Steve Haskin's BC Countdown: Pletcher Could be a Shore Thing This Year

Steve Haskin's BC Countdown: Pletcher Could be a Shore Thing This Year
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Any Given Saturday leads a strong Todd Pletcher contingent in this year's Breeders' Cup.
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It will be interesting to see how the horses-for-courses angle plays out at Monmouth Park, where it has often been an advantage to have either a race or a work over the track. In this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, there is one trainer who will be coming to the Jersey Shore well prepared.

Below is a race-by-race breakdown of the pre-entered Breeders’ Cup horses who have excelled at Monmouth Park, either winning or running big in defeat, and a few who have run decently and at least have a race over the track. It is important to note that Todd Pletcher trains seven of the horses listed – Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron, English Channel, Honey Ryder, Indian Vale, Icy Atlantic, and Host. That should give him some kind of an advantage.

CLASSICAny Given Saturday (won Haskell Invitational (gr. I) by 4 1/2 lengths), Lawyer Ron (fast-closing second in Salvator Mile (gr. III). Note --Hard Spun (second in Haskell) and Curlin (third in Haskell) were soundly defeated by Any Given Saturday.

TURFEnglish Channel (won United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) twice, 2-for-2); Better Talk Now (won United Nations, second in Battlefield, third in United Nations); Honey Ryder (see Filly & Mare Turf); Icy Atlantic (see Mile).

DISTAFF Hystericalady (won Molly Pitcher Handicap (gr. II) by 6 1/4 lengths); Indian Vale (won career debut in 2005 in her only start at Monmouth); Prop Me Up (won Lady’s Secret Stakes, four wins overall and four seconds on dirt and turf).

SPRINTIdiot Proof (won six-furlong Jersey Shore BC (gr. III) by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:07 2/5); Smokey Stover (won six-furlong Icecapade Stakes by two lengths in 1:08 4/5 in his last start); Attila’s Storm (won six-furlong allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths in 1:09 1/5 in 2005); Talent Search won six-furlong Teddy Drone Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths in 1:08 4/5). All four are one-for-one at Monmouth; La Traviata won 5 1/2-furlong Post Deb Stakes by five lengths in 1:01 4/5 -- see Filly Sprint).

FILLY & MARE TURFHoney Ryder (second to English Channel in United Nations).

MILEHost (won 2006 Elkwood Stakes in 1:33 4/5); Icy Atlantic (won Red Bank (gr. IIIT) in 1:32 2/5); Kip Deville (third in the Oceanport as 6-5 favorite, beaten 1 1/4 lengths)

DIRT MILE – Gottcha Gold (won Philip H. Iselin, Salvator Mile beating Lawyer Ron, 2005 Choice Stakes and two other races at Monmouth); Park Avenue Ball (won Philip H. Iselin, Long Branch (gr. III), Skip Away, Frisk Me Now and Tyro Stakes from 2004 to 2006 and placed in Haskell Invitational, Salvator Mile, Sapling, and 2007 Icecapade to Smokey Stover; 6-for-10 overall, with three seconds and a third); Xchanger won Sapling Stakes and maiden race in first two career starts, only poor effort was in Haskell).

FILLY SPRINTLa Traviata (see Sprint); Wild Gams (won state-bred Eleven North Handicap in 1:09 3/5 and broke maiden, two-for-four at Monmouth); Oprah Winney (won Regret Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:09 1/5).

JUVENILEZ Humor (third in the Sapling, beaten 6 3/4 lengths, after bobbling at the break).

JUVENILE FILLIES – None

JUVENILE TURF – None

The Pletcher-trained Wait a While has not run at Monmouth, but if the turf course has a lot of bounce to it, as it often does, you can bet the daughter of Maria’s Mon is going to relish it. On a firm course, she is the most brilliant turf filly in the country, and when she runs her race on her kind of going, she literally has been unbeatable. She is unproven at 1 3/8 miles, but even still, if the bettors judge her based on her last race and last year’s Filly & Mare Turf, she could be a terrific overlay, even at 4-1. She and Nashoba’s Key should make quite a powerful firm course exacta box.

Pletcher has the option of running Glencrest Farm’s Panty Raid, winner of the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) and American Oaks (gr. IT), in either the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) or the Emirates Airline Distaff (gr. I). He has pre-entered her with a first preference in the Distaff, but if he should switch to the Filly & Mare Turf, he could then run Glencrest’s Honey Ryder in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, joining stablemates English Channel and Sunriver. Honey Ryder finished second to English Channel in the 1 3/8-mile United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) and would appreciate the extra furlong.

Pletcher also has cross-entered Icy Atlantic in the Mile and Turf, with a first preference in the latter. If he runs him in the Turf, it no doubt would be as a rabbit for English Channel (both are owned by Jim Scatuorchio). That was the same role he played in last year’s BC Turf and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT). However, if Pletcher does run Icy Atlantic in the Turf, which is far beyond the horse’s capabilities, he would be in the unique position of running a rabbit against himself, as he also has the front-running Sunriver in the race. It is possible Sunriver can rate off the pace, but he hasn’t done it yet in his four grass starts, except briefly in the Man o’War Stakes (gr. IT). It is also interesting to note that Icy Atlantic’s two stakes victories this year were at a mile, one coming at Monmouth Park in course-record time.

Breeders’ Cup bites

-- If  Dylan Thomas wins the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), he will do it on the birthday of the Welsh poet for whom he was named. The human Dylan Thomas was born Oct. 27, 1914.

-- Handicappers will have a fit if Irish Smoke wins the BC Juvenile Fillies and they threw her out because of her last start. The daughter of Smoke Glacken looked like a potential champion in her first two races, but was a bust on Keeneland’s Polytrack, finishing far back in 10th. No one knows for sure the reason behind her poor showing, but if she comes back and wins or is right there, it will boost many handicappers’ claims that races on Polytrack often prove to be meaningless in relation to races on dirt, and can be a black eye on the record of many top-class horses. Many horsemen will acknowledge the fact that a number of their horses don’t handle synthetic surfaces the way they do the dirt.

We’ve already witnessed Street Sense’s exploits on Polytrack, and how he has used the surface merely as a steppingstone to the big races trainer Carl Nafzger is pointing him for, such as the Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I), Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and now the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Street Sense handles Polytrack well enough to be competitive, but is just not as effective or explosive over it as he is on dirt.

The same could be said for Hystericalady, who was brilliant winning the Molly Pitcher Handicap and Humana Distaff (gr. I) by big margins, but could only manage two seconds and a third on Cushion track, which seems closer to dirt than Polytrack. Of course, that is not to say some horses don’t handle both types of surfaces equally (Hard Spun, Tiago, and Awesome Gem are just a few of this year’s Breeders’ Cup horses that do). But, overall, “dirt” and synthetic surfaces are two separate entities, and those handicapping this year’s Breeders’ Cup will have to do a lot more guessing than normal. Hopefully, it will make more sense by next year’s Breeders’ Cup run at Santa Anita, whose Cushion track surface seems to be closer to dirt.

Again, this is merely being mentioned for handicapping purposes and how it relates to the Breeders’ Cup, and has nothing to do with the safety factor. To what extent synthetic surfaces are safer has yet to be determined. It is only hoped it will prove in the long run to be significant.

Who do YOU like…tomorrow?

It is unfortunate that the Breeders’ Cup will be missing such fan favorites as The Tin Man, Lava Man, Perfect Drift, and Brass Hat, whose Cinderella stories would have provided countless feel-good articles in publications throughout the country. And the losses of Invasor and Rags to Riches have to hurt.

The horses who normally would achieve long-range star power with a Classic victory – Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and Hard Spun – are all scheduled to be retired to Darley at Jonabell after the race, so it is hard for the public to embrace them at this point knowing they’re never going to see them again. Nothing has been made official regarding Any Given Saturday, but the chances of seeing him next year would appear to be slim. Street Sense, with a victory in the Classic, would have been a major star and attraction next year, but that’s not going to happen. Trainer Larry Jones said that Hard Spun is just now coming into his own, is getting stronger, and learning how to settle in his races. There is no doubt he would have made an awesome 4-year-old, but we’ll never know. Curlin certainly has star appeal, but his future is still undetermined. Still, he at least provides a ray of hope for next year.

If racing fans are looking for a long-range rooting interest, Lawyer Ron might be their best hope following the resolution of a lawsuit that allows Ron Bamberger, executor of the estate of the late owner James Hines to retain full control of the colt’s racing career, as long as Lawyer Ron does not finish worse than second on more than two consecutive occasions. If he does, then Stonewall Farm will take control of the horse and retire him for stud duty. So, if there is a reason to root for a horse to keep running well, this is it.

Tiago is another who would capture the public’s interest next year with a victory in the Classic.

But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. There is still one heck of BC Classic to look forward to and a Horse of the Year title up for grabs.

 

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