Updated on 09/17/2011 10:25PM

BC Classic: Rock Hard Ten scatters 'em

Rock Hard Ten will go in Saturday's Goodwood - which means some rivals will hit the road.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The purse of the Jockey Club Gold Cup offers one million reasons not to stay in California for the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, which also is run on Saturday. The fact that the Gold Cup will be run at Belmont Park, which plays host to the Breeders' Cup four weeks later, is another compelling attraction. But Kristin Mulhall, the trainer of Imperialism, summed it up best as to why so many California-based runners decided to leave town.

"I want to avoid that big monster, Rock Hard Ten," she said.

Rock Hard Ten looms large, both literally and figuratively, over the Goodwood, which is the major prep at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita for the Classic. Although he has not raced since his victory in March in the Santa Anita Handicap, Rock Hard Ten has trained sharply for several months in preparation for a fall campaign. Rock Hard Ten, an imposing son of Kris S., will be a heavy favorite against a handful of challengers in the Grade 2, $500,000 Goodwood.

Meanwhile, such California-based runners as Borrego, Imperialism, and Lava Man all have fled for New York. Roman Ruler also was scheduled to go there, but on Wednesday, after Roman Ruler worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds at Santa Anita, trainer Bob Baffert decided to leave him in California.

Richard Mandella, who trains Rock Hard Ten, downplays the idea that Rock Hard Ten was a rock thrown into a pool, causing the ripple effect.

"The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a million dollars. Money does it. It's important," he said.

But Mandella acknowledged that Rock Hard Ten is "as good as he can be."

"He's very good right now," Mandella said. "But I'm never comfortable. I'm only comfortable if I win. It's comfortable having a good horse. That helps. Helps a lot."

Mandella is bringing Rock Hard Ten along in a manner similar to what he did with Pleasantly Perfect in 2003. Both were off during the summer after racing in the Santa Anita Handicap. Pleasantly Perfect captured the Goodwood before scoring a 14-1 upset in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"It's pretty similar," Mandella said. "Both are big, strong horses who need a little training to do something like this. Rock Hard Ten is right around 1,200 pounds, I'd guess."

Mandella has put Rock Hard Ten through a series of long workouts, ranging in recent weeks from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. The idea, Mandella said, was to have Rock Hard Ten in such good physical condition that the prep race would not be as taxing as it usually is for a horse returning from a lengthy layoff. Rock Hard Ten completed his serious training with a sharp three-furlong blowout in 34.80 seconds on Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. The time was the third-best of 18 at the distance.

Rock Hard Ten has won all three of his starts since being transferred to Mandella. He captured the seven-furlong Malibu in December before victories in the 1 1/8-mile Strub Stakes and 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap. Borrego, Imperialism, and Lava Man were among those he defeated in those three races.

In addition to Roman Ruler, the only others expected to challenge Rock Hard Ten in the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood are Choctaw Nation, Gotaghostofachance, and Total Impact.

Roman Ruler was third in the 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes in his last start after capturing the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational.

"Jerry Bailey said he didn't bring his 'A' game to the Travers," Baffert said. "I asked him if he still thought he could get a mile and a quarter, and he said he could if he ran like he did in the Haskell."

Roman Ruler, 3, would be meeting older horses for the first time in the Goodwood. That is the same hurdle that Travers Stakes winner Flower Alley and Pennsylvania Derby winner Sun King will try to clear in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup, the weekend's other key prep for the Classic. Alumni Hall and Suave are among the others scheduled for the Gold Cup.

In other Classic news, Afleet Alex could have a timed breeze on Thursday or Friday, trainer Tim Ritchey said. Afleet Alex was scheduled to have another set of X-rays taken on Wednesday, which were to be sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage in Kentucky, a process that preceded other advances in the colt's training this fall.

"He'll probably go a half-mile or five-eighths," Ritchey said. "Jeremy Rose will be on him. I'll tell him to go a half, and if he's feeling fine to go five-eighths."

Classic contenders
3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles. Purse: $4 million

1Saint LiamR. Dutrow Jr.8-5
Current top dog is waiting to see if legit challengers emerge Saturday
2Lava ManD. O'Neill6-1
Hoping to make $360K supplement Saturday in $1 Million J.C. Gold Cup
3Rock Hard TenR. Mandell5-1
King of California early in year gets only prep in Saturday's Goodwood
4OratorioA. O'Brien10-1
Won two big Group 1's at the distance; dangerous if he opts for this
5Sun KingN. Zito15-1
He and the next three at least also go in the suddenly deep Gold Cup
6Flower AlleyT. Pletcher8-1
Travers-Jim Dandy winner may be most improved 3yo in the nation
7BorregoC. B. Greely15-1
Finally won a big one in Pacific Classic; okay, let's see him do it again
8ImperialismK. Mulhall20-1
Must prove Saturday he isn't more effective as a closing sprinter/miler
9Roman RulerB. Baffert12-1
Better than his flat Travers; there's been indecision regarding his plans
10Afleet AlexT. Ritchey8-1
Has slim chance to make this, but deserves to be listed, nevertheless
The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.