10/12/2006 11:00PM

Burning BC questions (and answers)


PHOENIX - I was dizzy from sensory overload last weekend after watching so many races that figure to have ramifications come the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 4. My mind was racing, searching to make sense of the chaos. It was time to play 15 questions.

1. Can Shirocco successfully defend his BC Turf title?

That's dicey now. After a year of superb form when he was as good as any horse in the world, Shirocco didn't just lose the Arc, he ran a veritable stinker. It would have been one thing for him to lose - I mean, they all get beat, and it was a fantastic bunch that he faced - but the fact he ran up the white flag when they hit the final couple of furlongs is disconcerting.

2. If Shirocco can't win, are the Americans good enough?

Good as the American triumvirate of English Channel, Cacique, and The Tin Man are, none of them has struck me as top-class going 1 1/2 miles. Yes, they can win going that far. English Channel looked superb winning the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch - but he wasn't facing top turfers there.

3. Does Circular Quay's Breeders' Futurity loss mean he's not that good?

Don't jump off the bandwagon just yet. He was trying the new Polytrack surface at Keeneland for the first time, and it's not as if he ran that poorly.

4. Conversely, is Great Hunter really that good?

My first hunch is yes, he's that good, and being by Aptitude he figures to run on. He's a big, strong, strapping runner. One concern, though, is that he couldn't quite get over the hump out West, and those horses keep taking turns, so are those three or four Southern California horses all better than everyone else? Or is this simply a case of Great Hunter handling the Keeneland surface better than Circular Quay and the others did? That's quite likely.

5. Do we chalk up Asi Siempre's Spinster win to Polytrack?

That seems the common sentiment, but I'm not so sure. Save for Fleet Indian, the older females have been evenly matched at the top. Maybe Asi Siempre is simply a better horse on the dirt, and maybe Spun Sugar and Happy Ticket aren't quite as good as they were a few months ago.

6. Is Henney Hughes as good as he looked winning the Vosburgh?


7. Should we just throw darts to pick the BC Juvenile Fillies?


8. Can a 3-year-old win the BC Filly and Mare Turf?

Yes, but it may not be the one you're thinking of. Wait a While, to me, remains the most impressive winner of a BC prep; the way she stormed home to win the Yellow Ribbon makes her a huge threat. But the French 3-year-old Germance, who was to run in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland on Saturday, is top class, and her connections have said that race and the BC Filly and Mare Turf were on her agenda. Also, they knew they would be running against Ouija Board, some big Americans, and possibly Satwa Queen, and they still pointed for it.

9. Should George Washington stay in the Mile or try the Classic?

The Mile, certainly. But if his connections opt for the Classic, you can't blame them. His owners, Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier, and his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, already have Aussie Rules and Ivan Denisovich for the Mile, and imagine George Washington's value if he were to topple both Bernardini and Lava Man on dirt.

10. Should Lava Man try to open up on Bernardini or stalk and try to outkick him?

I would like to see Lava Man try to get away from him with that lethal move he has displayed going into the far turn, but it won't be easy. Still, Bernardini has yet to look a quality horse in the eye and put him away. He might do that to Lava Man, but it won't be because Lava Man wilted.

11. Can Invasor be effective enough after missing the Jockey Club Gold Cup?

That's a tall order. It's not only the layoff, either; it's also that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin wanted to go in the Gold Cup to set up Invasor for this and he missed it.

12. Does Fleet Indian's off-the-pace win in the Beldame make her unbeatable?

Let's not get carried away. What it did was provide some separation in a division where the top four or five were extremely close.

13. Will trainer Todd Pletcher dominate Breeders' Cup Day?

I doubt he'll dominate, but he'll have an impact. He trains Wait a While, Honey Ryder, Scat Daddy, Circular Quay, English Channel, Fleet Indian, Pool Land, Spun Sugar .o. . so, yeah, you'll hear his name a couple of times.

14. Which race might provide the bomb payouts?

I think it's the Juvenile Fillies. The race is completely inscrutable right now, and the ones who will take money come with question marks, so if they run out, kaboom!

15. What currently unknown horse will everyone know about after the BC?

Red Rocks in the Turf. His most noteworthy achievement so far has been running second to Rail Link in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in France in the summer. Rail Link, of course, came back to win the Arc. Red Rocks was most recently third in the Group 1 St. Leger, which, at 1 3/4 miles, was probably a bit beyond his reach. That will be no issue in the BC Turf.