Having stunned the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) a year ago at odds of 20-1, reigning divisional champion Musical Romance seeks to defend her title in the 2012 edition of the race. Yet a repeat winning performance would be nearly as surprising for the 5- year-old Concorde's Tune mare.
The waters seem considerably deeper for the seven-furlong test this time around at Santa Anita Park.
Turbulent Descent, the 7-5 favorite a year ago while finishing fifth at Churchill Downs, is the 5-1 fourth betting choice in the morning line, behind budding superstar Groupie Doll (even money), Musical Romance (4-1), and Dust and Diamonds (9-2).
Head-to-head, Groupie Doll has already bested Musical Romance twice this year, in the Madison Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland and Humana Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Musical Romance did defeat Groupie Doll in the Inside Information (gr. II) in March, but that was before blinkers were added to Groupie Doll's equipment and she became a monster.
"We need to figure out a way to beat Groupie Doll," said Adam Lazarus, who heads Pinnacle Racing Stable, which co-owns Musical Romance along with her trainer, Bill Kaplan. "Actually, you can't say just one horse. The field is loaded and very tough."
The thing Lazarus can bank on is the toughness of his mare. The Filly & Mare Sprint will be the 41st and final start for Musical Romance, who raced 14 times in 2011 and will be making her eighth trip to the starting gate this year in the Breeders' Cup.
"By design she wasn't as busy this year," Lazarus noted. "Sprinters only have so many swings in them. Bill plotted out a schedule that was geared to getting to the Breeders' Cup, although we ended up having some bumps in the road, so it hasn't gone as smoothly as last year."
In her first race this season, the Jan. 28 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint, Musical Romance grabbed a quarter and finished fourth. The injury lingered and became infected, so the victory in the Inside Information was a needed confidence-builder for the connections.
The pair of defeats to Groupie Doll preceded a grade I victory in the Princess Rooney Handicap in July. A trip to New York yielded a third in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) behind Dust and Diamonds, but Kaplan sent Musical Romance out two weeks later, in early October, for a win in the Mike Sherman Memorial back at Calder Casino and Race Course.
Musical Romance, bred by Ocala Stud and purchased out by Kaplan for $22,000, has won three of seven races this year, but Lazarus believes she is better than she was going into last season's Breeders' Cup.
"She has improved this year," he stated. "The Thoro-Graph numbers show that she is faster. Whether that proves out in the Breeders' Cup, who knows? But she is a better horse today that at the same time last year."
Lazarus, 45, is a former TV sports anchorman in his native New Jersey who is now based in Florida. He found Kaplan through his father, a golfing buddy of the trainer's, and formed Pinnacle a decade ago trying to get others interested in investing in racehorses. Lazarus, a copy-machine salesman, spent days in the Calder parking lot placing leaflets on windshields. He ended up with a mixture of acquaintances and friends buying small slices in his offerings. Those smart enough to buy into Musical Romance have watched her run out nearly $1.7 million heading into the 2012 Breeders' Cup.
"It's never easy to get partners," Lazarus said nearly a year after Musical Romance's championship season. "But she is advertising that you can't buy. We've gone from 22 partners in Pinnacle up to 60 partners and eight horses."
The increased interest allowed Pinnacle to purchase four 2-year-olds this year, and three of those have already broken their maidens in allowance company. Another horse co-owned by Pinnacle, Another Romance, bagged the Azalea Stakes (gr. III) at Calder in July.
"This year has been more than I could have bargained for," said Lazarus. "We've given the partners plenty of action and quite a bit of success. It's something we can build on."
Lazarus, though, is heading back to Kentucky after the Breeders' Cup to watch as Musical Romance goes through the sales ring at Fasig-Tipton in November.
"She can't stay with us forever and we have to be fair to her," said Lazarus. "There won't be many horses in the Breeders' Cup with 40-plus starts. She's done something pretty remarkable in a physically demanding division.
"This horse doesn't owe us anything; we owe her. We decided early in the year we'd sell her after the season. This entire year flew by so quickly. You definitely feel some loss. It will be bittersweet watching her go through the ring."
First, though, the chance to make history as a repeat Breeders' Cup winner.