By Gene Kershner
ARCADIA, Ca. – This year’s Breeders’ Cup has gone Hollywood.
The only thing lacking is the star power that the Cup has been fortunate enough to promote over the past few years such as Zenyatta, Curlin and three-time winner Goldikova. This year’s Breeders’ Cup (BC) Classic will be shown in prime time (Ch. 2) starting at 8 p.m. with the $5 million race scheduled to go off at 8:30 p.m.
Just think of it as that really good movie with a cast you don’t recognize that ends up with a year-end Oscar nomination. That’s a good description for what this year’s BC Classic has to offer.
A field of 12 will compete for North America’s richest purse, at the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance on Santa Anita’s dirt track. You’ll remember in 2010 that Zenyatta, the star mare from the west coast, made history as the first female to win the Classic. Since that time, the Pro-Ride synthetic surface has been replaced by a conventional dirt track.
This year’s race favorite, Game on Dude (9-5) also hails from the west coast, and sports a healthy home track advantage, winning all five career starts at the Great Race Place. Trainer Bob Baffert made a jockey change last month, replacing the recently retired Chantal Sutherland with the talented Rafael Bejarano. Game on Dude, with Sutherland aboard, finished second in last year’s Classic to upset winner Drosselmeyer.
There’s not a lot not to like about the Dude. He has a top jockey in the irons, he’s undefeated at the track and enjoys one of the best trainers in the game. He’s shown he can handle the classic distance with five finishes in the exacta in six tries. The jockey change solidified my position on the 5-year-old gelding and will be leaning on him heavily in multi-race plays.
The Awesome Again gelding drew post 5, a location Baffert found advantageous. “He’ll save a length right to start from there,” said the white-haired conditioner. “All the speed is outside in the race and Raffie should be able to pick a good spot from where he is.”
My 2010 Derby pick, Mucho Macho Man (8-1) could be a juicy price at post time and drew outside (post 11) which should set him up perfectly based on his running style. Add the fact that trainer Kathy Ritvo convinced west coast jockey Mike Smith to fly east to ride him twice on the New York circuit enhances his chances on the Santa Anita track. Smith rode Drosselmeyer, winner of last year’s Classic and was on Zenyatta in her historic win here three years ago.
Although the Macho Man has never won a Grade 1 stake, his speed figures are in the right neighborhood to contend for win honors in this field. His workout pattern is solid and he should be in top form for today’s big race. The Macho Uno colt comes off a second place finish in the Woodward at Saratoga.
Hurricane Sandy delayed his arrival at Santa Anita earlier in the week, but Ritvo took the rescheduled flight out of Newburgh (N.Y.) Airport in stride. “We’re missed a day of training, which is probably not great, but he’s doing so good, I think we’ll be all right,” Ritvo said. “There’s not any pressure to me. I waited six months for a transplant, for my heart. This is easy,” said Ritvo, who suffered from degenerative heart disease before undergoing a successful transplant four years ago.
A horse that intrigues me and looks to be in great form is the Ian Wilkes conditioned Fort Larned (5-1). The Whitney winner beat a strong field going 9 furlongs at Saratoga, including Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out (5-1) and Big Cap winner Ron the Greek (6-1).
Brian Hernandez, Jr., a jockey who doesn’t quite have the credentials of a Smith or Bejarano, will ride Fort Larned for the fourth consecutive time. Hernandez, who rides regularly out of Ellis Park, a track located in Ohio known as the “Pea Patch,” wasn’t intimidated during his inaugural ride at Saratoga, the nation’s oldest sports facility, in winning the Whitney. He’ll ride in the biggest race of his career tonight and has a horse that seems to be peaking at just the right time based on improved speed.
“They make a good team and he lets the horse do what he wants,” Wilkes said. “Not that the other riders didn’t, but we wanted someone who would stick with the horse and Brian has.”
I’m going to toss Flat Out, a horse that hasn’t been able to get it done outside of Belmont Park. As for Ron the Greek, who pulled off an incredible double this year, winning the Santa Anita handicap and the Stephen Foster Handicap, we see him picking up a piece of the trifecta or superfecta late. The Greek beat a weak field in the Big Cap and had an absolute dream trip in upsetting Wise Dan in the Foster so I’ll let him beat me on top, but he’s very usable underneath in the exotics.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.