11/02/2012 11:32AM

Breeders’ Cup: A day to settle all debates


ARCADIA, Calif. – The Breeders’ Cup may have become a victim of its own success. Because it has expanded to more than twice its original size, now with 15 races spread over two days, oftentimes some of the clutter gets in the way of the essence of the event. But get past the background noise, and there is no question that the card presented Saturday at Santa Anita will be one of the finest in the Breeders’ Cup’s 29 editions.

Hyperbole? Hardly.

Consider that in the nine Breeders’ Cup races to be run Saturday, there will be four horses – Amazombie, California Flag, Musical Romance, and St Nicholas Abbey – with a previous win in the Breeders’ Cup, including three who won last year. The two best turf horses in America, Point of Entry and Wise Dan, both take on worthy international challengers in their respective specialties. And both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners from 2011 will be competing. All in one day. And there’s plenty more.

The Breeders’ Cup was founded in 1984 with one goal in mind, to have a year-end, championship event to determine Eclipse Awards, and in that regard, Saturday will be pivotal. There are at least six awards that could be decided -- Horse of the Year, older male, male turf, 2-year-old male, female sprinter, even 3-year-old male.

Ranking alongside Point of Entry and Wise Dan as a leading candidate for Horse of the Year is Game On Dude, who heads the $5 million Classic, the final race of the event, in which runners like Fort Larned and Ron the Greek will also make their bid for year-end honors.

The 12-race card Saturday unfolds like a chef’s tasting menu. Beginning at 10:05 a.m. Pacific, there are three races, all stakes, as appetizers, and then the Breeders’ Cup races come rolling out, concluding with the Classic at 5:30 p.m.

First up is the Juvenile Turf, which drew a large field owing to its attractiveness to Europeans and to Americans who want to get their 2-year-olds an early opportunity on grass. This year’s Breeders’ Cup races for 2-year-olds also are notable in that they ban the use of the anti-bleeding medication Salix, also known as Lasix.

The Juvenile Turf kicks off a pick four wager that has a $1 million guarantee.

The first race with Eclipse Award implications is the Filly and Mare Sprint, in which Groupie Doll, the winner of four straight races, will attempt to secure an award for which she is currently the front-runner. To do so, though, she must get past Musical Romance, who won this race last year and, with it, the female sprint championship.

The Dirt Mile has lured Shackleford, who won the Preakness in 2011 and came back this year to capture the Met Mile. He needs a victory to have any shot of remaining in contention for an Eclipse Award for champion older male, and that would require a flurry of upsets in the latter half of the card, too.

California Flag, who won the Turf Sprint in 2009, will try to become the first horse to win Breeders’ Cup events three years apart. The Turf Sprint is the first leg of a pick six wager that has a guaranteed pool of $2 million. In addition, if no one hit the Breeders’ Cup pick six on Friday, there would be a carryover to Saturday. There is a mandatory payout Saturday.

Next up is the Juvenile, which likely will decide the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old male. All the leading candidates for the honor are in the race, including the current front-runner, Shanghai Bobby, who sports a perfect 4-for-4 record.

Point of Entry will stake his claim to the male turf championship, and Horse of the Year, in the Turf, which includes last year’s winner, St Nicholas Abbey, and Little Mike, who could wrest the male turf title with an upset win. In addition, should Dullahan shock older runners in this race, he would have three Grade 1 victories this year, two against older horses, on two different surfaces, a resume that would make him a worthy candidate for the 3-year-old male title.

Amazombie, last year’s Sprint winner, will try to retain his title as the nation’s champion sprinter. He tuned up for this year’s Sprint with a three-furlong workout on Thursday morning that Daily Racing Form clocked in 37.76 seconds.

The Sprint begins a late pick four wager, ending with the Classic, that has a guaranteed pool of $2 million.

The Mile is so deep that the 2011 Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, is a pre-race footnote because of the presence of Wise Dan, America’s best turf miler, and Excelebration, a brilliant European who has raced in the shadow of the great Frankel. A win by Wise Dan keeps him in play for Horse of the Year, as well as both the male turf and older male titles.

The Classic also will impact Horse of the Year, and the older male Eclipse Award, depending on its result and how Point of Entry and Wise Dan fare earlier. Game On Dude is the horse to beat over a track on which he is unbeaten, but both Fort Larned and Ron the Greek did enough earlier this year to have a shot at the older male title should either prevail.

This is the sixth Breeders’ Cup to be run at Santa Anita. Breeders’ Cup officials made a fortuitous selection of this site, because the weather has been ideal all week. According to The Weather Channel, the high temperature Saturday will be 83 degrees, with zero chance of rain.

Most of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races will be shown by the NBC Sports Network, in a 4 1/2-hour telecast beginning at 12:30 p.m. Pacific. The Classic will be seen live on NBC in a one-hour show, beginning at 5 Pacific, meaning it will air at 8 Eastern, making it the first prime-time telecast of a Breeders’ Cup race.