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Updated on 09/17/2011 6:38PM
Zito's pair on different timetables
They are in the same barn, and have often run in the same races, but that is where the comparisons end between Birdstone and The Cliff's Edge. Birdstone does his best with plenty of time between races, while The Cliff's Edge can handle a more aggressive schedule. That is the reason Birdstone will be forgoing a prep race before the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Classic, while The Cliff's Edge will rev up the engines yet again, this time to take on older horses in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Both 3-year-olds have spent the past four months in Saratoga, which, with the exception of six weeks every summer, offers a tranquil, placid environment. "And you are the product of your environment, right or wrong?" asks trainer Nick Zito.
Right. Birdstone and The Cliff's Edge finished one-two in Saratoga's Travers Stakes, the most important race for 3-year-olds the second half of the year. With the exception of The Cliff's Edge's brief visit to Belmont this weekend, both colts will remain in upstate New York until leaving for Dallas at the end of October.
"Both are coming along great," Zito said from Saratoga. "Cliff is running Saturday, and Little Man," his nickname for Birdstone, "is going to wait for the big show."
The Cliff's Edge has finished second in three straight races, and is winless since the Blue Grass Stakes. For the first time in his career, Shane Sellers will not be riding him. Gary Stevens takes over for the Gold Cup.
"We got the Iceman," Zito said, referring to Stevens's role of George "Iceman" Woolf in the movie "Seabiscuit."
"It's very rare that a jockey stays with a horse for every start of his career," Zito said. "I have a lot of faith in Shane, but this was a good time to change. Cliff is a wonderful horse. He's very consistent. He's just been a little unlucky. I mean, Medallist, the way he ran in the Dwyer, Kelso couldn't have beaten him. But then he blows up. Purge beats him in the Jim Dandy, but then he blows up. Then Little Man beats him in the Travers. Cliff ran three good races."
He will need to run another on Saturday. Among those expected for the Jockey Club Gold Cup are Domestic Dispute, Evening Attire, Funny Cide, and fellow 3-year-old Love of Money.
Evening Attire comes off one of the best races of his career, a runaway victory in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, in which Funny Cide was second. The two geldings have faced one another frequently this year.
"They've started a mini-rivalry, and hopefully it'll keep going," said Pat Kelly, who trains Evening Attire. "Everybody loves the old geldings like John Henry and Forego. It's good for the industry."
Birdstone, meanwhile, will train right up to the Classic. It is the same schedule Zito used prior to the Travers, which Birdstone won despite not having raced since his upset victory over Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes. The victories in the Belmont and Travers have given Birdstone a chance at both Horse of the Year and the 3-year-old colt title, provided he can beat older horses in the Classic. Zito is well aware of what is at stake.
"This is how he runs best. He deserves his best shot," Zito said. "I want him to fire his best shot. Little Man likes Saratoga. I'm trying to get the most out of it here. There's a lot at stake. You've got to go for it. If he ran in the Gold Cup, he's not going to come back in 28 days with the same firepower. He's not made that way."
Like Birdstone, both Ghostzapper and Pleasantly Perfect - last year's winner of the Classic - are bypassing a prep race in early October to head straight to the Classic. It wasn't for lack of opportunity. In addition to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, there are four other races this weekend for horses with Classic aspirations.
At Santa Anita on Saturday, Supah Blitz and Total Impact are expected to head the field in the Grade 2, $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap. Pleasantly Perfect won the Goodwood last year in his final prep for the Classic, but this year's race is not expected to have as significant an impact. In fact, most of the horses in the Goodwood are looking more toward the Japan Cup Dirt than the BC Classic.
At Hawthorne Race Course, the consistent Perfect Drift will be favored to get his overdue first victory of the year in the Grade 2, $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup. The field is expected to come up both small and light.
There are two races exclusively for 3-year-olds, Friday night's Grade 3, $300,000 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands and Saturday night's Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park. Pollard's Vision is entered in both races. If he starts in the Pegasus, Pollard's Vision will face Eddington and Swingforthefences. The Indiana Derby field includes Brass Hat, Perfect Moon, Quintons Gold Rush, Sir Shackleton, and Suave.
3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles. Purse: $4 million
|Has run some monstrous races, and may simply be the best horse|
|2||Pleasantly Perfect||R. Mandella||7-2|
|Trying to win off an August layoff has not worked in this race so far|
|3||Saint Liam||R. Dutrow Jr.||12-1|
|Gave Ghostzapper quite a battle in Woodward; has improved tons|
|4||Perfect Drift||M. Johnson||10-1|
|Lots of seconds this year overshadow how formidable he can be|
|5||Roses in May||D. Romans||10-1|
|Regressed fig-wise in Ky. Cup; must bounce back big to contend|
|Like Mandella, Zito is attempting to rewrite the book on training here|
|7||Love of Money||R. Dutrow Jr.||15-1|
|Short on experience, but has already proven that he can really run|
|8||Evening Attire||P. Kelly||15-1|
|True 1 1/4 mile and two-turn horse still has some life in his 6yo bones|
|Been pointing to this, but that may change if he runs in Sunday's Arc|
|10||The Cliff's Edge||N. Zito||30-1|
|Lacks speed as well as a strong late burst; not my kind of horse|
- The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.