The Classic is as deep a collection of handicap runners as I have ever seen.
The combination of quality and quantity, and the notion that good horses don’t stick around log enough to race have been put to bed…at least as far as this weekend's event is concerned.
Like so many fans and players, I'm anticipating Friday's Distaff at least as much as Saturday's Classic, perhaps even more so.
But the common thread in both races, despite the presence of world class equines--and a good number of them at that--is that both are very much “rider’s races.”
That term often is used to describe races at odd distances, disparate track configurations, quirky surfaces, etc. But races of nine and 10 furlongs on a major circuit are in every rider's wheelhouse. The only other plausible reason, then, is the immense depth of talent assembled.
While it’s about top class horse racing, 2013 very much has been the Year of the Jockey.
The loss of the athlete Ramon Dominguez conjured up weighty disappointment. The cliché was and is true: A world class rider but an even better person.
Then there was the dominant run of a rider who picked up where Ramon left off; Joel Rosario.
I suppose Southern Californians have been aware of his talents for some time. But as the song goes, if you make it in New York you can make it anywhere, even Dubai.
I don’t know how this could be possible, but did Gary Stevens’ seven-year freshening make him a better Hall of Fame talent, gifts that carried him to the game’s pantheon long ago? Talk about revelations.
But every time I look at racing video, he’s pushing all the correct buttons; those needed for positioning, getting animals in a relaxed rhythm, understanding dynamics (race-riding), finishing power, courage and my personal favorite; rating on the front end—the perfect blend of stealth and timing.
And, finally, there are the continuing exploits of record-busting Johnny Velazquez and the continued maturation of Javier Castellano on racing’s biggest stages.
It seems that Rosario and Castellano have filled the void left by Dominguez with respect to business; ultimately there is no replacing Ramon's presence between the fences. With so many deep, contentious races beginning tomorrow, he is missed.
Like many, I never have been so excited to see a six-horse race in which the big three are breaking from adjoining stalls—a jockey’s race to the max, with more than a little help from three of the best horsemen on the planet.
There’s champion race mare Royal Delta in search of a three-peat, partnered by the winningest rider in Breeders’ Cup history, Mike Smith. The champ, trainer Bill Mott being well aware of a chief rival’s home court advantage and vaunted speed, has the screws tightly secured with speed honed to a fine edge.
That rival has been on amazing run. Brethren Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, no stranger to Cup success, has her peaked at the last nanosecond, making some of Beholder’s unseemly pre-race behavior nearly a thing of the past. And running out of her own stall can’t hurt.
Then, of course, there’s certain-to-be first ballot Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher with his throw-back of a 3-year-old filly who resembles the great Hall of Famer Shuvee more with each passing race, owned by a man who has shown at least as much guts as his mare, Ed Stanco and friends.
The speed-honed Royal Delta, especially with a draw inside her two main rivals, must bring the race to the surface-loving local, whose half-mile blowout the other day resembled more of a jog than even an open gallop.
When Smith peaks over his right shoulder Friday, he’ll be looking at Stevens. And where will Castellano be with protem champion Princess Of Sylmar at that point? Sitting a perfect trip behind them, third. At least that’s how it shakes out on paper.
As for the Classic itself, a field that’s double the size of the Distaff, it's extremely deep in talent, running styles, and a pair of pretty remarkable 3-year-olds.
What happens here all depends on the break. Fortunately, there’s a long enough of a run into the first turn to lend hope that a good trip might be enjoyed by all. And aboard the likely top two betting choices, Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man, will be Smith and Stevens, again. Classic, Part II.
Add to the mix our choice for leading 3-year-old, at least until 8:35 EDT Saturday night, Palace Malice, with his new partner Johnny V. Joel Rosario, fortunately having recovered from a Travers eve accident, is aboard Flat Out, super-primed to run one of his big ones.
Then there's the young and very talented Luis Saez, aboard still improving, second-season leading, 3-year-old Will Take Charge. It’s enough to give you a headache, but in a good way.
We believe that Royal Delta and Mucho Macho Man will be draped in purple and gold when the two classics are put in the books.
Handicapping and wagering theory is on Friday and Saturday morning dockets, and we exhaustingly will blog our way to America’s greatest gaming spectacle on an event that never fails to fire, especially for HRI's SCOREcard clients. A safe and speedy journey to all our real weekend warriors.