11/02/2011 4:59PM

Breeders' Cup: Goldikova seeks grand finale in Mile


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, the Swiss-born brothers who bred and own Goldikova, announced during the 2008 post-BC Mile press conference that they would delay retirement and bring the Mile winner back to race at age 4, a cheer went up from assembled media.

How quaint.

Three years later – three years! – Goldikova remains . . . Goldikova. She already has gone where no Thoroughbred has been before, winning a Breeders’ Cup race for the third straight year when she scored an emotionally charged victory here in the 2010 Mile. And 6-year-old Goldikova still comes back for more. She is the 7-5 morning-line favorite to win her fourth Mile while facing 12 foes in the last BC race before the Classic, and the 27th and last race of Goldikova’s career.

“Let’s say she’s a year older, a little heavier maybe, which is normal, but she still has the same way she wants to go, her action is the same,” said trainer Freddie Head, who has won the Mile five times, since he twice rode Miesque to victory.

“She’s still like a 3-year-old filly,” he said. “You look at her, and she never changes. She’s never had a day of problems in all her life.”

Based strictly on winning performances, Goldikova has declined in 2011. She has lost three races, as many defeats as she suffered in 2009 and 2010 combined, and she was rather soundly beaten by Canford Cliffs in the Queen Anne and by Immortal Verse in the Jacque Le Marois. But deeper analysis suggests Goldikova remains formidable. Her losses were second-place finishes, and the most recent one, in the Prix de la Foret, came by a head. Two losses came in straight-course miles, and Goldikova has proved untouchable here because her athletic build is made for tight turns.

“She likes the two turns, she loves running on the left-hand course,” Head said. “This is the perfect place for her.”

If history is any guide, Olivier Peslier will take a gentle hold of Goldikova after breaking from post 1, wait in midpack, look for room around the far turn, and take the lead at the top of the stretch.

The first horse Head mentioned when asked to assess competition was Gio Ponti, who probably is making his final start. Second to Zenyatta in the 2009 Classic, Gio Ponti finished second to Goldikova in the 2010 Mile, coming home strongly but coming up 1 3/4 lengths short. Gio Ponti won the Oct. 8 Shadwell Mile like a horse who is in top form, but one wonders if that’s enough.

“In racing, it seems to be a business of dreams,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “You always have to hope. Goldikova beat us last year, but this is horse racing. He’s trained great. He’s very, very sound.”

Three other Europeans will try Goldikova. Zoffany nearly beat top-class Frankel in June but finished last in the Shadwell. Strong Suit is an improving 3-year-old who exits a dominant Group 2 win, but an outside draw vastly displeased his connections. Byword, from trainer Andre Fabre, has the class to contend, but his strong recent performance came over 1 3/16 miles.

“The mile is going to be on the shorter side for him, I don’t think there’s any doubt of that,” Juddmonte Farms racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said.

Turallure won his first Grade 1 on Sept. 18, running down Courageous Cat in the Woodbine Mile. In June, he finished fast to capture the Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill.

Breeders' Cup Mile: Get graded entries, comments by Mike Watchmaker, and more

“I think he’s every bit as good as he was before Woodbine,” trainer Charles Lopresti said. “He’s carried his weight. He just keeps getting better.”

Courageous Cat finished second by a half-length to Goldikova in the 2009 Mile but has yet to come back to that high-water mark. Trainer Bill Mott thinks he can improve on this Woodbine Mile performance, where he held the lead for most of the long stretch.

“He was on the lead a long way that day,” Mott said. “I don’t think he needs to do that again.”

Sidney’s Candy figures to lead, Get Stormy figures to stay close – and Goldikova figures to win. She will be missed in 2012, but so will her trainer. Head’s voice wavers on the edge of weariness when asked variations of the same questions that have been posed for three years, but he inevitably dodges impatience and gives generous, honest answers. Goldikova has been a pleasure to watch. Head has been a pleasure to have around.

“That was a great moment last year,” he said. “Winning three times was something incredible. Saturday, I know it’s her last race. I want her to finish in a good way, winning or losing, I want her to have a good run. And that’s going to be it.”

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A. Fabre
M. Guyon n/a, n/a, n/a Form seems a cut below, but he beat a next-out Gr. 1 winner in last; upsetter 12-1
F. Head
O. Peslier n/a, n/a, n/a Going for 4th straight Mile; lost a step; might still be simply better than these 9-5
Gio Ponti
C. Clement
R. Dominguez 100, 97, 101 Second to Goldikova in this last year; wonder if he hasn't lost a step as well 5-1
Strong Suit
R. Hannon
R. Hughes n/a, n/a, n/a Currently in sharp Gr. 2 form, but he might prefer a slightly shorter distance 10-1
Courageous Cat
W. Mott
P. Valenzuela 101, 103, 103 Second to Goldikova in this in '09 and his form this year is solid; contender 8-1
C. Lopresti
J. Leparoux 102, 103, 93 Comes into this in career-best form; question if he can kick with Euros late 10-1
Mr. Commons
J. Shirreffs
M. Smith 106, 98, 92 Has had tough trips, but is good, and is improving; has a bit of a shot here 15-1
M. Pender
M. Garcia 108, 89, 99 Got a big Beyer winning his last; he'd have to duplicate it off this class jump 20-1
Get Stormy
T. Bush
G. Gomez 99, 98, 93 Improved second to Gio Ponti in last; needs a giant step forward to threaten 15-1
Sidney's Candy
T. Pletcher
J. Velazquez 97, 76, 100 Just doesn't seem to have the same spark since switching barns last summer 15-1
A. O'Brien
R. Moore 72, n/a, n/a Didn't run a step in his U.S. debut last time; his second straight dull effort 15-1
Compliance Officer
B. Brown
A. Solis 97, 96, 93 It was either this or Claiming Crown for streaking NY bred; interesting choice 30-1
Court Vision
D. Romans
R. Albarado 96, 87, 85 Even when he's at his best, he tends to hang, and he's not at his best now 30-1