2008 Breeders' Cup Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 10/07/2008
The Kentucky Derby might be more prestigious, but no racing event packs anywhere near the star power or prize money that the Breeders' Cup does. For the second-straight year, the event has been stretched to two days. On Oct. 24, fillies and mares will have their day in the sun in a series of races, then on Oct. 25 the big card goes down, culminating in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Both days will take place at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California. That presents a new level of intrigue to the event - the track spent the summer installing a new synthetic Pro-ride surface after their last surface failed, so handicappers will have little sense of how the track will perform. We'll look at specific races and their fields as the events draw closer, but for now here's a look at some of the key storylines that are developing to whet your appetite:
We should see a fairly full field in this race, and there will be all sorts of recognizable and notable names in it, including that mysterious Japanese enigma Casino Drive, but only two matter - Big Brown and Curlin. This year's Derby and Preakness winner will likely be making his last start of his career in the big race. If all goes well, he'll do it against Curlin, the top horse in training in the world right now. Curlin's connections initially said the horse would not defend his Classic title because the surface didn't suit him. They seem to have softened that stance, though, and the horse is currently training at Santa Anita. Nothing is certain yet, but things are looking good. This is not just the case of perhaps the two best horses in the country squaring off. This is a grudge match. The horses presumably have never met, but their connections have been engaged in hardcore trash talking. It's safe to say that neither side likes the other much. Big Brown's ownership has been taunting Curlin's, accusing them of ducking the likely three year old champ. Curlin's has responded by challenging Big Brown to a match race. This kind of raw and open hatred isn't common in this sport, and it's great to see. If Curlin does make the start it will lead to one of the most dramatic and likely tightly contested Classics in years.
The girls don't as much attention as the boys, but this race regularly has incredible talent at the top. This year is no exception. Sky Diva vs. Dream Empress may be the second best head-to-head contest on the entire card. Sky Diva annihilated the competition in the Frizette last time out. The day before, Dream Empress made it look way too easy in the Alcibiades on the synthetic at Keeneland. They are two year olds, so they don't have a rich base of experience. They clearly have talent, though, and they should shoot the lights out.
Let's start by saying this new name for the Distaff is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. Regardless of what you call the race, it's the likely showcase for a tremendous piece of horse flesh - Zenyatta. With the possible exception of Zarava, the filly that just won the Arc de Triomphe, this is the best female horse in training. She is massive, and she devours the ground with her stride. She's four years old, but she's only had eight career starts - all wins - so physical issues aren't a factor here. In her last race, conveniently at Santa Anita, she faced one of her biggest threats in Hystericalady. It wasn't even a fair fight. Zenyatta made it look easy, and she has a good chance of being the lowest price horse on the entire card. Even at well below even money this horse could provide some value. There is a real possibility that Zenyatta is the best horse entered in the Breeders' Cup - she's that good.
This field is harder than most to determine at this point. It was dealt a blow with the retirement of Bustin Stones, one of the top sprinters in the country, this week due to a foot injury. Last year's impressive winner Midnight Lute will be back, but it's hard to know what he has to offer. He has run just once this year - a dismal 10th at Del Mar in August. He's been training very well at Santa Anita, though, so you can't rule him out entirely. By race day he might look good in this field without a clear leader.
Red Rocks is like the Drew Neitzel of turf racing - a horse that seems like he has been around far longer than you'd expect him to. The horse is only five, but he's lining up to take his third shot at the Breeders' Cup Turf. He's done well so far. He won the race in 2006, and came back with a third last year. He's had a decent year this year, though he has been out of action since early in the summer. He'll face a deep field of horses ready for the marathon run on the grass. As seems to be the case in so many races this year, this race doesn't have a runaway favorite, but there are a large handful of horses that could easily win it.