Attrition leaves ‘Saint,’ ‘Rock’ as classic favorites

Sep 20, 2005 2:29 AM

It’s less than six weeks to the Breeders’ Cup on Oct. 29 and candidates for the Classic are dropping like pins at a convention for cross-eyed jugglers.

Having already exited stage left are heavyweights Ghostzapper, Roses in May and Bellamy Road. Afleet Alex, recovered from an injury but desperate to make the race, has as much chance of running as Bush has of seeking a third term. That leaves Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten as the major players in the $4 million race at 11/4 miles at Belmont Park on racing’s championship day, and Rock Hard Ten is walking a training tightrope to make it.

Rock Hard Ten has not run since winning the Santa Anita Handicap last March 5. Richard Mandella plans to use the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 1 as the 4-year-old’s lone prep race before the Classic, which Mandella won in 2003 with Pleasantly Perfect. That capped a historic day for the 55-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, who won four Breeders’ Cup races on the 2003 program at Santa Anita.

All that aside, renowned clocker and gambler Gary Young hopes for a Classic that’s legitimately contested this year.

"First thing you’ve got to hope for is that there’s no collusion so we get an honest pace and an honest race, not like last year when there were people who pre-conceived the pace and manipulated it," Young said. "(Bobby) Frankel and (owner Ken) Ramsey got together and cemented the race for them and eliminated Pleasantly Perfect (a distant third behind winner and eventual Horse of the Year Ghostzapper). Then they admitted to (doing) it after the race and that’s kind of amazing. When I read it in the Blood-Horse I nearly fell off my sofa.

"The only horse I see having a chance to beat Saint Liam is Rock Hard Ten and he’s trying to do something that’s very difficult, winning the race off a single prep since March. His mile (workout in 1:37.20 on Sept. 9) was OK (Rock Hard Ten followed that with a mile and an eighth drill in 1:52 last Friday). You’ve got a very good horse with a very good trainer and because of that you can’t eliminate him, but anyone who saw Saint Liam win the Woodward had to be impressed. He didn’t beat much, but what’s out there unless a 3-year-old like Flower Alley steps up?"

Of course, Rock Hard Ten buried Saint Liam in the Santa Anita Handicap, but the inclination among critics is to point to Saint Liam’s effortless win in the Woodward under Jerry Bailey and dismiss Rock Hard Ten’s victory, which was light years ago in racing time.

"Something just happened (to Saint Liam) that day," Young allowed. "I don’t know what but anybody could have beat Saint Liam that day. For whatever reason, when Saint Liam runs he’s always kind of leaning on that right rein but Jerry said after the Woodward that it wasn’t that big of an issue at all.

"If I had to pick a Classic winner right now it would be Saint Liam and the only horse with a chance of beating him would be Rock Hard Ten, and if any trainer can get a horse ready for a race like the Classic off of one prep it’s Mandella. We know what he can do on Breeders’ Cup day."

The homestretch

Jason Orman wishes Rock Hard Ten nothing but the best.

"I’m OK with that," the 37-year-old trainer said when asked how he felt about losing the son of Kris S. to Mandella early last year. "It’s tough because I did all that work early and then he went somewhere else, but that’s horse racing. What are you going to do? I always thought he was going to a better 4-year-old and he’s showing that."

”¡ David Flores, a six-time riding champion at Fairplex, says he’s riding at the Pomona track this year after several seasons off because he wants to stay fit for the Keeneland meet that begins Oct. 7. "I want to keep my weight down and the best way to do it is to stay busy," Flores said. "I’ll ride at Oak Tree until the second weekend, to go to Keeneland for the rest of the meet."

”¡ Danny Sorenson hopes to resume riding at the Hollywood Park meet that starts Nov. 9. The 47-year-old jockey suffered fractures to his left collarbone in a spill at Del Mar on Aug. 15. "That day was my anniversary," Sorenson said. "I was supposed to meet my wife for a nice dinner that night and celebrate. Instead she had to pick me up at the hospital."

”¡ The disqualification of Don Juan Con from first to second in the Beau Brummel Stakes last Wednesday at Fairplex Park was an exercise in poor judgement. The 2-year-old, favored at 6-5, led throughout, pulling away on the far turn when The Thought Occurs challenged on the rail. Martin Pedroza was race-riding on Don Juan Con when he intimidated Pat Valenzuela on The Thought Occurs by closing up an apparent opening. Did I bet on Don Juan Con? Yes. Would I feel the same if I hadn’t? Yes. If that horse can be taken down, so can the winner of any race any time, because there are similar or worse incidents every racing day.

”¡ Which sports book will be first to put a number on who would win in a battle of dueling jaws, Reese Witherspoon or Jay Leno?