Of the 106 horses that have been kept eligible for this year's seven Breeders' Cup races, only a few have a chance to be voted Horse of the Year, and none has a better record than Groovy, the brilliant sprinter who is undefeated in six 1987 starts.
Horse of the Year voters have been thrust into the predicament of comparing apples with oranges, because of the five candidates--Groovy, Theatrical, Alysheba, Ferdinand and Java Gold--only two--Alysheba and Ferdinand--are running in the same Breeders' Cup race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 21, and Java Gold, who is injured, isn't competing at all.
A Horse of the Year voter gets no help from Jose Martin, the man who trains Groovy. Instead, you get a wall-to-wall brainwash.
"I hear people say that Groovy shouldn't be considered for the title because he's a sprinter, a specialist," Martin said.
"But specialists have been voted the honor before. Secretariat was a 2-year-old when he won Horse of the Year and he was a specialist, because he only ran against other 2-year-olds.
"Last year, Lady's Secret got Horse of the Year, and she was a filly who didn't run out of her division in the Breeders' Cup. Turf horses like John Henry and All Along have won the title, and they specialized in running only on grass."
Of course, Groovy will lose all chance for Horse of the Year if he loses the $1-million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park a week from Saturday. On Tuesday, when the preliminary fields for the seven races were announced, Martin calmly watched a videotape of last year's Sprint at Santa Anita, where Groovy started slowly on a speed-favoring track and finished fourth as the 2-5 favorite.
Martin says that this year's field in the Sprint is tougher than 1986's group. The owners of 15 sprinters paid a pre-entry fee of $10,000 and two horses--Zany Tactics and Zabaleta--were supplemented into the race at $120,000 apiece because they weren't nominated as yearlings. The capacity field for a Breeders' Cup race is 14, so an international panel of racing officials must determine the final 5 starters after a point system based on high finishes in important races determines the first 9.
Groovy is definitely in, because all six of his wins have been in stakes, but Martin must worry about beating Pine Tree Lane, who was second to Smile a year ago; Very Subtle, who broke a California record recently when she was sold at auction for $1.2 million; Zany Tactics and Bold Smoocher, who just beat Zabaleta last Sunday at Bay Meadows.
Nine of the horses kept eligible for the Breeders' Cup have been pre-entered in more than one race. Their handlers have until next Wednesday to decide which race to run. Skywalker, for example, is listed for three races, but his trainer, Michael Whittingham, indicated that he will run in the Classic, which he won last year.
The preliminary fields:
Sprint ($1-million purse, 6 furlongs)--Bold Smoocher, Exclusive Enough, Governor General, Groovy, High Brite, On the Line, Pine Tree Lane, Play the King, Sabona, Sharp Romance, Skywalker, Slyly Gifted, Sylvan Express, Taylor's Special, Very Subtle, Zabaleta, Zany Tactics.
Juvenile Fillies ($1 million, 1 mile)--Balquiria, Blue Jean Baby, Classic Crown, Close In, Dream Team, Epitome, Jeanne Jones, Lost Kitty, Over All, Pearlie Gold, Seattle Sangue, Tomorrow's Child, Tortellini Roma.
Distaff ($1 million, 1 miles)--Clabber Girl, Coup de Fusil, Family Style, Infinidad, Ms. Margi, North Sider, Oueee Bebe, Sacahuista.
Mile ($1 million, 1 mile on grass)--Air Display, Asteroid Field, Deputy Governor, Double Feint, Duluth, Explosive Darling, Fioravanti, Hallgate, Highest Honor, Laser Lane, Le Belvedere, Louise a la Plage, Miesque, Milligram, Noble Minstrel, Sabona, Safeera, Santella Mac, Sharp Romance, Short Sleeves, Show Dancer, Skywalker, Slyly Gifted, Sonic Lady, Stately Don, Sylvan Express, Temperate Sil, Trempolino, Vilzak, Waajib.
Juvenile ($1 million, 1 mile)--Antiqua, Bold Second, Contempt, Cruise Ship, Dr. Brady, Firery Ensign, Flying Victor, Jade Trade, Kentucky Slew, Parlay Me, Regal Classic, Success Express, Tejano, Tsarbaby, Word Pirate.
Turf ($2 million, 1 1/2 miles)--Allez Milord, Autumn Glitter, Bint Pasha, Blazing Bart, Circus Prince, Great Communicator, Louis Le Grand, Rivlia, Saronicos, Saint Andrews, Sir Harry Lewis, Short Sleeves, Stately Don, Storm on the Loose, Swink, Tertiary Zone, Theatrical, Trempolino, Village Star, Vilzak, Zaizoom.
Classic ($3 million, 1 miles)--Afleet, Alysheba, Bold Arrangement, Candi's Gold, Cryptoclearance, Ferdinand, Good Command, Gulch, He's a Saros, Judge Angelucci, Nostalgia's Star, Skywalker.