09/06/2009 11:00PM

BC Classic sleeper


Have you ever gone across the sea to Ireland?

As the sentimental ballad tells, well, maybe, at the closing of the day, you can sit and watch the moon rise over Gladdah, and watch the sun go down on Galway Bay.

So it came to pass this summer that Santa Anita handicappers Dan and Christy Koss descended upon the unfamiliar but stunningly popular seven-day Galway Races Summer Festival in County Cork, where they encountered an unexpected but even more spectacular sight. The serendipitous sighting was viewed from across the Irish Sea at Glorious Goodwood where on Aug. 2 the Ballydoyle colt Rip Van Winkle "roared with awesome power."

The "roaring" description of the performance comes not precisely from Dan and Christy but rather indirectly from columnist Ian McClean, writing in amusing but serious style in awe of the colt in The Galway Independent. Detailing in thrall how Rip, as the punters have nicknamed him, sat a close second behind a "blasting" pace, and blew away not only the blasting pace but also a Guineas and Coronation Stakes winner as jockey Johnny Murtagh "never had to lift a finger, never mind the stick."

The event was the Group 1 Sussex Stakes, the trainer Aidan O'Brien, and the amusing wrinkle is that prior to the Sussex explosion Rip stood third in a line of classic Ballydoyle colts, a rank underachiever that "had promised everything but delivered nothing more exciting than a Group 3 in his six career starts," wrote McClean.

Still, the boys at Ballydoyle had insisted Rip was a colt "as good as it gets," said McClean, superior to yard mates Fame and Glory and Mastercraftsman. O'Brien had concurred.

Such was the star-power of the performance that McClean has concluded that Rip should astonish the world in the same awesome way by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November at the expense of Sea the Stars to end the European flat season. Dan and Christy had intimated as much in their enlightening letter. Having seen neither the performance or result chart nor the Racing Post rating, I hastily and heartily concur.

The symmetry of the situation is almost overwhelming. In three matches with Sea the Stars so far our hero Rip is zip for three. Drift back to the European classics of 2008, when Raven's Pass was zip for three versus Henrythenavigator. Closer to home, drift back to the spring and summer of 2007, when Curlin lost the Kentucky Derby to Street Sense, the Belmont Stakes to Rags to Riches, and the Haskell Invitational to Any Given Saturday. In between Curlin had won the Preakness Stakes over Hard Spun by a nose in a desperate late jump.

By fall and the Breeders' Cup championship races, the worms had turned. Raven's Pass triumphed easily over Henrythenavigator in last year's BC Classic, and best of all, paid a robust $29, when he should have paid roughly 4-1. Two years ago, Curlin beat some of his earlier conquerors in the Classic. The maturation of fall matters, quite a lot.

Now it's happening again. Notwithstanding the records of spring and summer, the 3-year-old to honor during fall is the one that has matured the most. The case is especially enticing when the rampantly maturing colt has lost to his contemporaries in the past, a la Curlin in 2007, Raven's Pass, and presumptively Rip Van Winkle. The odds will be in his favor now, and those of his backers, maybe greatly.

So it has been happening, following the Sussex Stakes, that the boys of Ballydoyle have been clamoring for another match with Sea the Stars. According to McClean, it is not about to happen, until November at Santa Anita, that is. Rip Van Winkle is scheduled to appear next at Ascot's QEII Stakes in late September.

As McClean tells, that will keep everybody's attention rapt until "the bitter end" at Santa Anita. McClean makes no mention of the brilliant American filly Rachel Alexandra or the equally magnificent undefeated 5-year-old mare Zenyatta, the bitter-end match the Americans have been dreaming of for November. That would have been widely out of context for his column, to be sure, but it illustrates well how separate the European and American world-view at the top of the sport can be. To Europeans the fillies, whether they participate or not, will be of no consequence.

Handicappers tempted to rush to the side of John Avello at the Wynn Las Vegas with a future-book bet of $200 or more on Rip should consider a couple of caution signs. The colt has fragile feet, which according to O'Brien is a partial explanation for the disappointing 1-for-6 run prior to the Sussex Stakes. Lack of maturity is the true explanation.

Premier British bookmaker William Hill has listed Rip Van Winkle at 3-1, but for the Mile, and Rip is not listed for the BC Classic. That may be a fortunate circumstance for the bettors. As McClean makes clear, the boys at Ballydoyle, including O'Brien, want that fourth match with Sea the Stars badly, and the only place where that could occur apparently is not on European turf, but on the Pro-Ride synthetic surface at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. The two should meet there. How about that!

An afterthought on this intriguing matter is appropriate here, and my salutations to Dan and Christy Koss for their thoughtful and informative correspondence.

Don't forget Galway

In his wonderful chapter in the original "Bet With the Best" (DRF Press 2001) on European Racing, Daily Racing Form's outstanding foreign editor Alan Shuback implores American handicappers to visit the leading racetracks of Europe and for all the right reasons. Not only is the racing far superior to the modern American brand, but also there they will encounter dozens of talented horses that will be racing in the United States within two years.

Shuback recommends a quartet of "dream itineraries" for spending a week each in England and France, and the four should be considered compulsory for dedicated practitioners of the art, but he omits the seven-day Galway Races Summer Festival of Ireland, and that would be a mistake.

Husbands and wives and men and women too, Irish and otherwise, might consider that on Thursday of the festival each year at Ballybrit racetrack it's Ladies Day. Among the 143,00 who attended the festival, an incredible 42,215 came on Ladies Day, ostensibly because alongside the races the food and wine and festivities that flow throughout, the day constitutes a great social event.

Not to be forsaken, those who stop at Blarney Castle, seven miles from Cork City, another short hop from Ballybrit, and kiss the Blarney Stone, will be blessed on their visit with the luck of the Irish. It's a tradition and Irish luck would make for a wonderful companion at the Galway races.