by Dick Powell
The pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup were released on Wednesday and this year, especially, the races are strong and deep. Like a good restaurant, the food is good and the portions large.
In a perfect world, I would wait until Monday to start my work when the actual fields and jockey assignments are finalized. But 185 horses in 13 races forces one to try to get a head start with replay videos, charts and pedigree reviews.
Luckily this year, there was only one major prep day that was affected by the weather and that was the first Super Saturday card held at Belmont Park on October 1. That day, the main track was muddy and the turf course was yielding. Other than that, the American horses that are showing up are coming off races that were either fast or firm, which they are expected to see at Santa Anita in about eight or nine days. The 10-day forecast shows sunny and dry weather in Arcadia, California, beginning Wednesday.
The marquee races will each be run at the end of Friday and Saturday, with the Distaff (G1) at the end of Friday and the Classic (G1) on Saturday. Both are races for the ages and it is almost a shame that older horses over here still run against their own gender. How good would the Classic be if it included the amazons from the Distaff?
We saw an example of it last Friday night/Saturday morning when mighty mare WINX (Street Cry) won her second straight Cox Plate (Aus-G1) at weight-for-ages by eight lengths over $2 million earner HARTNELL (Authorized). Last year, she won the Cox Plate by almost five lengths against what might have been a tougher field as she crushed HIGHLAND REEL (Galileo), who came back to win this year’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-G1) at Ascot.
If American racing did not provide so many Grade 1 races for females only, the stigma of racing against males would be gone and we would be left with a Classic that would be unforgettable. Still, this year’s Distaff and Classic are strong enough on their own to leave each day’s audience shouting for more. They will be that good.
BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) has won 13 of 15 starts at Santa Anita, including a win over the track in the 2013 Distaff. Last year, after an incredible win in the Pacific Classic (G1) going 10 furlongs against males, she was supposed to run in the Classic but had to be scratched when she did not handle the trip to Keeneland well.
This year at the age of six, she has five starts and only two wins and three seconds compared to five starts last year which resulted in five wins. Still, Beholder has lost her past two starts when she was up or on the lead, which made her the hunted instead of being the hunter. In this year’s Distaff, she should go back to her preferred running style of being the hunter since she will have some targets to sit behind.
The field of nine includes seven Grade 1 winners, one Group 1 winner from Argentina, and a Grade 2 winner who would have been a Grade 1 winner if she didn’t have to face undefeated SONGBIRD (Medaglia d’Oro) over and over.
Before you decide who you are going to pick, try doing the morning line for the Distaff and see how close you come to the final odds. It will be a fascinating exercise and sharpen your analytical skills.
The Classic has some up equally strong with 14 runners pre-entered. 2014 Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes (G1) winner CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) is having an historic season at the age of five but has never met a challenger like ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song), who is coming off a BRIS Speed rating of 124.
All are coming off four or more weeks of rest with the exception of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) queen FOUND (Galileo), who is coming in off three weeks’ rest. In fact, trainer Aidan O’Brien has made the Classic her first preference and not the Turf. He can still enter her in either race but it looks like they are going to give the dirt a try. Which adds even more appeal to the race. Can’t wait.