Breeders' Cup trainers with horses that run their best on soft ground were in an upbeat mood Saturday after heavy rains and high winds forced the cancellation of the card at Belmont Park.
Coming a week before Belmont plays host to the seven Breeders' Cup races next Saturday, the day-long rain virtually guaranteed that the two grass races--the $1-million Mile and the $2-million Turf--will be run on soft ground. The forecast for the next few days in New York is for clear skies but cool temperatures, the kind of weather that is not expected to dry Belmont's turf course.
Almost to a horse, the chances of European entrants improve when grass races are run on off tracks. European tracks are regularly watered when it doesn't rain, and most horses there are well-seasoned in running on soft going.
In 1990, the last time the Breeders' Cup was run at Belmont Park, the grass course was listed as good, and European horses swept the grass races, with In The Wings taking the Turf and Royal Academy finishing first in the Mile.
With Lammtarra, undefeated and the winner of this year's Arc de Triomphe in France, having been retired, there's no clear-cut favorite for the Turf. Some Nevada racebooks are making Freedom Cry, the runner-up in the Arc, an early lukewarm favorite, and the 4-year-old colt's price might go down by race time because he enjoys soft going.
Hernando, another French-based horse, defeated Freedom Cry in August and is also a horse who likes to run on a cushion. In his prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf, Hernando finished second, a half-length behind Turk Passer, when the turf was soft for the Kelso Handicap at Belmont on Oct. 7. Hernando will become that rare horse that has run in the Breeders' Cup three times. He finished 10th in the Turf at Santa Anita in 1993 and was sixth last year at Churchill Downs, catching firm tracks both times.
Northern Spur, who perhaps has the best chance of any United States-based horse in the Turf, has been running on firm courses this year, including the one he used for his victory over Sandpit in the Oak Tree Invitational at Santa Anita on Oct. 8. But Northern Spur ran well on soft going in France before Charles Cella bought him for $1.3 million and sent him to trainer Ron McAnally in California.
The horses were in the post parade for Saturday's first race when Belmont's Kenny Noe made the decision to call off the card.
"The safety of the horses and the riders is our primary concern," Noe said.
Chris McCarron rode the winners of both divisions of the California Stallion Stakes for 2-year-olds at Santa Anita on Saturday. General Idea was a 3 1/2-length winner in the fillies' division and Cavonnier was first by two lengths in the race for colts and geldings. Both were favorites.
Cavonnier, who paid $2.60, came from off the pace to outfinish Ready To Order. Corey Nakatani, who was within a victory of his third consecutive four-win day, had Back At Five on the lead at the top of the stretch, but the maiden settled for fourth in the six-horse field.
Bob Baffert, who trains Cavonnier, said the gelding would run in the California Cup Juvenile on Nov. 11. The same day, Baffert will saddle Batroyale, who will run in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Rodney Rash, who trains General Idea, said she is also scheduled to run in the Juvenile Fillies. General Idea, who was third the day Batroyale won the Del Mar Debutante, paid $4.20 Saturday, with Supercilious finishing second.
McCarron, who broke a tie with Kent Desormeaux for stakes victories at the meet, will ride at least six horses in the Breeders' Cup: Northern Spur in the Turf, Savinio in the Mile, Borodislew in the Distaff, Track Gal in the Sprint, Winter Quarters in the Juvenile and Ocean View in the Juvenile Fillies. McCarron and Laffit Pincay have been the busiest jockeys, with 60 mounts apiece, in the first 11 years of the Breeders' Cup. McCarron has won five Breeders' Cup races.
Nakatani, who turned 25 Saturday, has ridden 11 winners for 11 trainers in the past three days and has a six-victory lead, 22-16, over Desormeaux in the Oak Tree standings.
Nakatani has lined up these Breeders' Cup mounts: Golden Klair in the Distaff, Odyle in the Juvenile, Lit De Justice in the Sprint and Sayyedati in the Mile.
Desormeaux was at Keeneland on Saturday, riding Auriette to a second-place finish, two lengths behind the favored Perfect Arc, in the $250,000 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Perfect Arc, who paid $3.40 at the track, went into the Keeneland race with a record of seven victories in eight starts and six in a row on grass.
Horse Racing Notes
Services for longtime trainer Jimmy Jordan, who died Thursday in Phoenix at 73, have been rescheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Assumption Church in Pasadena. . . . Kent Desormeaux's mount, Walter Willy, is a mild 7-2 morning-line favorite for today's Henry P. Russell Handicap. In two U.S. starts, the Irish-bred colt has been fourth in the Escondido Handicap at Del Mar and third in the Louisiana Downs Handicap.