Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Breeders Cup Thoughts: Classic Competition

Posted by Brian Appleton on October 16, 2009


       It is approximately three weeks untill the 2009 Breeders Cup championship races at Santa Anita racecourse.  For the first time in Breeders Cup history the series will be held at the same track two consecutive years.  2008 was the first time the Breeders Cup was held on a synthetic track, and the results were met with very mixed reactions. European horses took to the synthetic surface as if it was their backyard playground. To be honest, they ripped us to shreds, in the process, shaking the confidence of American horsemen and owners who had thought up to that time that we had a fair contingent with which to compete against global fields.

   Unfortunately for us, some of our most experienced and proven runners, who just happen to be leaders of their divisions, are sitting this year’s Breeders Cup out because of the synthetics. Rachel Alexandra is the most obvious, not to mention the most valuable horse on the sidelines this time around. Fabulous Strike, one of the best sprinters in the country will almost certainly skip the Breeders Cup Sprint after a very uncharacteristic and lackluster performance in last year’s edition. Much has been made of Rachel Alexandra’s exclusion from the championship series where her presence would be a tremendous boost, but the thought here is this: she isn’t coming, so deal with it and move on.  She deserves a break anyways after the kind of year she has put together.

   Most people seem to think that having the Breeders Cup on a synthetic track for the second consecutive year is like handing it to the European runners on a silver platter. While I agree that it certainly puts the Euro’s at an advantage, it is far from a foregone conclusion that they will sweep in and win again. For this year’s Breeders Cup I’m going by loyalty, and sticking it out with our American horses.  There’s still plenty of talent left in our old champs to beat the tar out of the best of them.



   Let’s start with the big one, the Breeders Cup Classic. Zenyatta could be America’s ticket to success here if her connections decide to try a new route and run one for the fans by pitting her against the boys.  Her win last weekend at Santa Anita in the Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr.1) was the usual.  Get out there, win, and make everyone else who showed up look like trash. She’s completely relentless in the way she destroys her competition.  In the Lady’s Secret she almost looked bored when she hit the lead all on her own, almost as if to say: “When do I get to race for real?” If she enters the Classic picture she will be my pick to win.  Some have suggested that her running style will be compromised by a larger field in the Classic, the way she likes to sweep around the group at the top of the stretch.  Does anyone really think that a larger field will bother her, nothing else has and she’s never been close to being hard pressed in any of her races.  She is now 13 for 13, undefeated, perfect, tied with the immortal Personal Ensign. There’s plenty left in that tank from this observers point of view. 



   If Zenyatta is not entered in the Classic and is instead set to defend her title in the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic (formerly the Distaff) then we still have some good prospects left to carry the American banner. Einstein is my choice in this case.  He has proven incredibly versatile, running well enough to win on almost any surface.  Plus he has loads of talent and heart, and also has a victory over Santa Anita’s synthetic surface when winning the Santa Anita Handicap (gr.1) earlier this year.

Gio Ponti1

Gio Ponti

   Another intriguing prospect is Gio Ponti, arguably the best grass horse in America today.  Last out he was defeated in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. 1) by 43-1 long shot Interpatation. Before that he had rattled off four straight grade one victories. His best surface is grass, but he also has won over the Santa Anita synthetic surface.


Summer Bird1

Summer Bird

   Summer Bird would be my choice for a mild upset in the Classic. He has risen sharply in the three year old ranks, becoming the first three year old male to win the Belmont Stakes (gr.1), Travers (gr. 1) and Jockey Club Gold (gr.1) cup since the great Easy Goer in 1989.  Others to win this rare triple are such greats as Man ‘O’ War, Arts and Letters, and Damascus, all three hall of famers. That’s some prestigious company to be joined with.  Since winning the Belmont in June, Summer Bird has proven more and more able to rise to the challenges set before him.  His only defeat since the Belmont was a courageous second to super filly Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational (gr. 1).

Master Craftsman1


Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle


The European three year old duo of Mastercraftsman and Rip Van Winkle is perhaps more daunting than last year’s duo of Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator.  These two would have been vying with each other for three year old male and possibly horse of the year championship in Europe but for the presence of Sea The Stars, the phenomenal, undefeated three year old winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomhpe (the world’s most prestigious grass race in France).  Both of these exceptional colts have proven themselves to be super star material and are more than capable of winning the Classic.

Mine That BIrd1

Mine That Bird

   There is a medley of other promising contenders, but for the sake of length, I will try not to go into much detail.  Mine That Bird, the underdog winner of the Kentucky Derby, gave a very disappointing performance in the Goodwood Stakes (gr.1) last weekend. No matter what the connections say, sixth place isn’t exactly promising when you’re not up against the deep quality field he will be facing in the Classic.

Macho Again has not won since the Stephen Foster (gr.1) at Churchill Downs in June, but has had several good performances since then. He finished second to Bullsbay in the Whitney (gr. 1) at Saratoga, then came in Macho Againa very close second to Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward Stakes (gr.1) again at Saratoga.  His third to Summer Bird in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr.1) last out was a mixture of sloppy track conditions, and being too far back to reach contention according to trainer Dallas Stewart.
Quality Road1

Quality Road

   Quality Road is untested on synthetics and could be a real surprise come Breeders Cup day. He always runs well and has great tactical speed that allows him to stay within contention throughout his races. I don’t think he’s quite ready to defeat the likes Einstien or Gio Ponti, but this is horse racing and anything can happen.

    I know I’ve left out some prominent contenders, so now it’s your turn. Who do you think can/will win the classic? Who do you want to win?


9 Responses to “Breeders Cup Thoughts: Classic Competition”

  1. Carla Ruth said

    I totally agree that Zenyatta should run in the Classic. I truly believe that she is the best the U.S. has to offer and I believe that if she wins the Classic she deserves to be Horse of the Year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rachel Alexandra, but if Zenyatta defeats older males from around the world and the best 3 year olds in the country….well what else is there to prove?

    • Zenyatta has only started racing the last half of the year and will probably be finished after the Breeders Cup, that makes only five starts to her 2009 season. Not to take anything away from her amazing accomplishments, but she is only horse of half a year. Rachel Alexandra ran eight times from February on remaining undefeated as well this year. She faced males three times and won, set numerous records, and is now one of the greatest fillies of all time by most accounts. I think her acchievements far outway anything Zenyatta did, or will do this year.

      • Carla Ruth said

        I agree with what you say about Rachel Alexandra, but key word is filly. It is true that she has repeatedly beaten males, but mostly inferior ones. Zenyatta is capable of defeating all of them. I will admit however that Summer Bird is improving and we may have not seen his best yet. At first I was like you and the majority and believed that if Rachel and Zenyatta were in the same race, Rachel would win. I no longer think so. I believe Rachel hit bottom in the Woodward (although her bottom is better than most race horses in the U.S.). Borel struck Rachel 21 times in that race and at least 10 in the Haskell. I do believe he went to the whip excessively, but some of that may have been necessary. Mike Smith has never “got after” Zenyatta like that and I believe that she has never come close to hitting bottom. Zenyatta is one of those rare truly intelligent horses, like John Henry, who love to win, love the attention and understand what is going on. She does only what is necessary to win and has a lot left in the tank after every race. Rachel has the talent to defeat almost any horse, but Zenyatta truly wants it! Keep in mind that Zenyatta has never lost a race. As for the dirt; when she raced at Oaklawn in the Apple Blossom she annihilated her competition, which included Ginger Punch.

      • Very true Carla, it’s scarry to think what Zenyatta could do if she was really let loose on the nation’s tracks. I get a tingle up my spine everytime I watch her run in the Lady’s Secret Stakes. It was so, so easy for her. What doesn’t make sense to me is this: in the Apple Blossom when she detroyed that highly touted field, she won by the largest margin so far in her record. So why don’t they run her on dirt more? She’s obviously just as good on dirt as she is on synthetics.
        I agree that Rachel was all-out to win in the Woodward, but I also think that having her take the lead so early in the race was a compromising decision on Calvin Borel’s part. She ran brutal fractions that would have fried half the sprinters in the country, and still held on to defeat older males. All that while still being a three year old filly, yikes! To me that’s a little more impressive than Zenyatta blowing away fields of fillies and mares that she’s already defeated, and is now expected too. All that while still being a three year old filly, yikes! Also agree with what you said about Rachel improving with age, can’t wait to see how she does next year. I love both these horses and would love for them to meet up, but that’s a slim chance. For now I’m content to just take it all in and soak up the pleasure they bring with each race.

      • Carla Ruth said

        I forgot to mention that I am emphasizing the fact that Rachel is still a filly because I do believe she will get better as she matures. I firmly believe that she is a great filly, maybe as great as Ruffian, but it is difficult to compare horses from different eras. I think we may never know who is really the best between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, but they have been great for racing and I love them both!

  2. Mom said

    You are certainly informed! I like the break down of the contenders. Makes me want to watch the race. I’ll print this out and have the kids read it and pick their own contenders and we’ll have a competition going on!

    • Good idea, I like that! I haven’t figured out how to post videos on here yet, but when I do I’ll start adding those in so people can watch the performances of the horses I’m talking about.

  3. Steven Harris said

    Hello Brian
    So you think flying half way round the world,racing on on tight turning tracks,on a surface they’ve never encountered in 20 degrees warmer climate “certainly puts the Euro’s at an advantage”?
    I’d say American horses have had an advantage for the past 25 years in the so called “world championships”.
    Whatever the suface,I find the best horse on the day usually wins!
    Have fun with your blog.

    • Hi Steve,
      Yes, I beleive that having the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita for a second year in a row puts the Euro’s at an advantage. Notice I didn’t say that it put’s our American runners at a disadvantage, I just beleive that it adds points in favor of the Euro’s preferences. Good turf/grass form often translates into good synthetic form, which was the case last year at Santa Anita, so for the Euro’s, that is a definite advantage over the choice of traditional dirt racing. I aslo stated that I don’t believe we will be “handing the Breeders Cup to the Euro’s on a silver platter” by running over synthetics again. Our American horses have just as good a chance in my opinion as any other runners to win. For many this will be thier first time over synthetics, like Summer Bird and Quality Road, and although they are posting great works over the Pro-Ride, that doesn’t mean they will run a good race.
      I agree that American horses have had the advantage for the past 25 years, but for the past 24 years it has all been on traditional dirt. It wasn’t untill they had the Breeders Cup on synthetics that the Euro’s broke through with a string of big wins. In my experiance climate doesn’t play to drastic a role if the horse is fit and has had time to adjust properly. Also, Santa Anita doesn’t have tight turns compared to many tracks in the US. Last year Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen stated that the wider turns at Santa Anita would play well to Curlin becuase of his huge strides, that’s one of the reasons Zenyatta likes the track so well. “The best horse of the day will usally win”, excellent point! That’s one of the greatest things about horse racing, anyone can win at anytime! Thanks for stopping by!

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