08/28/2013 12:21PM

Dick Jerardi: Breeders' Cup Classic has potential to determine Horse of the Year

Barbara D. Livingston
Royal Delta could add some intrigue to the race for Horse of the Year if her connections elect to allow her to challenge males in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

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Last weekend felt like a mini-Breeders’ Cup, with all those Grade 1 races on both coasts and two performances so dominant that it was like the winners were the only horses in their races.

Wayne Lukas obviously is one of the most fascinating people in the history of the sport. He simply does not discourage easily. Will Take Charge was beaten by a combined 45 lengths in the three Triple Crown races. A normal trainer maybe tries a small stakes after those beatdowns. Lukas went for the Jim Dandy and Travers and nearly won them both.

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Prior to the Jim Dandy, Will Take Charge had earned one Beyer Speed Figure better than an 87 in 10 career starts. That was the 95 he got when winning the Rebel, barely getting up to beat stablemate and eventual Preakness winner Oxbow.

So, Lukas takes the blinkers off for the Jim Dandy, and the colt gets a 105 when a strong second to Palace Malice. Does the horse bounce for the Travers? Not exactly. He got a 107 for running down Moreno just before the wire.

Where did those figures come from? I have no clue. But they are now there. This is suddenly a serious horse.

Having said that, I agree with Shug McGaughey that Orb is still the leader for the 3-year-old championship. Orb’s Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Kentucky Derby wins stand out. And guess what? Orb just got a career-best 106 Beyer for his close third in the Travers. If he wins one more race, be it the Pennsylvania Derby or Jockey Club Gold Cup, he is going to be difficult to catch.

Obviously, Palace Malice is still alive with his Belmont Stakes-Jim Dandy double, as well as close losses in the Risen Star, Blue Grass, and Travers.

I have no idea what went down with Verrazano in the Travers. I knew he was done on the backstretch when he was running next to Orb. The pace was slow and Verrazano was slower. Forget the distance. The horse, with all those big Beyers, would not have won at any distance. Todd Pletcher figures he bounced off the 116 in the Haskell. Perhaps, but why did he not run at all?

I saw Royal Delta live when she won the Delaware Handicap. Now, that was impressive, but there was no other speed and she really had to look good.

There was other speed in the Personal Ensign, and the great mare just tore around the Saratoga track, earning a 105 Beyer with complete ease. If a normal horse blows by a good horse like On Fire Baby the way Royal Delta did on the backstretch, that horse pays for it late. Royal Delta is not normal. She now looks like she is running for the sheer joy of running.

She really wasn’t a speed horse until she won her second straight Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic last fall. Now, she is a speed horse, and it does not look like any females can possibly keep up with her. It will be an interesting call to go for the Distaff again or try the Classic. She has already won two divisional championships. Win the Classic, and she will have a huge chance at Horse of the Year.

Speaking of Horse of the Year and speed, how good was Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic? The Del Mar Polytrack is obviously much tighter than in previous years, and the Dude dominated, getting a 113 Beyer while looking like the winner all the way.

Put this horse on a clear lead in reasonable fractions, and no horse in America has a chance. If the Dude wins the Classic, he is Horse of the Year, regardless of what 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan does the rest of the year.

The Dude would have four 1 1/4-mile main-track Grade 1 wins in an unbeaten 2013. As cool as Wise Dan is, all those wins in one-mile grass races simply won’t compare in voters’ minds.

Of course, Game On Dude still has to do it. In last year’s Classic, he missed the break and was done quickly. That obviously was an aberration. Game On Dude does not need to prove anything to me. This is a high-quality animal who keeps getting better with age. But he will have to contend with faster fractions, other quality speed, much better competition than he has faced all year, and keep going to win the Classic.

Who wouldn’t want to see Game On Dude, Royal Delta, and Fort Larned in the Classic starting gate? The race to the first turn at Santa Anita might as intriguing as the race to the finish line. Can’t wait.