Ten Most Wanted is like a bizarro Joe Btfsplk, the character spawned by the late Li’l Abner creator, Al Capp. Btfsplk went through life as the world’s worst jinx, always traveling with a dark cloud hovering over his head. Everything that could go wrong would go wrong. He and bad luck were partners.
Not so Ten Most Wanted. When the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt won the prestigious Travers Stakes this summer, Funny Cide and Empire Maker, who between them accounted for the Triple Crown, had been scheduled to run in the Midsummer Derby. But they aborted at the 11th hour and Ten Most Wanted won the $1 million race.
Ten Most Wanted’s good fortune by way of attrition could continue in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The son of Deputy Commander trained by Wally Dollase could be favored by default in the $4 million Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, because Candy Ride, Mineshaft, Empire Maker will not run. Funny Cide decided this week to enter.
Asked his thoughts on the Classic collapse, Dollase simply conjured up memories of an earlier experience.
"The same thing happened to me in the Travers," the 66-year-old trainer said. "I couldn’t believe that two of the better horses, Empire Maker and Funny Cide, both got sick, or at least that’s what they said. Now I’m running into a similar situation in that the best horse, Mineshaft, isn’t running, which is very fortunate for me.
"When it was announced that Mineshaft had a (non)displaced chip (in his right front ankle), you could understand why owner Will Farish and trainer Neil Howard didn’t want to run him," Dollase said of the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, who was favored to win the Classic before his recent retirement to stud, where he will stand for a healthy $100,000 per service.
"The logical thing would be to have the chip removed, because it’s going to hurt him," Dollase said, eradicating whispers that there were reasons other than injury that precluded Mineshaft’s participation. "A chip would get in to the cartilage and bother him and he wouldn’t be able to run well anyway. If that’s the case, his people are doing the right thing. You either retire the horse or have surgery done, in which case the horse wouldn’t be back for six months. As a result, they’re doing the right thing, but perhaps they were forced to, even though after he won the Gold Cup so impressively, nobody gave it a thought that there was anything wrong with the horse. Nobody would have ever thought then that he had a problem.
"Then they announced he had a chip, and I’m sure they didn’t come out of the sky with it. It was there and it displaced. You can have a minute fracture and it might not even bother a horse, but when it fractures off and gets into the joint, that’s when it hurts and that’s why the horse was retired, because of potential cartilage damage."
If the defections aren’t enough to enhance Ten Most Wanted’s chances, there’s the home court advantage. He broke his maiden by eight lengths at Santa Anita last Jan. 5, then finished fourth in the Sham Stakes on Feb. 7, after being bumped at the start.
"He was at Santa Anita all summer, because I didn’t go to Del Mar with my horses," Dollase said. "So he’s certainly going to be mellow and acclimated to the track, as well as the atmosphere at Santa Anita."
Dollase sees little problem with Ten Most Wanted getting a mile and a quarter, although Arcadia’s nine-furlong oval has a tendency to favor speed.
"More horses probably will get that distance at Santa Anita than they would on an eastern track," Dollase said. "That’s a slight disadvantage for me, even though my horse can run all day. Horses like Congaree and Medaglia d’Oro, who like to get on with it, might have an advantage. But if (Bobby) Frankel runs Peace Rules, another speed horse, and there are three of them going too fast, that will be perfect for me."
If Ten Most Wanted wins the Classic, it would create havoc at the polls in the vote for Horse of the Year and divisional honors.
"With the Breeders’ Cup being near the end of the year, I think it weighs a lot more (with voters) than earlier races," Dollase said. "But when you win the Kentucky Derby, that’s what it’s all about. We were co-second choice (at 6-1) in the Derby this year, and he had a bad trip (ninth), simple as that. Even though you can kind of run a line through that race, he still didn’t win it."
Despite no Derby victory, and Classic triumph or not, the horse they call "Big Ten" around the barn will be back to race as a 4-year-old.
"He’ll run next year," Dollase said. "We’ve already discussed that with some breeding farms. They asked what we’re going to do next year, and the syndicate (that owns Ten Most Wanted) decided it wants to run him next year for sure. In fact, the prospective breeders haven’t talked any money. They just want to know if they can buy a part of him right now and have the fun of running him for a year and then stand him at their farm, but we decided we’re not going to do that. We’re that confident he’s going to be a heck of a 4-year-old and Pat Day’s the one who’s kind of touting us on that, too. He thinks the horse is getting nothing but better with age."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Trainer Jeff Mullins and jockey Ryan Fogelsonger will answer fans’ questions and sign autographs at the Orleans on Monday, Nov. 17, at 9 a.m. Ralph Siraco of Race Day Las Vegas hosts the session . . . Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas will honor riding legend Laffit Pincay Jr. at a farewell celebration on Saturday, Dec. 6. Roy Firestone of ESPN’s "Up Close" will host the affair, for information, call 702 946-7000.