Friday, October 29, 2010

Breeders Cup Preview Part II: Six Horses to Watch

The equine storylines for this Breeders Cup are pretty straightforward: Zenyatta going for 20-for-20, Goldikova's quest for a 3rd straight victory in the Mile, Lookin at Lucky, Blame and Quality Road all hoping to cap off good seasons and possible Horse of the Year honors in the Classic. But there are 13 other races on the cards besides the Breeders Cup Classic, and there are over 175 horses scheduled to run . Who are some of the other stars that people should know going into the Breeders Cup?

1. Uncle Mo (Juvenile). One of the strongest favorites on Saturday's card, he's a flashy two year old that dominated in his first start, winning by almost 15 lengths, and then stylishly taking the Champagne as his prep for the Breeders Cup. Despite making all of two starts, the bandwagon is already crowded, and if he wins next Saturday, it's going to be overflowing with everyone thinking they've already found the next Kentucky Derby winner. We have a little bit of extra interest in this guy because his owner (Mike Repole) is a Maspeth, Queens native and an enthusiastic guy willing to spend money. We're a little less convinced that this guy is the next Street Sense (let alone Secretariat), and think his stablemate Stay Thirsty has a shot in the Juvenile as well, but he'll be well-supported and has a big shot.

2. Workforce (Turf). The European import owned by the Prince of Saudi Arabia, he's made five starts and won three of them. That seems unimpressive on its face, except that two of his wins were the Epsom Derby--the "real Derby" according to the Brits--and Europe's biggest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He's now trying to become the first Arc winner to also win a Breeders Cup race: eight others have tried and failed, with the closest to wining, oddly, being Sakhee's nose lose to Tiznow in the 2001 Classic. But he's got one of the best chances to pull it off, as the American contingent is unexceptional, he's lightly raced and in good form, and his trainer won the last two Turfs with Conduit. His main competition is going to be Arc-also ran Bekahbad, who's owned by His Royal Highness the Aga Khan. So not only is this a rematch of the Arc, it's a contest between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the middle of Louisville, Kentucky.

3. Blind Luck (Ladies Classic, nee Distaff). With all the hoopla around Zenyatta and Goldikova, plus the retired Rachel Alexandra, it's hard to remember that there are other accomplished fillies out there. The best of them is Blind Luck, a 3 year old filly who's never been out of the money in 14 starts. She won a pair of Grade 1's last year but was the beaten favorite in the BC Juvenile Fillies and lost the Eclipse Award to She Be Wild, who has done nothing this year. She's made up for it in spades this year by winning 3 Grade 1's, including the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, the signature races for the 3yo fillies. She's raced at 7 tracks in 6 states this year and her worst loss was a 1 1/2 length bid to a loose-on-the-lead Switch. She's now facing her toughest challenge yet in the Ladies Classic--even without Zenyatta, the race has drawn a competitive field with older mares Life at Ten, Malibu Prayer and Unrivaled Belle and some hard-knockers from the 3yo class, including Havre de Grace (who beat Blind Luck last out in Philadelphia) and Acting Happy. Look for her flying down Churchill's long stretch late in Friday's closing race.

4. Midday (F&M Turf). With all due respect to Zenyatta, Uncle Mo and Goldikova, this horse is the strongest favorite Breeders Cup weekend. She won last year's F&M Turf pretty handily, and enters this race off three straight Grade 1 wins in Europe against much stiffer competition than she'll face next Friday. She has tactical speed, should love the distance (multiple Grade 1 wins at 10 and 12 furlongs, so 11 shouldn't be a problem), and has had a fairly light campaign this year (4 races) meaning she shouldn't be over the top. Unless the alleged Japanese star Red Desire actually turns out to be good, she's the best bet of the weekend.

5. Proviso (Mile). We could write a small treatise on the cast of characters in this year's Mile, which in addition to Goldikova, includes a horse that won two Eclipse Awards last year (Gio Ponti), the third choice in this year's Kentucky Derby (Sidney's Candy), the fourth choice in the 2008 Kentucky Derby (Court Vision), a horse that took 7 starts to break his maiden and since then hasn't been out of the exacta on the turf (The Usual Q.T.) and an eclectic mix of hard-knocking Euros (the good Paco Boy, the okay Delegator, the bad Beethoven).

But it's Proviso that we think is the most interesting contender, because she (after Zenyatta) has the second most Grade 1 wins in America this year with 4. She began her career in Europe where she was perfectly ordinary, capturing a Grade 3 stakes and placing in a pair of Grade 1's. Since coming to the States last fall, however, she's on fire, with 5 Grade 1 wins in 7 starts, her two losses being a fast-closing second on synthetic at 7 furlongs (not her best surface or distance) and a lackadaisical 4th in last year's BC Distaff, also over a synthetic surface. Since going back to the turf this year, she's won 4 straight Grade 1's, including a win over the boys in the Frank Kilroe earlier this year. Not stout enough to go 11 furlongs, she's here to take on the boys instead of staying with her own gender the Filly & Mare Turf. And if she wins, she'll have beaten the boys twice and knocked off the dominant Goldikova and won five Grade 1 races. If Zenyatta loses the Classic, is that enough to consider Proviso for Horse of the Year?

6. Crown of Thorns (Dirt Mile). Can you be the favorite in a Breeders Cup race when you haven't won a race in 32 months and are only 2-for-8 lifetime? Apparently the answer is yes. This spectacularly named son of Repent was on the Derby trail two years ago when got hurt, putting him on the sidelines for a year and a half. He came back last fall to run 3rd in an allowance race, and since then, has 4 straight runner up finishes in Grade 1 races, including last year's Breeders Cup Sprint and the Goodwood earlier this month. Trainer Richard Mandella, one of the best ever, wanted to put him in the Classic but said he's a race short, so the one-turn Dirt Mile it is. The competition is interesting but not exactly stiff: outside of Vineyard Haven and Tizway, it's full of has-beens (including Derby winner Mine That Bird!) and third-tier horses (Cool Coal Man). A fun guy to watch not only on Saturday but also next year if he stays healthy and in training.

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