Monmouth Park is one of America�s finest racetracks, and the $30 million fronted by the state looks good on her. Have to admit, though, it looks better in sunshine.
As this is written, it�s not raining, not yet, anyway. The chances that we�ll see precipitation is 70 percent today, 90 percent tomorrow.
Some horsemen probably won�t mind. Those whose horses move up in the wet conditions, and those whose horses don�t. The slop and a soft turf course are built-in excuses.
Carl Nafzger was saying the other day that all the horses in the race that will determine the 2007 Horse of the Year should handle the conditions; it�s a question of which of them it moves up.
This, of course, makes a difficult handicapping exercise nearly impossible. According to my projections using Equiform performance data, that top five horses in the Classic; Lawyer Ron, Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday are separated by 1-� points.
Topping this extremely tight affair is a dead heat between Lawyer Ron and Street Sense. They earned figures of 81.25. The lowest was Hard Spun at 80.
Guess who figures to move up most in the wet conditions? Right, Hard Spun. An impossibly tight race got even tighter.
Here�s a look at Breeders� Cup Classic XXIV, in inverted post position order, 9 through 1:
9. Tiago: He fits the historical profile for a three-year-old beautifully. The book says look for a late developing type that has been toughened up through the Triple Crown series. That suit fits perfectly, in fact. Defeated a respectable10 lengths in the Kentucky Derby after winning the Santa Anita Derby previously, he was an excellent third, cutting the Derby margin in half. After returning home to California to win the Swaps, he defeated older horses in the Grade 1 Goodwood. On figures, however, there�s just too much ground to make up.
8. Hard Spun: One of several feel good stories in this wonderful three-year-old class, he�s fast, runs hard each and every time--except when Garrett Gomez didn�t allow him to on Long Island--he�s repeating his Polytrack to dirt pattern that worked so well in Kentucky when he finished in front of 18 rivals, all but Street Sense. He avenged that defeat in his Kentucky Cup Classic prep when allowed the easiest of leads. That shouldn�t be the case here, unless the riders of the four horses that figure to handle the 10 furlong route best allows him to. They had best keep their eyes on him, especially in wet footing.
7. Diamond Stripes: Sometimes, the horse touts you. Trainer Rick Dutrow, and just about everyone else, thought this late developing four-year-old (8) 5-0-3 was very well suited to the newly created Dirt Mile. But after his final five-furlong workout at Aqueduct of :59 1/5, termed breezing, Dutrow said he wasn�t going to duck anyone with $5-million up for grabs. In our view, we�ll stay with the racetrack adage that you never duck one horse. I have no problem with ducking two. Ducking five is a bit much no matter how well you think your horse is doing.
6. Awesome Gem: Nice horse. Second by a nose to Tiago in his Goodwood prep, he also finished second to Student Council in the Pacific Classic and Sun Boat in the San Diego Handicap, his last three starts. I try not to be too dogmatic about these things, but I do have one rule: A nice horse doesn�t beat a good horse.
5. George Washington: A sensational European three-year-old, he was retired prematurely to stud, but there was a problem. He didn�t like the work. Since returning to his day job, he�s been beaten an aggregate 4-� lengths in Group 1 company, a schedule designed by Aidan O�Brien to bring him up to this as fresh as possible. O�Brien is no fool. He knows how to win a Breeders� Cup race and he knows what he�s up against here. But he also trains for high profile connections that want to play the international stage. Before you dismiss him out of hand, know that he was beaten 7 lengths by eventual Horse of the Year Invasor in this race last year.
4. Curlin: Time to cut to the chase and take a stand. I loved his Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was monstrous despite the fact he was coming off a dull effort in his previous start. But he trained well for the JCGC and outfinished a multiple Grade 1-winning older horse to the finish. That horse, Lawyer Ron, is today�s early favorite. The problem with Curlin is that the dull effort came over the Monmouth strip, one which he had difficulty handling. Normally a smooth, long striding horse, his action was high and not as fluid. In a race where there is zero margin for error, it seems unwise to think his recent familiarity with the course will help him negotiate it any better. And as for the wet track�
3. Any Given Saturday: Talk about late developing three-year-olds. No? Then how about a horse for a course? In this colt, you get both. After a foot bruise contributed to his 10 length loss in the Derby, he was recycled by Todd Pletcher and came back to win the Dwyer explosively in very fast time. He proved it was no aberration and that he had raised his game when he shipped into Monmouth and emerged with a decisive Haskell victory at the direct expense of Hard Spun and Curlin. His Brooklyn victory over older horses is hard to read. The race developed in a strange way with longshot Tasteyville stealing off to a long lead, Garrett Gomez seemingly confused as whether to chased the leader or take back. He seemed to do a little of both. How that sets him up for today is unclear but his prior Monmouth victory could prove a huge plus.
2. Street Sense: On Monday, I whittled this impossible Classic down to two horses, this one and Lawyer Ron. On Tuesday, after this colt worked, I jumped off the fence and on to his bandwagon. If his five furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5 over the track wasn�t the BEST workout I�ve ever seen, it�s in the conversation. His super-strong finish was accomplished while Calvin Borel sat absolutely still. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25 and change and a mile in less than 1:39. It was extraordinary. Upon dismounting, Borel said to a smiling Nafzger: �He got over this track like he gets over Churchill.� Case closed. He�s been superbly managed. Nafzger�s work this colt would have been enough for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame even if there weren�t an Unbridled. Street Sense runs turns extremely well and Borel rides him accordingly. The pace will be solid and 10 furlongs is this colt�s best game. He deserves to go home a champion.
1. Lawyer Ron: Any Given Saturday is not Pletcher�s only late developer in this Classic. The best older horse in training bolted to prominence by running nine furlongs in Saratoga faster than any horse ever had. For emphasis, he returned in the Woodward and, in it�s way, that effort was even more impressive. Finding an explosive second gear in midstretch, he left his competition reeling. He was more than 8 lengths in front at the finish. His JCGC was clearly no disgrace. Ridden a bit indecisively, he alternated on the lead in moderate fractions, allowing his rivals to jump into the fray. The wide expanse of Belmont Park and the 10-furlong distance, perfect for Curlin, compromised this high-speed cruiser. Two turns will suit him better here and he�s 2-for-2 when the track is wet. Street Sense and the other classy sophomores will have their work cut out.
Selection: 1. Street Sense 2. Lawyer Ron 3. Any Given Saturday. 4. Curlin
Best Of The Best: Lear's Princess (Distaff)