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Updated on 09/16/2011 9:29AM
BC Countdown - Classic: Fab four fight on two fronts
CHICAGO - The three best 3-year-olds in the country, and the unquestioned leader of that division in Europe, were announced on Thursday as pre-entries in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic and could vie for the title of Horse of the Year when the 19th World Thoroughbred Championships are held at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.
The fearsome foursome are War Emblem, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes; Came Home, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Pacific Classic; Medaglia d'Oro, the winner of the Travers Stakes; and European star Rock of Gibraltar, who is unbeaten in five Group 1 stakes this year. If one of them wins the Classic, he would likely be the front-runner for Horse of the Year.
Fourteen horses, the maximum allowed in a Breeders' Cup race, were pre-entered in the Classic, the day's richest race. The outstanding group of 3-year-olds will take on such well-known older horses as Evening Attire, the winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Milwaukee Brew, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap.
Thursday's pre-entry announcement, held at Mike Ditka's restaurant in downtown Chicago, marked the first stage of a two-stage entry process. Next Wednesday, final entries are due, and post positions will be drawn in the eight Breeders' Cup races.
A total of 104 horses were pre-entered in the eight races, with nine of those horses entered in two races. Those who are cross-entered - such as Rock of Gibraltar, who also was pre-entered in the Mile - must declare for a specific race next Wednesday, before the post position draw.
Three of the races - the Mile, Sprint, and Juvenile - drew more than the maximum number of 14 entries. In those cases, seven horses received automatic berths based on points earned this year in North American graded stakes races. The next seven were selected by an international panel of racing officials. The remainder were placed on an also-eligible list, in order of the panel's preference, and can only get into the race should one of the original 14 drop out before final entries are taken on Wednesday.
The panel's most difficult decision came in the Mile, which had 24 pre-entries. Three horses - D'wildcat, Landseer, and North East Bound - were tied for seventh place on points. The committee chose Landseer for the coveted seventh spot, and placed both D'wildcat and North East Bound well down on their list of also-eligibles.
Twelve of the pre-entered horses were not original nominees to the Breeders' Cup, and had to be supplemented to their races. Starine, who is entered in the Filly and Mare Turf, was supplemented to that race one year ago, so she was not assessed an additional penalty this year. But the other 11 runners must pay 9 percent of the base purse of their race in order to run. If all 11 compete, they will contribute a total of $1.1 million to the day's purse total, swelling the day's prize money to $14.1 million.
This will be the first time that the Breeders' Cup will be held at majestic Arlington Park, located approximately 25 miles northwest of downtown Chicago.
"We're absolutely delighted to bring the Breeders' Cup to Arlington Park," said D.G. Van Clief Jr., the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., "and we're delighted to be in Chicago. It's a major sports marketplace, number three in North America." Van Clief called Arlington a "jewel of racing," and said the facility was "in line and deserving of this for some time."
Because Arlington's main track is 1 1/8 miles in circumference, this year's races for 2-year-olds, the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, will be one lap of the main track. Previous runnings of the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies were contested over one mile or 1 1/16 miles.
Three pre-entered horses are previous Breeders' Cup races winners. Banks Hill is seeking a repeat of her overpowering victory in last year's Filly and Mare Turf. Macho Uno, who won the 2000 Juvenile, is in the Classic. And the venerable Kona Gold, who won the 2000 Sprint, will compete in that race for the fifth straight year - the first time a horse has run in five Breeders' Cups.
Aidan O'Brien, the internationally acclaimed trainer based in Ireland, has the most pre-entries, with 10, including five in the Juvenile, which O'Brien won last year with Johannesburg. Bob Baffert and Bobby Frankel had the most pre-entries among trainers based in the United States, with seven each.
Those three trainers will square off in the 1 1/4-mile Classic. In addition to Rock of Gibraltar, O'Brien also pre-entered Hawk Wing in the Classic. Like Rock of Gibraltar, Hawk Wing was pre-entered in the Mile, too. Hawk Wing was noted as having the Classic as his first preference, with Rock of Gibraltar noted as having the Mile as his first preference, but O'Brien said little should be read into those designations.
"Just because we named Rock of Gibraltar as first preference for the Mile doesn't mean he won't run in the Classic. And just because Hawk Wing's first preference is the Classic doesn't mean he'll run there," O'Brien said from his Ballydoyle training center in Ireland. "Both will have a piece of work over the weekend, and we'll probably decide on Monday or Tuesday which race they will run in."
O'Brien said he could run both in the Classic, since he also has Landseer in the Mile. If both run, jockey Mick Kinane will have his choice of which to ride; he almost certainly would choose Rock of Gibraltar. If only one goes in the Classic, Kinane would be aboard.
Frankel has two runners in the Classic, Medaglia d'Oro and Milwaukee Brew. Both are training at Belmont Park. They are scheduled for works on Monday morning, and are scheduled to fly to Chicago later that afternoon.
Baffert's Classic entry is War Emblem, who will be making the final start of his career before he goes to stud in Japan. He is still considered the leader of both the 3-year-old division and the race for Horse of the Year, based on his victories in the Derby and Preakness. But, like the others, he needs a victory in the Classic to secure a championship.
The trainers of the 14 Classic runners already have secured riders for their runners. The field is Came Home (Mike Smith the jockey), Dollar Bill (Pat Day), E Dubai (Jorge Chavez), Evening Attire (Shaun Bridgmohan), Harlan's Holiday (John Velazquez), Hawk Wing (Kinane, perhaps), Macho Uno (Gary Stevens), Medaglia d'Oro (Jerry Bailey), Milwaukee Brew (Edgar Prado), Momentum (Corey Nakatani), Perfect Drift (Robby Albarado), Rock of Gibraltar (Kinane), Volponi (Jose Santos), and War Emblem (Victor Espinoza).