By Anthony Stabile
$5 million; 1 1/4 miles; 3up
You knew this race was aptly named after the stretch run of the inaugural running when eventual winner Wild Again played bumper cars along with Slew o’ Gold and Gate Dancer. Ferdinand won the battle of the Kentucky Derby winners over Alysheba in 1987 before Alysheba claimed his own classic Victory the following year.
In the final chapter of their brief, yet intense rivalry, Sunday Silence held off the desperate surge of Easy Goer to win in 1989. Jerry Bailey won three in a row, starting in 1993 with Arcangues, the longest priced winner in Breeders’ Cup history and ending with the great Cigar in 1995 who capped a perfect 10-for-10 season with a fantastic score. Awesome Again split rivals in deep stretch to win a wild one in 1998 over Silver Charm and Swain.
Tiznow gutted out two of the greatest wins over a pair of tough Europeans, Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, making his trainer Jay Robbins and the great Charlie Whittingham the only two time winners of the race.
Volponi blew up the tote board, then the Pick 6 scandal, in 2002 with his win at 43-1. Ghostzapper set the stakes record with a gate-to-wire, tour de force victory in 2004. Curlin capped his Horse of the Year campaign in 2007 with a win before finishing fourth as the sports leading money winner in 2008.
The great Zenyatta kept the undefeated dream alive with a remarkable last-to-first run in 2009 before falling a head short of Blame in the 2010 renewal and finishing her career with 19 wins from 20 starts. In 2013, Mucho Macho Man finally won a big one in a dramatic three-way photo over Will Take Charge and the Europe’s Declaration of War.
This year should prove to be no different as we have the winners of G1 races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Whitney, Pacific Classic, Gold Cup, Awesome Again, all three Triple Crown races, Travers and Haskell all set to battle it out. It’s the Classic indeed!!!
In the 30 year history of the Breeders’ Cup, a three-year-old has won the Classic nine times. If the morning line and popular thinking hold up, the first four choices in the years’ renewal all figure to be sophomores, led by the undefeated Shared Belief.
Last years’ Two-Year-Old Eclipse champ was forced to the sidelines earlier in the year with nagging foot issues. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer successfully fought the urge to push on his charge to make the spring classics and opted to get him ready for a solid second half push that started with an easy allowance score at his home base, Golden Gate Fields. Now four-for-four over synthetic surfaces, Hollendorfer pointed Shared Belief to the Los Alamitos Derby on conventional dirt, a race Shared Belief dominated by over four lengths with new rider Mike Smith.
After a short layoff, Shared Belief took on the best older horses at Del Mar, including the unofficial king of California, the now-retired Game on Dude, in the Pacific Classic. Smith took Shared Belief well off the pace and capitalized on a crazy :45 3/5 opening half mile with a quick move on the far turn to win going away by almost three lengths over the Polytrack.
Last out in the local prep for the Classic, the Awesome Again, Shared Belief was given the business early when floated wide on the first turn and down the backside before coming with a determined rally to gut out a neck victory over inferior foes. He’s been installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite while looking for win number eight and will break from post 6.
Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will look to avenge his Belmont disappointment and dismal performance in the G2 Pennsylvania Derby last out with a Classic win that could very well garner him Horse of the Year honors.
Trained by Art Sherman, California Chrome gets to run over what appears to be his favorite race course. Three for four at “The Great Race Place,” California Chrome won a California bred stakes as well as the G2 San Felipe and G1 Santa Anita Derby in dominating fashion before taking the first two jewels of the Triple Crown.
In his last two, jockey Victor Espinoza has been criticized for his rides aboard California Chrome. Some feel he wasn’t quite aggressive enough in the Belmont, where the pace was ordinary to say the least, while others feel the same about his ride last out at Parx where he failed to take advantage of an apparent inside, speed biased racetrack by taking him off the pace before fading to sixth as the 4-5 chalk. They’ll both get the chance to redeem themselves from post 13.
Belmont Stakes hero Tonalist will try to prove those that call him a Belmont-horse-for-the-course wrong with a win at Santa Anita, a track that couldn’t be more different from Belmont if they tried. The wide, sweeping, forgiving turns at Belmont will be replaced by more traditional, tighter ones and that quarter-mile long stretch will be a distant memory as it’s all left, literally and figuratively, on the other side of the country.
His neighsayers need only point to his past performances to prove their point. Four for eight overall, he’s undefeated in three starts at Belmont, with his other wins coming in the G2 Peter Pan and last out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for trainer Christophe Clement, who took the blinkers off. Surprisingly far back early, Tonalist was forced to steady ever so slightly under Joel Rosario to avoid a fallen Rajiv Maragh, who was dropped from Wicked Strong approaching the far turn, but wasn’t as badly affected as some of his other rivals. He then overcame some traffic in the stretch, eventually splitting horses in deep stretch to win by almost two lengths
He seemed far less imposing up at Saratoga when he failed to sustain his far turn/stretch rally when he settled for second in the G2 Jim Dandy before pressing the pace and tiring late to finish third in the Travers. It’ll be interesting to see where he’ll be placed early on from post 11.
To paraphrase one of my favorite rappers, Eminem, “will the real Bayern please stand up?” When the “good” Bayern shows up, good is the last superlative one would use to describe him. Sensational and scintillating are more like it. Few three-year-olds are as fast, as evident by his daylight victories in the G2 Woody Stevens, Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby, his latest conquest. In those races, Bayern went gate-to-wire, winning the first two by over seven lengths and the last by almost six. If that Bayern shows up this one might be over.
But if the other Bayern shows up, the “bad” one, it will prove to be a long two minutes or so for trainer Bob Baffert and his backers. That’s the one that showed up in the Preakness where he found trouble early and was beaten 21 lengths. That one also showed up in the Travers where Tonalist pressed him early before he folded up like an accordion, trudging home 20 lengths behind the field in last. Martin Garcia will be the first to know which Bayern shows up as he rides from post 7.
In the first half of the year, Zivo won four straight against fellow New York breds in an allowance/optional claimer and three stakes for Chad Brown. It was in his final statebred victory, the Commentator where he came from dead last over an extremely speed biased race course, that he convinced his trainer to step him up in class. Brown did just that in the G2 Suburban at Belmont going this distance and Zivo rewarded him with last-to-first, three length victory.
Zivo took another step up in the G1 Woodward at Saratoga but couldn’t overcome that speed biased course, finishing fourth and beaten only three lengths. Last out, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Zivo was just starting to rev up when his rider Jose Lezcano had to steady to avoid the fallen Maragh. Zivo, arguably affected the most of those left standing by the spill, re-rallied and held the briefest of leads before getting run down by Tonalist in the final stages. They’ll break from post 8.
I’m sure the connections of the talented Cigar Street thought they’d make it to the Classic one day but probably didn’t think it would have to wait until he was a five-year-old. After a nine month layoff in 2012, Cigar Street returned for new trainer Bill Mott and rattled off three straight, including the G3 Skip Away going 1 3/16 miles at Gulfstream before returning to the sidelines for another 17 months.
He returned in an allowance/optional claimer at Saratoga this summer and finished a game second over a muddy course going 1 1/8 miles. Last out in the Homecoming Classic at Churchill going the same distance, Cigar Street rated just off the pace before edging away to a near two length score. He’ll break from post 2 and be reunited with John Velazquez
Moreno and Junior Alvarado were the cause of the spill in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when he dropped over and clipped heels with Wicked Strong. Many believe it’s the reason Eric Guillot switched to the nations’ leading rider Javier Castellano for this. After all, Alvarado piloted Moreno to second place finishes in the Suburban and Woodward as well as his lone victory this year when they went gate-to-wire in the prestigious Whitney at Saratoga. Moreno will break from post 4.
V.E. Day was originally going to skip a trip west after avoiding the fallen Maragh in the Jockey Club Gold Cup where he also was bothered at the start before eventually finishing sixth but trainer Jimmy Jerkens has opted for a Classic try with his gutsy Travers winner. That Travers win capped a four-race win streak in which V.E. Day won over a sloppy track, on the turf and the Curlin at Saratoga on a fast track. Joe Talamo rides from post 5.
G2 U.A.E. Derby winner Toast of New York will make his third trip over the pond this year having already shipped over for the G1 Belmont Derby on turf in which he was sixth and for the Pacific Classic last out. Toast of New York was second that day and actually claimed foul against the winner to no avail for trainer Jamie Osbourne. Jamie Spencer will ride from post 9 in what is supposed to be the final ride of his career. Take note that this will be Toast of New York’s first race over conventional dirt.
Majestic Harbor got stuck with post 14 at the draw but shocked the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in early summer, parlaying a wicked early pace battle into a blowout score by over six lengths at better than 14-1 for trainer Sean McCarthy and regular rider Tyler Baze. He’s regressed a bit since as he failed to fire when a well beaten sixth in the Pacific Classic followed by a fourth place finish in the Awesome Again in a couple of races that featured sharp early paces.
It seems like Candy Boy is getting some “wiseguy” buzz coming off a third place finish in the PA Derby where he was up against it over that speed biased racecourse. Second in the CashCall to close out 2013, Candy Boy got up in the final strides to win the G2 Robert Lewis to start the season but is winless in five starts since. He was second in both the Los Alamitos Derby and the G2 West Virginia Derby before that effort at Parx last out for John Sadler. He’ll break from post 12 with Corey Nakatani in the saddle.
Imperative has won just once from nine starts this season but it came in the $1.5 million G2 Charles Town Classic over Game On Dude. Trained by George Papaprodromou, Imperative was third in the Gold Cup and Pacific Classic but has a penchant for throwing in some clunkers as well. Winless in five starts at Santa Anita, Frankie Dettori will ride for the first time from post 3.
Prayer for Relief in all eight tries this year after capping off a solid, if not spectacular, 2013 with a win in a minor stakes at the Fair Grounds. Transferred to trainer Dale Romans earlier in this season, Prayer for Relief was second by just a neck in the G3 Pimlico Special and third in both the Suburban and Woodward in his most recent start. Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride from the rail.
Eoin Harty’s Footbridge finished second in the G2 San Diego at Del Mar two starts back before a third place finish in the Awesome Again last out. He won a pair of allowance/optional claimers in the springtime over this course, including his lone try at this distance and has hit the board in all but one of his eight starts at Santa Anita. Rafael Bejarano will ride from post 10.
The lone also eligible is Big Cazanova for trainer Peter Miller. A G1 Stakes winner in South America, this Argentinian bred has won three of seven starts in California against much lesser and tired badly in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, his lone try against graded stakes competition here. Elvis Trujillo would ride.