Classic Preview: Sophomore Show

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The $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) picture has been changing faster than the autumn leaves. While new, vibrant colors keep appearing in the 3-year-old division, the older horses seem to be withering and falling harmlessly to the ground.

Lemon Drop Kid, who has been the glue that has held the older horse division together all year, suffered a crushing defeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), and only time will tell if that was the beginning of the end for the son of Kingmambo or simply a bad day from which he'll be able to rebound. The Horse of the Year title still is his to win or lose. The only other remnants of what was once considered a strong group of older horses are Cat Thief and Golden Missile, who finished first and third, respectively, in last year's Classic.

But as the older horses fade, the 3-year-old picture gets brighter by the day. With a series of brilliant performances recently, the younger generation will form the nucleus of the Classic, in which 16 were pre-entered. Of course, as Fusaichi Pegasus goes, so goes the Classic. If the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner, who had been nursing a bad foot, does not make it to the gate on Nov. 4, it would leave a huge void. The race still will have a number of extremely talented horses, and it could produce a memorable finish, but the excitement and anticipation that accompany every one of Fusaichi Pegasus' races will be gone.

Adding to the glamour of the 3-year-olds will be the presence of the Irish invader Giant's Causeway, who has established himself as one of the most durable, tenacious horses seen in Europe in many years. But it certainly doesn't end there. The remainder of the 3-year-olds--Albert the Great, Tiznow, Captain Steve, and Pine Dance -- all bring excellent credentials into the Classic.

But even with all the bright colors that have been livening up the sport recently, there are three that seem to emerge in full splendor this time of year -- the black, gold, and red of Frank Stronach. While the entire racing world was busy gazing upon the likes of Skip Away, Silver Charm, Gentlemen, and other major stars in the 1998 Classic, it was Awesome Again who came charging late to steal the show. Last year, it was Golden Missile, then a near-invisible presence at 75-1, who almost sprang a huge upset, finishing a close third.

Golden Missile is back again, and while he has witnessed life at the top of his division this past spring, he once again should be a forgotten horse following three straight defeats. But the son of A.P. Indy could well be the sleeper here. A foot bruise suffered in the Whitney (gr. I) cost him not only any chance in that race, but several weeks of training. By taking the easy route to Louisville, he avoided the gut-wrenching battle in the Woodward, and avoided having to chase a 1:59.24 1 1/4 miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He ran hard in the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) and Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. III), conceding a good deal of weight in the latter and hitting the front too soon, and there's a chance those races have brought him back to peak form.

Stronach also may have a live longshot in Euchre, who leveled off late and showed great acceleration in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II). He's fresh and could be ready to fire big a 1 1/4 miles.

The main question with Cat Thief is whether he's going to handle the track. He has shown a liking for Churchill, having finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Kentucky Derby, and Stephen Foster (gr. II). Cat Thief runs so hard in his races, if he struggles over the surface, he has a tendency to displace his palate, which shuts off his air, which in turn causes him to bleed slightly. But any horse who can win or place in 11 grade I races must be respected on his best day, especially considering he's already won the Classic.

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