11/04/2009 12:00AM

Rip Van Winkle fights latest foot issue

Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Rip Van Winkle, winning the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot in September, has "had issues throughout the year" with his feet, trainer Aidan O'Brien said.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The battle cry all year for European standout Rip Van Winkle has been "feet don't fail me now." After his first tour of the Santa Anita main track Wednesday morning, trainer Aidan O'Brien said he was satisfied with the way Rip Van Winkle, who is scheduled to run in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday, is dealing with the latest problem in his troublesome feet.

"He's had issues throughout the year," the soft-spoken O'Brien said outside the quarantine barn in Santa Anita's stable area.

"His off hind," O'Brien said, referring to his right hind foot, "gave him a little trouble a week ago. He had a very bad infection in his heels over the winter, and it's been in all his feet. The walls are weak. It's amazing he's been able to race at all. We've been swimming against the tide all season."

Michael Tabor, who owns Rip Van Winkle along with Susan Magnier, said Rip Van Winkle's feet are "a constant worry."

"His feet are a work of art, keeping them together," Tabor said. "They're wired up. It really is something. It's been very difficult to keep this show on the road."

Despite the obstacles, Rip Van Winkle has won twice in five starts. His losses were all in races won by Europe's best horse this year, Sea the Stars. Rip Van Winkle has won his last two starts, the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on July 29 and the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot on Sept. 26. The Classic will mark his first race on anything other than turf. It also will be just his second start in more than three months.

Rip Van Winkle got out of quarantine on Tuesday and was able to tour the main track's Pro-Ride surface with the rest of O'Brien's string on Wednesday morning. He merely jogged - "I didn't want to do too much," O'Brien said - but Rip Van Winkle became extremely hot, washing out badly on what was the coolest morning of the week here.

"I liked that he had a good sweat after traveling," O'Brien said. "I'd be more worried if he hadn't done that. I was very worried until this morning, but now I'm very happy."

O'Brien alternated between praise for Rip Van Winkle, and the sober analysis that running in the Classic was a great challenge, even for a horse with such immense talent.

"Rip is a very brilliant horse," O'Brien said. "He's the most natural athlete we've ever had. He's had a long, hard season."

O'Brien said Rip Van Winkle "won't do much the next few days" before racing Saturday. He said it had yet to be determined if the Classic would be his final career start.

Juvenile Fillies

Ted Gatsas, the uncle of Matt and Amanda Gatsas, who head the Sovereign Stable partnership that owns Negligee, was elected as the mayor of Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday. According to Mike Gatsas, Ted's brother and another member of Sovereign Stable, Ted Gatsas won with 57 percent of the vote. Gatsas, a Republican, had previously served as an alderman and state senator in New Hampshire.

"Now we got one race left," Mike Gatsas said after arriving in Southern California on Wednesday morning.

Mike Gatsas said that he introduced his brother at Tuesday night's celebration by saying "I want to thank my jockey and my trainer . . . Oops, wrong race."

Ted Gatsas is less active with the horses now than he was back in the late 1990s when he, his brother, niece, and nephew owned the top New York-bred Gander, a multiple stakes winner and earner of more than $1 million.

"His winning is good karma," Matt Gatsas said. "I hope that translates over to us. Hopefully, he didn't use up all the luck."

* Owners George and Lori Hall decided to mark the occasion of George's parents 50th wedding anniversary by naming a horse in their honor. They chose Bickersons "because you can't make up the stuff they bicker about," trainer Kelly Breen said.

- additional reporting by David Grening



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