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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Breeders Cup Preview - The Classic

- Was Borrego’s ridiculously easy win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup a case of a horse maturing and coming into his own late in his four year-old season, or of a horse that has taken advantage of ideal pace scenarios in his last two wins, or an indictment of the depth of this handicap division which has been devastated by injury? Perhaps it’s a bit of all three. Borrego has two in a row, indeed taking advantage of contested early paces, but the authority and ease with which he won the Gold Cup indicates that perhaps he’s a horse peaking at the right time.

When Borrego was making his astounding sweep on the turn, the pace had already started to slow, and Garrett Gomez was able to virtually shut the colt down in a final quarter of :26.17 seconds. "He was absolutely perfect. I wanted to settle him down late. We've got a month to the Breeders' Cup, and I didn't want him to overdo it." [Louisville Courier-Journal] Talk about a race falling apart; it was 4 ½ lengths back to Suave, another 5 ¾ back to Sun King, and another five back to 3-2 favorite Flower Alley in fourth. Yet Todd Pletcher seemed undaunted by Flower Alley’s disappointing performance and insisted he would press on to the Classic. He also sounded more than a little defensive about the failed strategy which saw his rabbit run head and head with Flower Alley.

"I know everybody's going to say the rabbit was why we got beat; it had nothing to do with it.....Flower Alley was too rank. Whether Bishop Court Hill was in there or not, he was too fresh on the day." [Daily Racing Form]
Well, I’ll agree with him in that the rabbit was not why he got beat; I thought he was a glaring underlay against older horses, even this group, second stringers at best. Unfortunately for me, Borrego ran the race I was hoping Imperialism would. But yes, I still would put Borrego in the second-stringer class despite the way he won, and would welcome him taking money in the Classic against the likes of Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten.

The latter made his return a winning one in the Goodwood at Santa Anita. Beating the three year-old Roman Ruler by one length may not in itself sound like Classic material, but listen to jockey Gary Stevens: "By the time we got to the quarter pole, it was just a matter of how far I wanted to win by, and when I wanted to ask him.....I asked and it was over in two strides." []. And he told the LA Daily News that “he actually only ran an eighth of a mile."

- I don’t believe that we’ll be seeing any of the three year olds from the Pegasus, Super Derby, or Indiana Derby in the Classic. Don't Get Mad's trainer Ron Ellis said that “once we dip down from the Kentucky Derby and the Travers, he’s pretty tough,” [Anderson Herald Bulletin] so I take that to mean he knows the horse’s place. However, Scrappy T. was ridden as if he has future engagements in mind in his first start since the Preakness. Ramon Dominguez seemed to have a handful throughout – the race chart notes that he was kept under a hold up the backstretch and Dominguez didn’t seem to put up much of a fight when engaged by Don’t Get Mad. It will be interesting to see where Robert Bailes spots his colt next.

- Lava Man was a big disappointment and finished some 30 lengths behind sixth place Grand Reward. While he wasn't vanned off this time, perhaps his ordeal in the Pacific Classic took a bigger toll than acknowledged by his connections.

- Did the way Borrego devour the field on the turn and draw away in the Belmont stretch remind you of anyone? It made me think of Afleet Alex's Belmont win, and the latest optimistic prognosis on his chances of making the Classic will hopefully turn out to be more than a tease. For all the horses that have dropped out of contention, a field featuring Saint Liam, Rock Hard Ten, Borrego, and Afleet Alex wouldn’t be too shabby at all though, unless a European like Oratorio adds some further intrigue, there wouldn’t be much depth beyond those four.