11/02/2010 3:34PM

Workforce still a question mark for Breeders' Cup Turf

Barbara D. Livingston
Workforce stretches his legs Tuesday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Workforce drew post 6 and was installed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf. The question for coming days is whether Workforce will actually contest the race or scratch and go home.

The concern for Workforce’s connections is the state of the Churchill Downs grass course, which was baked firm by an unusually hot summer, and finished off by a drought throughout this fall. An assistant to trainer Michael Stoute has openly complained about course conditions this week, hinting that a scratch is possible. Also voicing displeasure with the condition of the grass on Tuesday morning was Henry Cecil, trainer of Midday, the 6-5 morning-line favorite who drew post 7 in the Filly and Mare Turf.

“I know they’ve had a drought, but they’ve got to take the jar out of the ground,” Cecil said while walking to the track Monday to watch Midday have her first exercise - done on the main track - since arriving here Saturday night. “You’re not going to run over a road. You can’t expect people to risk millions of [British] pounds on a hard track. There’s a possibility one or more horses won’t run if they don’t change it.”

Repeated attempts to contact Churchill’s track superintendent, Butch Lehr, on Tuesday were unsuccessful, but Churchill reportedly has been watering the course 10 minutes per day since Oct. 25, and had watered 20 minutes per day before then. Ten minutes of watering is equivalent to about one-quarter inch of rain, 20 minutes to one-half inch. The turf course is far greener than any of the grass in the area that hasn’t been heavily watered.

Before he took a seat aboard Workforce for an easy one-lap gallop Tuesday, Ryan Moore, who’s to ride Workforce in the Turf, ran onto the grass course to prod the ground with a sharpened piece of wood used to measure the depth of the going. An hour or so later, Moore spoke to a group of reporters outside the quarantine barn and offered a less dire assessment of the course than Stoute’s assistant, Stuart Messenger, had the day before, suggesting he’d recommend to Stoute that plans to race Workforce go forward.

“You’re hoping this time of year to get a shower of rain, but it hasn’t really happened,” Moore said.

Stoute himself is expected to make his first appearance at Churchill on Wednesday morning.

Significant rain hasn’t fallen here since mid-August, and at this point there’s no rain forecast before the Breeders’ Cup races. Still, the course might not be quite as extreme as some of the Europeans have suggested. After all, the more water the track puts on the grass course, the better it should suit most of the Euros.

“You look at them going, and [the horses] are cutting it up a little bit,” said trainer Bill Mott, whose Al Khali drew post 5 for the Turf. “Garrett Gomez said a couple days ago that there was plenty of cut to the ground.”

While Workforce was out on the turf course Tuesday, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan was working a horse on the grass.

“You have to remember, where they’re galloping on it now is not where we run,” Bridgmohan said. “I think that the turf is in pretty good shape for not having got any rain in a while. It is firm, but I don’t consider it really hard. I’ve been on harder turf courses.”

Debussy, another Euro, already has handled an American-style course, having won the Arlington Million. He drew post 5 for the Turf, with the other Europeans, 9-5 second-choice Behkabad and 12-1 Dangerous Midge, in posts 7 and 8 outside Workforce.

Midday is the defined favorite to capture her second straight $2 million Filly and Mare Turf, with 3-year-old Harmonious the 6-1 second choice in a field of 11. Forever Together, who won the race in 2008, drew post 11, with Japanese filly Red Desire in post 10.