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Putting a week of works together
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Breeders' Cup contenders had to deal with frigid temperatures and a sloppy track when training opened Thursday, although conditions improved as the morning progressed, with the main course upgraded to good following the renovation break.
Three Breeders' Cup starters turned in recorded works, beginning with Juvenile runner Street Sense, who breezed an easy half-mile in 50.88 seconds shortly after sunrise. He went off slowly, but came home his final half in 24.73 while in hand throughout. He was followed several minutes later by European invader Satulagi, who breezed a half-mile in 50.80 from the gate for the Juvenile Fillies.
Hurricane Run, the morning-line favorite for the Turf, was taken in hand and went an easy three-eighths in 44 seconds, pretty much matching his main-track open gallop the previous morning.
On the turf, Ouija Board breezed a slow three furlongs in 43.81 for the Filly and Mare Turf, and Rob Roy blew down the stretch a quarter-mile in 26.06 for the Mile.
Bernardini made his first local appearance, as did his stablemate Balletto as well as Invasor, Henny Hughes, and all of trainer Todd Pletcher's shippers, the majority of whom turned in very strong gallops. Particularly impressive were Octave (Juvenile Fillies), Circular Quay (Juvenile), a somewhat skittish but strong Go Deputy (Turf), and Lawyer Ron (Classic).
Bernardini never looked better and was very professional during his easy one-mile gallop. Invasor was a little more headstrong while getting a good look at his new surroundings.
David Junior got a little hot on the track and in the paddock despite the freezing temperatures, and also seemed a bit unsettled jogging while again flanked by stable ponies on both sides.
Attempting to form a meaningful opinion of all 104 horses in this year's Breeders' Cup simply from watching their final workouts and training regimens is a daunting task, because most of the competitors completed their final preparations at sites other than the host track.
From this standpoint, the 2006 Breeders' Cup may have been the most difficult yet, with nearly the entire New York contingent - including Bernardini (Classic), Fleet Indian (Distaff), Henny Hughes (Sprint), Circular Quay (Juvenile), and Wait a While (Filly and Mare Turf) - opting to train in the relative anonymity of Belmont Park and not arriving on the grounds at Churchill Downs until mid-week. A majority of the Californians also stayed home to train, and those who did get to Kentucky well in advance of Breeders' Cup Day chose to get in most of their serious work over the Polytrack at Keeneland.
But combine several chilly mornings spent atop the grandstand at Churchill Downs, a pre-dawn car ride up the turnpike to Keeneland, a couple of eventful plane trips to and from New York, and some much-appreciated help from colleagues Jay Privman, David Grening, and Marcus Hersh, and perhaps there is hope after all of shedding some light on the puzzle that is handicapping Saturday's Breeders' Cup program.
Bernardini is obviously the horse to beat and has given no indication he is coming up to this race in anything but the best of shape. He finished strongly and galloped out even better in a well-controlled final work in New York earlier this week. It is just a question of whether you want to take the short price. Invasor has matched Bernardini in his final preparations and was aggressive in his first gallop at Churchill Downs. He does not appear to be showing any ill effects from his three-month layoff. Lawyer Ron is much more relaxed and less headstrong than he was when he last trained here, before the Kentucky Derby. He may be sitting on his best yet in his first start for Pletcher. Lava Man had a very good and busy week and appears to be maintaining his terrific form. Sun King was solid if not spectacular in his final prep, and Suave continues to give every impression that he loves his home course. Despite the cold weather, David Junior washed out a bit on a couple of occasions and is obviously a bit on the nervous side. Brother Derek and Premium Tap are both training well. Flower Alley shut down late and was a bit disappointing in his final drill. George Washington had not been to the track by Thursday morning.
Hurricane Run has trained aggressively despite the fact he'll be making his third start in a month in the Turf. He blew out three-eighths at the end of his gallop Wednesday and went another three-eighths after breaking from the gate Thursday. Just wondering if he might be a bit over the top coming here off a pair of losses in Europe. Scorpion is a nice European alternative to Hurricane Run. He hadn't been to the track here by Thursday morning. Cacique appeared to get a bit tired at the end of his final work at Keeneland, but that might be nit-picking considering his solid form. English Channel finished strongly in his final prep in New York and galloped nicely over the main track here Thursday. Red Rocks has done little more than canter since arriving from Europe. Go Deputy was extremely aggressive in his first gallop over the track. T. H. Approval looks good, as does 2004 winner Better Talk Now.
Fleet Indian and Pool Land both finished well and galloped out very strongly at the end of their final preps in New York. Spun Sugar did not finish as well as expected while switching leads in late stretch in her last work, but Pletcher said that's pretty much par for the course for her. Pine Island, working at Belmont on Sunday, made an extremely favorable impression on Grening, striding out extremely well at the finish of her five-furlong drill. Balletto finished nicely while in hand working Tuesday in New York, but she drew a tough post. Round Pond looks sharp. Baghdaria did not gallop out particularly well at the end of her work at Churchill Downs, and Hollywood Story drifted steadily through the final stages of her most recent drill. Bushfire was rank early and unable to maintain a steady pace behind another worker at the end of her last work over the Polytrack. She galloped on the turf here Thursday.
Henny Hughes doesn't have the smoothest way of going when he gallops and went a slow half-mile by design in his final prep at Belmont. But you still must bet against him at your own risk in the Sprint. Bordonaro is giving no signs of regressing off his career-best effort in the Ancient Title. He worked a solid half-mile here last weekend. He must avoid an early duel with Attila's Storm, who is doing well but drew a bad post on the extreme outside. Thor's Echo, like all the O'Neill horses, has had a great week in Kentucky. He is another showing no signs of regressing off a career-best race, but is also poorly drawn on the rail. Pomeroy has trained like a machine in Florida since the Forego, and looks like a million bucks since coming to Kentucky. Siren Lure was a bit of a disappointment in his one local work. He did not finish or gallop out as strongly as one might have expected. War Front screamed through a final work of 45 seconds in New York as planned, but went a bit faster than trainer Allen Jerkens might have liked. Friendly Island appeared to labor at the end of his work and galloped out poorly.
Wished we could have seen more of the Euros, who look like big players in this race. Araafa put in an aggressive gallop over the turf Thursday. Librettist hasn't done much here but looks very sound. The same can be said for Echo of Light. Rob Roy was the busiest of the Europeans, but has done nothing extraordinary since his arrival in Kentucky. Top U.S. hopeful and likely favorite Gorella had a very impressive final work at Keeneland despite not fully extending herself. Aragorn galloped nicely over the main track on Thursday and figures to maintain his solid form.
Filly and Mare Turf
The 2004 winner Ouija Board blew out a slow three furlongs Thursday and has given no indication of tailing off following a harder than usual European campaign. Wait a While turned in a very impressive work over the Belmont turf on Sunday, according to Grening. Look for another huge performance out of this razor-sharp filly. Film Maker got the best of stablemate Better Talk Now when they worked in company at Keeneland and always seems to peak on Breeders' Cup Day. Quiet Royal turned in a smart local work for Pletcher, but is a question mark at the distance. Mauralakana had an impressive final work in company at Keeneland but might be a bit ambitiously placed in this spot and is a question at the distance.
This is the most wide-open race on the card, and unfortunately I didn't get more than a fleeting impression of some of the runners in this field. Octave looked sharp in both her final work and first gallop at Churchill Downs. Cash Included arrived late but appeared to turn in a strong final work in California before her arrival. Dreaming of Anna worked fast locally and drew the rail. She must prove she can get the distance. Bel Air Beauty is training nicely, but she's relatively inexperienced, and her first two races were over Polytrack. Adhrhythm is a very attractive filly, but she is taking a big step up in class out of a restricted stakes at Calder. In Gatorize's final prep, she couldn't pass her workmate, who was well in hand. Sutra was also outfinished by her workmate, but her rider's saddle slipped during the work.
A lot of horses are training extremely well into this one. Scat Daddy couldn't look better and had a terrific final work in New York. He looks like he'll have no trouble getting two turns. It's hard to fault his stablemate Circular Quay, who finished up strongly in his final prep. Circular Quay's only poor race was over Polytrack. C P West is inexperienced but looks like a million bucks and couldn't be doing better. He must prove he can handle the added ground. Great Hunter has had a terrific week. So, too, has Street Sense, who has finished up with good energy in a couple of works within nine days of the race. Principle Secret did not appear to be moving comfortably early in the week, but after starting off stiffly again Thursday, he extended himself better when allowed to open gallop through the stretch. Stormello was aggressive in his gallop Thursday. Skip Code, usually a strong work horse, displayed poor action and was all over the track while switching leads numerous times before shutting down badly at the end of his only local drill.