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Ruler's Court Hits Stride

October 07, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

One in a series of reports about the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Young horses are diabolical creatures. They can send trainers to the moon, or leave them in tears at the launching pad.

Late Sunday at Santa Anita, Eoin Harty was treated to the most spectacular of liftoffs. Before the Norfolk Stakes was run, Harty wasn't even sure he had a horse worthy of running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. For all of his breeding -- a grandson of Seattle Slew -- Ruler's Court seemed to be going the wrong way.

The 2-year-old colt broke his maiden impressively in June, but when Harty fed him directly into stakes company, he was a dull third, at 1-5, in the Hollywood Juvenile, and did little better in the Best Pal at Del Mar. Then Ruler's Court missed a scheduled start last month when he was grounded by colic at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

But now, Harty and Ruler's Court's owner, Sheik Mohammed of Dubai, not only have a Breeders' Cup horse, they probably have the favorite in the Juvenile. Introduced to jockey Alex Solis and blinkers at the same time, Ruler's Court ran off from the eight others in the Norfolk, winning by a record 14 lengths, in a record Norfolk time of 1:41 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles, which is the same distance as the Juvenile.

"Bring 'em on," said Harty, not known for shouting from the rooftops.

Harty doesn't have to hype his horse. The beaten trainers in the Norfolk will do it for him. Jose Valdivia Jr., riding Capitano, the runner-up finisher, could have used binoculars to spot Ruler's Court as he reached the finish line.

Asked whether he might give Capitano another chance in the Breeders' Cup, trainer Ray Bell Jr. said, "Not if Ruler's Court's in there. He ran like a wild horse. I think my horse will improve, but I don't think he can improve" 14 lengths.

If Ruler's Court was manna from heaven for Harty, trainer Todd Pletcher was treated to a double helping of humble pie at Belmont Park and Keeneland. Pletcher seemed to have cornered the market on 2-year-olds this year -- he has started 50 juveniles and won with 22 of them -- and last weekend was positioned to take on New York and Kentucky with some of his best.

But in four races, the best the Pletcher barn could do with six horses was a second-place finish with Chapel Royal in the Champagne at Belmont.

Two of Pletcher's horses ran last. His only shooters in the Breeders' Cup 2-year-old races will be Chapel Royal in the Juvenile and Ashado in the Juvenile Fillies.

Meanwhile, Nick Zito's 2-year-olds were impressive. Within 20 minutes, the veteran trainer won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity with Eurosilver at Keeneland, and the Champagne with Birdstone. Only Eurosilver, however, is headed for the Juvenile. A son of Unbridled's Song, the 1995 Juvenile winner, he got his stakes win a month after he had broken his maiden at Saratoga.

"I really love this horse, because he's never had dirt in his face and he didn't even mind it," said Eurosilver's jockey, Javier Castellano.

"He just ran right into it, and there aren't many 2-year-olds that do that."

About five seconds after Birdstone crossed the finish line, his breeder and owner, Marylou Whitney, announced that her colt would miss the Breeders' Cup. Zito was not disappointed.

"I'm glad," he said. "He is just a little baby, he's not a great big horse. He's a late foal [born in May], and the Juvenile comes up too soon. I want those phone calls [from the press] in the spring" during the Kentucky Derby.

Not one Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has won the Derby, something Zito and most trainers know. The only Juvenile winner to come back and take a Triple Crown race has been Timber Country, who won the 1995 Preakness.

"The Breeders' Cup Juvenile is one race I hope I never win," trainer Bobby Frankel said this year.

Training horses to run in the Juvenile can drain the tank and leave little for a tough 3-year-old campaign. In the last seven years, Juvenile winners have either not run or failed to finish better than eighth in the Derby.

The Dublin-born Harty, 40, won the Juvenile Fillies in 2001 with Tempera, the second horse he saddled in the Breeders' Cup. Ruler's Court will be his fourth starter in the Juvenile.

"I didn't think adding blinkers or going two turns would improve this horse that much," Harty said.

"I was hoping he'd run well, kind of redeem himself, because I've always had a lot of faith in this horse. The farther I trained him, the more aggressive he got, and I told [Solis] in the paddock that if he was good enough, I know he won't get tired and he'll be right there at the end for you."

A race over the Santa Anita strip paid off in four of the five Breeders' Cup Juveniles run in California. Chief's Crown and Success Express won at Hollywood Park in 1984 and 1987, and Capote and Brocco won at Santa Anita after prepping there in 1986 and 1993.


The Perfect Drift camp, apparently leaning toward running in the Breeders' Cup Classic, will make a decision after the horse has a workout this weekend.



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