The epicenter of attention at the Breeders Cup every year is the Classic, and this year, the main story will be Curlin trying to repeat as the winner of the Classic, and holding off improving three year olds Colonel John and Casino Drive, while mourning the loss of Big Brown. There will be approximately 75,000 stories about these horses written and told in the coming days. But Breeders Cup weekend isn't just about the Classic, there are 13 other race over the Friday and Saturday that will crown champions and/or establish leaders in niche fields. And there are other horses running that are worth discussing and knowing. Here are six of them.
1. Zenyatta. As much as Big Brown, Eight Belles and Curlin have dominated the mainstream media attention this year, Zenyatta is to many racing fans the best and most interesting horse to run this year. She's undefeated after 8 starts, including six victories this year in 3 Grade 1's and Grade 2's in California and Arkansas. She's beaten every older filly of note, and done so with relative ease, to the point where fans are calling on her connections to run against the boys in the Classic. This isn't likely to happen, as her connections are smart and cautious (the same people that owned and trained Giacomo and his brother Tiago) and know they've got a star here. She'll be 4-5 to win the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic (nee Distaff). The real unfortunate thing is that the Distaff is being run on Friday while most of us are at work, because she's probably the best horse to run all weekend.
2. Stardom Bound. This 2 year old filly has a monster closing kick, which has propelled her to a pair of Grade 1 wins on the West Coast this year. She headlines a quite interesting Juvenile Fillies this year, which is also being run on Friday, but features stylish Frizette winner Sky Diva, the improving Persistently, and the fantastically named Doremefasolatido. Still, that troika has their work cut out to beat Stardom Bound, who's shown an affinity for synthetic surfaces, has been well-managed by the underrated Christopher Pasach, and should get a real pace to run at. She should join the likes of Indian Blessing, Halfbridled, Sweet Catomine and Storm Flag Flying as strong 2yo fillies who impressed on BC day with big denouments.
3. Henrythenavigator. Hailing from the famed Coolmore/Aidan O'Brien stables from Ireland, he was a dominant turf miler earlier this year until losing his last two to the talented Raven's Pass. He'd be a strong favorite (or second choice behind Raven's Pass) in the Mile, but his connections appear to be opting towards running him in the Breeders Cup Classic instead. While they're basically taking a free stab at increasing the horse's stud value 50%, it's worth noting that (a) this horse hasn't raced beyond a mile ever, and will be going 2 furlongs further in the Classic, (b) he's a turf horse, not a dirt/faux-dirt horse, and (c) Coolmore tried this exact same thing last year with George Washington, who broke down and was destroyed during the race. The reports are that they're running him in honor of GW, but you have to ask whether they're just being stupid.
4. Fabulous Strike. The freakishly fast son of Smart Strike has made exactly two starts since winning last year's Vosburgh: a win in a minor stakes race at a minor track, and a gut-wrenching loss to longshot Black Seventeen in the slop in this year's Vosburgh. To say he's talented is an understatement, as is to say he's fragile. His two starts this year put him in the "very light" category for preparing for the BC Sprint, but the only horse that's going to run that's run faster than him is last year's champion, Midnight Lute, who's had exactly one start this year, where he ran off the board. How you interpret these freaks with short resumes is the key question to this year's edition.
5. Forever Together. By contrast to Fabulous Strike's blazing early speed, this filly turfer has a closing kick that should be competitive with the beset Euro turf fillies. She's a fun story, as she had a fairly undistinguished dirt career before switching to the turf this year, where she promptly won a minor stakes race, ran a fast closing 3rd at 44-1 in the Just a Game, and then won a pair of G1's in her last three starts. Her trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, is a quintessential good guy that has made the Hall of Fame training steeplechase horses, and she's probably the best flats horse he's ever had. Look for her to give the Euros a run for their money.
6. Eagle Mountain. This will be trainer Mike de Kock's first entry in the Breeders Cup, as he'll run in the Turf off of one start this year, a victory in a Grade 3 mile race in Europe. That race was so impressive that de Kock's connections bombarded British bookies with enough money in futures bets that his odds dropped from 16-1 to 7-1. This defines him as The One To Watch.
We'll have previews of the races in the coming week, including a guaranteed upset selection in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Filies Turf. Mark it down.