Cup by numbers

Oct 31, 2006 12:58 AM

Horse racing’s richest event, the 23rd Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, is truly a movable feast. Each fall, a different North American track plays host to the Breeders’ Cup in a unique and special way.

One year finds it at stately Belmont Park, the next at panoramic Santa Anita in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and this year it’s at historic Churchill Downs.

The championship races have redefined the racing calendar — becoming the season-ending goal for the best horses — and giving the sport a championship event much like the World Series or the Super Bowl.

Because each race is loaded with potential champions, handicapping the events has become the sport’s deepest challenge. To identify each division’s potential contenders, GamingToday has utilized a series of math models based on past performances.

So without further ado, here are the horses most likely to separate from the pack in each race.

Breeders’ Cup Classic

The most likely favorite is Bernardini, the Preakness and Travers winner who features an incredible cruising speed. The late bloomer was given time to develop and not thrown through the rigors of the entire Triple Crown slate, meaning he should be fresh this weekend.

The son of A.P. Indy has looked against sophomores, but the test against older horses always is the ultimate exam. Also, his sire has produced only one Breeders’ Cup winner, a juvenile filly in 2001.

Lava Man has the speed to put himself into contention and has demonstrated ability to run the classic distance based on success in races such as the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. The horse has struggled outside of California, and chronic foot problems have plagued him in the past.

A horse to strongly consider is Invasor, a pure and true distance runner who has tactical speed to get himself into contention and out of trouble. He has been effective on pace or stalking from behind, and he should have no trouble carrying the weight.

The other two contenders based on our math model are Discreet Cat and Super Frolic.

$5M CLASSIC

Horse/starts  1-2-3 in $

*Bernardini (7)

6-0-0 85%
Lava Man (7) 7-0-0 100%
Invasor (3)  3-0-0 100%
Discreet Cat (3) 3-0-0 100%
Super Frolic (5) 0-1-2 60%

* -- favorite

Breeders’ Cup Turf

Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has prepared Cacique carefully for the grueling 1½-mile event. He’s shown the ability to handle most surfaces, and his late kick is lethal, even after a route of ground.

Although his female siblings have hit the wall at 10 furlongs, Cacique’s Man o’ War win looked like he’s capable of handling the distance.

As a steady performer on the grass, English Channel fits the bill. He’s consistently among America’s top grass horses (best U.S. finisher in 2005Turf) and trainer Todd Pletcher continues to dominate the domestic stakes scene.

Pletcher also saddles one other contender in this race, Go Deputy. Rounding out the top qualifiers in the Turf Division are Better Talk Now and T.H. Approval.

$3M TURF

Horse/starts

 1-2-3 in $

*Cacique (6)

 2-3-0 83%
English Channel (6) 4-0-0 66%
Go Deputy (9) 3-5-1 100%
Better Talk Now (4) 2-0-0 50%
T.H. Approval (7) 3-3-0 85%

* -- favorite

Breeders’ Cup Distaff

The only United Arab Emirates-bred horse ever to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, Balletto has a sensational pedigree, is part of a stable that is having a career-defining season can run all day and seldom fails to fire her best shot. She returned to racing after a layoff of about a year and a half, so there’s a question as to her fitness.

The horse to catch is Fleet Indian, who has the ability to carry her cruising speed over a distance of ground. The front-runner likes to be on the lead alone and she’s been known to succumb to early pressure from championship-caliber horses.

Probably joining Indian on the lead will be Healthy Addiction, a gritty front-runner who rarely backs out of a dogfight and must be respected in the final quarter-mile. She raced poorly in last year’s Distaff at Belmont, and is coming off a layoff this summer due to a throat abscess.

When the speed fades, Pine Island should be there to pick up the pieces. Trained by Shug McGaughey, who has the magic touch with star fillies and mares, this filly hit the Grade 1 ranks in just her third lifetime start. With her long strides, she has been a pure router from day one, especially when she has speed to shoot at.

The final contender to consider is Asi Siempre.

$2M DISTAFF

Horse/starts  1-2-3 in $

*Balletto (6)

0-4-1 83%
Fleet Indian (6) 6-0-0 100%
H. Addiction (7) 4-1-1  85%
Pine Island (6) 4-2-0 100%
Asi Siempre (6) 2-1-1 66%

* -- favorite

Breeders’ Cup Mile

Aragorn gets the services of America’s premier turf trainer, Neil Drysdale, and regular pilot Corey Nakatani, who has dominated California grass racing the past year. He had a lackluster stakes record in Europe, but has blossomed on the harder turf courses in California.

Named after the fictional character in the Lord of the Rings, Aragorn has yet to prove he can reproduce his best form on a lush, or even softer, turf course, such as the one at Churchill.

Willing to challenge her male counterparts, Gorella has beaten distaffers on two continents, and her stretch run takes a backseat to no one. But she has yet to prove she can beat the very best colts. Nevertheless, she is one of only four three-year-old fillies ever to finish in the money in the Breeders’ Cup Mile — joining winners Miesque, Ridgewood Pearl and Six Perfections.

Putting age before beauty, 7-year-old Miesque’s Approval has blossomed since coming to Marty Wolfson’s barn after falling into the claiming ranks in 2005. He seems to have found a home in mile races, even winning major mile stakes this year. It’s nice to know Miesque’s Approval paid $99.60 for his win in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf last January.

The two other math model qualifiers are Aussie Rules and Super Frolic.

$2M MILE

Horse/starts  1-2-3 in $

*Aragom (6)

4-2-0 100%
Gorella (5) 4-0-0 80%
M. Approval (6) 4-1-0 83%
Aussie Rules (1) 1-0-0 100%
Super Frolic (5) 0-1-2 60%
* -- favorite

Breeders’ Cup Sprint

With his blinding speed, Henny Hughes should be out front, and he’s been known to carry that speed over ground. Thus he’s capable of crushing opponents by wide margins.

However, he missed eight months as he moved back and forth from Dubai, so his 2006 campaign will include only one start against older horses before the B.C.

Showing the ability to win in different venues, Bordonaro is a pure six-furlong sprinter, but has not faced Grade 1 caliber competition consistently. Moreover, he still has to prove that he can shake off multiple challenges from horses of equal ability.

Siren Lure, a durable ex-turf specialist, will probably sit in contention behind the speed and make a big stretch run. He has been able to succeed despite fanning three and four wide in most of his rallying wins, which have been aided by :43-and-change opening half-miles.

Other contenders worth watching are Attila’s Storm and Thor’s Echo.

$2M SPRINT

Horse/starts  1-2-3 in $

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