Pleasantly Perfect used the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) to prepare for his victory in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Tiznow took the same route in 2000. Now trainer Richard Mandella hopes the $500,000 stakes at Oak Tree Saturday can be a springboard to the $4 million Classic for handicap star Rock Hard Ten.
The 1 1/8-mile Goodwood attracted a small field of six. Rock Hard Ten, who will be ridden by Gary Stevens, carries high weight of 121 pounds. He'll spot the field from four to eight pounds in his first start since winning the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 5.
Rock Hard Ten is unbeaten in three starts since Mandella began training him almost a year ago.
Roman Ruler, an 11th-hour entry by trainer Bob Baffert who scrubbed initial plans to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles on Saturday, looms as the major rival. The 3-year-old Roman Ruler won the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) this summer and takes his first crack against older horses in the Goodwood.
Stevens returned to California Wednesday night for his return ride on Rock Hard Ten.
"I think he proved early in the year if he's not the top handicap horse in the country he's one of the top older horses," said Stevens, who has been riding on the East Coast after a Hall of Fame run on the Southern California circuit. "In my eyes he's the top one, but you've got to prove it on the race track. He races Saturday, and I'm looking forward to riding him for the rest of this year."
Stevens has five wins in six rides aboard Rock Hard Ten, with a second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Preakness (gr. I). Stevens and Rock Hard Ten won the Malibu Stakes (gr. I), the Strub Stakes (gr. II), and the Big 'Cap last season at Santa Anita. The feat earned Rock Hard Ten 'Horse of the Meet' laurels in the annual media poll.
Baffert on Thursday said he was looking to the Classic when he decided to keep Roman Ruler at home.
"If I shipped him to Belmont I'll have nothing left for the Breeders' Cup," he said. "I got a shot at going to the Breeders' Cup, so it's better if I just stay here."
Baffert has tabbed Javier Santiago, who recently returned to Southern California from Puerto Rico, to ride Mike Pegram's Preachinatthebar in the Goodwood. "I was looking for someone light and he can do the weight," Baffert said. $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Roman Ruler (KY), 114, David Flores
2. Rock Hard Ten (KY), 121, Gary Stevens
3. Preachinatthebar (KY), 114, Javier Santiago
4. Total Impact (CHI), 117, Rene Douglas
5. Gotaghostofachance (MD), 113, Jon Court
6. Choctaw Nation (KY), 116, Alex Solis