A year after Zenyatta’s attempt for perfection came up a head short to Blame under the fabled Twin Spires in North America’s richest race, Churchill Downs is again the host for horse racing’s marquee two-day event that culminates with the 28th running of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) run over 1 ¼ mile on the main track.
Remarkably, a female is a top contender for the third straight year (Zenyatta was the winner in 2009 at Santa Anita), as Havre de Grace (post position No. 10) is the 3-to-1 second choice on the morning line against a field of 12 males. The four-year-old daughter of Saint Liam defeated the boys handily in her lone try against them in the Woodward (Grade I) at Saratoga on September 3 and has finished in the money in all 14 career starts with eight victories good for career earnings over $2.1 million.
However, she has had to settle for runner-up honors in both tries at this classic distance, including her only defeat in six starts this year when she came up a nose short in the Delaware Handicap (Grade II) on July 16.
After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here last year, Uncle Mo (post position No. 12) was projected to be this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite before being forced to miss the race due to an illness, but is back in top form and listed as the 5-to-2 favorite after a scintillating three-length victory running a mile over a muddy Belmont track in the Kelso Handicap (Grade II) on October 1. The three-year-old son of Indian Charlie has never run this far and would have been the odds-on choice in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Grade I), but owner Mike Repole opted for this spot despite also having another entrant in the race.
That would be Stay Thirsty (post position No. 9), another three-year-old that enters having won two of his last three, but was the beaten favorite last time in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade I) at Belmont Park on October 1. The son of Bernardini finished 12th beaten over 11 lengths in the Kentucky Derby earlier this year and was made 12-to-1 for the Classic.
Both Repole horses are trained by Todd Pletcher, the five-time Eclipse Award wining trainer who won three Breeders’ Cup races last year and is third all-time with $11.2 million in Breeders’ Cup purse earnings.
The female story line doesn’t end with the equine athletes, as 10-to-1 shot Game On Dude (post position No. 8) is piloted by Chantal Sutherland, who rides for the first time at Churchill Downs looking to become the first female jockey to win the Classic. If the four-year-old gelded son of Awesome Again is able to capture his third Grade I win of 2011 under Sutherland, it would also give legendary trainer Bob Baffert his first Classic triumph.
So You Think (post position No. 5) is the lone European entrant from across the pond making his debut stateside and on dirt at 5-to-1. The five-year-old New Zealand-bred son of High Chaparral has three Grade I wins in 2011 to his credit.
The only two Europeans to win the Classic were Raven’s Pass, who did so in 2008 over Santa Anita’s now-replaced synthetic Pro Ride surface that played more favorably to the European style of turf racing, and Arcangues, who scored the biggest upset in Breeders’ Cup history at 133-to-1 in 1993 over Santa Anita’s dirt.
The championship festivities begin on Friday with Ladies’ Day, headlined by the $2 million Ladies’ Classic run at 1 1/8 mile on the main track.
Plum Pretty (post position No. 8), a three-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and this year’s Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) winner, is the 2-to-1 favorite for Baffert and will look to beat the field of ten in gate-to-wire fashion.
The two-day event features 15 championship races worth a total of $25.5 million and will be televised by ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.
Below is the complete field for Saturday's Breeders’ Cup Classic, including post position, morning line and a brief comment.
PP Horse (Morning Line Odds) Comment
1. Prayer for Relief (30-1) Scratched.
2. Flat Out (6-1) Brilliant final work may erase doubts of affinity for Churchill.
3. Drosselmeyer (15-1) Last year’s Belmont winner better suited for Marathon.
4. Ruler On Ice (30-1) Belmont winner continues steady improvement, but faces older horses for first time.
5. So You Think (5-1) Third race in just over a month is a concern. And, that dirt thing too.
6. Ice Box (30-1) Off form in seven races since runner-up effort in Derby last year.
7. Rattlesnake Bridge (30-1) Only stakes win of the ungraded variety. Gets Bo-Rail.
8. Game On Dude (10-1) High cruising speed makes him threat to lead all the way.
9. Stay Thirsty (12-1) Late-blooming 3-year-old rolls late to make Repole/Pletcher double tough.
10. Havre de Grace (3-1) Difficult to knock this super filly other than she’s winless at the distance and in only try over this strip.
11. Headache (30-1) Distance specialist could grind himself into the picture.
12. Uncle Mo (5-2) Distance is the question. Sitting on super stardom.
13. To Honor and Serve (12-1) Back in top form after beating up lesser. Gets distance and class test here.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @mdoche!
To view my horse racing channel on YouTube click here!
Listen to my weekly sports podcast on MixCloud here!