Contention Runs Deep As Breeders' Cup Classic Looms
With the 28th Breeders' Cup less than three weeks away, the field for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic is beginning to take shape as connections iron out their final plans before embarking on Louisville November 4 and 5. The 1 1/4-mile Classic figures to lure a melting pot of runners to Churchill Downs and the Horse of the Year title that could go with a win.
The Classic figures to bring together several divisional leaders, including TIZWAY, FLAT OUT and GAME ON DUDE among the older horses, the standout out 4-year-old filly HAVRE DE GRACE, as well as 3-year-old stars UNCLE MO and STAY THIRSY. Add in the possible participation of European stalwart SO YOU THINK (NZ) and budding 3-year-old TO HONOR AND SERVE and there should be plenty of star power on display at Churchill.
William Clifton Jr.'s Tizway should take plenty of support based on grade I wins in a pair of "Win and Your In" races, Belmont Park's Metropolitan Handicap in May and Saratoga's Whitney Handicap in August. The 6-year-old son of two-time Classic winner Tiznow earned an automatic berth into the Dirt Mile at Belmont and Classic at Saratoga but the 7-for-20 lifetime runner has been pointed to the Classic all along by trainer James Bond.
The plan nearly went awry when Tizway was forced to miss his final prep in Belmont's grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup October 1 due to a fever, but after he worked a stiff mile in 1:35 2/5 over the main track there October 12 Bond was beaming.
"It was a tremendous work with a great gallop out," Bond said. "He did it so easily and the best part is that he was not even breathing hard afterward. I am ecstatic."
Bond indicated that Tizway will likely work at Saratoga October 20 and then ship to Churchill October 31, six days before the Classic, where he will make his first start in almost three months.
Preston Stable's Flat Out was the first of the Classic horse to arrive at Churchill when he settled in October 12. The 5-year-old son of Flatter is coming off a grade I win in Belmont's "Win and You're In" Gold Cup for trainer Scooter Dickey and also won the grade II Suburban there in July. Flat Out, who is 5-for-12 lifetime, threw his hat into the Horse of the Year ring with his Gold Cup win over Stay Thirsty and immediately showed his fondness for the Churchill strip with a best-of-46, five-furlong work in 59.80 October 15.
Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernie Schiappa's Game On Dude leads the West Coast brigade based on his "Win and You're In" grade I Goodwood score at Santa Anita October 1. The 4-year-old son of 1998 Classic winner Awesome Again, 5-for-13 lifetime for trainer Bob Baffert, also won the grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March. Game On Dude worked four furlongs in 47.00 at Santa Anita October 12 and will ship to Churchill later this month. Chantal Sutherland will have the mount in the Classic and will look to join Julie Krone as the only female rider to win a Breeders' Cup race.
Fox Hill Farm's Havre de Grace earned an automatic bid into the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic when she won Belmont's grade I Beldame Stakes October 1 and while she could be cross-entered in that race, the plan is to run in the Classic against males. Trained by Larry Jones, the 4-year-old daughter of 2005 Classic winner Saint Liam has done little wrong in a 5-for-6 campaign, which includes a win over males in Saratoga's grade I Woodward Stakes in September and will take an 8-for-14 career mark into the Classic. Havre de Grace is with Jones' Keeneland string and is scheduled to work October 24, though her trainer indicated she's raring to go already.
"She's training so good," Jones said. "I sent (Fox Hill owner) Rick (Porter) a text this morning to let him know: 'HDG fuel tank back on full. Ready to go any time.'"
Three-Year-Olds Merit Respect
While the handicap horses have traded punches with each other throughout the year, the 3-year-olds are beginning to emerge and present a serious threat in the Classic.
Repole Stable will have an envious one-two punch with reigning 2-year-old champion and Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo and Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, both trained by Todd Pletcher.
Uncle Mo was the future book Kentucky Derby favorite after a 3-for-3 juvenile campaign but was beaten at 1-10 in Aqueduct's grade I Wood Memorial in April and then scratched days before the Derby with what was eventually diagnosed as a liver infection. The son of Indian Charlie resurfaced at Saratoga in the grade I King's Bishop and ran a strong second and then blitzed the field in Belmont's grade II Kelso October 1, running a mile in a sterling 1:33.82. Uncle Mo, who is 5-for-7 lifetime, earned an automatic berth into the Dirt Mile that day but will head to the Classic, where he'll attempt 1 1/4 miles for the first time. Pletcher knows the distance is an unknown until his colt proves he can get it.
"It will be a question mark until he does it," Pletcher said. "If he is able to get into that same rhythmic style he had Saturday (in the Kelso), I don't see the mile and a quarter being an issue. But, he still has to do it."
Stay Thirsty emerged from his more heralded stablemate's shadow during the summer and has his own resume to suggest he can win the Classic. The son of Bernardini won Aqueduct's grade III Gotham in March but began his push for a 3-year-old championship over the summer, when he was second in the Belmont and then won the grade II Jim Dandy Stakes and grade I Travers at Saratoga. Stay Thirsty tested older runners for the first time in the Gold Cup and ran third behind Flat Out over a sloppy track that he struggled to gain footing on and the 4-for-11 lifetime runner will look to build off that run in the Classic.
Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty both worked over the Belmont training track October 16, with the former going five furlongs in 58.64 -- the fastest of 32 works at the distance -- and the latter going four furlongs in 48.62. Uncle Mo's drill was faster than Pletcher initially wanted, but it left the trainer feeling good about his colt's condition.
"We didn't set out to go quite that fast, it's just an indication of how well he's doing at the moment,'' Pletcher said. "It's not like he was being asked to do it. We're trying to get a horse fit to go a mile and a quarter with a seven-eighths and a mile race under his belt. We got to make sure we do enough. I think we made a big step in that direction today.''
Pletcher confirmed that both Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty will work again at Belmont next week and likely ship to Churchill October 24.
Live Oak Plantation's To Honor And Serve has made a late summer push to stake his claim as a leading 3-year-old. The son of Bernardini won an optional claiming race at Saratoga in August and then rolled to a win in the grade II Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing September 24 to throw his hat in the Classic ring. To Honor And Serve won Aqueduct's grade II Nashua and Remsen as a 2-year-old and is 5-for-9 lifetime. Trainer Bill Mott sent To Honor And Serve out for a four-furlong breeze at Churchill in: 50, a clocking he thought was actually a bit faster.
"Kenny (assistant Kenny McCarthy) had him from the three-eighth (pole) to the seven-eighths in 48 3/5," Mott said. "He galloped our strong over there and my guess is he went a little better than: 50. It was his first work here and we weren't asking for too much."
So You Think Could Be Classic Bound
Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Dato Tan and Tanku Yahaya's So You Think could also point to the Classic for trainer Aidan O'Brien. The 5-year-old son of two-time Breeders' Cup Turf winner High Chaparral (IRE) has been an international superstar, winning eight group I's and could be in line for a try on the main track in the Classic. So You Think was nominated to the Breeders' Cup through the Open Enrollment program earlier this year and has been busy recently, running fourth in the group I Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp October 2 and second in the group Quipco Champion at Ascot Saturday. The 12-for-20 runner would bring some international flair to the Classic and loom an intriguing wildcard should he make the trip from Ireland.
West Point Thoroughbred's AWESOME GEM, third in the 2007 Classic at Monmouth Park and grade III Longacres Mile winner this year for trainer Craig Dollase; Ken and Sarah Ramsey's HEADACHE, who won the grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup October 8 for trainer Mike Maker; George and Lori Hall's RULER ON ICE, who won the Belmont over Stay Thirsty in June for trainer Kelly Breen and Will Farish, Marty Wygod and the Craig Family Trust's TWIRLING CANDY, who won the grade II Strub at Santa Anita and grade II Californian at Hollywood Park for trainer John Sadler, could also run in the Classic.
News and Notes
Breeders' Cup Pre-Entries to be Announced Oct. 26
Pre-entered fields for all 15 Breeders' Cup World Championships races will be announced on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The Breeders' Cup Post Position Draw presented by Stoll Keenon Odgen will be held on Monday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. ET. The Post Position Draw will be streamed live on www.breederscup.com.
Breeders' Cup Contenders in Several Divisions Begin Final Preparations
Several key contenders put in recent breezes as they prepare for the Breeders' Cup, including a trio from trainer Chad Brown's powerful barn. Martin Schwartz's STACELITA (FR), who earned a pair of automatic berths into the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf with grade I wins in Arlington's Beverly D. and Belmont's Flower Bowl, was the biggest name on the tab, getting four furlongs in 48.55 over the Belmont turf on October 16.
Brown also sent out Steve Laymon, Bradley Thoroughbreds, Kris Kruid, and John Eaton's DAYATTHESPA and Dell Ridge Farm's FANTASTIC SONG, who are pointing for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, respectively. The pair worked together over Belmont's turf course, getting five furlongs in 1:04.01. Dayatthespa was recently second in the grade III, "Win and You're In" Natalma at Woodbine while Fantastic Son was third in Belmont's grade III Pilgrim.
"Dayatthespa, we're definitely pointing towards the Breeders' Cup," Brown said. "Fantastic Song most likely will go. I would say he would be on the bubble to get into the race. I think he'll get in with his third-place finish in the Pilgrim, but I'm not positive about it."
Kiaran McLaughlin was also finalizing plans from his Belmont base with his four Breeders' Cup probables. Mill House's grade II winner TRAPPE SHOT, who will point to the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint, Godolphin's multiple grade I winner IT'S TRICKY, aiming for the Ladies' Classic, and ALPHA, who will go in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Cheyenne Stable's MISS NETTA, who will head to the Grey Goose Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf, are all gearing up for their final breezes before heading to Churchill.
"Next weekend we will work It's Tricky and Trappe Shot," McLaughlin said. "Miss Netta and Alpha are only going to have one work, so that's in two weeks. We think we're going to stay here as long as we can and ship Sunday or Monday of Breeders' Cup week. We have to see exactly what time the fillies have to be on the grounds, but we will do all of our works here." (Note: All starters in the Friday Breeders' Cup races are required to be on the grounds at Churchill Downs by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1).
Bill Mott sent out his five-pack of Breeders' Cup probables for works at Churchill October 16. In addition to To Honor And Serve, Mott also worked Palides Investments' ROYAL DELTA, who won Saratoga's grade I Alabama in August, Pam and Marty Wygod and Will Farish's COURAGEOUS CAT, who won an automatic berth into the TVG Breeders' Mile with his "Win and You're In" tally in Hollywood's grade I Shoemaker Mile in July, WinStar Farm's DROSSELMEYER, who was second to Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Preston Stable's BIRDRUN, who won Belmont's grade II Brooklyn in June.
Royal Delta, who will point to the Ladies' Classic, worked four furlongs in 48.80, while Courageous Cat, who will look to better his second-place finish to Goldikova (IRE) in the 2009 Mile, worked the same distance in 48.40. Drosselmeyer and Birdrun worked four furlongs in company, with the former, who will point to the Classic, getting a bullet move in 47.60 and the latter, who will aim for the Marathon, worked in 48.40.
Ann and Jerry Moss' ZAZU, also aiming towards the Ladies' Classic, worked October 16 at Santa Anita, getting four furlongs in 46.40 for trainer John Sadler. The 3-year-old daughter of Tapit won Santa Anita's grade I "Win and You're In" Lady's Secret October 1 to earn an automatic spot in the Ladies' Classic and will be one of the favorites based on her 4-for-11 lifetime mark.
Calder 2-year-olds Could be Churchill Bound
Fred Brei's Jacks or Better Farms had a huge weekend at Calder and the net result could be a trio of Breeders' Cup starters. Brei and trainer Stanley Gold sent out homebreds FORT LOUDON and AWESOME BELLE to prestigious stakes win and picked up third money with another homebred REDBUD ROAD. All three runners are by Brei's stallion Awesome Of Course.
Fort Loudon won the $300,000 In Reality to complete a sweep of Calder's Florida-bred series for juveniles, while Awesome Belle won the filly counterpart, the My Dear Girl with Redbud Road finishing third. Last year Brei's Awesome Feather won the My Dear Girl before completely a perfect 6-for-6 championship season with a win in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Brei indicated that all three runners could be headed to Churchill, with his two winners eyeing the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, while Redbud Road could run in the newly created Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint.
"We'll see how they come back, but if they (Awesome Belle and Fort Loudon) come back okay, we'll probably go, and Redbud Road has shown she can really scoot," Brei said. "They have that new sprint race for 2-year-olds, so she could possibly go, too."
Sarafina Heading to Churchill
The Aga Khan's homebred SARAFINA (FR), who was recently seventh as the favorite in Longchamp's group I Arc de Triomphe, was confirmed as a Breeders' Cup starter by her trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre. The 4-year-old daughter of Refuse To Bend (IRE) is 6-for-10 lifetime, including group I wins in the Prix de Alary at Longchamp and Prix de Diane at Chantilly in 2010 and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud over males in June. Sarafina will likely tackle males again in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf.
"Sarafina has come out of the Arc in good shape and a trip to Churchill Downs has been marked down for her," Royer-Dupre said. "She is likely to run in the 2,400 meter (1 1/2-mile Turf) race."
Luke Of York Eyes Juvenile Sprint
George Michaels' LUKE OF YORK remained perfect in two starts with a win in Keeneland's 75th Anniversary Stakes October 15 and has trainer Jimmy DiVito thinking Breeders' Cup. The 2-year-old son of Put It Back broke his maiden at Arlington September 24 before winning at Keeneland. The win has DiVito thinking of the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint for a horse he's liked all along.
"I knew he could run. I knew he was a nice horse," DiVito said. "To think beyond that race he ran yesterday, it was a wait-and-see type of thing. We're probably going on over to Churchill."