This year's 3-year-old crop can been dubbed the "Killer Bs" with the likes of Bernardini, Barbaro, Bluegrass Cat, and Brother Derek. After it is over, this year's cast for the Nov. 4 NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) might be called the "Amazing As" with a fearsome foursome of the pre-entered Ad Valorem, Araafa, Aragorn, and Aussie Rules.
A winner from that lineup wouldn't be a surprise considering last year's winner, Artie Schiller, was another member of the "A Team."
As is often the case, the Mile is one of the more difficult races on the World Championships card to decipher. An over-subscribed field makes this year's running no different.
On one hand, Danehill's son Aussie Rules made quite an impression with his stretch run at Keeneland Oct. 7 in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT). From mid-pack, Aussie Rules quickly dismissed a well-meant cast with a sub :23 final quarter to pull away by 1 3/4 lengths. On the other hand, the 3-year-old colt had been unable to finish closer than fourth in his two previous starts against Europe's top mile competition. How good might those horses be?
We'll get to find out as one of Europe's top milers, Librettist, victor in the Sept. 3 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (Fr-I) was pre-entered to make the trip to Churchill Downs.
Another danger that could come out of the Shadwell race is Silent Name. The Japanese-bred son of Sunday Silence picked up nearly five lengths from the eighth pole to the wire while coming very wide out of the final bend. He is owned by a pair of successful Breeders' Cup participants in the form of the Wertheimer family (two wins) and Frank Stronach (four wins).
The two biggest names in the division in North America throughout the year are Euro imports: the Irish-bred Aragorn and the French-bred filly Gorella.
Aragorn has rattled off four in a row in Southern California, including authoritative scores in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) and Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT). The Giant's Causeway
colt was shipped from England to the West Coast to take advantage of the firm turf and has thrived under the sunshine and the care of trainer Neil Drysdale, who won the 2000 Mile at Churchill Downs with War Chant.
Gorella, with her charismatic fist-pumping owner Martin Schwartz, and her French connection team of trainer Patrick Biancone and jockey Julien Leparoux, has become a darling of the public--but is a terror to her opponents. The 4-year-old filly, who last year stretched Artie Schiller and Leroidesanimaux to the max in the Mile in a third-place effort, has thrilled audiences this year with her last-to-first wins in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) and First Lady Stakes (gr. IIT). She is also the poster child for prepping on Polytrack, having spent the majority of the year in training at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky.
Some historical trends:
* With five runnings of the Mile at Churchill Downs to look back on, the seven-furlong turf course would seem to be on the square for all competitors. The five previous winners in Louisville, Ky., have prepped in five different locales: one each from the East Coast, West Coast, Keeneland, France, and England.
* Only 10 of the 22 previous Mile winners won their prep start...however, seven of the last nine winners came out of a winning effort. Ten of the 22 Mile victors ran second in their last start. Only one winner, Cozzene in 1985, came into the race off an unplaced start.
* Four fillies have accounted for five Mile wins. The swift Royal Heroine took the inaugural; the mighty Miesque won back-to-back in 1987-88; and European-based 3-year-old fillies Ridgewood Pearl ('95) and Six Perfections ('03) proved best.