Updated on 09/15/2011 1:19PM

Classic AM report: O'Brien's hopefuls sample dirt


ELMONT, N.Y. - The key to deciphering the riddle that is Saturday's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic (5:35 p.m. post time, NBC-TV) is deciding what to do with the Europeans.

Three shippers from overseas, including Galileo and Sakhee, two of the world's best turf runners with deep-rooted grass pedigrees, were entered Wednesday among a field of 13 which will race 1 1/4 miles on Belmont Park's sandy main track.

A clash matching Galileo and Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee probably would have turned the Breeders' Cup Turf into the most anticipated race of the year. But with both horses, plus the less accomplished European Black Minnaloushe, tackling dirt for the first time, the Classic figures to send an inordinate number of handicappers scrambling for aspirin.

The only indication of what to expect from the trio has been derived from works and jogs, with the final pieces to the puzzle falling into place Friday when Galileo and Black Minnaloushe, who has a best dirt pedigree of the trio being a son of Storm Cat, jogged on Belmont's dirt track for the first time and stood in the starting gate.

Aidan O'Brien, trainer of both horses, said "everything went well for them." But of the two, the focus of more attention was Galileo, who won his first six races before losing by a head to Breeders' Cup Turf favorite Fantastic Light in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes.

A winner of three straight Group 1 stakes before his loss in the Irish Champion, Galileo comes into the Classic with such a sterling reputation that he was priced as the 4-1 second-choice in the track morning line.

"He seemed very happy out there," O'Brien said after Galileo jogged once around Belmont's 1 1/2-mile oval. "He's a beautiful mover with a wonderful stride. Both Galileo and Black Minnaloushe (20-1 morning line) are doing fine."

Michael Kinane, who will ride Galileo in the Classic, was a bit more guarded, saying "My main concern with him is that the life is still in him after a long season and a long trip, but you could never question his resolve."

Godolphin Racing's Sakhee (8-1 morning line) had previously turned in two more energetic dirt works earlier. Bidding to become the first horse to ever win the Arc and the Classic, Sakhee worked five furlongs in a lackluster 1:05.20 at Belmont on Oct. 19. The 4-year-old son of Bahri came back four days later with a quicker, though hardly sensational, five-furlong drill in 1:01.

"I'm really happy with Sakhee," Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor said Friday. "He's doing everything right. There's nothing wrong with him."

When asked if he felt the largest foreign presence in the Classic since 1994 is tied to a belief that the American handicap ranks is suspect, bin Suroor said, "I would agree somewhat with that thought, but we are here because of Sakhee's class. He always runs in the best races and the Classic is the best American race."

He gave a more revealing answer when asked which horse is the one to beat in the Classic. Is it Aptitude, the 2-1 morning line favorite? Tiznow, the reigning Horse of the Year and winner of last year's Classic?


"I'd say Galileo," bin Suroor said. "He is the class horse. He's a very good horse.

"When you look at all the Europeans, horses like Galileo, Sakhee, Fantastic Light, Black Minnaloushe, Leilani (Filly and Mare Turf), and Noverre (Mile), this is the best group of Europeans to run in the Breeders' Cup."

As good as those Europeans may be, three of them must still prove how fast they can run on the dirt, and that question will not be answered definitely until the Classic becomes a part of Breeders' Cup history.

"You really can't tell anything from the works over the track," said Bobby Frankel, trainer of Aptitude. "You have to see them race. Why are they here? I think they're here to increase their stud value. If they run well dirt, more Americans will breed to them. My concern is solely my horse and if he can get a good trip."

*None of the Classic starters did anything more than gallop Friday, including Tiznow (5-1) who galloped seven furlongs.

"I'm not quite as confident as last year, but I'm confident he will run well," trainer Jay Robbins said. "

*Trainer Richard Baltas had considered giving Goodwood winner Freedom Crest (30-1) a two-furlong blowout Friday, but decided to simply gallop the 5-year-old 1 3/8 miles.

"He looked good," said Baltas, whose horse will break from the far outside post in a field of 13. "He'll just jog."

*A Fleets Dancer, also listed at 30-1, jogged one mile and galloped 1 1/2 miles as trainer Roger Attfield said, "He trained very well this morning. If he's not ready by now, he never will be."

*Trainer Bud Delp sent Include (15-1) out for a 1 1/2-mile gallop, and then termed his Pimlico Special winner's chances of winning the Classic as "very good, I think."

"I see in the group of selectors in the Daily Racing Form . . . he was second in the consensus with 55 points and they have Aptitude on top," Delp said. "I'd say Aptitude, Albert the Great, my horse and Tiznow are the ones to beat.

"I don't know anything about the foreign horses."

Rest assured, Delp's not alone in that regard.