To paraphrase Horace Greeley, it is quite evident that all the good young men have gone west, and are now ready to head back east in an attempt to conquer the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park. The West Coast natives have absolutely dominated this division in the key months and weeks heading up to championship day Oct. 27. And if there was any doubt about that, there is none remaining after Officer's smashing win in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile distance, Oct. 6.
Officer will be the heaviest favorite on the entire Breeders' Cup card following his fifth consecutive victory. He has not only never tasted defeat, the son of Bertrando has not yet been challenged in any of his races. In the Champagne, he cruised along, tracking pacesetter Heavyweight Champ into the far turn. Angled out by rider Victor Espinoza, Officer blew by that one, and without any encouragement from the jockey, came home a 3 3/4-length winner. In doing so he answered two key questions. The 8 1/2-furlong Champagne was Officer's first trip longer than seven furlongs, and his first journey outside Southern California. He passed both tests effortlessly.
Espinoza said the effort was "easier than it looked," which is frightening given the absolute ease with which Officer accomplished the win. His trainer, Bob Baffert, called the colt "a superstar" following the race, saying this is the best 2-year-old he's had. Nobody is going to argue. Baffert is taking Officer back to California to prepare for the big day. It would be a shock if they didn't end up in the winner's circle after the Juvenile.
The up-and-comer in the division is clearly Siphonic, from California, who made a huge impression in just his second career start. About 30 minutes after Officer's latest tour de force, Siphonic strutted his stuff at Keeneland in the grade II Lane's End Breeders' Futurity. Hustled away early, the David Hofmans-trained Siphonic decisively repelled the charge of stakes winner Harlan's Holiday on the second turn and drew off by six lengths, covering the 8 1/2 furlongs in 1:43.79. Harlan's Holiday held second, with Metatron third and favorite Kamsack back in seventh.
The effort was so strong that Hofmans and owner John Amerman plan to ignore the colt's lack of seasoning and send him to New York for the big dance. The son of Siphon figures to be the one Officer will have to run down to gain the glory.
The first big tip that the West Coast was the birthplace of this year's Juvenile honchos occurred when Came Home went East and took down the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery sent their son of Gone West east to avoid hooking horns with Officer, and Came Home easily topped the best of what the east could offer. Set to run in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II) as his final prep for the Cup, however, Came Home came down with filling in an ankle, and will have to be trained up to the Breeders' Cup. He has had one six furlong drill in California, and his task is made all the more tougher by the layoff before the Juvenile. He is talented, but the Paco Gonzalez trainee has much to overcome.
Which brings us to Jump Start, the only Easterner to show much of anything recently. A son of A.P. Indy, Jump Start was closest to Officer at the end of the Champagne, grabbing second from Heavyweight Champ in the final strides. Besides his breeding, one can draw optimism for the D. Wayne Lukas pupil from the fact that he was still racing greenly down the Champagne stretch, tossing his head sideways on several occasions. Clearly there is room for improvement here, but whether that will carry him close to where Officer is, well, that's a longshot, like everyone else in this field.
It's open season for who the other contenders might be. Undefeated Changeintheweather did nothing to hurt his chances, remaining undefeated by scoring in the Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes (Can-I) at Woodbine by four lengths. This is the same race used by Macho Uno to prep for his win in last year's Juvenile. However, Macho Uno covered the 8 1/2 furlongs almost three seconds quicker than did Changeintheweather. On the brighter side, the colt is by Gone West out of a Pleasant Colony mare, so distance is not a problem if Pin Oak Stable and trainer David Bell decide to send him to the Breeders' Cup.
Essence of Dubai, winner of the grade II Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita last month, is being pointed to the Juvenile by Godolphin and trainer Eoin Harty. The son of Pulpit ran third behind Officer in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar in August, beaten 10 1/2 lengths.