09/28/2009 11:00PM

Breeders' Cup clues


Breeders' Cup preview stakes are in abundance these days. Belmont Park will host five graded stakes with BC implications on Saturday and a few more Sunday. Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet begins Wednesday, Sept. 30, with the $100,000 Morvich, a Grade 3 sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf featuring last year's BC Turf Sprint winner, Desert Code. The Oak Tree meet will follow with back-to-back weekends of important stakes loaded with potential BC contenders.

Keeneland, which opens Oct. 9, will front load its three-week meet, with several graded stakes that annually produce BC horses to watch.

While there will be plenty of wagering opportunities presented in these high-class races, it is equally important for players to take a step back from their own personal results in order to spot horses who may provide lucrative keys to the 14 Breeders' Cup events to be run at Santa Anita, on Friday, Nov. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 7.

Keep in mind that Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride main track played very fast for the BC races in 2008, with red-hot fractional splits that added power to a strong wide-rally, deep-closers track bias. Horses with turf breeding and/or solid turf experience - Europeans included - also fared especially well at the 2008 Breeders' Cup. Those facts should sharpen our perspective for horses who flash strong late moves when they run at Belmont, Santa Anita, or Keeneland in the various prep stakes that will dominate the racing calendar through mid-October.

Naturally, the horses who do well in Santa Anita's round of prep stakes on Pro-Ride should have an advantage on Breeders' Cup Day as should some of the horses who fire strong rallies over the Polytrack at Keeneland. But what should we do with horses who run well at Belmont on the wide, expansive, 1 1/2-mile dirt oval that horsemen label "Big Sandy?"

If we look to last year, we probably should downplay the horses who win or run strongly in the five Grade 1 stakes at Belmont on Oct. 3. But I would not be so hasty, not when there will be several legit stretch-running types approaching top form in each of these stakes. Here are the probables as reported by the NYRA racing office along with some notes to use while assessing their performances.

* $400,000 Vosburgh, for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs: Fabulous Strike - trainer Todd Beattie's strong contender for an Eclipse Award - has plenty of raw speed and may be hard to handle here, but the consistent stretch-runner Kodiak Kowboy might better fit the stretch-running profile we saw in play at last year's Breeders' Cup. Clearly, he will be one to watch closely in this excellent contest.

Other probables for the Vosburgh include Eoin Harty's Pass the Point; Kiaran McLaughlin's Everyday Heroes and Keep Laughing; Todd Pletcher's high-class 3-year-old Munnings, who seems a far better sprinter than a middle-distance runner; Bruce Levine's Go Go Shoot; and Roy Sedlacek's True Quality.

Regardless of the Vosburgh outcome, the entire BC Sprint field will have to deal with Bob Baffert's undefeated 3-year-old sprinter Zensational, who may go right to the Breeders' Cup or tune-up in the six-furlong, $300,000 Ancient Title, a Grade 1 at Santa Anita on Oct. 11.

* $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on the turf: Christophe Clement's Beauty O' Gwaun and Carribean Sunset, Bill Mott's Dynaforce, Tom Albertraini's Criticism, Eric Reed's Lemonette, Michael Ball's Moneycantbuymelove, Bob Holthus's Pure Clan, and the Jimmy Jerkens-trained Queen of Hearts all will be measured against the form of reigning BC Filly and Mare Turf champion Forever Together, who was narrowly defeated at Woodbine recently, and the top European imports who usually are major contenders in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

* $600,000 Beldame, for fillies and mares at nine furlongs: At the top of the list for this rich Breeders' Cup prep stakes are Godolphin stable's Music Note, (trained by Rick Mettee in America for Dubai-based Saeed bin Suroor); Todd Pletcher's consistent and game Unbridled Belle and possibly Captain's Lover; Vladmir Cerin's improved Briecat; Marty Wolfson's Icon Project; and the Michael Matz-trained Morena; as well as Steve Asmussen's improved Copper State.

Among the missing will be undefeated Zenyatta, who is going in the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on Oct. 10; the sensational 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, who is seemingly done for the year; and the impressive Alabama Stakes winner Careless Jewel, who is likely to run in Philadelphia Park's Cotillion on Saturday.

* $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/2 miles: Although expected to draw a small field, Gio Ponti, the leading turf horse in America is expected to compete, along with the 10-year-old veteran Better Talk Now, who is probably making his final career start after performing at the Grade 1 level for six seasons. They will be joined by the dangerous front-runner Presious Passion and the recent Bowling Green Stakes winner Grand Couturier.

While it is unclear which of the top Europeans will be pointed to the $3 million BC Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 7, or whether the best Euros will go for the $5 million BC Classic on the Pro-Ride, this specific Breeders' Cup prep stakes has had a major impact on BC Turf form through the years. Certainly, Gio Ponti's win in the Arlington Million over an international field this year suggests that he could be a serious rival for any horse.

* $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/4 miles: While top-class European horses surely will try to replicate the one-two finish of Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator in last year's BC Classic, this prep stakes on the oversized Belmont oval could have a lot to say about this year's 1 1/4-mile BC Classic.

For one thing, it features the vastly improved stretch-runner Summer Bird, who won the Belmont Stakes, finished a gritty second to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park after making a premature move, and then took a major step forward by easily winning the 10-furlong Travers with a strong rally through the final three-eighths of a mile.

Florida Derby winner Quality Road, who probably was a race or two shy of his best form when he finished third in the Travers, also will have a say in the outcome of this annual fall fixture. While Quality Road should give a stronger account of himself in this spot and might even win it, Summer Bird fits the profile of a horse we should be paying close attention to for the stretch-running profile that dominated virtually every main-track Breeders' Cup race in 2008.

At the same time, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is scheduled to run in the $350,000 Goodwood Stakes, a Grade 1 at nine furlongs over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride on Oct 10. Interestingly, this field also will include Colonel John, Chocolate Candy, Parading, and Richard's Kid, all of whom have shown stretch-running form in various stakes this year.