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Breeders' Cup Runneth Over

The 22nd running of the event has attracted 117 horses, 16 more than last year and the most since 2000, with several entries coming from Europe.

October 20, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

An exceptional turnout of European horses has given the 22nd Breeders' Cup a much-needed boost. Many of the top U.S. horses -- starting with Ghostzapper and Afleet Alex -- are retired or sidelined, but the eight-race, $14-million day at Belmont Park on Oct. 29 has drawn capacity fields up and down the board.

Breeders' Cup officials announced Wednesday that 117 horses, 16 more than last year and the most since 2000, had pre-entered. There are 22 European horses, twice as many as last year and the most since 1994, said D.G. Van Clief, president of the Breeders' Cup.

"Location has the most to do with it," Van Clief said. "It's a short ship to get a horse from Europe to New York, the cool climate in New York is a lot like Europe's, and their horses seem to appreciate the sweeping turns that Belmont Park offers. What we lack domestically I think we're making up for with global participation. I think it's as strong a group as we've had in years."

Traditionally, European horsemen have avoided the Breeders' Cup's warm-weather sites. A return to Belmont for the fourth time comes after the last two cups were run at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, and at Santa Anita, where the temperature in 2003 was 99 degrees.

Some of the Europeans are even taking a shot at the Breeders' Cup Classic, at $4 million the richest race on the card. Pre-entered for the 1 1/4 -mile test are Oratorio, an Irish colt; Starcraft, who has run in England and France this year; and Jack Sullivan, who has raced in England by way of Dubai. Oratorio and Starcraft have never run on dirt, but Aidan O'Brien, Oratorio's trainer, almost won the Classic with another turf horse when Giant's Causeway lost by a neck to Tiznow in 2000.

"Oratorio has speed, and he should get the mile and a quarter well," said O'Brien, who has won three Breeders' Cup races. "You just hope that he can adapt to dirt."

Starcraft, who was cross-entered, is more likely to run in the $1.5-million Breeders' Cup Mile on grass. He was not nominated, nor was his sire, and his owners, an Australian syndicate, would have to pay a penalty of $800,000 to run in the Classic or $300,000 for the Mile. Either way, most of the money will be added to the purse.

Ghostzapper, winner of the Classic last year, was retired because of injury, and Afleet Alex, winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes this year, is recovering from leg surgery. This leaves Saint Liam, the 3-1 favorite off a yearlong campaign marked by a victory in the Woodward at Belmont on Sept. 10; Rock Hard Ten, a Santa Anita shipper who's undefeated in four races since Richard Mandella took over his training; and Borrego, who had never tasted a stake until he won two $1-million races -- the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup -- in his last two starts. Rock Hard Ten is an early 7-2 price and Borrego is 4-1.

All eight races attracted at least 14 horses. Four races -- the Classic, both 2-year-old stakes and the Mile -- are over-subscribed. Defections would be necessary for the extra horses to draw in by the time entries are taken next Wednesday.

Although four horses are trying to repeat as Breeders' Cup winners, only two of them -- Ashado at 5-2 in the Distaff and Ouija Board at 5-2 in the Filly and Mare Turf -- are favored. The other trying to double up are Singletary, who's 8-1 in the Mile, and Better Talk Now, 8-1 in the Turf.

Other favorites are the undefeated Lost In The Fog, even money in the Sprint; First Samurai, 8-5 in the Juvenile; Adieu, 3-1 in the Juvenile Fillies; Leroidesanimaux, 5-2 in the Mile; and Azamour, the Aga Khan's Irish colt, who is 4-1 in the Turf.

Lost In The Fog, based at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Calif., has won 10 times at eight tracks, including a victory at Belmont in June. His trainer, Greg Gilchrist, is prepared for a speed battle up front that might be unlike any of Lost In The Fog's previous races.

"Some of those horses will be going all out," Gilchrist said. "It could look like a jail-break. But we've taken him back off horses [in workouts], and he doesn't need the lead. He's been in front early in his races, but it hasn't been by design. A lot will depend on the post position. If we draw inside, we'll have no choice but to send him."

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