10/06/2009 12:00AM

Huge weekend, sea to sea


The focus for horseplayers seeking insights into Breeders' Cup contenders will be somewhat schizophrenic this weekend, as 10 graded stakes will be run at Belmont Park and Santa Anita on Oct. 10 and 11, while Keeneland Racecourse will offer nine graded races, Oct. 9 through the 11, all with BC implications.

Last weekend, we saw Music Note easily win the nine-furlong Beldame at Belmont for Godolphin. Ninety miles away, the 3-year-old filly Careless Jewel underscored her excellent performance in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga with a dominating victory in the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park. Right now, with undefeated Zenyatta a 50-50 proposition to run in the $5 million BC Classic against males on Nov. 7, Music Note and Careless Jewel could be the top two betting favorites for the $2 million BC Ladies' Classic on Friday, Nov. 6.

Zenyatta? She is scheduled to seek her 13th straight victory Saturday, Oct. 10, in the $300,000 Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita. In 2008. Zenyatta won this race en route to her impressive victory in the $2 million BC Ladies' Classic.

Whether she will be using this year's Lady's Secret as a springboard to the richer and longer BC Classic - or another Ladies' Classic appearance - is to be determined. In either case, her stablemate Life Is Sweet as well as Grade 1 winner Cocoa Beach are among those opposing her in the Lady's Secret.

Of equal import to this BC division, will be the presence of Icon Project in the $500,000 Spinster stakes at Keeneland on Sunday. Winner of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 30, Icon Project's connections opted to skip Belmont's Beldame at nine furlongs around one turn on dirt in favor of the Spinster at nine furlongs around two turns on the Polytrack.

Similar thinking explains why several top-rated BC contenders will be at Santa Anita over the weekend to get practical experience on the actual Pro-Ride synthetic track over which eight of the 14 Cup races will be run.

For example, trainer Chip Woolley has pointed Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird for the $350,000 Goodwood Handicap, a nine-furlong Grade 1 on Saturday at Oak Tree that will serve as an ideal prep for several American-based horses being pointed for the BC Classic.

Other than front-running Tres Borachos, the Goodwood field is likely to be dominated by several stretch-running types, including Chocolate Candy, Colonel John, Richard's Kid, Tiago, and the European-based Gitano Hernando, who will be ridden by Kieren Fallon.

Speaking of Europeans, Sea the Stars was a most impressive winner of the 12-furlong Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on Oct. 4. Should this outstanding 3-year-old actually come to America for the BC Classic, the powerful late move he showed to win that prestigious turf classic would serve him well on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride.

Fit and/or improving stretch runners are what we should be watching for in these prep stakes. Last week, we saw the two BC prep stakes for 2-year-olds at Santa Anita - the Oak Leaf and Norfolk, respectively - won by deep closer Blind Luck and the unbeaten mid-pack closer Lookin at Lucky. This weekend we could see Hopeful Stakes winner Dublin in the one-mile, $400,000 Champagne at Belmont and multiple stakes winner Backtalk in the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, Oct. 11.

Likewise, on Friday, Oct. 9, promising juvenile fillies will be in the 1 1/16-mile, $500,000 Alcibiades at Keeneland seeking to replace the injured Mi Sueno as the filly to beat in the BC Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 6. The same will be true at Belmont on Saturday in the one-mile, $400,000 Frizette.

Unfortunately, some contenders for other BC divisions were badly compromised by the torrential rain at Belmont Park last weekend.

The Kelso Handicap, a Grade 2 on Sunday, was intended as Court Vision's key prep for the $2 million BC Mile on Nov. 7. But, after this mile turf race was forced to the muddy main track and the field reduced to three non-BC contenders, trainer Rick Dutrow indicated he might send Court Vision to Keeneland for the $600,000 Shadwell Mile, a Grade 1 on Oct. 10.

The rain also led to Presious Passion's withdrawal from the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on Oct. 3. A high-octane front-runner who needs firm footing, he now will go in the 1 1/4-mile, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita on Sunday. Good luck now to those who will have to deal with this 6-year-old gelding's runaway speed on a dry turf course that sometimes resembles a billiard table. Among his rivals will be moderately accomplished Rendezvous, Sir Dave, Spring House, and Times Gone By.

Gio Ponti, the 4-year-old, four-time Grade 1 turf winner who did run in the Joe Hirsch, encountered a Waterloo of sorts in that 1 1/2-mile test on the soggy Belmont grass. After making a steady move to wrest the lead from longshot Interpatation on the final turn, this son of Tale of the Cat tired in the final furlong, losing to the stubborn Interpatation while traveling further than he ever had attempted. Gio Ponti will make his next start in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at a more comfortable 1 1/4 miles.

The soggy conditions did not, however, hamper Belmont-Travers stakes winner Summer Bird from decisively winning the 10-furlong, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup over Quality Road. Nor did it prevent the 4-year-old filly Pure Clan from taking the 10-furlong, $600,000 Flower Bowl. Pure Clan now looks as if she will be a factor in the $2 million BC Filly and Mare Turf at the same distance on Nov. 6.

Mud or no, Kodiak Kowboy certainly flashed his best late punch to win the $400,000 Vosburgh at Belmont on Saturday over the speedy Fabulous Strike. The performance stamped Kodiak Kowboy as a potential threat to Bob Baffert's top 3-year-old sprinter Zensational, the likely favorite for the $2 million BC Sprint on Nov. 7.

Apparently, Baffert is employing a similar approach with Zensational as he used to win three BC Sprints - with Thirty Slews in 1992; and Midnight Lute in 2007 and 2008. Instead of running Zensational in the Grade 1 Ancient Title at Santa Anita on Oct 11, he will bring the son of Unbridled's Song to the BC as fresh as possible off a two-month layoff following three Grade 1 sprint wins over older horses on Southern California synthetic tracks.

Probables for the Ancient Title include Dick Mandella's lightly raced Crown of Thorns; Delta Storm from Mike Mitchell's barn; the Baffert-trained Riley Tucker, who set the pace for six furlongs in the seven-furlong Forego at Saratoga and Godolphin's top-class Gayego, a dangerous stretch-runner who began his career in California and returned from Dubai to win an allowance sprint at Saratoga.

Also, Fatal Bullet, who was second in last year's BC Sprint, is expected to run in the $250,000 Phoenix at Keeneland, Friday, Oct 9.

Steve Davidowitz will be signing copies of his newly released "Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century" at Santa Anita's Champions gift shop, Saturday, Oct 10, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.