11/05/2010 1:33PM

Brrrreeders' Cup Day 1


Oh yeah. They're about to start this Breeders' Cup thing, Day 1, and before they do, a promise: You will not hear a peep from this spoiled, sun-drenched Californian about the weather, which is brisk, but there are a lot of fine folks who must deal with frozen toes and noses who do not have the diversion of watching Zenyatta, Lookin at Lucky, Goldikova and Workforce perform for their pleasure. I feel obligated to explain, however, that because I can't feel my fingers I am typing this with a pen clenched in my teeth. There, I went and complained.

Sometimes you just have to go with instinct, and the interpretation of otherwise random pieces of chance, and so the first person I ran into on the Churchill Downs backstretch this fine Friday morning was Marty Jones, the trainer of the California filly Unzip Me. She runs in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (Gotta Have Her, a filly, finished second in the same race last year), and she looked a lot happier than Jones, who was huddled inside his ski parka with only the brim of his Breeders' Cup "Unzip Me" ballcap poking out. This is Jones's second trip to the Cup (Hugh Hefner beat one in the '99 Juvenile) as he tries to improve upon the record of his father, perennial Hall of Fame nominee Gary Jones, who went 0-for-12 but hit the board in the Classic twice with champion Turkoman.

"I've got two of these caps," Marty said. "One says 'Hugh Hefner' and the other says 'Unzip Me.' What's that say about me?"

I hit town hearing about nothing but the Kentucky drought and Europeans' concerns over the turf course, which was officially rated "dry, except when the sprinklers are on." Standing next to the outside rail on the backstretch as Workforce, Delegator, Dubussy and Utley galloped by late Friday morning, it sounded like a clatter of baseball bats hitting a canvas bag. 

"Sounds firmer than it is," assured John Gosden, who has Debussy for the Turf and Utley for the Juvenile Turf, as well as Flood Plain in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (the post draw ruined her chances). "This is a sand-based course, and we don't have any in England, except for a portion of Ascot that's a sandy loam. You can't really over-water the course, either, because the root system doesn't go very deep, and you'll tear out huge chunks. This is not ground the Europeans are used to."

Gosden also warned against being overly impressed with what looked like Debussy's last-second dash along the rail at the end of the Arlington Million to defeat Gio Ponti.

"My rider (Billy Buick) told me he was trying to get through a lot earlier than that, " Gosden said. "When he finally did it looked a lot more dramatic than it perhaps should have been."

Zenyatta had a gallop -- hopping and dodging like a feisty bunny at least once as she turned onto the backstretch the second time -- then a walk around a crowded Barn 41 and a warm sponge bath courtesy of groom Mario Espinoza. What everyone saw was exactly what anyone who had been watching her in California these past three years recognized: Zenyatta on her game, at peace with her surroundings. Two things -- beyond all that 19-0 business -- work squarely in her favor. First, the mosquitoes that plagued her when she came to town in May of 2009 (to enter but then be scratched from the Louisville Distaff Handicap) are nowhere to be seen. Locals tell me that has something to do with the cold weather, but I told them I wasn't going to talk about that. The other is Zenyatta's post position draw, No. 8, which makes no real difference because of her rope-a-dope style, but does come with the universal corresponding pink saddle towel worn by No. 8s everywhere. Pink, just like the hoops on the silks of Ann and Jerry Moss. Pink, the same towel Rachel Alexandra wore when she won the Kentucky Oaks. Pink, just like the chick she is.