Borrego storming into Cup elite

Oct 17, 2005 11:22 PM

And then there were three.

With the infusion of Borrego, Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten appear to have a genuine challenger joining them in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29.

Of course, there’s always a Volponi to keep a man honest and humble.

But 50-1 shots aside, on the surface it appears foolhardy to scan beyond the past performances of the aforementioned trio to come up with a Classic winner, especially with Afleet Alex officially out of the race and Roman Ruler opting for the Sprint where he hopes to at long last offer a serious challenge to the undefeated, unchallenged and unrespected Lost In The Fog.

"I think Borrego is for real," professional clocker Gary Young said after the 4-year-old’s sweeping 4 1/2-length victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. "I wonder why the time for that race was so screwed up (slow), but anytime a horse wins like that, going a mile and a quarter at the track where they’re running the Breeders’ Cup, you have to take him seriously.

"There are three horses right now—Saint Liam, Borrego and Rock Hard Ten. Suave ran very well in the Gold Cup but he would seem to be a secondary horse. As much respect as I have for Afleet Alex, I would have believed it when I saw it if he had made the race. No offense to anybody involved, but I’ll go with Mr. Mandella."

Young was speaking of Richard Mandella, the Hall of Fame trainer who made history in 2003 by winning four Breeders’ Cup races, including the Classic with Pleasantly Perfect.

That doesn’t mean Young can eliminate probable Classic favorite Saint Liam, who has his quirks and was beaten convincingly by Rock Hard Ten in the Santa Anita Handicap last March.

"For a horse that runs leaning up against the right rein, he runs faster than any horse I’ve ever seen in my life," Young said of Saint Liam. "His race in the Santa Anita Handicap was kind of like going back in time, when horse would come to California and get his ass handed to him. That race was like time warp, but it doesn’t happen anymore. Horses come in from places like Calder and kick butt here now."

While selecting the winner is open to debate, in my book Saint Liam will be favored. Young wasn’t sure.

"That’s another good question," he said. "Who will be favored? Because Saint Liam is a New York horse and because Borrego won back there, one of those two will probably be favored. Rock Hard Ten’s races last year in the Haskell and the Belmont were very average. Because of that, he probably won’t go off favored in the Classic. Plus, they’ll hold it against him because he hasn’t shipped and won."

"But," interjected trainer Dan Hendricks, "it’s a different scenario now. Rock Hard Ten is a different horse. He has a different trainer (Mandella, who is four-for-four since taking over from Jason Orman) and he’s better-behaved. Last year he would have problems going into the starting gate. You don’t see that anymore. He walks right into the gate."

As for Classic strategy, Young sees it this way: "Saint Liam has become a horse that runs his best from three or four lengths off the pace. Rock Hard Ten basically runs the same way, so both horses should be close. Borrego is a deep closer. The question is, who’s going to make the lead in the race? What kind of pace will there be to run at? That’s a lot bigger issue for Borrego than Rock Hard Ten and Saint Liam."

It’s an even bigger issue for a Classic horse that shouldn’t be overlooked, Choctaw Nation, a Silky Sullivan reincarnate. He’s a stone closer that had no pace to run at in the Goodwood, yet was making up ground at the finish. Whether he has the class of the Big Three is the question.

The homestretch

Agent Richie Silverstein is a proponent of the 10-cent superfecta, especially after one bettor collected the entire pool when a horse won and paid $166 and change at Fairplex Park.

"When Hollywood Park offered it I thought it was a genius marketing move," Silverstein said. "If someone wants to box five horses, instead of costing $120 (based on a minimum $2 wager), it’s only $12. When the horse paid $166, there was only one wining ticket and no one had the fourth-place horse. The pool was $36,000, so I assumed the holder of the $10-cent ticket would receive $3,600 and the remaining $32,000 and change be divided among those who picked the correct first, second and third horses, with all in the fourth spot. But the 10-cent ticket holder got the whole pot.

"That’s equivalent to someone who’s short-stacked in poker going all in and getting the entire pot," he continued. "I don’t know why it was distributed that way but I’d say the 10-cent superfecta is the way to go. You’re better off playing 10-cent supers rather than $1 supers to avoid (IRS) sign-ups, and if you’re not a dollar player, you still have a chance to win the whole pool."

”¡ Australian Michael Wrona, the only track announcer I know who calls every horse’s placing at the end of each race, will pinch hit for Trevor Denman at Santa Anita on Oct. 28 and 29 while Denman is at Belmont for NBC’s telecast of the Breeders’ Cup. "I can’t begin to express how excited I am about coming to Santa Anita to fill in for a legend," Wrona said. "In terms of American racing, Santa Anita is, as we say back home, ”˜at the top of the tree.’"

”¡ Matt Leinart might be a Heisman Trophy winner, but he’ll never win any awards for English. Asked after USC’s classic win over Notre Dame what he would have done had he spiked the ball to stop the clock inside the five-yard line with seven seconds left instead of going straight for the winning touchdown, the college senior said, "I still would have went for it." Ouch!

”¡ Recommended viewing: Oak Tree’s leading jockey, Garrett Gomez, and Greg Gilchrist, steadfast blue collar trainer of Lost In The Fog, will be in Las Vegas to answer questions and autograph pictures at the Gold Coast, 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 14.