Updated on 09/16/2011 8:22AM

BC Countdown - Mile: Two drop out before major prep weekend


Although two California-based horses dropped out of consideration for the Breeders' Cup Mile during the last week, little else is new regarding the outlook for the $1 million race.

That is about to change.

Three crucial Mile preps are set for this weekend in the United States: the $600,000 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile, the $350,000 Kelso Handicap at Belmont, and the $250,000 Oak Tree BC Mile at Santa Anita.

From those, the Mile picture could become considerably clearer, although the most meaningful variable still may be what trainer Aidan O'Brien decides to do with Rock of Gibraltar, the European superstar who continues to top the Daily Racing Form rankings.

O'Brien has said he might run Rock of Gibraltar in the Mile, the Classic, or not at all, and probably will not make a decision until next week at the earliest.

In contrast to Rock of Gibraltar's uncertain status, the chances of running in the Mile were completely wiped out this week for Sarafan, the former No. 4-ranked horse, and Special Ring, formerly No. 6.

Trainer Neil Drysdale said Wednesday that Sarafan will make his next start Sunday in the 1 1/4-mile Hirsch Memorial at Santa Anita, then be pointed to the Japan Cup. Drysdale said that Sarafan prefers distances between the Mile and the 1 1/2-mile BC Turf.

A few days earlier, trainer Julio Canani said Special Ring, a winner of four of his last five starts, recently injured a sesamoid and will be out of training until the end of the year.

Of the coming preps, the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland probably looms the most important. Beat Hollow figures as a solid favorite for Bobby Frankel in his first start since the Million, but will be challenged by a host of capable milers, including two newcomers to the DRF rankings, Landseer and Balto Star. Other probables are Freefourinternet, North East Bound, Quiet Resolve, Startac, and Touch of the Blues.

Landseer is trained by O'Brien, who normally sends his BC contingent en masse but informed Keeneland officials this week that he intended to send Landseer ahead of the others. Balto Star, the flashy gelding who runs hot and cold, could be in for another run at the Mile after finishing 12th and last in the race last year.

The other two preps probably will have less impact on the Mile, although the Oak Tree BC has established itself as a great producer in recent years: Silic (1999), War Chant (2000), and Val Royal (2001) all exited the Oak Tree BC to win the Mile. This year, the field appears less promising, with Congaree perhaps the most capable prospect.

The Kelso again appears to be the playground of Forbidden Apple, who has won the last two runnings. Trained by Christophe Clement, he was second in the Mile last year, running over his favorite grass course at Belmont. In 2001, he finished seventh at 29-1 in the Mile at Gulfstream.

From overseas, Hawk Wing maintained his No. 2 position in the DRF rankings despite his two-length defeat Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot.