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JUVENILE / THE BREEDERS' CUP

To Some, Blaming the Jinx Is Juvenile

Most trainers write off the curse, but no horse that has won the $1.5-million race for 2-year-olds has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.

October 25, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

It sounds like a good name for a thoroughbred, Juvenile Jinx, but it's not. Instead, it's a comment that will crop up often at Santa Anita today, especially as post time draws near for the $1.5-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Not that many trainers are impressed by the jinx's validity or lack thereof. Just listen:

"I think they're looking for ghosts," said Richard Mandella, dismissing the notion out of hand. "I don't think they're going to find them."

"I think it's total nonsense," said Wayne Lukas, scornfully and emphatically.

"I think it's just circumstance," said Todd Pletcher, equally unimpressed.

The three trainers have colts running in the 1 1/16-mile race that has been severely depleted by the defection of half a dozen of the most promising 2-year-olds in the world.

Why are the six not running? Well, that's what the debate is about.

According to some, it's because of the Juvenile jinx, an irrefutable statistic showing that in the 19 years since the launch of the Breeders' Cup, no horse that has won the Juvenile has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Unbroken for almost two decades, the jinx has taken on a life of its own. Even thoroughbred racing's prestigious Blood-Horse magazine gave it some credence in a recent article.

Conventional wisdom, the article stated, "now seems to say that no horse that shows up in the vicinity of the Juvenile has a chance to compete in next year's Kentucky Derby."

There are those who blame the jinx for reducing today's field, if not in quantity -- 12 will go to the post, including favored Cuvee -- then certainly in quality. The list of defectors would make for an excellent field in itself.

When trainer Aiden O'Brien flew in from Ireland with his Breeders' Cup horses, he left behind two that had been pre-entered in the Juvenile -- Old Deuteronomy and Grand Reward. O'Brien has yet to explain that decision.

Whatever the reasons, American trainer Nick Zito made the same choice. Zito elected not to run Birdstone, winner of the Grade I Champagne, in the Juvenile and also left out another promising 2-year-old, Eurosilver.

Similarly, today's race will be without Ruler's Court, a 14-length winner of the Grade II Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita in stakes-record time, and Silver Wagon, winner of the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga.

In the cases of Ruler's Court and Silver Wagon, winning on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs was unabashedly cited as the reason for the defection.

Ruler's Court is owned by Sheikh Mohammed, and a statement released on his behalf shortly after the Norfolk made his choice clear.

"Sheikh Mohammed has a well documented desire to win the Kentucky Derby for Godolphin [Racing]," the statement said, "therefore he has made the decision that it would be in the best interest of the colt to pass on the Juvenile."

Silver Wagon's trainer, Ralph Ziadie, was thinking along the same lines.

"The big boys are next year," he said. "I don't want to go to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile."

Others can't understand such thinking, especially if it is based on the jinx theory.

"I think it's just circumstance," said Pletcher, whose Chapel Royal is one of the shorter-priced colts in today's race. "Obviously, a lot of horses have run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and come back and run very well in the Kentucky Derby."

Two in particular stand out. Spend A Buck was third in the 1984 Juvenile at Hollywood Park and won the Derby the next year. Alysheba was third in the 1986 Juvenile at Santa Anita and also won at Churchill Downs the next year.

But the fact remains that no Juvenile winner has won the Derby.

"I think it's going to happen one of these days," said Pletcher, who never even considered not running Chapel Royal today

"For us, it would be foolish to take away a chance to win a major race like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a substantial purse."

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