In what promises to be a unique edition of the Breeders’ Cup, a total of 210 pre-entries were announced Oct. 16, with 180 horses pre-entered for the 14 races, to be run at Santa Anita on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24-25.
After an expansion of the Breeders’ Cup program from eight races to 11 in 2007, another three races were added for 2008, raising the total purses to $25.5 million. On opening day, all five Breeders’ Cup races will be strictly for females, culminating with the $2-million Ladies Classic (gr. I), formerly the Distaff.
The marquee name on Friday will be the undefeated Zenyatta, who could be odds-on in the Ladies Classic. Saturday’s headliner will be the reigning Horse of the Year, Curlin , who will be attempting to join Tiznow as the only two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). The Breeders’ Cup will be run for the first time this year on a synthetic surface (Pro-Ride). While Curlin has won on fast dirt tracks and sloppy tracks, and run well on turf, he has never run on a synthetic surface. He did, however, turn in a powerful work at Santa Anita Oct. 13 between the fourth and fifth races.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup also features a record seven former Breeders’ Cup winners. Last year’s winners looking to make it back-to-back victories are Curlin, Midnight Lute (Sprint), Kip Deville (Mile), Indian Blessing(Juvenile Fillies), and Ginger Punch (Distaff). Better Talk Now (2004 Turf) and Red Rocks (2006 Turf) are also back.
The Breeders’ Cup received its first bit of good news on the night of Oct. 15 when the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from the playoff race, preventing an unfortunate conflict with the World Series.
Aidan O’Brien tops all trainers with 10 horses pre-entered in eight different races. One of those is Red Rock Canyon, who will be a pacesetter for Soldier of Fortune in the Turf. But O’Brien’s big move was pre-entering his two biggest stars, Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator, in the Classic without cross-entering either one. The Duke rattled off five straight group I stakes this year before faltering in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I) over ground that was a bit soft for his liking. Henry captured four straight group I stakes -- the English and Irish Two Thousand Guineas, St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and Sussex Stakes -- before losing his last two.
It looks as if Henrythenavigator will resume his intense rivalry with English-trained Raven’s Pass, who also pre-entered in the Classic, with a second preference in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I). They have met four times this year, the last three in barn-burners, with Henry getting the upper hand in their first three meetings and Raven’s Pass turning the tables in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I).
John Sadler has pre-entered seven horses in seven different races, with Cost of Freedom (Sprint), Whatsthescript (Mile), and Dearest Trickski (Filly & Mare Sprint) coming off graded stakes victories. Bobby Frankel also pre-entered seven horses, in six different races. Frankel will bookend the Classic, with Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Mast Track the likely pacesetter and Champs Elysees, third in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), at the back of the pack. His other starters are last year’s Distaff winner Ginger Punch, who is trying to repeat (in the Ladies Classic); Ventura in the Filly & Mare Sprint or Mile; Precious Kitten in the Mile or Filly & Mare Turf; First Defence in the Sprint or Dirt Mile, and Out of Control in the Turf.
Todd Pletcher, who went 0-for-17 in the Breeders’ Cup two years ago, has only six pre-entered this year, but they are a sneaky half-dozen, with all having a legitimate shot to win. Wait a While and Red Giant will relish the ground in the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) and Turf, respectively, and both are coming off impressive scores in grade I stakes over the course. Fairbanks has a big shot in the Marathon, Bittel Road will be the favorite or second choice in the Juvenile Turf, and Munnings and Silent Valor are both live in the Juvenile (gr.I).
Also with six pre-entered is Doug O’Neill, headed by Square Eddie and Azul Leon in the Juvenile and the vastly improving Slew’s Tiznow in the Dirt Mile. Of Steve Asmussen’s six pre-entered horses, three of them could be in the Classic, with Curlin, Student Council , and Pyro, who has a second preference in the Dirt Mile.
Bob Baffert will be a central figure as usual with his five pre-entered horses. Indian Blessing (Filly & Mare Sprint), Midshipman (Juvenile), Midnight Lute (Sprint), and Del Conte (Juvenile Turf) all will take a lot of beating.
Shug McGaughey, who is only seen in Southern California on rare occasions, has four pre-entered, and all – Consequence (Juvenile Fillies Turf), Persistently (Juvenile Fillies), Carriage Trail (Ladies Classic), and Dancing Forever (Turf) – have a legitimate chance.
It must be noted that Dick Mandella, who has six Breeders’ Cup victories in the last two events held at Santa Anita, including a record four wins in 2003, will be represented only by the newly acquired Mine That Bird in the Juvenile or Juvenile Turf and One Union in the Turf Sprint.
Other European trainers represented will be the always dependable Michael Stoute, who has Visit in the Filly & Mare Turf and Conduit in the Turf; Freddy Head, who will have the likely favorite in the Mile with Goldikova; John Gosden, with Classic contender Raven’s Pass and Donativum in the Juvenile Turf; Andre Fabre, with Only Answer in the Turf Sprint; and Dermot Weld, who will bring the spectacular Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) winner Winchester back for the Turf. Jeremy Noseda, trainer of 2004 Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko, will saddle 2006 St. Leger (Eng-I) winner Sixties Icon in the Marathon and Fleeting Spirit in the Turf Sprint. A total of 35 foreign-based horses were pre-entered.
Speaking of the Turf, the 9-year-old Better Talk Now is back again for the fifth time in the mile and a half event, having finished first, second, and fourth. If he can’t win, a third would complete a unique a cycle.
For those who are concerned about the Europeans having to run a fast, firm turf course, they won the Mile (with Six Perfections) and dead-heated for win in the Turf (with High Chaparral) the last time the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita, and won the Mile (with Spinning World) and finished second in the Turf (with the German filly Borgia) the last time it was held at Hollywood Park.
Canada will be well represented by Reade Baker (Fatal Bullet in the Sprint and Bear Now in the Ladies Classic), Mark Casse (Sealy Hill in the Filly & Mare Turf and Skipadate in the Juvenile Turf), Catherine Day Phillips (Van Lear Rose in the Juvenile Fillies), and Mark Frostad (Grand Adventure in the Juvenile Turf).