10/23/2016 9:40AM

Watchmaker: Breeders' Cup choice for three cross-entered horses should be obvious

Four-Footed Fotos
Mondialiste won the Arlington Million going 1 1/4 miles, but appears a far better fit in the Breeders' Cup Mile than he does in the Turf.

Pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 and 5 will be taken Monday, and after the oversubscribed races are dealt with on Tuesday, the pre-entries will be released to all on Wednesday.

I find two aspects to the Breeders’ Cup pre-entry process to be especially interesting. One is the work of the Breeders’ Cup Racing Directors/Secretaries Panel, which determines which horses are relegated to the also-eligible list in oversubscribed races. The other is the concept of cross-entering horses in two different Breeders’ Cup events.

The work the Racing Directors/Secretaries Panel does in overfilled races is really only discussed when people disagree with them, making their task the definition of a thankless job. In the main, however, the Panel has done good work. Anyone can disagree whether a horse should be ranked as the fourth or the sixth also-eligible, debates that indeed take place because, don’t forget, the also-eligible horses in overfilled Breeders’ Cup events are listed in order of preference, meaning that is the order they will draw in if horses in the body of the race withdraw. But if a horse is already that far down the also-eligible list, it’s splitting hairs where precisely the horse is slotted.

Off the top of my head, I can think of only two egregious errors by the Panel since the advent of the Breeders’ Cup. One was Five Star Day, who absolutely, positively got shafted when he was made an also-eligible in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. And he never got into that race.

But without question, at least in my view, the worst mistake the Panel ever made was excluding Quiet American from the main body of the field for the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Classic even though Quiet American had a victory in the San Diego Handicap and a second in the Woodward on his recent record, and a second in the Strub Stakes earlier that year.

That was the Classic in which the extremely unlikely Ibn Bey finished second, beaten just one length by Unbridled for it all. There never was a defection allowing Quiet American to get into that Classic. But given the way that Classic was run (Thirty Six Red finished just one length farther back in third; ‘nuff said) and with the way Quiet American came back to dominate the NYRA Mile (which was later renamed the Cigar Mile), he might well have won that Classic if he had the opportunity to start. He might well have won it by open lengths.

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As for which horses are cross-entered in this Breeders’ Cup, we won’t know for sure until pre-entries are released. But thanks to reporting by DRF staffers, we know that the connections of a handful of horses are contemplating cross-entering on Monday.

Sometimes when a horse cross-entered in two Breeders’ Cup races, it barely elicits a reaction. For example, there are indications that Gun Runner will enter in both the Classic and Dirt Mile. Gun Runner is a nice colt. He probably would have won the Pennsylvania Derby last time out if he didn’t concede so much ground with a wide run. But even though the Dirt Mile is obviously an easier spot than the Classic, Gun Runner would be in deep in either race. The choice his connections ultimately make won’t move the needle that much.

Other times, however, cross-entered horses make for spirited discussion. And there might be three such horses in this Breeders’ Cup: Limato, Mondialiste, and Curalina.

There is an obvious difference of opinion amongst the connections of Limato regarding that horse targeting the Breeders’ Cup Mile or the Turf Sprint. Limato hasn’t had success going a mile in Europe, which doesn’t mean he couldn’t get a mile over here, but he is a multiple Group 1 stakes-winning sprinter.

Even though Europeans have yet to win a Turf Sprint, and even though horses who previously performed well over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course have had disproportionate success in the Turf Sprints run at Santa Anita, Limato might still be the favorite in this wide-open Turf Sprint. He will, however, be a double-digit long shot in the much tougher Mile going a distance at which he is a question mark. That there is such apparent agonizing over this choice kind of makes you scratch your head.

The English-based Mondialiste possibly cross-entering the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Turf is another head scratcher. Mondialiste has been tremendously productive in North America, winning the Woodbine Mile and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last year, and winning the Arlington Million this year.

But let’s be honest. The connections of Mondialiste were very clever to recognize that the field in this year’s Million was decidedly sub-standard, which was a huge reason why this horse was able to successfully negotiate the 1 1/4 miles that day. There is nothing in Mondialiste’s other 21 career starts that suggests he can get 10 furlongs in truly top company, let alone handle the 12 furlongs of the Turf, which he has never attempted. Sure, the Mile is no picnic. But Mondialiste fits that race like a glove, and the Turf is no cakewalk, either.

Curalina is to cross-enter the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Filly and Mare Sprint. Curalina is very good. She was a narrowly beaten second last time in the Personal Ensign behind Cavorting, who has since retired, and finished ahead of Forever Unbridled and I’m a Chatterbox, who came back to romp in the Beldame and Spinster, respectively.

Yet as good as Curalina is, and as much as she has license to contest the Distaff, she will be no better than a distant fourth choice in that race behind Songbird, Beholder, and Stellar Wind.

On the other hand, even though she has spent the last 16 months competing (and almost always running well) in much longer races than the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint, Curalina would be the favorite in the Filly and Mare Sprint if she goes there. Beside what would be an obvious and substantial class drop for her, Curalina won the Acorn Stakes going a one turn mile at Belmont last year, and did so after a terrible start. That proved Curalina is also highly effective in extended one-turn races.