09/29/2009 11:00PM

Goldikova might be even better this year


Trainer and former star jockey Freddy Head got a surprise gift when owners Alain and Gerard Wertheimer announced Goldikova would return for another year of racing in 2009 after her brilliant win in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Mile.

Goldikova got a nice winter rest, trained along to Head's total satisfaction in the spring - and then went out and laid an egg in her 2009 debut.

Goldikova finished seventh of nine, beaten more than 10 lengths, in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan on May 17 at the Longchamp course in Paris. Getting beat in her first start of the year, that would have been understandable. The turf condition for the Prix d'Ispahan was listed as soft, and Goldikova has long been known as a firm-turf filly, Exhibit A being her win over the fast-playing Santa Anita course last fall. But this? This was by far the worst loss of Goldikova's career. Earlier in 2008, she had twice gone down to the mighty Zarkava, but even in defeat, Goldikova had always at least shown up.

"I was very surprised," said Head, reached by phone this week. "She had been working well at home, and I'd been happy with her. Sometimes, a filly from 3 to 4 they don't train on. I thought for a short time maybe she wouldn't be the same."

And it's true, Goldikova might not be the same horse she was this time last year: She may be even better.

Veterinarians went over the filly with a fine-toothed comb after her May loss, but found nothing. Head put the performance down to the boggy course conditions and started all over again. And when Goldikova returned for a three-start summer campaign, she was back in all her glory. On July 7, she won the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes by a half-length at Newmarket. That was good. On Aug. 2, she won the Group 1 Prix Rothschild by 1 1/2 lengths at Deauville. That was better. And back just two weeks later at Deauville, Goldikova won the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois by six lengths over the talented Aqlaam. That was the best - as in, the best one-mile turf performance in the world so far this year.

So now, Goldikova stands on the brink of having a chance to do something only seven horses have done before: win a Breeders' Cup race twice. For whatever reason, the Mile is the only race to have yielded more than one two-time winner. Lure triumphed in 1992 and 1993, Miesque in 1987 and 1988. Miesque, Head knows a little bit about, since he was her jockey for both Mile wins.

Goldikova may be a better horse than Miesque: Head said that even before Goldikova won the Mile last year. Miesque was top-class, but she did not have Goldikova's breath-taking acceleration and could be difficult to ride.

Goldikova, on the other hand, is push-button in her races and straightforward in her training. And that is one reason why Head has confidence going into the fall phase of the 2009 season, even though things will be different for Goldikova this year. With the Breeders' Cup pushed back on the calendar, Head felt the Prix de Moulin de Longchamp in September, which Goldikova won in her 2008 BC prep, was too far removed from the Nov. 7 Mile. Instead, she starts Saturday in Paris, turning back to seven furlongs in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret. The Foret will mark Goldikova's first start at a distance less than a mile, but Head predicted that "the distance won't be a problem for her."

Assuming all goes well and Goldikova remains on target for Santa Anita, Head will try to duplicate last year's routine in terms of shipping and overseas adaptation. And despite the way things looked in May, Goldikova should have every chance of duplicating her victory in the Mile.