2006 Breeders' Cup Analysis
by Victor Ryan - 10/27/2006
Judgment day is upon us in the Sport of Kings, as 121 of the top Thoroughbred racehorses in the world were pre-entered to run in the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs Nov 5. There will be over $20 million in purse money on the line in the eight championship races, along with potential life-changing opportunities at the betting windows. Here is a preliminary 2006 Breeders' Cup Analysis:
--The Breeders' Cup Classic and its attached $5-million purse highlights the championship program, and this year's edition of the 1 ¼-mile Classic is turning into one of the most anticipated ever. That's because of the presence of two horses, Bernardini and Lava Man. The former, a blue-blooded powerhouse from Darley Stable, has been breathtaking during the spring and summer of his 3-year-old season. The dominance of Bernardini's campaign to this point has been such that a win in this year's Classic figures to propel him onto the short-list of the best racehorses of the last quarter century.
One big threat looms over the potential coronation of Bernardini, however, and his name is Lava Man. The modestly-bred gelding from California, who was toiling in claiming races to start his career, was red-tagged by his current owners for a modest $50,000 a few seasons ago. Lava Man has since become one of the best, and richest, horses ever bred in Califonria. He is the only horse in the history of California racing to have swept the state's three marquee races -- the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic -- in a single calendar year and he enters the Classic unbeaten in seven starts this year.
It's David vs.. Goliath, if you will. The Eastern establishment vs. Western ingenuity. A modern day Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral?
--The big story among the human connections is trainer Todd Pletcher, who has assembled perhaps the most powerful collection of bloodstock in the sport's history. Pletcher pre-entered a total of 18 horses in this year's eight-race Breeders' Cup program, which breaks the record formerly held by D. Wayne Lukas, who coincidently employed Pletcher as his top assistant before the former went out on his own. Pletcher is likely to have the favorite or second-choice in at least four of the eight Breeders' Cup races. The record for most wins by a trainer in a single Breeders' Cup is four, which was set by Richard Mandella at Santa Anita.
--Foreign horses often make a big impact in the Breeders' Cup, especially in the grass races. This year's contingent from overseas numbers 18 and is one of the strongest ever. Among those expected to cross the pond are Ouija Board, the 2004 Filly and Mare Turf champion. Trainer Aidan O'Brien will send from Ballydoyle yard his usual accompaniment of Group 1 winners, including George Washington, who won the Two Thousand Guineas in England and who O'Brien boldly calls the most talented horse ever in his distinguished stable. As a result, George Washington will not run in any of the grass races on Breeders' Cup day, but instead will try dirt for the first time in the Breeders' Cup Classic. It's a bold a sporting move from the lads at Coolmore Ireland.
--This will be a record sixth time the Breeders' Cup has been held at Churchill Downs since the event's inception in 1984. History tells us that horses from the West Coast do not generally fare well at the 'Downs on Breeders' Cup day. The contingent from the Golden State features several logical contenders, including Lava Man, but he seemingly amplifies the point when you consider he has never won outside the state of California. Then again, this will also mark the return to Louisville of Giacomo, who raided Churchill Downs from California last spring and did nothing but shock the racing world by winning the Kentucky Derby.
--Fields will be finalized and post positions drawn on Wednesday. ESPN will provide seven hours of coverage of the Breeders' Cup beginning at 9 a.m. PST.
Victor Ryan is a race analyst for Today's Racing Digest in Carlsbad, Calif. He was formerly an Editor for the Blood-Horse Magazine in Kentucky and prior to that spent time on the backstretch as a turf writer for the Thoroughbred Times and North County Times.