Even a win in the Breeders' Cup Classic might leave Ferdinand lacking the credentials to be voted Horse of the Year for 1987.
A defeat today in the $150,000 Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita, Ferdinand's prep for the Classic at Hollywood Park Nov. 21, would make his credentials even less impressive.
So, the Goodwood is a little more than just a prep. Ferdinand had never won two straight races until he ran first in the three-horse Cabrillo Handicap at Del Mar in late August and now he's trying to make it three in a row in the Goodwood, under top weight of 127 pounds.
Trainer Charlie Whittingham has no thoughts of scratching Ferdinand despite Santa Anita's off track, which has been pelted by almost six inches of rain since the Oak Tree season opened a month ago.
"He needs the race to get ready for the Breeders' Cup," Whittingham said. "He's run in the mud before--in the Belmont--and he handled it all right."
After winning the Kentucky Derby and running second in the Preakness last year, Ferdinand finished third, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths, as Danzig Connection and Johns Treasure ran 1-2 in the Belmont.
Alysheba, this year's Derby winner, was also going to use the Goodwood as a prep for the Classic, but when he missed a workout because of rain, trainer Jack Van Berg decided not to run.
"As far as the Breeders' Cup is concerned, it shouldn't make any difference whether he had this race or not," Van Berg said Friday. "I'm not worried. He's a plumb fit horse."
With Alysheba out, there are only five Goodwood starters, with Skywalker next in the weights with 123 pounds for the 1 1/8-mile race.
Skywalker, who won the Classic last year and who has returned to the track after a season at stud, will be ridden for the first time by Frank Olivares, his regular exercise rider. Laffit Pincay, who usually rides Skywalker, will regain the mount for the Breeders' Cup, but he's in Chicago today to ride Creme Fraiche in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.
Wins today and Nov. 21 would give Ferdinand a big finish, but he still would have only 4 victories in 10 starts this year, with only two of them in major races. Those two noses by which he lost the Strub and the Santa Anita Handicap to Snow Chief and Broad Brush early in the year have now grown like Pinocchio's on his record.
Alysheba, Theatrical, Groovy and Java Gold are the other Horse of the Year candidates. All but Java Gold will be running in the Breeders' Cup races, but only Alysheba and Ferdinand will be racing one another. Java Gold was injured while running second to Creme Fraiche in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park last month and is through for the year.
"Groovy's a sprinter, and Theatrical only runs on grass," Whittingham said, implying that specialists shouldn't be considered for Horse of the Year. "How many times did Java Gold (a 3-year-old) beat older horses? He only wins in the mud."
Java Gold, who beat older horses--albeit the weakest crop of handicap runners in several years--in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga and in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont, finished with six wins in eight starts, scoring every victory but the Whitney on an off track.
Ferdinand's only major victory of the year was in the Hollywood Gold Cup in June, against a lackluster field. Closest to Ferdinand that day was stablemate Judge Angelucci, whom Whittingham isn't even running in the Breeders' Cup.
What is also likely to hurt Ferdinand in the eyes of Eastern voters is that he didn't leave California.
"Java Gold didn't leave New York," Whittingham said. "I've won Horse of the Year before without going out of California."
The horse was Ack Ack, and the year was 1971. The voters have been sufficiently alerted about the precedent.
Horse Racing Notes
Charlie Whittingham, co-owner of Bold Second, said that the 2-year-old colt would be supplemented--at a cost of $120,000--to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. . . . Besides Bold Second and Ferdinand, other Breeders' Cup starters for Whittingham could be Jeanne Jones (Juvenile Fillies), Temperate Sil (Mile), Infinidad (Distaff) and Rivlia, Swink and Louis Le Grand (Turf). Jeanne Jones, who ran six furlongs in 1:09 4/5 in her first race, must earn her way into the race Sunday against colts in the $48,000 Flying Paster Stakes at Santa Anita.
There is some question whether Louis Le Grand will run, since his owner, Allen Paulson, also has an interest in Theatrical, who will be favored in the Turf. . . . The deadline for supplementing horses to the Breeders' Cup is noon Monday, and the owners of Zany Tactics, Don and Vera Brunette, still haven't made up their minds about paying $120,000 to make him eligible for the Sprint. They are considering taking in other partners to run Zany Tactics in the race.
Hot and Smoggy, and Salud y Pesetas, who were entered in the Goodwood, ran in the $48,000 Tell Stakes Friday and finished second and third. The winner, No Marker, gave apprentice Aaron Gryder his first stakes victory. . . . Although Skywalker is also entered in Sunday's Koester Handicap, he is likely to run today. . . . The $75,000 Koester, at a mile on grass, drew 11 horses--Putting, Deputy Governor, Vilzak, Skip Out Front, Double Feint, Art Francais, Exclusive Partner, Northern Provider, Big Sturgeon, Skywalker and Le Belvedere.
Chris McCarron, who was ill Thursday, didn't ride Friday . . . Post time is noon Sunday because of a 10-race card, which includes betting on the telecast of the California Juvenile from Bay Meadows. . . . Joining Laffit Pincay in the Hawthorne Gold Cup are jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye and Fernando Toro. Delahoussaye rides Stop the Fighting, and Toro has the mount on Nostalgia's Star.