Updated on 10/15/2010 3:18PM

There's Goldikova, and everyone else


What’s the point, really? The money spends, sure, and anyone in the racing game would love to have a trophy engraved as the winner of the Shadwell Mile or the Oak Tree Mile. But then what? It’s on to Louisville for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where a dozen or so very nice horses will scramble around the Churchill Downs turf course for the honor of running second to the two-time defending champ, Goldikova.

Such a pronouncement sounded premature until I cued up the last two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, then stirred in Sunday’s Prix de la Foret, in which Goldikova defeated the classy Paco Boy going seven furlongs around one right-hand turn at Longchamp.

Just as Zenyatta has never been troubled by such things as a slow pace way up front or the occasional traffic hiccup, Goldikova also makes it up as she goes.

In the 2008 BC Mile she sat second or third, down on the inside, for most of the journey, then had to wait for a seam to open in the stretch before bursting through to win going away.

In the 2009 BC Mile Goldikova broke from the outside post and found herself at the back of the pack until well into the final turn. Tipping to the outside, she blew by each rival until only Courageous Cat was left in front of her, and bearing out. This bothered Goldikova only as long as it took for Olivier Peslier to steer calmly to the right, and it was over.

In the French race last Sunday, Goldikova broke from the inside post and found herself on a reluctant lead through the first five furlongs or so. When another horse briefly took the lead, Peslier was relieved, but Goldikova’s engines were already lit. It did not take long for the mare to resume command and hold safe Paco Boy, just as she did in the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot earlier this year.

So there you go. She can lead, stalk, or close from as deep as you dare going those two tight, very American turns featured in most of the runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. A bad trip could beat Goldikova, I suppose, and five of the six previous Mile runnings at Churchill Downs attracted full fields of 14. So the safe prediction is for a full gate surrounding Goldikova on Nov. 6, which makes Saturday’s highly competitive miles in Lexington and Los Angeles fascinating, at least in terms of who might be getting in Goldikova’s way.

Courageous Cat, the last American horse to catch sight of her, runs in the Shadwell against Gio Ponti, and out West, Richard Mandella will try to beat Sidney’s Candy and Victor’s Cry with Meteore, a son of Pulpit who has been promising the moon for the last year, ever since he won the 2009 La Jolla Handicap.

Meteore races for Goldikova’s owners, Alain and Gerard Wertheimer. The colt comes into the race off a smart second to Enriched in the Del Mar Mile, but this should not have been too surprising, since the La Jolla is also run down there by the sea. Meteore did win an allowance race over the Hollywood grass in June 2009.

“If he goes over there and settles nice, he’ll give you a big finish,” Mandella said. “But if he kind of gets on the bit and pulls, then he doesn’t give you as much at the end. I’m hoping a little more racing will take that out of him.”

This time of year Mandella wears two hats (three, if you count the sombrero). Busy enough training a fully functional barn of stakes horses and runners of bright potential, he is also a director of the Oak Tree Racing Association.

When he joined the board in 2006, Mandella was stepping into a position bearing as much honor as it was responsibility, given Oak Tree’s reputation as a charitable horsemen’s meet and its four decades of relative stability. Lately, though, Oak Tree’s directors have been walking around wondering how many more shoes are going to drop.

After losing their lease at Santa Anita, then getting a one-season reprieve, and then losing their traditional home once again because of questions about the synthetic track, the meet was just settling in at Hollywood Park with a good first weekend. Then runoff from Tuesday’s brief but impressive rainstorm swept down a bridle path and washed out part of the main track, forcing a cancellation of Wednesday’s card.

This was not the first time that water cascading from the plateau of the Hollywood stable area wreaked havoc. Back in the era of the therapeutic equine swimming pool, an earthquake rattled the terrain and splashed so much pool water down the hill and onto the racing surface that the entire program had to be conducted that day on the grass.

“Then it happened again, when somebody left the water on and over-filled the pool,” Mandella said. “I remember because I was with Mr. Hubbard when he got the call and flipped out. I was just starting to like the pool, too.”

R.D. Hubbard, the owner of the track at the time, was not swayed by his trainer’s endorsement. The pool was filled in.

They’ll all be in deep against Goldikova, which means Meteore doesn’t figure to be Mandella’s best chance to win his first Breeders’ Cup race outside of California. But at least he carries the right colors. Mandella, who trained Breeders’ Cup winners Kotashaan and Halfbridled for the Wertheimers, was asked why he didn’t get Goldikova instead of their French trainer, Freddie Head. At this point, the Mandella colt is 11 Group 1 wins behind the mare.

“I thought about that,” Mandella deadpanned, “but I decided to let it go. They’ve been pretty good to me.”