October 31, 2006

Another B-horse chasing history

[img_assist|nid=3025|title=Photo courtesy of Horsephotos/NTRA|desc=Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite Bernardini, with jockey Javier Castellano aboard, has won six of seven starts in the same fashion — all alone at the wire.|link=|align=left|width=200|height=160]Six months ago racing fans were looking ahead to the further adventures of Barbaro, the undefeated and brilliant winner of the 132nd Kentucky Derby. Ahead lay the next two legs of the Triple Crown and a possible return to Churchill Downs in November — with a chance to roar down the Twin Spires stretch again in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.November is here, but it is another B-Horse — Bernardini — who is chasing fame in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Barbaro broke a leg at the start of the Preakness Stakes and will never run again. At the University of Pennsylvania, Barbaro has made a remarkable recovery (so far) against what seemed certain life-ending injuries and complications.Ironically, Bernardini burst into prominence by winning the Preakness as Barbaro broke down. Since that day in May, Bernardini has waltzed through important stakes races like they were just so many walks in the park. He wins his races by suddenly darting away from the field, then coasting to the wire — all alone.A son of A.P. Indy out of the top race mare Cara Rafaela, Bernardini is what the Breeders’ Cup is all about. Trained by Tom Albertrani and ridden by Javier Castellano, Bernardini has won six of seven starts and $2 million. He was bred in Kentucky by owner Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who reportedly will retire the horse after the Classic. A one-of-a-kind champion — if he wins.And that’s no sure thing. This Classic, the 23rd of the Breeders’ Cup series, which began in 1984, is loaded with top contenders.Heading the opposition is Lava Man, the West Coast champ who began as a $12,500 claimer at the Stockton (Calif.) Fair, but has earned $3.8 million. This year the son of Slew City Slew has won seven races in a row, including the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. Five of Lava Man’s triumphs have been at 1 1/4 miles, the Classic distance. He’s the blue-collar Californian taking on the blue-blooded Easterner. (Did somebody say Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral?)More on the Classic later, including the name of a Classic contender you probably won’t hear anywhere else. A longshot who could win, or at least hit the board at a big price.Speaking of big prices, that’s what horseplayers love about Breeders’ Cup. Not only is the racing superb — the wagering is a better betting heaven than any prophet could ever dream up.Counting the two stakes races at the beginning of the day to give fans a chance to loosen up their betting hands, there are 10 exactas, 10 trifectas, 10 superfectas, three daily doubles, seven pick threes, two pick fours and a pick six.Whew!Not to mention win, place and show betting. And while we would frown on anyone ever betting to place, a well-run Show Parlay amongst friends — even over just three or four races — could build a real score.Here are some picks (in bold), with longshots marked with a (L).And yes, this is your home for 70-1 shots — some of which might not run a lick. But could. As Big Elmo once said, “Longshots that win are winners, too. They just don’t look like it to most people.”JUVENILE FILLIES — Octave is the pick, but watch out if Her Majesty draws an inside post.(Note: Ignore all rags-to-riches stories in the Breeders’ Cup. Here’s the rule: The richer the owner, the faster the horse will run.)JUVENILE — Scat Daddy will be hard to beat, but C P West (L) offers a bit of a price. (Incidentally, trainer Tony Reinstedler gave me $5 to not pick his horse, U.D. Ghetto.)FILLY AND MARE TURF — Looks too chalky: Ouija Board and Wait A While. You could mix Quiet Royal (L) into things — or take a Pasadena on the whole thing.SPRINT — Every time Bondonaro has blazed a half-mile fraction in under: 44, he’s won. Of course, we haven’t picked the Sprint winner in 22 years. (Never.)MILE — Librettist (L) near the front, Araafa tracking, and Aussie Rules (L) from the back of the pack. How about that trifecta?DISTAFF — Fleet Indian has won nine in a row. But we’ll try Shug McGaughey-trained Pine Island — with Lemon’s Forever (L) and Hollywood Story (L) along for pieces of the pie. Wouldn’t hang my hat on any of them. TURF — Europeans dominate this grassy gallop. But we don’t like the Euro everyone is talking up, Hurricane Run. U.S.-based English Channel, who looked terrific winning the Woodford Reserve here on Derby Day, and rival Cacique will both run well. But the bombs-away picks are longshots Red Rocks (L) and Scorpion (L) — and keep your fingers crossed!CLASSIC — Bernardini is a likely winner. Lava Man will certainly give it his all. George Washington is a nice name for an Irish horse visiting America, but he won’t like the Classic distance. Invasor has not tried Bernardini, but will get the distance. The Longshot Special is the other European, David Junior (L), who has won $4 million, and had all fall to get ready for this race. Never raced on dirt, but hails from the Pleasant Colony line that loves 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs. Don’t tell anybody.New Riders of the Breeders’ Cup Stage?With Pat Day, Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens all just retired, the Breeders’ Cup jockey’s throne is now officially vacant.Bailey won 15 Cup races and $22 million, while Day won 12 races and $23 million. Active leader is Mike Smith with 10 victories. Chris McCarron, also retired, has nine and Stevens eight.Veterans Patrick Valenzuela and Jose Santos have each won seven Cup races and Corey Nakatani six. The hot young prospects might be Edgar Prado (two wins), Garrett Gomez (two), John Velazquez (six) and Castellano (one).The old kings didn’t limit themselves to favorites. Day won the very first Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1984 on Wild Again, at $64.60. In 1993, Bailey was aboard Arcangues at $269.20. So there’s a clue. Don’t be afraid to follow a top jock who has wandered away from the favorites.A Battle of the B’s?What about mythical match-up of Barbaro and Bernardini?Bernardini is reminiscent of recent star Ghostzapper — possessed with speed that can simply overwhelm his opponents at any moment in a race. Barbaro reminded us of ... well, Barbaro! More power and stamina than any star of recent decades. Able to stay 1 1/4 miles, and beyond.Keep an eye on future results from the Bluegrass breeding wars. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com