Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

It’s A Classic for Sure!

Posted by Brian Appleton on October 26, 2010

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships are only two weeks away and some of the strongest fields in history are set to line-up in the starting gates to write their chapter in history. Two of the greatest thoroughbred race mares in history will attempt the astronomical feat of winning three consecutive Breeders’ Cup races. One undefeated in 19 lifetime starts, the other a global superstar and two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile champion.

For this blog entry we will concentrate on just the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race that has come up so full of raw talent and ability that a single blog post can do the potential field little justice.

Undefeated phenom Zenyatta became the first filly or mare in history to win the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.1) last year over an international cast of males one year after capturing the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr.1) at Santa Anita. She enters the 2010 renewal with more questions than ever before to answer and a much tougher field lining up to face the defending Queen.

Zenyatta has raced almost exclusively on synthetic surfaces throughout her career with only two starts on dirt when taking the 2008 and 2010 editions of the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr.1). Those two dirt starts, coming in Arkansas, were also the mare’s only races outside of California. For the past two years the Breeders’ Cup has been held in the big mare’s backyard at Santa Anita racecourse in California, this year the championship series will be held at Churchill Downs in Kentucky on a traditional dirt track.

For the first time in her lauded career, Zenyatta will be facing a world class field on a dirt track outside of California. Another factor that could add more unknown to the Zenyatta element is the chance of a wet track, another surface that is foreign to the champion mare. Even with all those points stacked against her Zenyatta will undoubtedly go off the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. One undeniable fact is that every time she has stepped up to the plate there have been a slew of questions to answer and every single time she has answered those questions emphatically. True, the questions she faces now are all new ones and some tougher than before but each and every time she has risen to the occasion and faced new challenges head on.

When Lookin At Lucky was finally able to put things together in 2010 he virtually shoved the Eclipse award as outstanding three year old male in an airtight strong box and sealed it in high security bank vault. After a stunning juvenile season in 2009 where he lost only the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a whisker after breaking from the extreme outside and being floated wide on the turns, Lookin At Lucky entered 2010 as the champion juvenile male and leading contender for the Triple Crown series. He overcame an impossible trip in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in his three year old debut to post his second consecutive graded stakes win only to fall victim to yet another bad trip in the Santa Anita Derby (gr.1), finishing third behind Sidney’s Candy in his last Kentucky Derby prep race. Credited with one of the worst Kentucky Derby (gr.1) trips of the decade after breaking form post one and getting slammed around more than a wet towel in a high-speed dryer, then being shuffled far back early on, Lookin At Lucky rallied strongly to come in a determined 6th, a remarkable recovery. Two weeks later he redeemed his image with a hard-fought ¾ length victory over a stubborn First Dude and Jackson Bend in the Preakness Stakes (gr.1). Given a rest after his arduous Triple Crown run, Lookin At Lucky returned to decimate a strong field in the Haskell Invitational (gr.1) by four lengths in early August, winning with supreme ease and a few taps of the whip. Two months later he returned to demolish another field of over-matched three year olds in the Indiana Derby (gr.2) despite having missed several workouts due to a minor illness.

If his recent works are any indication Lookin At Lucky is just getting better and better which from a purely black and white point of view is quite extraordinary. If there is one horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic field that has the best chance of handing Zenyatta the first defeat of her career I believe strongly that it is Lookin At Lucky.

Blame enters the Classic as one of the heavily backed favorites despite losing his last start when finishing second to Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr.1). His record for the year up to that point was flawless. Included in his 2010 portfolio was a workmanlike win the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr.1) at Churchill Downs and a thrilling head victory over Quality Road in the Whitney Stakes (gr.1). This horse is a gritty and tough as they come, his only flaw seems to be his inability to close into a slow pace up front that kills his late kick in the stretch. Pace in the Breeders’ Cup Classic should be no problem with speedballs like Quality Road, Haynesfield and First Dude all winging it on the front end so his running style will be beautifully complimented. The only question now; is he good enough to handle Zenyatta or Lookin At Lucky?

Quality Road started the year out as the undisputed king of the racing world, reigning supreme over the older male horse division. With impressive

wins in the Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr.3), Donn Handicap (gr.1), Met Mile (gr.1) and Woodward Stakes (gr.1) Quality Road is just a nose away from being the overwhelming leader for older male as well as Horse of the Year. In the Donn Handicap Quality Road broke his own track record while winning the race by 12 ¾ lengths. In the Met Mile Quality Road won in the sparkling time of 1:33.11 while handily defeating Musket Man. If Quality Road were entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile instead of the Classic he would no doubt be the favorite.

His loss to Blame in the Whitney Stakes (gr.1) seemed to tarnish his image more than it should have. I personally still like Quality Road better than Blame and if rated off the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Classic I think we could see him come alive with a monster effort. He enters the Classic off a lengthy layoff having last out won the Woodward Stakes by more than 4 lengths on September 4th.

Haynesfield gave Blame and Fly Down an absolute thrashing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 2nd, going gate-to-wire in the 1 ¼ mile race to flash under the line 4 lengths the best. After opening up a tremendous 7 length lead at the top of the stretch Haynesfield was geared down by jockey Ramon Dominguez to coast home easily the best. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was the third win in four 2010 starts for the 4-year-old colt who has now cast himself as a legitimate, if somewhat questionable contender in the Classic. His time for the Jockey Club Gold Cup was unimpressive, but his style was brilliant, suggesting that he could have finished up much faster had he needed to. Whether or not he can stand up to the kind of pace pressure he will face in the Classic has yet to be seen but I somehow doubt that he will be able to handle Zenyatta, Lookin At Lucky, Quality Road and Blame with a faster pace scenario.

First Dude, Fly Down, Morning Line and Paddy O’Prado help make up a strong contingent of three year old contenders after the power house solo act called

Lookin At Lucky. Paddy O’Prado finished third in the Kentucky Derby this year and went unplaced in the Preakness Stakes before stringing together a powerful run of three consecutive graded stakes wins on the turf, including the Grade 1 Secretariat. Despite his success on the turf his connections have decided to take a shot at the big cheese and aim the talented colt for the Classic. In his last start Paddy O’Prado finished second by one length in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr.1) against older horses. He turned in a great effort in the Derby over the Churchill Downs surface but I seriously doubt he can handle the “big four” in the Classic.

First Dude should win an award for the toughest most consistent fighter of the year. In 6 consecutive graded stakes efforts, 5 of which were grade 1’s, First Dude was never off the board, finishing second in the Preakness Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby and third in the Blue Grass, Belmont, Haskell and Travers Stakes. Each and every race he runs he brings his A game to the table and never throws in the towel. With so many big profile horses in the Classic he could be the best valued long shot with the best shot at winning. His time will come one day and you get the feeling with him that when it comes it’s going to be big.

Musket Man was there long before First Dude. If ever there was a master of consistency that constantly runs into monster

performances and gets shut out from winning the big ones it is Musket Man. The capable colt has finished second 3 times and third 5 times in 14 lifetime starts including two third place finishes in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. In his last start Musket Man failed to catch Etched by a neck in the Monmouth Cup (gr.2) after being blocked to the inside for most of the race and forced to race wide coming into the stretch. His form has been great all year and if things keep progressing they way they are now he could be the forgotten horse come Breeders’ Cup day which is always a dangerous thing with a runner like Musket Man.

Fly Down has had a very rocky year. After winning the Dwyer Stakes (gr.2) trainer Nick Zito sent him into deeper waters in the Belmont Stakes where his charge turned in a superb effort when finishing a hard-charging second to Drosselmeyer. In his next start Fly Down finished a sparkling second to Afleet Express in the Travers Stakes (gr.1) after a furious stretch run that fell a hair short of winning at the wire. In his most recent start Fly Down finished a respectable if somewhat uninspiring third to Haynesfield and Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Chances are this colt could be right there in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if the pace is swift up front. Not enough credit has been given to the kinds of races Fly Down keeps producing each time out.

Almost every year there is some horse running in the Breeders’ Cup that seems to want to become the “wise guy” option and this

year Morning Line could fit that bill. In just 6 lifetime starts Morning Line was able to become a graded stakes winner last out when taking the Pennsylvania Derby (gr.2) over First Dude and Jim Dandy Stakes winner A Little Warm. After losing the lead to A Little Warm in the stretch, Morning Line fought back like a battle tested warrior to turn certain defeat into rousing victory in the Pennsylvania Derby. He may be inexperienced but he is also peaking at exactly the right time.

Crown of Thorns enters the Breeders’ Cup Classic as one of the more intriguing and puzzling prospects in the five million dollar race. In 2009 he finished second by a mere nose in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and in his last start he finished runner-up to Richard’s Kid in the 1 1/8th mile Goodwood Stakes (gr.1) proving that he is as versatile as he is able.

Espoir City holds the weight and hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders as the sole Japanese contender in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Testing the Churchill Downs surface for the first time on October 23rd, Espoir City raised eyebrows with a slow 6 furlong work that produced a final time of 1:18 1/5. Jockey Tetsuzo Sato said after the work that “We are not here to pursue speed, just conditioning.” This horse is a complete wild card. With two grade/group 1 wins, including the 2009 Japan Cup, and 11 wins from 19 lifetime starts Espoir City seems highly capable. He has lost only twice since late 2008 when he switched from turf to dirt racing.

Gio Ponti has been cross entered in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Classic with the Mile being his more likely choice after an impressive victory in the Shadwell Turf Mile last out. However if Gio Ponti does run in the Classic things will get a whole lot more interesting. For the time being I won’t cover any thoughts on his Classic chances in case he passes for the Mile but it’s good food for thought.

The Classic is filled to the very brim this year with talent and more just keeps pouring in. The final field is not yet set but when it is things will get really interesting. One thing is for sure. When all is said and done and the 2010 winner is crowned people will say this race was a Classic for sure!

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4 Responses to “It’s A Classic for Sure!”

  1. di wood said

    re zenyatta’s wins in the apple blossom – that race is run at oaklawn park in arkansas, not arizona.

  2. Brian,

    It’s gonna be really hard to pick a winner in the Classic. There are so many cool stories surrounding many of the entrants. Leading the pack is ZENYATTA…a perfect 20??? That would surely rate a “WOW”! LOOKIN AT LUCKY is maturing into the 3y.o. monster I thought he’d be through the Triple Crown season, but Z and BLAME are huge and may be too much mare and hoss for him this year. GIO PONTI has a chance to retire HOY and G.1 winner on dirt as well as turf…he’s well-bred for dirt. QUALITY ROAD was the ’09 Derby favorite before he was injured…the rest of the year was brilliant/disappointing at the same time. This year, he’s been brilliant and getting beat by BLAME is not a disgrace. BLAME’s a horse bred for turf (interesting how impressive his Polytrack times have been @ Kee, huh?) that’s been excellent on dirt.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of those horses won and went on to be a deserving HOY. I think I’m gonna pass on picking a winner here…my sentiment for ZENYATTA and LOOKIN AT LUCKY will get in the way of an objective opinion. For this year’s Classic, it’s time to be a fan!

  3. lucky said

    i like this blog 😀

    looks great!!!

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