10/27/2011 12:55PM

Four First Preference Surprises

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If you have been following the run up to the Breeders’ Cup this fall, you would probably agree that there were few surprises at the just completed pre-entry stage. But what surprises there were at the pre-entries, for me, anyway, concerned the first preferences of four of the horses cross-entered in two Breeders’ Cup events.

Now, it should be noted right here that in each case, the four horses in question are in the main body of both their first and second race preferences, so they have the opportunity to run in the second and seemingly more logical spot if that’s what they want. Still, in reading between the lines, the first preference of these four horses makes for interesting discussion.

Here are the four, in alphabetical order, followed by the Breeders’ Cup races they entered in order of preference:

Dullahan – Juvenile Turf, Juvenile – That Dullahan made the Juvy Turf his first preference is not shocking when taken in the context that he did race on turf before he got his maiden win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. But it is surprising when you consider that he won the Breeders’ Futurity on the main track, even if that main track was Keeneland’s Polytrack. You would think that there would be no question that a 2-year-old who won a Grade 1, two turn race on the main track before the Breeders’ Cup would shoot for a divisional title in the Juvenile on dirt, not to mention define his status as a potential Kentucky Derby candidate. But reports say that Dullahan’s connections are just as likely to start their colt in the Juvenile Turf as the Juvenile.

Gio Ponti – Classic, Mile – The Breeders’ Cup Classic would be the first ever outing on dirt for Gio Ponti, a 6-year-old who has made 28 career starts. Moreover, Gio Ponti just won a Grade 1 prep for the Mile, and was a good second to Goldikova in last year’s Mile. The Classic just doesn’t seem to make any sense, even if he did finish second in it in 2009 when it was run on a synthetic surface. Unless, that is, you consider that Gio Ponti is already a multiple Eclipse Award winner who has earned over $6 million, and factor in that he is expected to call it a career after this Breeders’ Cup. In other words, if you’re ever going to take a shot like this, this would be the time. He has nothing to lose – another, say, second in the Mile would be nice but not game changing – but perhaps much to gain.

Midday – Turf, Filly & Mare Turf – Midday won the F & M Turf in 2009 and was a narrowly beaten second in it last year, but she is bound for a start against males in the Turf. This is in keeping with the way Midday has been campaigned this year. She has made three of her six starts this year against males after making only one of her prior 16 starts came against males. But it is still a surprise to me to see her pass on a race in the F & M Turf she would be favored to win for a tougher spot. To me, this reeks of stable confidence. It is also a different situation from Sarafina’s. Sarafina was also cross-entered in the Turf and F & M Turf, but she was always a candidate for the Turf.

Stopshoppingmaria – Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile Fillies – Stopshoppingmaria was a soundly beaten to My Miss Aurelia in the Grade 1 Frizette, but that was perhaps the strongest prep this year for the Juvenile Fillies, and Stopshoppingmaria was the favorite in it. But even though Stopshoppingmaria has some turf pedigree on top, the fact that the Juvy Fillies Turf is her first preference might suggest that her connections don’t think she can beat My Miss Aurelia, at least not at this point in time.