Turf Preview: Grab Bag

View a list of Breeders' Cup Turf pre-entries . . .

The memory still gives 'em goosebumps. After Daylami steamrolled a strong field at Gulfstream Park last year, the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) would be hard-pressed to come up with a suitable encore.

But a national division once boasting the potential of Royal Anthem, Dark Moondancer, Chester House, and Bienamado now finds itself pining for a star, and with no local standout or foreign phenomenon to brandish. This year's running of the Turf is totally up for grabs.

Fittingly, pulses have began to race since word spread that owner Michael Tabor will supplement Montjeu overseas for a shot at the Turf. The '99 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner is by no means a savior, however. Once deemed a superhorse, he proved mortal with an uninspiring fourth in this year's Arc, then came back to lose a close decision in Newmarket's Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I). A strong effort in Kentucky would throw him back atop the pedestal.

Montjeu's foil at Ascot was the Aga Khan's Kalanisi, whose battle-toughness was also manifested in a pair of memorable albeit losing duels over summer against Classic (gr. I) contender Giant's Causeway. The Doyoun colt will be facing 1 1/2 miles for the first time, but with a Breeders' Cup winner in his corner (his trainer, Michael Stoute, had the '96 turf exacta of Pilsudski and Singspiel), Kalanisi will still be one to reckon with.

On the heels of Daylami's romp last year, Godolphin figures to make its presence felt again. Fantastic Light was an instant smash in his North American debut, taking the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT). Though he had no chance in the paceless Turf Classic (gr. IT), he should be tough to handle at Churchill Downs. Mutafaweq, daring winner of the Canadian International (Can-IT), gives Godolphin a powerful 1-2 punch.

Juddmonte Farm and trainer Bobby Frankel were dealt a big blow when potential Turf contender Chester House went to stud shortly after his dynamic Arlington Million (gr. IT) triumph. They will still have a hot hand, though, with Boatman, a luckless second in Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT).

Another who will come out swinging is Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) champ Ciro, who stepped up to 12 furlongs in the Lawrence Realization Handicap (gr. IIIT) and won like he invented the game. The foreign contingent could also include Fruits of Love and Mutamam.

Despite the allure of talented Europeans and promising newcomers, though, the most popular choice at the windows may be Manndar. The son of Doyoun burst onto the scene when he took the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) -- at Churchill -- and Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) during spring, but wound up a troubled second in the Arlington Million. Opting to forego a fall prep, trainer Beau Greely has instead trained Manndar straight up to the Breeders' Cup. Only Manila, racing on six weeks rest, has been able to take the Turf off a layoff. Manndar hasn't raced since mid-August.

Aly's Alley, Williams News, and Quiet Resolve gives the home team strength in numbers, but in a year where the grass ranks have been rocked by attrition, it may just be the old boys who come to the rescue. Hindered by injuries but driven by sheer desire, Down the Aisle has come on strong at age seven, winning both the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) and Kentucky Cup Turf.

John's Call, meanwhile, has found new life at nine. A decent allowance horse originally purchased for steeplechasing, the Lord At War gelding came out smoking this summer, blasting a top field in the Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap (gr. IT). More recently, he flat stole the Turf Classic, a front-running coup which has prompted owner Douglas Joyce to put up a $240,000 supplementary fee to give John's Call a shot at the main event.

If he does, John's Call may just give the Turf what it's begging for -- a perfect ending.

View a list of Breeders' Cup Turf pre-entries . . .