10/10/2006 11:00PM

Defections could open door


The possible defection of the European star George Washington from the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic would have a massive impact on the richest turf mile in the United States.

George Washington, the winner of two Group 1 races in Europe this year, would be the clear favorite for the Mile. Earlier this week, trainer Aidan O'Brien told the English press that he and owners Michael Tabor, John Magnier, and Derrick Smith would consider George Washington for the Classic.

George Washington may not be the only top contender to defect from the Mile.

Araafa, second to George Washington in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Sept. 23, and Ashkal Way, the winner of the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 30, may not run, according to their connections.

Araafa, trained in Newmarket, England, by Jeremy Noseda, is a candidate for Saturday's Group 1 Champion Stakes in Newmarket. Noseda said Araafa may run there, the BC Mile, or be retired to stud at a farm in Newmarket.

Araafa, 3, won two Group 1 races earlier this year - the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

"We want to see what everyone feels," Noseda said earlier this week in a telephone interview. "The horse is going to stud, so there is a bit of a discussion.

"We haven't made the decision whether we'll come or not. The horse is in great order."

Ashkal Way is unlikely to run in the BC Mile, according to Simon Crisford, the racing manager for the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing.

Godolphin has three BC Mile possibles: Echo of Light, a three-time stakes winner this year, including the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp on Sept. 30; Caradak, the winner of two stakes this year, including the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Sept. 30; and Librettist, a four-time stakes this year, two of which were Group 1 races in France in late summer.

Caradak is nominated for the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket this weekend and a major race in Milan, Italy.

Regarding the BC Mile, Crisford said, "The two more likely are Librettist and Echo of Light."

Librettist, 4, finished sixth in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, his only loss in six starts this year. After Librettist was announced as lame after the race, Godolphin released a statement a few days later saying that Librettist's condition had improved.

The presence of Librettist in the BC Mile field will give the race considerable depth, but the absence of George Washington would deny the race the best 3-year-old turf miler in the world.

George Washington has won 2 of 4 starts this year, including the English 2000 Guineas in May. He was later second in the Irish 2000 Guineas and third in the Celebration Mile at Goodwood, England, in August, losing to Caradak.

It is possible that George Washington will be cross-entered in the BC Classic and the BC Mile, with a final decision made on race week.

O'Brien also trains Aussie Rules, the winner of the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland last Saturday. The Shadwell win was Aussie Rules's first since the French 2000 Guineas in May, ending a four-race losing streak, all in Group 1 races.

The absence of George Washington would enhance the status of Aragorn, the top turf miler in the United States. Trained in California by Neil Drysdale, Aragorn has won his last four starts, including a near-effortless one-length win the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile last Saturday.

Most of the top prep races have been run in North America and Europe.

Saturday at Keeneland, Gorella will start favored in the $400,000 First Lady Stakes over a mile on turf. She is a candidate for the BC Mile or BC Filly and Mare Turf, according to trainer Patrick Biancone.