With the last round of real preps over, we're now 3 weeks away from the Extreme Racing Extravaganza known as the Breeders Cup. What's the you say? The Breeders Cup is a 2-day carnival of racing with eleven, count 'em, eleven races on varying surfaces, differing distances, and for different sexes and ages to determine championships. (It used to be 8 races, but they added three this year for kicks.) It goes without saying that we'll be doing a full preview down the road before the October 26-27 races at Monmouth Park, but where do we stand after this past weekend? Here's a quick look at the 11 races.
Classic: The pinnacle of the day, a 1 1/4 mile race on the dirt (same as the Kentucky Derby) for 3 year olds and up with a $5 million purse. Unlike in previous years, it looks like we're going to have the full compliment of important horses from this year. Derby and Preakness winners Street Sense and Curlin are pointing for this race, as is Derby runner-up Hard Spun and second-season star Any Given Saturday. (For what it's worth, these were three of the horses I loved in the Derby.) From the older set is Lawyer Ron, who is still unproven at 10 furlongs. In the fun longshot category, maybe we'll see European shipper Asiatic Boy come over and try to reverse his hideous grass form with a return to the dirt, on which he romped in Dubai back in March.
Turf: Europe's most prestigious race, the Prix d' Arc d' Triomphe, was held yesterday, won by Dylan Thomas, who may be coming stateside for the turf marathon. If he comes, he'll be 3-5 to establish himself as the best turf horse in the world. If he doesn't, then we're looking at a fun and open affair with zero appealing horses from the US and whatever else decides to make the journey across the Atlantic.
Distaff: The central race for the ladies, this race has become wide-open with the season ending injury to Rags to Riches and the defection of Nashoba's Key to the Filly & Mare Turf. The Pletcher pair of Panty Raid and Octave will get a ton of support, as with Lear's Princess, who vanquished Rags to Riches in her last, but keep your eyes open for Balance, who should relish returning to a 2-turn dirt race, Lady Joanne, winner of the prestigious Alabama, and Miss Shop, Alan Jerkens' best hope for his first BC win.
Filly & Mare Turf: The other big race on Saturday for the older fillies, this one will be centered around undefeated California sensation Nashoba's Key trying to 8-for-8 for her career, and mount an outsider's chance at the Horse of the Year crown. There's painfully little stateside that's looked close to her in terms of ability, as Wait a While has failed to follow up on her Eclipse winning three year old season and strong fillies Vacare, My Typhoon and Citronnade seem to lack the stoutness required for this 11 furlong affair. Sleeper: look to see if Flower Bowl upset winner Lahudood can make it two in a row for Kiaran McLaughlin.
Sprint: Fabulous Strike has all the fun stuff going for him--speed, record, and a trainer/connections that ESPN will love. So why am I dubious of him? Maybe it's because Greg's Gold in California should've won his race yesterday, or Mach Ride is a pair of good gate breaks from a fantastic year. A messy affair without a standout. And that's partially because...
Dirt Mile: ...the Breeders Cup has added a one-mile dirt race, which is going to siphon off horses like High Finance, Midnight Lute and Discreet Cat, who would otherwise try to get 6 furlongs, and instead are in this slightly longer distance. They'll get 80% of the action, but you're crazy if you overlook the rapidly improving Daaher. Speaking of things that are killing the BC Sprint, we have....
Filly Sprint: ...the second new Breeders Cup race, which is a sprint only for the gals. If Dream Rush and La Traviata run here, it'll be the most interesting duel of the day, but if the latter goes to fight the boys (for twice the dough), it'll take a rocket up Wild Gams' ass to get her to the front.
Mile: Always the most indecipherable race of the day, this edition will have the once-defeated Shakespeare at a short price against a ton of interesting Euros and Americans. Keep your eye on Shakis, who may improve off his tough start at Keeneland, a la Miesque's Approval last year.
Juvenile: We've failed to have a single 2yo colt look remotely impressive this year on the dirt. This race looks boring.
Juvenile Fillies: The only 2yo gal that's looked good so far has been Indian Blessing, and she's overrated. This race looks even more boring. Which leaves us with...
Juvenile Turf: A fascinating third new race for this year, which pits the youngins' on the grass, an area that gets absolutely no attention in the United States. Hell, if they had this race 2 years ago, Barbaro would have been the favorite. The lack of anything resembling prep races or a cohesive schedule in this field is going to lead to an eclectic field of Euros (Rio de Plata?), dirt converts (The Leopard) and blowout maiden winners (Prussian). Nobody knows what the hell to do with this race. Which probably makes it the best betting competition of the weekend.
We'll have a fuller set of previews in 2 weeks, but suffice to say, analyzing 125 horses this year ain't gonna be easy. Get your pencils and bankrolls ready.