ELMONT, N.Y. - Since 1984, only three horses have used a one-mile race as a springboard to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic. On TVG Super Saturday at Belmont Park, trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. is counting on the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap to propel Grade 1 Woodward winner Itsmyluckyday into any one of three races, among them the 1 Â¼-mile Classic at Santa Anita Park on November 1.
The one-mile Kelso - named after the great gelding who won five straight editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup from 1960-64 - will be run as race 4, the first of six graded stakes on the 11-race card, the centerpiece of which is the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"We're looking at the Kelso not so much for what the race will tell us about him but as a prep for what's next," said Plesa, who said the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile or the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack were also under future consideration for Itsmyluckyday, a winner of four of six starts this year. "This weekend will be the final [Breeders' Cup] preps for all these horses. We're going to look and see what happens - so far, you have Palace Malice retiring, California Chrome not running his best race [in the Pennsylvania Derby] - so we'll wait to see what shakes out."
Two of the first three Classic winners prepped in one-mile grass races - Wild Again in 1984 and Skywalker in 1986 - but more than two decades would go by before Raven's Pass came out of the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot, also at a mile on the grass, to win the 2008 Classic.
Plesa, however, says he knows what his horse is capable of and that either of the Breeders' Cup races remain an option, even though it would cost $120,000 (Mile) or $200,00 (Classic) to supplement Itsmyluckyday to the race.
"We know he can go a mile, and last year he finished second at 1 3/16 miles, and he's a lot bigger and stronger than he was in the Preakness," said Plesa of the 4-year-old Lawyer Ron colt, owned by Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa. "We have options, and after the race we'll make some decisions. The Classic is definitely on the radar."
Under high weight of 121 pounds, including jockey Paco Lopez, Itsmyluckyday will leave from the outside post position 7 as the 4-5 favorite on the morning line.
Lining up directly to his inside will be 5-year-old Scarly Charly, who will be getting 11 pounds from Itsmyluckyday. Since being transferred to trainer Mike Hushion, the Friends Lake gelding has won one of three starts, taking a one-mile, first-level allowance on July 10 at Belmont. In his only Grade 1 start, he was seventh, eight lengths behind Palace Malice in the Grade 1 Met Mile.
Manuel Franco will ride Scarly Charly, the 30-1 outsider in the field of seven.
Expected to receive support off three straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure performances is Bradester, most recently a front-running winner of the Grade 3 Ack Ack on September 6 at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Lion Heart colt also finished second to Valid in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup on July 27 and second to Itsmyluckyday in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on July 6, also at Monmouth.
Corey Lanerie, who rode Bradester for the first time in the Ack Ack (104 Beyer), returns aboard the Eddie Kenneally trainee. The pair, 3-1 on the morning line, will leave from post position 5.
Making his graded stakes debut for new trainer John Terranova is River Rocks, a winner of three straight since being transferred from Wayne Catalano's barn in the spring. The Western Pride colt earned a field-best 110 Beyer in his last outing, zipping 6 Â½ furlongs in 1:16 at Saratoga, but will be stretching out to a mile for the first time. River Rocks, 5-1 on the morning line, drew post position 4 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons.
Rounding out the field are three graded stakes winners: Capo Bastone, winner of the 2013 Grade 1 King's Bishop; Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha to win the 2012 Grade 1 Travers and who in his most recent start won the restricted Left Bank on September 5, and Vyjack, who took the Grade 3 Gotham in 2013.
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