After a pair of record-setting years at Churchill Downs, the Breedersâ€™ Cup Championships return to Southern California Friday and Saturday for the eventâ€™s two-day run at Santa Anita.
Therefore it is time for thoughts on what could happen in those races. Please remember that what you are about to read was written prior to Tuesdayâ€™s draw for post positions.
But before we look ahead to the Breedersâ€™ Cup, letâ€™s take a quick look back to Sundayâ€™s opening day of the 21-day Fall Meet at Churchill Downs. It was the first of two â€œStars of Tomorrowâ€ days devoted exclusively for racing for 2-year-olds â€“ the age group that will be the focus of next springâ€™s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Kentucky Oaks on the first weekend in May 2013.
Those days have produced a long list of future stars since the track first started those special Fall Meet racing days. Given the star quality efforts turned in by several promising young stars on the day, weâ€™ll be adding names to the star roster from Sundayâ€™s racing.
Particularly impressive was Iroquois Stakes winner Uncaptured, a Canadian-based son of Lion Heart who bounced back from his first loss in five races with an emphatic 5 Â½-length romp over stakes veterans Positively, runner-up in Churchill Downsâ€™ Bashford Manor, and favored Belmont Futurity winner Overanalyze.
It was the first race on dirt for the colt owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse that could quickly emerge as a major player on the road to Kentucky Derby 139.
Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneiderâ€™s Sign created a similar impression when the daughter of Pulpit overcame a poor start to rally from last in the field of eight to win the Pocahontas for fillies by four lengths. If all goes well, look out Kentucky Oaks.
But the dayâ€™s final race â€“ a seven-furlong maiden â€“ packed its own combination of drama and dreams when Titletown Five, owned by a partnership headed by Louisville-born football legend Paul Hornung and trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas â€“ rolled to a never-in-doubt nine-length victory for his first win in four races.
The son of two-time Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic winner Tiznow carries green and gold silks that bear the logo of Hornungâ€™s beloved Green Bay Packers. His winning time of 1:23.84 was nearly two seconds faster than a group of allowance fillies had run the same distance two races earlier over a track that was not yielding fast times.
â€œCould I be lucky enough to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby?â€ Hornung asked of no one in particular following the winnerâ€™s circle celebration for Titletown Five.
The coltâ€™s next start will likely be in the Kentucky Jockey Club on the next â€œStars of Tomorrowâ€ Day on Saturday, Nov. 24, and more compelling evidence will be available then. But Titletown Five had the look of something special in Sundayâ€™s win.
Could a Louisville boy ask for more with just six months to go until the First Saturday in May?
Look At Cup
Letâ€™s look westward now to the 2012 Breedersâ€™ Cup.
As the championships go, this yearâ€™s renewal is a bit of a bland affair going in. Iâ€™m clearly biased, but it is Kentucky-based horses and connections that, at the moment, are providing most of the fuel for anticipation of its 15 races.
But a couple of beautiful performances could quickly reverse that perception, so letâ€™s hope for some magic moments beneath the San Gabriel Mountains.
Hereâ€™s a quick race-by-race look:
Juvenile Sprint: With the very fast fillies Beholder and Kauai Katie pulling out, the likely favorite and most likely winner is the Bob Baffert-trained Super Ninety Nine, a sharp winner in his lone start. Make it: 1. Super Ninety Nine. 2. South Floyd (owned by UofL basketball coach Rick Pitino). 3. Merit Man. 4. Sweet Shirley Mae.
Marathon: Irish import Fame and Glory has never raced on dirt, but is a long-winded winner of $3.5 million. 1. Fame and Glory. 2. Jaycito. 3. Edlaafer. 4. Sense of Purpose.
Juvenile Fillies Turf: Sky Lantern is one of Europeâ€™s top 2-year-olds and should win, but fellow Euro Waterway Run is intriguing. 1. Sky Lantern. 2. Waterway Run. 3. Spring Venture. 4. Watsdachances.
Juvenile Fillies: Itâ€™s an East-West showdown between Todd Pletcherâ€™s unbeaten Dreaming of Julie and Bob Baffertâ€™s 6-for-6 Executiveprivelege. A win makes either the champion, but the former is a more likely Kentucky Oaks candidate.Â 1. Dreaming of Julia. 2. Broken Spell. 3. Spring in the Air. 4. Executiveprivelege.
Filly & Mare Turf: Churchill Downs-based Marketing Mix, trained by Tom Proctor, can upset a strong group of Europeans. 1. Marketing Mix. 2. Nahrain. 3. Ridasiyna. 4. Up.
Ladiesâ€™ Classic: Defending winner Royal Delta was considered for the Classic and could have won that race, but trainer Bill Mott will try for a double in the race that will be the deepest and best of the two-day Cup.Â 1. Royal Delta. 2. My Miss Aurelia. 3. Include Me Out. 4. Love and Pride.
Juvenile Turf: Artigiano finished second in the Royal Lodge, the first race of the â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ point series.Â A similar effort makes him tough here.Â 1. Artigiano. 2. Noble Tune. 3. George Vancouver. 4. Summit County.
Filly & Mare Sprint: Groupie Doll â€“ the pride of the Frankfort, Ky. father-son team owner-breeder Fred Bradley and trainer Buff â€“ has been brilliant since adding blinkers four races back. All were wins â€“ three on synthetic â€“ and Buff Bradley says sheâ€™s better on dirt. 1. Groupie Doll. 2. Rumor. 3.Musical Romance. 4. Turbulent Descent.
Dirt Mile: Preakness winner Shackleford was second in this race a year ago, but a win in this edition makes Louisville-born trainer Dale Romans a strong candidate for the Eclipse Award that honors Americaâ€™s top trainer. Shack hates wet tracks and is unlikely to see one on Saturday. 1. Shackleford. 2. Rail Trip. 3. Fed Biz. 4. Jersey Town.
Turf Sprint: The unusual downhill 6 Â½-furlong turf course presents a challenge for horses that have focused on mostly shorter turf sprint distances, and local hope Camp Victory has a chance to score a late-running upset at solid odds. 1. Camp Victory. 2. Bridgetown. 3. Starspangledbanner. 4. Great Attack.
Juvenile: Another East-West battle pits unbeaten East Coast hero Shanghai Bobby against the Baffert-trained Power Broker on trainer Baffertâ€™s home court. A win by the former assures 2-year-old champion honors for Starlight Stable, which includes Louisville connections in managing partner Jack Wolf, Louisville attorney Ed Glasscock and son Clint. 1. Shanghai Bobby. 2. Capo Bastone. 3. Fortify. 4. Power Broker.
Turf: St Nicholas Abbey, winner of this race at Churchill Downs, returns to the U.S. in search of firm, fast ground. He should get it and will be tough to handle, as will Aidan Oâ€™Brien-trained stablemate Treasure Beach, who also likes firm footing. 1. St. Nicholas Abbey. 2. Treasure Beach. 3. Point of Entry. 4. Dullahan.
Sprint: Defending champ Amazombie looks for a repeat, but The Lumber Guy has come out of nowhere to be a player. 1. The Lumber Guy. 2. Amazombie. 3. Emcee. 4. Hamazing Destiny.
Mile: Kentucky-based Wise Dan is the best horse in America and has barely broken out of a gallop in three consecutive stakes wins on grass. He might have won this Classic had trainer Charlie Lopresti sent him there, but a victory here could make him â€œHorse of the Year.â€
Excelebration has chased the unbeaten European hero Frankel for the past two year and a win here could further enhance the status of that horse, already considered by some to be the best horse in the history of racing on that continent. Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, picks a tough spot for his first race since February. 1. Wise Dan. 2. Excelebration. 3. Animal Kingdom. 4. Moonlight Cloud.
Classic: Game On Dude, runner-up in the $5 million Classic last fall at Churchill Downs, is the favorite to win and a victory makes him â€œHorse of the Year.â€ But this is such a wide-open race, thereâ€™s no reason to bet the favorite. Flat Out was the beaten choice in this race last year, but he clearly disliked the Churchill Downs track.Â Heâ€™s at his best in New York, but if he handles the footing he can make it two Classic wins in succession for trainer Bill Mott. Intriguing prices abound in this one, so take a swing or two. 1. Flat Out. 2. Nonios.Â 3. Pool Play.Â 4. Fort Larned.