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The Year of the Gelding?

No such animal has won the Breeders' Cup Classic in the previous 19 years, but three will be running Saturday.

October 23, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

The objectives of the Breeders' Cup are to showcase the sport and improve the breed, but geldings, who do zilch for the breed, are not told to stay home.

Still, a gelding has never won the Breeders' Cup Classic, and in 19 years no more than two have ever been part of the same field in what is the richest race on the card.

But Saturday at Santa Anita, there's a trio of them ready to battle Medaglia d'Oro, Ten Most Wanted and a collection of seven stallion prospects whose victory would be more palatable to the breeders in the Kentucky bluegrass.

This has already been the year of the gelding. Funny Cide became the first gelding in 65 years to win the Kentucky Derby, and Perfect Drift, racing only in the Midwest, has rolled up four stakes wins. They'll be joined in the $4-million Classic by another gelding, Evening Attire, who has fallen short against the top horses since he ran fourth at 4-1 in last year's Breeders' Cup.

Some churls say that Funny Cide, who hasn't won since the Preakness and comes in off an 82-day layoff, and Evening Attire are throw-outs. But bettors who take their geldings seriously need only hark back to L'Carriere and Budroyale.

In 1995, L'Carriere ran a solid race as a 51-1 shot, beating everyone but the inimitable Cigar in the Classic at Belmont Park. Four years later, at Gulfstream Park, Budroyale, up from the $50,000 claiming ranks, was second in the Can't Figure Classic. In a race won by Cat Thief, the first four horses under the wire were 19-1, 26-1, 75-1 and 63-1. The gelding who should have figured, General Challenge, ran 10th.

Of the 144 gelded starters in Breeders' Cup races, nine have won. Most accomplished is Da Hoss, who won the Mile in 1996 and repeated in 1998. The others were Thirty Slews, Cardmania, Elmhurst, Reraise and Kona Gold in the Sprint, and Great Communicator and Buck's Boy in the Turf. Besides L'Carriere and Budroyale, the only other gelding to hit the board among 17 starters in the Classic was Dramatic Gold, third in 1994.

In so many words, gelding a horse tends to remove some of the hot blood from his bloodlines. The surgery can make a horse more tractable and easier to train. It's a chicken-or-egg decision to castrate: You're left with a thoroughbred whose career may be longer than a complete horse, but after the last race, there are no residuals at stud.

John Henry, who missed the first Breeders' Cup, in 1984, because of injury, earned $6.5 million and was once No. 1 on the career money list. Other famous geldings were those weight-toting marvels, Kelso and Forego, who combined to win eight horse-of-the-year titles between 1960 and 1976. In 1985, Creme Fraiche, who died recently, became the only gelding to win the Belmont Stakes, which banned his ilk from 1919 to 1956.

Before the Sackatoga Stable bought Funny Cide as a 2-year-old for $75,000, the future Kentucky Derby winner had been gelded because one of his testicles was undescended. The other two geldings in the Classic were also castrated before they raced.

Perfect Drift was bred and is owned by William A. Reed, a Kansas City heart surgeon, and Evening Attire, trained by Patrick Kelly, was bred by his father, Hall of Fame trainer Tommy Kelly, whose sprinter, Plugged Nickle, won an Eclipse Award in 1980. The elder Kelly bought Evening Attire's dam, Concolour, for $70,000. Concolour had run only four times, winning once, but Kelly thought she would be a good addition to his broodmare band. Evening Attire was the result of a breeding between Concolour and Black Tie Affair, who was voted horse of the year after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1991.

Funny Cide is still a longshot for horse of the year, as is Perfect Drift, whose trainer, Murray Johnson, didn't commit to California until Mineshaft, Candy Ride and Empire Maker dropped out of the Classic. After running third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, behind War Emblem and Proud Citizen, Perfect Drift beat only one horse in the Belmont. He sat out the summer and returned in the fall to win the Indiana Derby. In last year's Classic, however, he was jostled leaving the gate, lost a shoe and ran last at Arlington Park.

Johnson brought Perfect Drift back this spring, and in June he beat the since-retired Mineshaft -- who lost only one other race all year -- in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Perfect Drift has won three times since then, including victories in the Kentucky Cup Classic and the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Pat Day, who won all of those races with Perfect Drift, chose to ride Ten Most Wanted in the Classic, and Johnson went to Gary Stevens, another Hall of Famer, who has won eight Breeders' Cup races but is 0 for 13 in the Classic.

"We lost a great jockey, but we've retained another great jockey," Johnson said. "Pat Day is a man of his word. He had made a commitment to the other horse, and he stuck to it."

Earlier this year, Stevens rode Buddy Gil to three wins at Santa Anita, including the Santa Anita Derby.

Buddy Gil is a gelding. If the Perfect Drift camp is shopping for an omen, they've got one.

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How geldings have done in the Breeders' Cup Classic:

* 1985: Imperial Choice 6th

* 1987: He's A Saros 8th

* 1990: De Roche 5th

* 1993: Best Pal 10th

* 1994: Dramatic Gold 3rd; Best Pal 5th

* 1995: L'Carriere 2nd

* 1996: Mt. Sassafras 4th; Dramatic Gold 8th

* 1999: Budroyale 2nd; General Challenge 10th

* 2000: Gander 9th; Guided Tour 12th

* 2001: Guided Tour 5th; Gander 9th

* 2002: Evening Attire 4th; Perfect Drift 12th

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