02/19/2010 12:00AM

Loup Breton to Big Cap makes lots of sense


PHOENIX - Dear Julio Canani:

I've admired your work for years, and considering you've won many big races, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and three Breeders' Cup races, I'm sure you don't require my advice. But, as is my nature, I'm going to give it anyway: Run Loup Breton in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

Loup Breton is the leading light among turf horses in Southern California, at least beyond 1 1/8 miles. While the Santa Anita Handicap would be his first race on synthetic footing, there's reason to believe he would handle the surface. After all, there is no synthetic track around that seems to play more favorably to turf horses than Santa Anita's Pro-Ride. The evidence is overwhelming, and it includes a one-two finish by European grass stars Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator in the 2008 BC Classic and a fine second by American grass champion Gio Ponti in . Twice Over, a top European grass horse, ran well for third that day.

Loup Breton has been working all along on the Santa Anita main track and, judging by his times, seems quite comfortable on the footing. His style of sitting back and rallying is exactly the style that's been prevailing going long on the Santa Anita main track.

It takes such a special horse to be top-class on turf and dirt. But with Pro-Ride, such a problem is far less an issue, which is nice if you have a top turf horse in your barn that you want to try on it (hint, hint).

One issue turf horses have when switching to dirt is that such races usually have faster fractions than turf horses are used to seeing. That leaves them farther behind than usual, leaving them more to do while facing horses more accustomed to the traditional dirt race shape.

If Loup Breton goes in the Big Cap, he would also get to run 1 1/4 miles, which may be his best distance. So you'd have to think he'd be licking his chops when they turn for home and he gets to work on furlongs 9 and 10.

I noticed, too, you are not running him in Sunday's Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap, which seemed a logical spot for him. Heck, you didn't even nominate him. Now, you're a sharp guy, so I doubt that can be chalked up to forgetfulness. Instead, it makes me wonder if you've been thinking about this all along.

Also, you're never going to get an easier shot at the Big Cap, because the field figures to be less than stellar. Richard's Kid won the usual prep, the Grade 2 San Antonio, but may pass the race for Dubai. Gio Ponti is targeting Dubai, and he was scheduled to use a grass race at Tampa on Saturday for his prep. Quality Road and Rachel Alexandra never had any designs on this race. Misremembered, runner-up in the Strub, may not be as good as we thought.

And best of all, the horse to fear most, Zenyatta, won't be in the starting gate. She is targeting the Grade 1 Santa Margarita a week later.

There's really no issue regarding Loup Breton's quality. He's a Grade 2 winner in the U.S. already - at 1 1/4 miles in last month - but in Europe he showed even more. He was second in the Group 1 Prix Ganay, beaten less than a length by Vision d'Etat, who anyone can tell you was one of the best horses in Europe last year, and that is saying something.

You have a chance to run Loup Breton at a distance he likes, on a surface he may very well love, for the meet's biggest prize - and you won't even have to face the best. You've already decided to skip the San Luis Obispo. Going in the Big Cap would mean missing the Grade 2 San Luis Rey on March 20. But, hey, there are plenty of turf races down the line you can use to re-establish Loup Breton's reputation if this doesn't work. The Charles Whittingham, Arlington Million, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and a host of others look pretty darn nice on a resume, too.

As I said, you're a sharp guy, so odds are you've already considered all of this, the rewards and drawbacks. Sometimes running the risk of overreaching ends in the highest of rewards. It was that attitude that led Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to make history last year. I'm not going to say this would be on par with that, but, boy, I'll bet greeting Loup Breton in the winner's circle after the Big Cap would feel pretty darn close.

And if that's what happens, well, you can thank me later.