What if someone offered $4 million and nobody came?
Candy Ride, Empire Maker, Funny Cide, Perfect Drift and Mineshaft, five of the leading handicap horses in the land, through injuries true or faux, are going, going, gone. They will not run in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the piece de resistance on racing’s greatest day, which offers $14 million in purses, not to mention the surest path to an Eclipse Award for championship honors.
What a few weeks ago was potentially the greatest Classic in the 20-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, which takes place at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, has been hit more often than the Phillies’ bullpen. Budda-boom, budda-bing. Now you’re looking at Medaglia d’Oro, Congaree, Ten Most Wanted and perhaps Peace Rules, not to mention the de-frocked mare, Azeri, and last year’s 43-1 Classic winner, Volponi, whose current losing streak is in the early stages of Zippy Chippy’s.
A Breeders’ Cup Classic without the aforementioned Big Five is like a golf tournament with Tiger Woods or a Tour de France without Lance Armstrong. Who cares?
But the race will be run, some horse will win it and people will bet on it. If you run it, they will bet. They will definitely bet.
That said, and with the Breeders’ Cup less than three weeks away (pre-entries will be taken Oct. 14), here, in the order of each race, is one man’s capsule preview:
$2 million Distaff
1--Got Koko ended Azeri’s win streak at 11 and comes to the race in peak form. She is 5 for 7 at Santa Anita and Bruce Headley, the sagacious trainer who saddled Kona Gold to win the 2000 BC Sprint, knows how to get ”˜em ready.
2—Sightsteek is the model of consistency, never worse than second in her last 10 races, but is 0 for 3 at Santa Anita.
3—Azeri, if she runs in the Distaff and not the Classic, or if she runs at all, must improve off the worst race of her life when she ran third in the Lady’s Secret but was moved into second via DQ. She bled in the race and that’s why she ran so poorly. Her connections shot from the hip immediately after the loss, blaming Mike Smith’s riding tactics. It wasn’t nice-guy Mike’s fault. Azeri never was comfortable from the time she left the gate.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
1—Halfbridled has them running for second. All Julie Krone has to do is turn the key and push on the accelerator. She’s not a filly. She’s a Ferrari.
2—Class Above is unbeaten in two starts, winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies by 16 lengths. But trainer Bob Baffert opted to avoid Halfbridled in the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes with her and Victory U.S.A. and test the waters for the big money. He’s shaking in his boots.
3—Victory U.S.A. is considerably better than her third by five lengths to Halfbridled in the Del Mar Debutante suggests. Despite Baffert’s denial, she may have had a problem as the 3-5 favorite in that race. The Frizette showed her distance limitations.
$1.5 million Mile
1—Oasis Dream has been sprinting in Europe, but this is the horse Special Ring’s trainer, Julio Canani, fears most.
2—Sarafan was gaining fast in the Oak Tree Mile and is coming to the big race in top form for Neil Drysdale, who won the Mile with War Chant in 2000.
3—Canani was livid about David Flores’ tactics when Special Ring finished a non-menacing fourth as the 7-10 favorite in the Oak Tree Mile. Canani wanted Special Ring rated in second, but the horse was well back early and wide turning for home. Can’t run much worse and Canani won the Mile with Silic (1999) and Val Royal (2001).
$1 million Sprint
1—Aldebaran is one of two strong candidates for Bobby Frankel, who has a lock on this race. Aldebaran should get the fast pace he needs for his Silky Sullivan style, and he’ll need it to win at six furlongs, not his ideal distance. But he is 2-for-2 at Santa Anita.
2—Midas Eyes has been idle since June 7, but can win off the bench for Frankel, as he did in the Swale Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths on March 15 at seven furlongs after a seven-month layoff.
3—Captain Squire tries hard, but is a tad below top two in class. Avanzado could have led them on a merry chase, but his connections won’t spend $180,000 to supplement.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
1—Heat Haze, 2—Tates Creek, 3—Megahertz gives Frankel another trifecta.
$1.5 million Juvenile
1—Ruler’s Court’s monster 14-length win in the Norfolk moved him to the head of the class. Trainer Ray Bell, asked if Norfolk runner-up Capitano would go on to the Breeders’ Cup, responded quickly, "Not if he’s in the race," referring to Ruler’s Court.
2—Cuvee had an excuse when he lost his only start from the rail, won his other four by a combined margin of more than 30 lengths.
3—Minister Eric hasn’t received the recognition of stablemate Siphonizer, but he has potential and should appreciate a distance of ground.
$2 million Turf
1—Storming Home, first touted in Gaming Today in March, won’t be odds-on in a race with powerful foreign invaders, such as . . .
2—Sulamani won five of eight overseas, including the Dubai Sheema Classic. He was second in the Arc de Triomphe last year.
3—Falbrav is a world-class monster with 10 wins from 20 starts, including the Eclipse Stakes under 133 pounds. Trained by international horseman Luca Cumani (not to be confused with Lou Cabrazzi . . . "Look what they did to my boy.").
$4 million Classic
1—Ten Most Wanted benefits from defections and gets the trip.
2—Medaglia d’Oro runs his race but pace takes its toll. He’s no Empire Maker.
3—Pleasantly Perfect—Used Goodwood victory as a tightener. A cut below the best, but worth consideration in exotics.