Countdown to the Cup: Dutrow Cooking up Rabbit Stew for Commentator

Countdown to the Cup: Dutrow Cooking up Rabbit Stew for Commentator
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Will a "rabbit" help Saint Liam avenge this Whitney defeat to Commentator?
It is time for a legitimate favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) to step forward and assert himself, and that could happen in Saturday's Woodward (gr. I) when Saint Liam and Commentator hook up again. But this time, trainer Rick Dutrow will be adding a new dish to Saint Liam's menu.

Not wanting a repeat of the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) when Commentator opened an uncontested lead and had enough left to hold off Saint Liam by a neck, Dutrow will enter a pacesetter, or "rabbit," to turn up the pressure on Commentator. The only problem he has is choosing among the three he has available.

The most likely choice is Crafty Player, who is coming off a six-furlong allowance sprint at Monmouth, in which he battled on the lead in :45 4/5 for the half before losing by a head. Dutrow claimed the son of Crafty Prospector last October for $50,000. Another horse Dutrow had been considering , Kazoo, who threw in a :45 half at Monmouth last time out, grabbed a quarter and will not run. Show Boot and Wamp are Dutrow's other two possibilities.

"It really doesn't matter who we use, because all four have the speed to go six furlongs with that horse," Dutrow said. "We worked him (Saturday morning) and he went great. They got him in 1:16 3/5 (for six furlongs), but they walked away from the pole, and he galloped out very strong. He's on his game; he's ready to run his race, I know that. And Commentator has to pick up 11 pounds."

Saint Liam does not look like a horse that needs a rabbit, having nearly beaten Ghostzapper in last year's Woodward, racing on the lead most of the way. But Dutrow would rather see the son of Saint Ballado lay off the pace, as he did in his victories in this year's Donn and Stephen Foster Handicaps (both grade Is), which would make him more effective in the 10-furlong Classic.

With a rabbit in there, it will be interesting to see how Commentator adjusts, and whether he is able to show the same kind of brilliance coming off the pace, something he has never done before. With back-to-back Beyers of 121 and 123, there is no doubt this is an extraordinarily fast horse. Now that the surprise element is no longer there, as it was in the Whitney, his first attempt at nine furlongs, he will not have the luxury of other jockeys underestimating his ability to carry his speed this far. With a target now on his back, it should make for an intriguing Woodward from a strategy standpoint. Then again, the rabbit shouldn't last too long, so who's to say the he won't help Commentator, who actually could be more effective getting the nine furlongs with something to run at.

Commentator's owner, Tracy Farmer, said he welcomes the challenge. Farmer had just watched Sun King, under a masterful ride by Rafael Bejarano, win Sunday's $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) by 4 1/2 lengths, despite breaking from post 14, which is practically on the apron at Philly Park. This is a colt who loves four weeks between his races, which could put him on target for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) or Meadowlands Cup, or even the Super Derby (gr. II). If he runs in the Gold Cup, he'd have to face stablemate Bellamy Road.

The first big California invasion to New York will take place in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) when Pacific Classic (gr. I) winner Borrego ships in for the 10-furlong race. Trainer Beau Greely had originally toyed with the idea of training the big chestnut up to the Classic, but after realizing how much time there is between the two races he decided to send the colt to Belmont in order to give him and jockey Garrett Gomez a race over the track and distance.

Greely feels the Gold Cup will suit Borrego better than dropping him back in distance to run against Rock Hard Ten in the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Santa Anita. Borrego will ship to Belmont on Sept. 13, along with exercise rider Andy Durnin, which will enable the colt to have at least one work over the track. Borrego is expected to face Flower Alley and Bellamy Road, one-two in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), as well as Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr. II) winner Suave, and possibly Roman Ruler, third in the Travers, and last year's Gold Cup winner Funny Cide, who has been suffering from a back problem.

European Favorites Disappoint

Going into this weekend, it looked as if Europe had two legitimate contenders for the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) and possibly the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), but Valixir showed little in Sunday's Prix du Moulin (Fra-I) at Longchamp, as did Proclamation in Saturday's William Hill Sprint Cup (Eng-I) at Haydock. The Moulin winner, Starcraft, raced in Australia before being sent to Luca Cumani in Newmarket. He previously had finished third behind Valixir in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot.

Although Proclamation, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya, ran a dismal 11th in the William Hill Sprint Cup, the race was won by her husband's Goodricke, who is being considered for the Breeders' Cup. It is just a question whether they keep him sprinting or stretch him out to a mile. The British bookmakers are still quoting Proclamation at 6-1 for the Mile, making him second choice behind the 7-2 Dubawi. Goodricke's victory actually boosted the reputation of Whipper, despite the colt's fourth-place finish in the Moulin. Whipper defeated Goodricke in the Prix Maurice de Gheest last month, and now is ranked right at the top of the sprint division.

All eyes will be on Leopardstown for Saturday's Baileys Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I), where English Derby (Eng-I) winner Motivator squares off against King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Eng-I) winner Azamour. The winner surely will be made a solid favorite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I). Trainer John Oxx is thrilled with the way Azamour is coming into the race after his work on Friday. Frankie Dettori, who will be riding Motivator for the first time due to the suspension of regular rider Johnny Murtagh, was aboard for the colt's work Friday and was happy with what he felt. The older Azamour is favored for the Irish Champion, being quoted as low as even-money and 10-11, while Motivator is listed at 9-4 and 2-1.

If the ground remains as firm as it is now, Motivator likely will be withdrawn and run instead in Sunday's Prix Niel (Fra-II) at Longchamp.

Saturday's St. Leger will feature Grand Prix de Paris (Fra-I) winner Scorpion, from the Aidan O'Brien stable. Only seven horses remain in the race at the five-day stage, with Scorpion being quoted at even-money. O'Brien still hasn't decided whether to put stable rider Kieren Fallon on Scorpion or keep him at home for the mount on Eclipse (Eng-I) winner Oratorio in the Irish Champion.

Also in Europe last weekend, Warrsan took the Grosser Volkswagen Preis von Baden (Ger-I) at Baden-Baden in Germany for the second successive year. It was his first victory since winning the race last year.

Pair of Exciting Babies Debut at Spa

With the tragic death of top 2-year-old What a Song, and two of trainer Bob Baffert's most exciting long-range prospects on the shelf, the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) picture turns to the East Coast for now. Hopeful (gr. I) winner First Samurai, a magnificent-looking son of Giant's Causeway  , has vaulted to the top of the division with his emphatic victory over previously unbeaten Henny Hughes. This is an impressive, muscular colt who has a beautiful way of moving and looks to have a big future ahead of him.

But the final two weeks of the Saratoga meet also have produced a pair of promising maiden winners. Trainer John Ward sent out Dr. Pleasure, a son of Thunder Gulch, out of champion Beautiful Pleasure, to a resounding 7 1/4-length victory. The colt overcame the one-hole by swinging to the outside and blowing his opposition away in the stretch, despite racing a bit greenly. His time for the 6 1/2 furlongs was a sharp 1:16 3/5, which was even more impressive when compared to the 1:18 1/5 it took Cab to win the other division.

On Travers (gr. I) day, Discreet Cat, turned in one of the most impressive performances of the meet, breaking his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:09 3/5 in his career debut. By comparison, Lost in the Fog ran his six furlongs in the King's Bishop (gr. I) in 1:09, and First Samurai ran his six furlongs in 1:09 1/5 the Hopeful. What also makes Discreet Cat such an exciting prospect for next year is his pedigree.

For anyone who remembers the great Woodward Stakes of 1967, this son of Forestry   has all three major combatants – Damascus, Dr. Fager, and Buckpasser in his pedigree. His dam, major stakes winner Pretty Discreet, is inbred to Buckpasser, while Discreet Cat is inbred to the great classic and stamina influence, Ribot, through His Majesty and his son Pleasant Colony on top and Tom Rolfe on the bottom.

Trained by Stanley Hough, Discreet Cat not only defeated one of Nick Zito's top 2-year-olds, Superfly, who had finished a close third in his debut, it was another 11 lengths back to the third horse.

Frank Brothers, who trains First Samurai, unleashed another tiger Monday when Laity, a son of Pulpit, destroyed his field in the Miller Lite Cradle Stakes at River Downs, winning by 11 3/4 lengths. In his previous start, he had been all out to win a maiden race at Arlington by a half-length.

Getting back to Baffert's two big prospects for next year, Midnight Lute, who looked awesome breaking his maiden, has undergone a tie-back procedure to relieve a breathing problem, while the impressive winner, Enforcement, has been plagued by nagging shin problems and will be saved for next year.

One of the quiet stars in the juvenile division is In Summation, who just keeps on winning. The son of Put it Back turned in another professional effort winning Saturday's Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths in the slop for his fifth victory in as many starts.

On the filly front, Running Lass, 7 1/4-length winner of the Desert Vixen Division, had a tougher time of it, just holding on to win the Susan's Girl by a head at 2-5 over the fast-closing 35-1 shot Prospect of Love.

At Monmouth Saturday, Keeneland Kat made it two impressive wins in two starts when she exploded down the stretch to win the six-furlong Sorority Stakes for leading trainer Kelly Breen and jockey Stewart Elliott. The daughter of Hennessy defeated the Todd Pletcher-trained Unobstructed View, winner of her only start.

Keep an eye on a Cal-bred juvenile named Bro Lo, who won the state-bred I'm Smokin Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths in a smokin' 1:08 3/5 after a half in a wicked :43 3/5. What is interesting is that the son of In Excess is bred to run long, with several European mile and a half classic winners in his female family.

Frankel Assembling BC Troops

Although Bobby Frankel had no serious plans to point Mass Media to the Breeders' Cup, those plans may change after the colt's victory in Saturday's seven-furlong Forego (gr. I). It was Frankel's second straight Forego win with a son of Touch Gold, having won last year's running with Midas Eyes. Frankel's lone BC Sprint hope has been A.G. Vanderbilt (gr. II) runner-up I'm the Tiger, who is scheduled to run next in the Oct. 1 Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I).

Frankel is loaded for bear in the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) with the powerful duo of Megahertz, who runs next in the Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT) at Santa Anita, and the 3-year-old Melhor Ainda, who is being pointed for the Flower Bowl (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. Both fillies turned in huge efforts to finish two-three in the Beverly D (gr. IT) at Arlington.

Frankel will run his Australian champion Alinghi, winner of the Ballston Spa (Gr. IIIT) in her U.S. debut, against the colts in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland. His big horse for the BC Mile, Leroidesanimaux, winner of his last seven starts, will run next in the Atto Mile (gr. IT) at Woodbine, along with Diamond Green. Frankel also found another Mile horse in Three Valleys, who scored nose victory in Sunday's Del Mar BC Handicap (gr. IIT), covering the mile in 1:32 1/5 (1:32.21), which broke the course record by a hundredth of a second. Frankel had been concerned he didn't have the horse tight enough, but he still was able to overcome a less-than-smooth trip to stick his nose in front right on the wire.

The top-class and consistent Intercontinental, winner of Saturday's Palomar BC Handicap (gr. IIT) in stakes-record time, currently is a filly without a Breeders' Cup race, as her best distance appears to be somewhere between the Mile and the Filly & Mare Turf. Frankel can only imagine how good she'd be if she didn't pull so badly early on in her races.

In other Breeders' Cup news:

-- Baffert said Roman Ruler came out of his third-place finish in the Travers in excellent shape, but no races have been finalized for his BC Classic prep. Baffert said it could be the grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup or grade II Super Derby, or even an attempt against older horses in the grade II Meadowlands Cup. Baffert also said he is looking for a race for dual stakes winner Woke Up Dreamin, one of the leading contenders for the Sprint.

-- Trainer Kristin Mulhall and owner Steve Taub have an interesting and odd dilemma – whether to point recent Pat O'Brien BC (gr. II) winner Imperialism to the BC Classic or Sprint. Imperialism's only three stakes victories have come at seven furlongs and a mile, but he was third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and second in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Imperialism covered the seven furlongs of the Pat O'Brien in a sharp 1:21 3/5.

-- Word from the Ashado camp was that there was some thought being given about pointing for the Classic. But that was before the Personal Ensign (gr. I). It will be interesting to see how the champ bounces back in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I), and what the plans are after that.

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