The Breeders' Cup, struggling to keep the top horses running for its seven races worth $10 million at Hollywood Park on Nov. 21, lost two more standouts Monday when the handlers of Bet Twice and Personal Ensign said that they won't be coming to California.
Bet Twice, winner of the Belmont Stakes and earner of $1.9 million this year--more than any horse in the country--would have run in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic, which would have meant a rematch with Alysheba, his nemesis from the Triple Crown races.
Undefeated Personal Ensign, a hard-luck 3-year-old filly who missed last year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita because of a leg injury, scored her sixth straight victory Sunday at Belmont Park by comfortably winning the Beldame Stakes. She was expected to run in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Distaff and probably would have been the favorite or second choice behind Infinidad, a Santa Anita-based horse.
The fields for the Breeders' Cup have been riddled by injuries, early retirements, the late date for the races and the fact that several prominent horses weren't nominated as yearlings and can't run unless their owners pay six-figure supplementary fees to make them eligible. The Breeders' Cup even lost a horse through death Saturday, when Bedside Promise, one of the country's top sprinters, collapsed on the track minutes after running a race at Bay Meadows.
Bet Twice and Personal Ensign join a Breeders' Cup list of non-runners that include Java Gold, Broad Brush, Waquoit, Creme Fraiche, Manila, Sharrood, Lady's Secret and Crusader Sword. At least three horses with good chances to win--Super Diamond, Zany Tactics and Bold Second--will run only if their owners decide to risk between $120,000 and $360,000 in supplementary fees.
Bet Twice, who was second to Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and then beat him in the Belmont and the Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park, was being prepared for the Breeders' Cup because his connections thought they had a chance for Horse of the Year after Java Gold's defeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Probably weary from a campaign that started in Florida early in the year, Bet Twice hasn't run since he finished sixth as the 3-2 favorite in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 5, and last Saturday he turned in a workout that didn't please trainer Jimmy Croll.
In only his second work since the Woodward, Bet Twice went five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 with Craig Perret, his regular jockey, in the saddle.
"That didn't suit me," Croll said, "and we decided that going to California wasn't worth the risk. If he's not at his best, he shouldn't run. We've X-rayed the horse and there's nothing wrong with him, but he's not happy.
"He's not doing things the way we want him to."
Contrastingly, Personal Ensign is fresh and at the top of her game, having run only four times this year. She was sidelined for 11 months after having four screws inserted in her fractured leg.
But Shug McGaughey, who trains the filly, said Monday that the Breeders' Cup date comes too late in the year.
"Our plans before the Beldame were not to run in the Breeders' Cup, and I'm sure we'll stick to them," McGaughey said. "If the race was two weeks from now, I have no doubt that we'd run. But the date is too far off. It'll probably start getting cold here, and we'd have to ship to California three weeks ahead of time in order to acclimate her to things out there."
The dates of the first three Breeders' Cups were Nov. 10, Nov. 2 and Nov. 1.
This year's date reportedly was dictated by NBC-TV, which televises the races and said that it had other commitments on the weekends in early November.
"Other than Wayne Lukas' horses, I don't know of many New York trainers who'll be sending horses to the Breeders' Cup this year," a Belmont Park official said Monday.
Their trainers said that after a rest, Bet Twice and Personal Ensign will both compete as 4-year-olds next year. That's good for racing, but of little help to the Breeders' Cup, which in addition to the many horse defections is facing heavy competition from college football in its battle for television ratings on Nov. 21.
Some of the games scheduled are UCLA-USC, Notre Dame-Penn State, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Michigan-Ohio State.