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The best performer going into this year's Breeders' Cup Championship Series is the Charles Lopresti trained gelding Wise Dan, a high class runner who is unusually versatile.
Update Oct 17: Wise Dan has been confirmed for the Turf Mile.
Wise Dan has won big races on dirt, turf and over synthetic tracks. He has also won races at no fewer than five different courses in North America.
His most recent success came at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada, where he was an overwhelming winner of the Woodbine Mile (G1) in September. This race has been a very good pointer to the BC Mile over the years. Lopresti saddled Turallure to win the Woodbine Mile in 2011, and sent the grey horse to the Breeders' Cup Mile, where he was beaten just a nose by Court Vision, who had won the 2010 edition of the Woodbine Mile. Logic might seem to be; Wise Dan should go for the turf race. If he does, he will be a strong favourite, even in the presence of the usual bunch of high class European milers. Though the Breeders' Cup Classic may still be the race Wise Dan ought to, or deserves to if you like, go for at Santa Anita. He has shown his best form on turf and synthetics but he did win the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs last autumn, and another factor comes heavily into the reckoning here; that of Horse of The Year. If Wise Dan can win the Classic, and his form certainly says that he can, he will also be in pole position for the coveted Horse of The Year title. What would I do? I would give him the Classic ticket, simply because he is the best horse in North America, having run to Globeform 132 when taking the Ben Ali Stakes (G2) by over ten lengths at Keeneland in April.
The Classic division has no other horse even close to that level of form, and for me the main question with Wise Dan would be the 10-furlong trip, more than the surface. He has never tried further than 9 furlongs, the distance of the Clark at Churchill, where he was very strong passing the winning post 3 ¾ lengths in front of Mission Impazible. Churchill Downs Downs is far more testing than Santa Anita. The the track record over 'nine panels' at Santa Anita is almost two seconds quicker than the record at Churchill, and Santa Anita lends its elf more to speed than stamina. Wise Dan has an impressively high cruising speed and, while he has led all the way in a couple of his race, he was tucked in just behind the pace at Woodbine, and relaxed well until jockey John Velazquez gave him the cue. The son of Wiseman's Ferry quickened right away early in the straight and won as he liked, passing the post 3 ¼ lengths in front of Hunters Bay, with the European trained G1 winner Cityscape back in third. Wise Dan's winning margin could have been bigger. “He is a freak”, said Velazquez as he came into the winners' circle after the race.
Still, Wise Dan has experienced defeat this term, when fellow Breeders' Cup contender Ron the Greek got the better of him in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) in June. Like the Clark, the Foster is a race run over 9 furlongs at Churchill Downs, and Ron the Greek managed to get his head in front of Wise Dan on this occasion. A four-pound pull at the weights obviously helped Ron the Greek, but he is a game and genuine performer who will be respected in the Classic. Not least since this Bill Mott trained contender is proven over 1 ¼ miles at Santa Anita. He confirmed his place amongst the elite when winning the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) in Match. Coming from off the pace, as is his style, Ron the Greek won the 'Big Cap' by 3 ½ lengths from Setsuko. It may not have been the best Big Cap ever seen but he was visually impressive. His win was also a nice boost to the form of another BC Classic candidate, the Kathy Ritvo trainer four-year-old Mucho Macho Man, who had beaten Ron the Greek quite easily in the Sunshine Millions Classic five weeks earlier.
With or without Wise Dan, the Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up to be a highly competitive, and quite open, affair this year. The local favourite, and the one most likely to go off at the shortest odds at Santa Anita, is the Bob Baffert trained Game On Dude, who was runner-up in the 2011 BC Classic. Game On Dude has improved again at age five. Like Royal Delta, he failed to fire in the Dubai World Cup (G1) but the son of Awesome Again has run four solid races, for three wins and one second, back home in California since. He was particularly impressive when slamming his nearest rival by over seven lengths in the Californian Stakes (G2) at Hollywood Park back in June, and when giving Richard's Kid four pounds and a solid 1 1/2-length beating in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) just over a month later. Chantal Sutherland, one of the best female jockeys in the US, partnered him in these races, and again when Game on Dude went for the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar in August. Having judged the pace so well in eight previous rides on Game on Dude, Chantal was a bit too optimistic, or shall we say aggressive, on this occasion, and she pushed Game On Dude to the lead too soon. He responded, as he always does, but got tired in the closing stages and the three-year-old Dullahan caught him close home to win by half a length. Shortly after it was announced that Game On Dude would get a new rider, as Baffert had decided to have his number one pilot Rafal Bejarano on the gelding. “We felt it was time for a change, and that we want our top jockey on our top horse”, Baffert explained.
Bejarano jumped on board for the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) – formerly the Goodwood – at Santa Anita on the last Saturday in October. Tackling 9 furlongs, arguably his best distance, Game On Dude had little to beat that day and he gained a smooth win at odds of 1/3, beating Grade 3 winner Nonios by 3 ¼ lengths.
The battle-hardened six-year-old Flat Out is also in with a chance, having bounced back to form with a gritty win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park last month (with Ron the Greek well beaten), winning the race for a second year running, though the four-year-old Much Macho Man may have an even better chance of winning the Classic. A late foal, he did well to make his presence felt amongst the best three-year-olds in 2011 and he has improved this season, gaining high profile wins in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January and the Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park in August; beating Hymn Book comfortably by 2 ½ lengths. Much Macho Man's enjoyed a rest after this win and his next task was the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on September 1. When yet another Breeders' Cup contender, Ron the Greek's stable companion To Honor and Serve, denied him by just over a neck. The margin was not big, and one can argue that Mucho Macho Man had a rough trip, but it needs mentioning that To Honor and Serve won with a bit in hand. Trainer Bill Mott's dilemma after this win, gained over 9 furlongs, was whether To Honor and Serve should go go the Classic or the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita. The colt was given his final prep run in the Kelso Mile (G2) at Belmont Park on September 29, but finished only fourth behind the surprise winner Jersey Town. He may have dropped down in distance in his Breeders' Cup prep but it has been decided that To Honor and Serve will go for the Classic at Santa Anita. He is a four-year-old son of Bernardini and his biggest win at three came in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct, after he had been a non-staying seventh behind Drosselmeyer in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. His chances are better in California, though trainer Bill Mott has one concern; “he does best in cooler weather”, talking in Fahrenheit he says, “if it is in the 80's we will be fine, if it is 100 we may have a problem”.
The weather in Arcadia, California in early November may have a bigger effect on To Honor and Serve than on other horses, but it is the same for every contender; as they say “if you can't stand the heat, perhaps you should get out of the kitchen”. And the heat will be turned on at Santa Anita on November 2 and 3. In more ways than one.
Update October 18
BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC (G1)
Projected runners with Globeform ratings and riders
126 - GAME ON DUDE / Rafael Bejarano
124 - TO HONOR AND SERVE / John Velazquez
124 - MUCHO MACHO MAN / Mike Smith
123 - RON THE GREEK / Jose Lezcano
123 - DULLAHAN / tba / BC Turf alternative
121 - FLAT OUT / Joel Rosario
120 - FORT LARNED / Brian Hernadez Jr
118 - RICHARD'S KID / Garrett Gomez
115 - POOL PLAY / Miguel Mena
114 - NONIOS / Martin Pedroza
113 - ALPHA / Ramon Dominguez
113 - GOLDEN TICKET / David Cohen
110 - BRILLIANT SPEED / Junior Alvarado
Last update: 2012-10-18 02:22:09 (First published: 2012-10-15 11:58:03 )
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