November 5, 2010 - 4:08 PM
By Gene Kershner
Saturday’s eight championship races at the Breeders’ Cup are full of potential historic outcomes. Zenyatta can run her record to 20-0, win her second straight Classic and gather her third straight Breeders’ Cup race.
Goldikova can win an unprecedented three straight Mile victories. California Flag can win back to back Turf Sprints. Workforce, if he doesn’t scratch, can become the first winner of both the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Breeders’ Cup Turf races in the same year.
So the stage is set for a tremendous day under the twin spires at Churchill Downs. The Zenyatta phenomenon has taken Louisville by storm and continues to be the main story emanating out of the center of the racing universe this weekend. Unlike last year’s Filly Friday, which we discussed in Friday’s post, favorites fared much better last year on the Saturday card. Five of the eight 2009 championship races were won by the favorites. Don’t despair if you’re a long shot player, though, as the other three races were all won by bombs greater than 20-1 on the tote board.
Let’s take a look at some of the big races Saturday.
An East Coast-West Coast scenario has emerged between the top contenders here. The East Coast horses, the favorite Uncle Mo (7-5) and second choice Boys at Tosconova (5-2), take on West Coast speedsters JP’s Gusto (10-1) and Jaycito (8-1). I’m siding with Biggie over Tupac here and even going to throw Uncle Mo’s stable mate Stay Thirsty (8-1) into the mix.
Boys of Tosconova had a solid effort over the Churchill dirt in April in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes and a convincing win at Saratoga over Stay Thirsty in the Hopeful makes him my top choice to garner Juvenile honors on Saturday. The very talented Uncle Mo should be out on the lead for trainer Todd Pletcher and should have no problem hitting the board. I’ll go with the “other Pletcher” colt, Stay Thirsty, to round out the trifecta with the West Coast horses off the board.
1. Boys at Tosconova, 2. Uncle Mo, 3. Stay Thirsty.
Can you say chalk fest? This one is a two-horse race between two-time champ and Irish-bred Goldikova (6-5) and 2009 U.S. Older Horse of the Year Gio Ponti (4-1). I was privileged to see Goldikova win her second straight BC Mile with a powerful closing move at Santa Anita last year and she seems primed to defend her title. Sidney’s Candy (10-1), who ran his eyeballs out in his turf debut, should set a hot enough pace for both of the two favorites to close into. For a potential long shot, I can see Proviso (12-1), winner of her last four, at least hitting the board and grabbing the show.
1. Goldikova (IRE); 2. Gio Ponti 3. Proviso (GB)
My sources tell me that Workforce, winner of this year’s Arc in Paris, most likely will scratch out of the race. The Arc post time favorite, Behkabad (Fr), who finished fourth, is my selection to bring home Turf honors. For starters he has won three Group level races in Europe at the distance. The chart notes for the Arc say he was boxed in most of the way and never really was able to run his race. He may have conserved some run for this one, so look for him to stalk the pace and come away with the victory.
My second choice is Dangerous Midge (12-1), who puts blinkers on for the first time as well as Lasix medication. Jockey Frankie Dettori will be looking to do his famous victory dismount should he pull off the upset. Will this be the horse that gets it done for him? The best chance for an American victory sits with the 5-year-old, Winchester, the classy winner of two Grade I races at Belmont Park this year.
1. Behkabad (Fr), 2. Dangerous Midge, 3. Winchester.
The crescendo will be building all day for the appearance of the mighty Zenyatta. Featured on “60 Minutes,” in “O Magazine” and every ESPN commercial for the Breeders’ Cup all week long, she currently is the face of horse racing. She’ll perform her prancing and pawing routine during the post parade and will win over the hearts of more than a few racing fans across the country.
Her critics have carped about her soft campaign (only running against female company principally in Southern California) all year long, but her handlers have been only pointing at one big race the entire year. There is no doubt that she will be last in the early going and will be charging down the lane at the front runners as the horses approach the wire.
Seeking to win her 20th straight victory and claim the $3 million first prize, she has several worthy challengers. The horse that I believe has the most opportune chance to unseat the queen is Lookin at Lucky. The Southern California-based colt has really filled out after a tremendous 3-year-old campaign, winning the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Indiana Derby en route to his date with the big Z. He is in terrific condition and will look to reverse his fortunes on the Churchill oval after a disastrous trip during the Kentucky Derby. After being bounced around from his rail position, he closed incredibly to finish a valiant sixth in the slop and bounced right back two weeks later to win the Preakness.
“He looks good; so far, so good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. “He’ll run his race. We’re all going to find out how tough we are; it’s a great race, really good top horses in there. I think he’s up to it. He’s still a young horse so I don’t know how he fits in right now going a mile-and-a-quarter. He’s tough, though, 2-year-old champion and going to be 3-year-old champion. He keeps going and going.”
I also like Quality Road, whose bloom came off his rose after losing to Blame in the Whitney, his only loss of 2010. If the track is super fast he will be the one to catch, but I have a funny feeling the track will be playing to Zenyatta’s strengths and not Quality Road’s come Saturday. I’m going with Lookin at Lucky to pull the upset.
1. Lookin at Lucky, 2. Zenyatta, 3. Quality Road.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps the race of the week on Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com