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Breeders' Cup: The Less They Ran, the Better They Did in '95

November 04, 1995|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's a new way to win a Breeders' Cup race: Unless your horse is named Cigar, don't run it very often during the 10 months before the race.

The seven Breeders' Cup winners a week ago at Belmont Park are the most lightly raced group in the 12-year history of the series. Cigar, undefeated in 1995, ran nine times this year before his facile win in the Classic, but the other six winners were less active.

The number of 1995 starts that Breeders' Cup winners had before they ran at Belmont:

Northern Spur (Turf)--three.

Ridgewood Pearl (Mile)--five.

Inside Information (Distaff)--seven.

Unbridled's Song (Juvenile)--two.

My Flag (Juvenile Fillies)--five.

Desert Stormer (Sprint)--five.

Including Cigar, this is an average of only five starts per horse. Before this year, the average for Breeders' Cup winners was seven starts. In only one year were Breeders' Cup winners even close to being as lightly raced as this year's. The seven winners at Gulfstream Park in 1992 made 39 pre-Breeders' Cup starts that year, compared to 36 this year.

Of this year's winners, Northern Spur is the most lightly-raced first-place finisher in the history of the Turf. Before Belmont, the colt's only action this year had been three races sandwiched into a two-month span that began at Del Mar in early August.

Before Unbridled Song's win last week, only one winner of the Juvenile--Brocco, in 1993--went into the race with as few as two starts.

The scant number of starts for this year's Breeders' Cup winners is endemic of Europe, where undefeated Lammtarra, this year's Arc de Triomphe winner, was retired after four career starts. But only one of the latest Breeders' Cup winners--Ridgewood Pearl--had nothing but European performances on his record.

Trainer Bobby Frankel is an exponent of the lightly-raced-horse theory. A member of the Racing Hall of Fame and an Eclipse Award winner, Frankel has an inscrutable record in the Breeders' Cup: 26 starters and no wins, but $2.4 million in purses. He came up empty with three horses this time.

"Cigar's an exception," Frankel said. "But, usually, you're not going to be able to run horses all year long and have them ready for the Breeders' Cup. You might be able to get away with it in the East, but not in California, because our tracks are harder on horses.

"Look at this year's Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Handicap. How many of the horses that finished well in those two races were still around at the end of the year? You can race a horse early, but you've got to give them a rest sometime in there to have them sharp by the end of the year."

The Kentucky Derby is dramatic proof of how that race, and the rest of the Triple Crown series, grind 3-year-olds down to almost nothing by mid-year. Of the 19 horses that ran in this year's Derby, only Serena's Song showed up for the Breeders' Cup. She ran an uncharacteristically poor race, finishing fifth, almost 19 lengths behind Inside Information, on a tiring, muddy track in the Distaff.

Had Serena's Song won last Saturday, she would have joined Cigar as exceptions to the trend. The Breeders' Cup was the 13th race of the year for the Wayne Lukas-trained filly. Only one winner of the Distaff--Lukas' Lady's Secret--had raced more than Serena's Song going into the stake.

"You could tell that Serena's Song was one pooped little girl," trainer Jeanine Sahadi said. "If a horse isn't healthy and happy by the end of the year, you're not going to have much of a shot in the Breeders' Cup."

Sahadi almost won the Mile, with Fastness finishing second, two lengths behind Ridgewood Pearl, and her Lit De Justice, far back early and still trailing seven horses at the top of the stretch, closed tenaciously to get third place in the Sprint.

The only winner of the unpredictable Sprint who has been less seasoned than Desert Stormer has been Thirty Slews, who had only four 1992 starts before capturing the six-furlong race at Gulfstream.

Desert Stormer also won the Distaff off a 75-day layoff. Precisionist's accomplishment, winning the 1985 Sprint for trainer Ross Fenstermaker after going 132 days between races, may not be bettered for a long time, but Desert Stormer's is the best since. The 5-year-old mare hadn't run since finishing second behind Track Gal in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 13.

Desert Stormer, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, led almost all the way. Her owner, Joanne Nor, said that the 2 1/2-month gap between races occurred because there aren't many opportunities for sprinting fillies in California.

Cigar's 1:59 2/5 Breeders' Cup record for the 1 1/4-mile Classic is even more extraordinary because it came at the end of a season in which he ran 10 times at six tracks. His 1995 campaign began on Jan. 22, in Florida, and continued through Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, California and New York. He ran monthly except for August and ran twice in October.

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