Updated on 09/17/2011 5:35PM

Big layoffs before big race

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Defending champion Pleasantly Perfect will come to the Breeders' Cup Classic 69 days after winning the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

Racing fans eager to see hot Breeders' Cup Classic hopefuls make one final appearance before gathering Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park need not bother tuning in to television. Nor will it help to attend major prep races slated for the next couple weeks across the country. What's required is breakfast trackside and a knowledge of saddle towels and horse markings: In 2004, the most significant Classic preps take place during morning training hours.

At least five of the top 10 hopefuls for the $4 million Classic are expected to come into the race after a layoff of 41 days or more. In the 20 Classics so far, Black Tie Affair won after the longest layoff, 49 days, and most winners won three or four weeks after a final prep race.

But the trend in American racing is to run top horses in big races without the benefit of a prep. Or, as trainer Richard Dutrow said: "I don't want to run in a prep race. I want to get the money right off the bat."

Dutrow has one of the Classic's layoff contenders, the lightly raced but brilliant Saint Liam, who will train in blinkers the next few weeks and wear them at Lone Star if the experiment goes well. Saint Liam suffered a narrow loss to Ghostzapper in the Sept. 11 Woodward, one of the year's fastest races. And Ghostzapper, like Saint Liam, goes into the Classic fresh.

"I feel like I know where my horses are at better when I train them up to a big race off a layoff," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "In the old days, the horses used to get in a steady pattern of racing, but that didn't mean they always were running their top effort."

The Classic's longest layoff horse will be its defending champion, Pleasantly Perfect, who will come to the race 69 days after winning the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. On Monday, Pleasantly Perfect worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 at Santa Anita, a sign that trainer Dick Mandella has started bearing down.

"We need to start building him up little by little," Mandella said.

Mandella downplayed the notion of a marked trend in the way trainers get their horses to important races. "I just train one horse at a time," he said. "This horse will work fast, he'll work slow. He'll do whatever you need him to do to get him to a race."

Last year, Pleasantly Perfect won the Goodwood Handicap 21 days before the Classic. He is passing the Goodwood this year because Mandella wants to go from the Classic to the Japan Cup Dirt. Wins in both races, coupled with Pleasantly Perfect's Dubai World Cup score, would make Pleasantly Perfect a true world champion.

Merely winning the Classic again could give Pleasantly Perfect an inside track on Horse of the Year, since Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones was retired without ever facing older horses. Until unseated, Smarty Jones has the inside track on champion 3-year-old, but Birdstone, who will come to the Classic off a 63-day layoff, has a chance to catch him. Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito, beat Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes before winning the Travers after a long layoff.

Zito could have another 3-year-old for the Classic if The Cliff's Edge earns a spot in the field, perhaps in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And Dutrow has a 3-year-old named Love of Money who is perhaps good enough to run. Unbeaten in four starts, Love of Money won the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby by more than eight lengths, and goes next on Oct. 2, either in the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Indiana Derby.

"If he performs the way he did last time, we'll have to look at running him back in the Breeders' Cup," Dutrow said Wednesday. "I worked him yesterday, and I just can't believe how fast he is."

The Kentucky Cup Classic was last weekend's lone race with Classic implications, and it unfolded as a public workout for Roses in May, who won by four lengths. Roses in May, 5 for 5 this year, put away Pie N Burger at the top of the stretch, and was ridden out a furlong past the finish by jockey John Velazquez, lengthening the nine-furlong Kentucky Cup to 1 1/4 miles, the Classic distance.

"He came back really good," said trainer Dale Romans.

With 42 days between his last race and the Classic, Roses in May also is a layoff horse - which is what Romans wants.

"He's run well every time this year with space between his races," Romans said. "I think we have more control over him that way. He does enough in the morning."

Peace Rules remains a possible Classic starter, but Frankel, his trainer, said a start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would determine his status.

"He could run the Mile, too," Frankel said. "Let's see how he runs in the Gold Cup."

The 3-year-old Imperialism could earn a spot in the Classic with a win in this weekend's Super Derby. Perfect Drift goes in the Oct. 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, and will either have to win "or run a winning-type race" to go on the to the Classic, said trainer Murray Johnson.

While layoff horses are the rule in the 2004 Classic, the Breeders' Cup venue is a first-time starter. Lone Star Park has never hosted a racing program anywhere close to this magnitude, and many trainers of Classic hopefuls have never started a horse at Lone Star.

"I've been there myself two times, and I thought it was a beautiful place," said Mandella. "I have no complaints going in."

Frankel has never run a horse on the Lone Star dirt, but termed the track "speed favoring."

"There's a bias to it, I think," he said.

In fact, many Classic hopefuls have the sort of freewheeling style that often plays well at Lone Star.

"All I've heard is it's a short stretch and that speed holds," said Romans. "But maybe people are telling me what I want to hear."

Timing is everything
Winners of the Breeders' Cup Classic have averaged 25 days from their previous starts, a trend that several runners will be challenging this year.

YEARWINNERTRAINERLAYOFF DAYS
2003Pleasantly PerfectRichard Mandella21
2002VolponiPhil Johnson22
2001TiznowJay Robbins20
2000TiznowJay Robbins20
1999Cat ThiefD. Wayne Lukas42
1998Awesome AgainPat Byrne28
1997Skip AwaySonny Hine21
1996Alphabet SoupDavid Hofmans21
1995CigarBill Mott21
1994ConcernRichard Small35
1993ArcanguesAndre Fabre35
1992A.P. IndyNeil Drysdale21
1991Black Tie AffairErnie Poulos49
1990UnbridledCarl Nafzger34
1989Sunday SilenceCharles Whittingham41
1988AlyshebaJack Van Berg22
1987FerdinandCharles Whittingham14
1986SkywalkerMichael Whittingham28
1985Proud TruthJohn Veitch7
1984Wild AgainVincent Timphony12

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

RANKHORSETRAINERODDS
1GhostzapperR. Frankel4-1
Has run some monstrous races, and may simply be the best horse
2Pleasantly PerfectR. Mandella7-2
Trying to win off an August layoff has not worked in this race so far
3Saint LiamR. Dutrow Jr.12-1
Gave Ghostzapper quite a battle in Woodward; has improved tons
4Perfect DriftM. Johnson12-1
Lots of seconds this year overshadow how formidable he can be
5Roses in MayD. Romans10-1
Regressed fig-wise in Ky. Cup; must bounce back big to contend
6BirdstoneN. Zito6-1
Like Mandella, Zito is attempting to rewrite the book on training here
7Love of MoneyR. Dutrow Jr.15-1
Short on experience, but has already proven that he can really run
8Evening AttireP. Kelly15-1
True 1 1/4 mile and two-turn horse still has some life in his 6yo bones
9Peace RulesR. Frankel10-1
Tough customer when right, but at his best going shorter distances
10The Cliff's EdgeN. Zito30-1
Lacks speed as well as a strong late burst; not my kind of horse

- Odds and commentary by Mike Watchmaker.