Two of those Oak Tree winners were Smiling Tiger in the Ancient Title Stakes and Liberian Freighter in the Oak Tree Mile, but only one, Smiling Tiger, may be Breeders' Cup bound. After the Oak Tree Mile, there were mixed signals in the Liberian Freighter camp. "Frankly, we hadn't thought about the Breeders' Cup," said Chuck Winner, one of the owners of Liberian Freighter, on TVG, "but now, maybe we will." Winner sounded as though he was leaving the door half open, but in another corner of the winner's circle, his trainer, Neil Drysdale, was slamming it shut. "He'll run back in the California Cup Mile," Drysdale said. Drysdale is known for knowing his horse, and he's a pretty quick study as well in what's out there in the potential field for the Breeders' Cup Mile. Start with Goldikova, the European sensation who's won the race the last two years, and work down.
For a deuce, Liberian Freighter paid $46.40. It was one of the few times he's run in open company. He had won on the grass, and on the lead, in his previous race at Del Mar, but this time it was Tropic Storm who set the pace. He was headed by Colgan's Chip in the stretch, then Liberian Freighter consumed them both not far from the wire. Drysdale has now won six of the 25 runnings of the Oak Tree Mile. One of those, War Chant in 2000, came back to win the Breeders' Cup Mile, but there was no Goldikova around then.
The Ancient Title, at six furlongs, used to be a good setup race for the Breeders' Cup Sprint at the same distance. Horses like Cardmania, Elmhurst, Kona Gold and Thor's Echo transferred their flashy form in the Ancient Title to the Breeders' Cup, but there's only been one horse--Thor's Echo--to win both stakes in the last nine years. Smiling Tiger, the latest winner of the Ancient Title, was the only 3-year-old in the field. He had a curious record going in--four wins and four thirds in eight tries, and was ridden for the first time in more than a year by Russell Baze, the Northern California kingpin who seldom goes slumming in the South. "This horse has big things in front of him," said Baze, who's not of the ilk to throw around compliments wildly. "He looked that other horse (Supreme Summit) in the eye. He ran a gutty and determined race."
The same could not be said for Dancing in Silks, a California-bred who won last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint at a 25-1 price. Since then, Dancing in Silks has been on the schneid, and his sixth-place finish in the Ancient Title doesn't bode well for a trip to Kentucky. The sprint division is wide open, which is a subtle way of saying it's not very deep, but whether Carla Gaines, Dancing in Silks' trainer, will put him on a plane to Louisville is another matter. The smart money says the 5-year-old gelding will stay landlocked in California. The public is already wise: They sent him off as the fifth choice in the Ancient Title, and in the harsh words of the Equibase chart footnotes, he "could not summon the necessary response." That's a highfalutin way of saying he ran out of gas. They were tearing up their tickets at the quarter pole.