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Eyes of Texas are upon them
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - This may be Lone Star Park, but more than a few stars big and bright will be deep in the heart of Texas on Oct. 30 for the 21st Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Five previous Breeders' Cup race winners and two winners of Triple Crown races were among the 101 horses pre-entered Wednesday in the eight Breeders' Cup races, including Pleasantly Perfect, who won last year's Classic and heads an outstanding field for this year's $4 million Classic. The Classic also attracted Funny Cide, the popular winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Birdstone, who spoiled Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid in this year's Belmont Stakes, then won the Travers.
Birdstone, Funny Cide, and Pleasantly Perfect could capture Horse of the Year with a victory in the 1 1/4-mile Classic, as could Ghostzapper and Roses in May, both of whom are unbeaten this year. The mare Azeri was pre-entered in both the Classic and Distaff, and though the Distaff was listed as her first choice, owner Michael Paulson on Wednesday said no decision had been made. If Azeri were to capture the Classic, she too could be Horse of the Year.
"We'll look at both fields and see how the races size up," Paulson said on a conference call. "Right now, we're pretty much sitting on the fence. We're looking at both races with a lot of scrutiny."
Azeri won the Distaff in 2002. If she goes in the Distaff this year, she will face Storm Flag Flying, who won the Juvenile Fillies in 2002 and is seeking to become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races.
In addition to Pleasantly Perfect, both Mile winner Six Perfections and Sprint winner Cajun Beat will be back to defend their 2003 titles.
The 101 pre-entries equals the number of pre-entries last year at Santa Anita, this despite only 11 pre-entries from horses who made their last start in Europe, and a record low for the Juvenile of only eight 2-year-old colts. However, the Breeders' Cup did attract an entry from Japan, the 3-year-old colt Personal Rush, who is in the Classic.
"The quality is befitting of a world championship," D.G. Van Clief Jr., the president of the Breeders' Cup, said at a Wednesday morning news conference. "The Classic is one of the most competitive and entertaining we've seen in awhile."
Seven of the horses, including Azeri, were pre-entered in two races, so there are 108 total entries. Eight horses were not originally nominated to the Breeders' Cup, and thus must be supplemented to their respective races. The supplemental fees total $1.1 million, on top of the $14 million guaranteed in the eight races.
Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Ghostzapper, and Todd Pletcher, who trains Sprint favorite Speightstown, have the most pre-entries among trainers, with six each.
Wednesday's pre-entry stage is the first of a two-step entry process. On Wednesday, final entries are taken, at which time horses pre-entered in more than one race must be entered in just one race. Post positions are then drawn.
Three of the races - the Juvenile Fillies, Mile, and Sprint - attracted more than the maximum of 14 horses. In those cases, seven horses received berths based on points earned in graded stakes during the year, and seven more were chosen by an international panel of racing officials.
Those who did not make the cut - including five horses in the Mile - were placed on an also-eligible list, in order of the panel's preference. Those horses can get into the race only if a horse now in the main body of the race defects before entry time on Wednesday. Once final entries are taken, there is no also-eligible list.
This will be the first Breeders' Cup held in Texas. Lone Star Park only began conducting racing in 1997. It is the youngest track to host the Breeders' Cup, and its selection is an endorsement of the well-regarded staff here, led by track president Corey Johnsen. "This puts Lone Star and Texas racing and breeding on the international map," Johnsen said.
"We've spent $8.5 million on permanent and temporary improvements," Johnsen said. Included in that figure are some 39,000 temporary seats for the Breeders' Cup, which brings the capacity to more than 51,000 for race day. The event is a sellout.
It was unseasonably warm here on Wednesday, with temperatures creeping into the low 90's. The heat is expected to dissipate over the weekend, and high temperatures in the mid-70's are forecast through the middle of next week.
Several horses already are on the grounds, including Roses in May, Turf favorite Kitten's Joy, and the top Juvenile Fillies contender Sense of Style. Most runners are expected to arrive the early part of next week.
Pleasantly Perfect is the 3-1 favorite in the 13-horse Classic on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Other early favorites are Azeri (6-5) in the Distaff, Sweet Catomine (5-2) in the Juvenile Fillies, Nothing to Lose (4-1) in the Mile, Speightstown (3-1) in the Sprint, Ouija Board (8-5) in the Filly and Mare Turf, Roman Ruler (2-1) in the Juvenile, and Kitten's Joy (9-5) in the Turf.
Pleasantly Perfect "couldn't be any better," according to his trainer, Richard Mandella, who set a Breeders' Cup record with four victories last year. "He's smarter and better in his racing. It's more than a person could ask."
Mandella said that if Pleasantly Perfect comes out of the Classic in good shape, he will race again next month in the Japan Cup Dirt in Tokyo. That schedule is among the reasons Pleasantly Perfect has not raced since his victory in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22. Mandella said he also wanted to judiciously manage Pleasantly Perfect following his victory in the Dubai World Cup in March.
"The trip to Dubai is a taxing trip," he said. "It's hard on horses. But I don't agree that you can't come back and be as good. You just can't overrace."
Birdstone also has been lightly raced the second part of the year. The Classic will be only his second start since the Belmont.
"He's a little horse. He needs lots of time," said Marylou Whitney, who bred and owns Birdstone with her husband, John Hendrickson. Whitney said she is desirous of racing Birdstone next year at age 4, but first wants to see how he comes out of the Classic.
Roses in May galloped 1 1/2 miles at Lone Star on Wednesday morning after arriving Tuesday. The only other Classic runner here is Dynever, who merely jogged Wednesday.
Funny Cide for the second straight day had a scheduled workout postponed by wet weather at Belmont Park. "With all the rain in New York, we haven't been able to get a work in," said Jack Knowlton, who manages the Sackatoga Stable partnership, which owns Funny Cide. Funny Cide ran poorly in last year's Classic, but the decision to run was made at the 11th hour. This year, Funny Cide is coming off a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"He's coming into this race on an up note," Knowlton said.
Classic (Grade 1) 1 1/4 miles Purse: $4,000,000
|Ghostzapper||R. Frankel||It could well be he is simply the best horse here||7-2|
|Pleasantly Perfect||R. Mandella||Won this last year, but not off a 69-day layoff||3-1|
|Roses in May||D. Romans||If he runs back to his Whitney, he'll be a handful||6-1|
|Birdstone||N. Zito||Travers winner has had 63 days to get ready||6-1|
|Dynever||C. Clement||Has a chance to be the underlay of this race||10-1|
|Funny Cide||B. Tagg||I'll give him this, he has heart, and a lot of it||8-1|
|Newfoundland||T. Pletcher||Close to Funny Cide, nowhere vs. Ghostzapper||15-1|
|Perfect Drift||M. Johnson||You have to wonder if he will ever win again||12-1|
|Azeri||D. W. Lukas||Likely to run in Distaff; has no chance to win this||12-1|
|Fantasticat||B. Barnett||World of difference between Super Derby, this||30-1|
|Freefourinternet||M. Maker||Beat Perfect Drift last time; everyone does that||50-1|
|Bowman's Band||H. A. Jerkens||Winless this year; the owner picked a nice spot||50-1|
|Personal Rush||K. Yamauchi||Performs at minor tracks in Japan; overmatched||50-1|
- Odds and commentary by Mike Watchmaker.