Updated on 09/16/2011 8:29AM

BC Countdown - Mile: O'Brien's two heavyweights may defect


Let the dominoes start falling. Trainer Aidan O'Brien strongly indicated Thursday during an NTRA teleconference call that he will enter Rock of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing in the Breeders' Cup Classic instead of the BC Mile, a leaning that could initiate a somewhat tricky process of introducing alternate starters into the Mile field before entries are drawn Wednesday at Arlington Park.

As one of the 14 horses assured of a berth in the Mile, Rock of Gibraltar surely would be a solid favorite if O'Brien chose the Mile over the Classic for his stable superstar. But O'Brien said that "one race is worth $4 million and the other is $1 million," referring to the Classic and Mile, and that the respective difference in purses is a major reason he believes "the chance of a different surface and a different distance" might be worth taking for Rock of Gibraltar, heretofore a middle-distance grass specialist.

O'Brien said Hawk Wing, who also is one of the 14 in the main body of pre-entries for the Mile, is more likely for the Classic, too. In fact, Hawk Wing is listed as having the Classic as his first preference, whereas Rock of Gibraltar has the Mile as a first preference.

"We had to give a preference, but nothing is written in stone," said O'Brien. A final decision, he said, will rest on "how the horses take their trip, like when they arrive and everything, just to see what happens to any of them."

Even if Rock of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing defect to the Classic, O'Brien still will have yet another horse, Landseer, as a major contender for the Mile. All three horses are owned wholly or in part by O'Brien's main client, John Magnier. All of O'Brien's BC horses tentatively are scheduled to be flown Tuesday to Chicago.

Clearly, the status of Rock of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing will go a long way in determining the makeup of the Mile field; in addition, one other horse in the main body, The Tin Man, has the Turf as his first preference, meaning the floodgates could open to the list of 10 alternates.

Even then, some of the alternates might take a pass on the Mile.

The first alternate, Volponi, has first preference in the Classic, while the second alternate, Zenda, has the Filly and Mare Turf as first preference. The respective third and fourth horses on the alternates list, Nuclear Debate and Dress to Thrill, appear to have excellent chances of making the race, while the fifth, Green Fee, also could make it into the race if everything falls his way.

Even the seventh alternate, North East Bound, might be able to get in, since sixth alternate, Chopinina, has first preference in the Filly and Mare Turf. As per new guidelines for selecting BC fields, seven horses made the main body of 14 on the basis of BC point earnings, while the other seven were picked by the Racing Secretaries and Directors Panel, a committee that also forms a pecking order among the alternates.

The Mile horses making the field on points were Aldebaran, Beat Hollow, Boston Common, Del Mar Show, Forbidden Apple, Landseer, and Touch of the Blues. If Del Mar Show runs, it would mark the 17th straight year that trainer Bill Mott has had at least one BC starter. Mott said recently that he was resigned to the streak ending but has left open the possibility of Del Mar Show keeping it alive. Mott also is considering the $100,000 Steinlen Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race on the Oct. 26 BC undercard at Arlington, as an alternate race.