10/26/2009 11:00PM

Looking back to look ahead


We are a week away from Breeders' Cup 26, the third BC with races spread over two days and the second consecutive to feature the Pro-Ride synthetic track at Santa Anita Park.

So what can we expect? What can we take from the prior two runnings of the BC races, which were run at Monmouth Park in 2007 and at Santa Anita last fall?

Although logic suggests that little can be gleaned from the Monmouth races, which were run on sloppy dirt main track and a soggy turf course, several horses did run strongly in BC races at Monmouth and Santa Anita. Also, if we specifically look at the way stretch-running horses dominated the 2008 BC at Santa Anita last year, we just might apply that track profile to identify several horses ready to run strongly at good prices this year.


* Midnight Lute, now retired, won the BC Sprint in both years with a powerful late kick. Were he still in training, surely Midnight Lute would be a formidable contender on a Pro-Ride surface that plays to his stretch-running power. That said, Fatal Bullet, who led until deep stretch in the 2008 BC Sprint, is sure to be a pace factor in this year's Sprint, while Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert replaces Midnight Lute with the speedy 3-year-old Zensational.

Baffert may well win his fourth BC Sprint with Zensational, but the stretch-running profile of Santa Anita's Pro-Ride should set things up for another contender with late punch. Two who fit the profile are Gayego and Kodiak Kowboy.

* Ventura, a confirmed deep closer, is back to defend her title in the seven-furlong BC Filly and Mare Sprint. But without Indian Blessing in the field this year after she was a pace-pressing second last year, the pace is likely to be much softer than it was in 2008. This may open the door a bit for razor-sharp Informed Decision. Not only does Informed Decision have a good late kick of her own, she also has sufficient tactical speed to put her into the race on the far turn.

* Kip Deville, a smart, pace-pressing winner of the 2007 BC Mile on the soft Monmouth grass course, ran a fine race on the firm Santa Anita turf course last year when caught by the 3-year-old filly Goldikova in the BC Mile. Off Goldikova's smashing performance and her good European form this year, she figures to be a heavy favorite to repeat. Yet trainer Rick Dutrow is replacing Kip Deville with the rejuvenated Court Vision, who seemed vastly improved when he won the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 10. That said, the Shadwell Mile has had no real impact on the BC Mile since 1991, when Shadwell runner-up Opening Verse went on to win the BC Mile. Given that negative trend, it seems logical to look to the European invaders Mastercraftsman, Delegator, and Zacinto as potential upsetters. Euros have been hard to handle in this event through the years.

* Red Rocks, upset winner of the 2006 BC Turf at Churchill Downs, was a creditable third in the soggy 2007 BC Turf at Monmouth, but tired to sixth in the same event on firm Santa Anita turf in 2008. While Red Rocks is scheduled to run in the race again, Conduit is a serious candidate for a repeat score in the BC Turf off his recent third in the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

* Forever Together, winner of the BC Filly and Mare Turf last year, is coming back to the same race this year with slightly less formidable recent performances on her resume. In fact, she was beaten by Diamondrella twice this year, including her recent third to that rival in the First Lady at Keeneland on Oct. 10. Nevertheless, Forever Together's excellent performance on this course in 2008 gives her a built-in edge over most. The same is true for Magical Fantasy, winner of the recent Yellow Ribbon over the Santa Anita turf course. Beyond these two proven Santa Anita turf winners, possible Filly and Mare Turf starter Diamondrella certainly will deserve a close look, as will highly ranked European invader Dar Re Mi (who may instead run in the Turf), impressive winner of the Pretty Polly stakes in Ireland during the summer. As with all of the BC turf races, it is never wise to overlook high-quality Euro invaders.

* Zenyatta, an explosive, stretch-running winner of the 2008 BC Ladies' Classic, probably would be an odds-on favorite to extend her career winning streak to 14 should she go in this BC race instead of the Classic. But, even if she does, she will have to run one of her all-time best races to defeat razor-sharp Music Note and the late-developing 3-year-old filly star Careless Jewel. Even Cocoa Beach, who was second to Zenyatta last year while riding a slower rail path, is a potential upset threat.

Should Zenyatta's connections decide to go for the $5 million BC Classic at 1 1/4 miles against males, she may be seriously overbet on her national popularity. As I see the race, Zenyatta would do well to post a top-three finish in this year's BC Classic. That is because the Belmont-Travers-Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Summer Bird has developed into an exciting horse, and the field also will include the versatile Einstein and the multiple Grade 1 turf winner Gio Ponti as well as hard-hitting Euro invaders Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman. As we saw last year, high-class turf performers - specifically Euro turf performers - can win on this synthetic surface, and their overall class can trump almost any other handicapping factor.

* As for the Dirt Mile, which really will be run on Pro-Ride, the most logical contenders - Regal Ransom, Girolamo, Midshipman, and Pyro - are owned by the ubiquitous Dubai-based Godolphin stables. In fact Godolphin purchased Midshipman and Pyro from American owners for princely sums after they hinted at top-class ability. Regal Ransom and Girolamo are also possible for the Classic, while Pyro could run in the Sprint.

Taking them one by one, Midshipman was the only pacesetter to win a BC race last year - the BC Juvenile - but he seems a race or two shy of the form he will need to win such a hard race. Pyro may have flashed the best late kick of the quartet while narrowly defeating Kodiak Kowboy in the seven-furlong Forego at Saratoga. Girolamo - perhaps slightly better than Regal Ransom and the most talented of the four Godolphin contenders - confirmed his improving condition by winning both of his late summer races with triple-digit Beyer Figures. Should Giralomo skip the BC Mile, look for him in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct instead.

Here are some other horses I am going to watch closely during the final week of preparation for other BC races:

* Filly and Mare Sprint: Sara Louise, a Godolphin filly with very good Beyer Figs.

* Juvenile Fillies: Blind Luck, winner on the Pro-Ride with a good rally.

* Turf Sprint: Course specialists Desert Code, the '08 winner, and California Flag.

* Juvenile Fillies Turf: European-based Little Legacy, trained by Aidan O'Brien.

* Juvenile Turf: Pounced, a talented Euro invader trained by John Gosden,.

* Juvenile: Lookin at Lucky, a Baffert-trained probable favorite, and the improving Aikenite, one of the few New York-based BC contenders who should relish the stretch-running profile of the Pro-Ride racing surface.