of the Kentucky Derby are not even in training. But before you get too bewildered over the turn of events, rest assured in knowing we do have last year's Horse of the Year Tiznow and 2-year-old champion male Macho Uno, and we do have a chance of seeing the first repeat winner of the Classic in its 17-year history. Both horses, however, are coming off defeats.

At the moment, the Classic basically looks like a battle between Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Aptitude and the European dynamic duo of Galileo and Fantastic Light. If Tiznow can bounce back from two defeats following a layoff due to a back injury, then we could have quite a United States vs. Europe tag team match. Also, Include, considered the best older horse in the East in early June following victories in the Pimlico Special (gr. I) and Massachusetts Handicap (gr. II), looks ready to return to that form after finishing a strong third in the Meadowlands Cup (gr. II).

While Aptitude has vaulted to the head of the class with three straight graded stakes victories, including his 10-length romp in the Gold Cup, the son of A.P. Indy will be venturing into unknown territory when he tackles Galileo and Fantastic Light. If either of these two titans can transfer his grass form to the dirt, then there is a good chance the ghosts of Swain and Giant's Causeway will have their revenge on Oct. 27.

Off his pedigree, Fantastic Light looks to have a distinct advantage, but Galileo's people were pleased with his work over the all-weather track at Southwell on Oct. 3. One British bookmaker, however, saw enough holes to raise Galileo's odds from 3-1 to 7-2, while lowering Fantastic Light to 11-4 favorite. What Galileo has in his favor is that he's one of the most brilliant 3-year-olds seen in Europe in a long time. He and Fantastic Light each have a victory over the other, with Fantastic Light holding off Galileo in the Irish Champion Stakes after an epic stretch battle.

The American contingent, although lacking star power, does include some solid, hard-knocking horses who are always capable of doing damage on their best day. Albert the Great would have given anyone fits off his earlier form and his sterling record at Belmont. But three straight losses, including a sound thrashing in the Gold Cup, signal a regression, and trainer Nick Zito can only hope the colt will somehow rebound in the Classic, as he did in last year's Travers following a dismal effort. Zito said before the Gold Cup that Albert the Great had been training as well as he'd ever seen him.

One horse to watch is the vastly improved Guided Tour, a tough, versatile gelding who is riding a three-race winning streak, all grade II stakes. There are also Meadowlands Cup winner Gander and, as we mentioned earlier, Macho Uno, who may have been compromised in the recent Ohio Derby (gr. II) by a bout with colic the week before.