11/07/2009 12:00AM

Variety spices up this Classic

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta gets off her trailer Wednesday at Santa Anita to settle in for her Classic start.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the 26 years that the Breeders' Cup Classic has been run, the $5 million edition on Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting might have the most eclectic field.

There's the best mare in the country, the unbeaten Zenyatta, and the second-best horse from Europe, Rip Van Winkle. The best turf horse in this country, Gio Ponti, is running, along with Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, leading 3-year-old Summer Bird, and the winners of two of the three major races for older horses in California this year, Einstein and Richard's Kid.

"It's a wide-open race," said Eoin Harty, who sends out Colonel John. "Rip Van Winkle adds a whole new dimension. Zenyatta. Summer Bird. Mine That Bird. It's hard to knock it."

Indeed, while the focus will be on Zenyatta, and her quest to run her record to 14 straight, there are numerous contenders in this field of 13. Much of the reason the field is so deep is that the 1 1/4-mile Classic is being run on the synthetic surface Pro-Ride. Fair to say that if it were on dirt, the likes of Gio Ponti, Richard's Kid, Rip Van Winkle, and the European invader Twice Over might have found other spots.

Zenyatta is the morning-line favorite of Santa Anita's linemaker, Jon White, and if that forecast proves correct, it will be the first time in Breeders' Cup history that a female taking on males in a main-track race is the public's choice. Only three females have competed in the Classic. Triptych was sixth in 1986, Jolypha third in 1992, and Azeri fifth in 2004.

Saturday Breeders' Cup races

Date Race Distance Purse TV Post (ET)
11/7 1 Mile (T) $1,000,000 ABC 1:45 PM
11/7 6.5 Furlongs (T) $1,000,000 ABC 2:23 PM
11/7 6 Furlongs $2,000,000 ABC 3:10 PM
11/7 1 1/16 Miles $2,000,000 ESPN 3:49 PM
11/7 1 Mile (T) $2,000,000 ESPN 4:28 PM
11/7 1 Mile $1,000,000 ESPN 5:12 PM
11/7 1 1/2 Miles (T) $3,000,000 ESPN 5:57 PM
11/7 1 1/4 Miles $5,000,000 ESPN 6:45 PM

:: Graded entries: (PDF)

Zenyatta has earned the right to take a shot. She is 4 for 4 at this track. She has yet to run 1 1/4 miles, but her late-running style seems suitable.

"She has such a tremendous stride," said her jockey, Mike Smith. "We've never gotten to the bottom of her."

Zenyatta is used to facing far smaller fields. She has beaten an average of 5 1/2 rivals per race this year, always by making a wide, sweeping move. She might not be able to get away with that and win against this field.

"She's going to have to save ground somewhere," said her trainer, John Shirreffs.

Rip Van Winkle is trying to emulate Raven's Pass, the European import who won last year's Classic here. Aidan O'Brien, who trains Rip Van Winkle, finished second last year with Henrythenavigator.

Rip Van Winkle will not race on Lasix, even though Europeans who compete in the Breeders' Cup often are put on the medication, banned in Europe but legal here. O'Brien has used it in the past, but not this time.

"Our attitude has been, When in Rome, do as the Romans do," O'Brien said. "But we've scoped him a lot, and he's not shown anything."

Summer Bird has won the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup on dirt. This is his first race on Pro-Ride. He was stabled here one year ago with trainer John Sadler before he ever raced, but left because, in part, he was not handling the surface.

"He seems to have taken well to the Pro-Ride," said Tim Ice, who has trained Summer Bird for all his races. Summer Bird has filled out since the spring. "He's gotten stronger," Ice said.

Einstein won the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year. He figures to get a super stalking trip. He has not raced in two months.

"He runs well fresh," said his trainer, Helen Pitts, who is seeking to become the first female to train a Classic winner. "This is the biggest race of his life. I wanted him to come in fresh."

Mine That Bird is seeking his first win since the Derby.

"He needs some pace in the race," said his trainer, Chip Woolley.

The likely pacesetters include Godolphin's team of Girolamo and Regal Ransom. Girolamo has never raced on a synthetic surface. He is headed this winter to Dubai, where there is a synthetic Polytrack surface at the new racetrack, Meydan.

"We felt this race would tell us a little more about how to place him over the winter," said Rick Mettee, the North American-based assistant to Goldolphin head trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

Regal Ransom ran poorly here last year at age 2 in the Norfolk in his second lifetime start when trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.

"Kiaran said to draw a line through the race," Mettee said. "He came out on short notice."

Richard's Kid, the Pacific Classic winner, was third last time out in the Goodwood, right behind Colonel John, and has trained strongly this week.

Quality Road, the Florida Derby winner, will be racing on a synthetic surface for the first time, as is Twice Over, who has won three straight in Britain.

Awesome Gem, 1 for 12 lifetime on synthetic, won the Hawthorne Gold Cup in his last start.

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