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Rock Hard Ten Is Out of the Classic

A hoof injury will prevent Santa Anita Handicap winner from running in richest Breeders' Cup race.

October 29, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. — Winning today's Breeders' Cup Classic got easier for the 13 remaining entrants when Rock Hard Ten, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, the 7-2 second choice and a candidate for horse of the year, was withdrawn from the race Friday because of a hoof injury.

Which is not to say that the 22nd running of the Classic will be easy. Still running in the $4.68-million race are Saint Liam, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and Borrego, now the second choice at 9-2. Both might capture horse-of-the-year honors with a win, but while some handicappers now consider the Classic a two-horse race, the history of the stake is that form doesn't always carry the day.

Only one favorite has won in the last seven years, and overall there have been six winners at odds of 14-1 or more, topped by Arcangue's 133-1 bombshell at Santa Anita in 1993.

Trainer Richard Mandella can testify to the Classic's being a fickle creature. He won the race with Pleasantly Perfect two years ago but was forced to announce Rock Hard Ten's defection Friday and finished last in 1998 with Gentlemen, whose owner, R.D. Hubbard, had paid $800,000 to get him in the race.

Rock Hard Ten's arrival at Belmont Park had been delayed three days because of a bruised foot, but the injury that knocked the Santa Anita-based horse out of the race was to the opposite foot, after the 4-year-old colt had galloped 1 5/8 miles here. Back at the barn, Mandella noticed blood in the frog of the right front foot. The frog is a V-shaped, support area on the bottom of the foot. Mandella likened it to a shock absorber.

"The horse shed the frog," Mandella said. "It's too tender for him to run. The left front foot is fine. It's nothing serious. It's a temporary condition, and he'll miss about two weeks of training. I guess it wasn't meant to be."

Even before Friday, Rock Hard Ten was not coming into the Classic as smoothly as Mandella would have liked. The horse bruised his left front foot in a workout at Santa Anita on Oct. 20, and Mandella delayed his flight to New York until Wednesday while the injury could be addressed in California. Rock Hard Ten was fitted with glue-on shoes Monday.

It was not clear whether Rock Hard Ten will race again or be retired to stud. His career began with trainer Jason Orman, who was replaced by the majority owner, Ernie Moody, who said he wanted a more high-profile trainer. Under Orman, Rock Hard Ten finished second in the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness, and ran fifth in the Belmont Stakes before winning the Swaps at Hollywood Park.

Mandella, a member of the Racing Hall of Fame, has never lost a race with Rock Hard Ten. Together, they won the Malibu, Strub and Santa Anita Handicap this winter, then a body-sore colt was given a long rest. He returned to win the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita four weeks ago, after which Mandella declared him one of the horses to beat in the Classic.

Mandella had been pointing Rock Hard Ten for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August, but he couldn't get him ready in time and the race was won by Borrego, who thrust himself into horse-of-the-year contention with his first stakes win. Borrego validated that outing by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup by 4 1/2 lengths at Belmont on Oct. 1. Borrego is trained by Beau Greely, who spent three years as an assistant to Mandella.

"Borrego looked like he won pulled up in the Belmont race," Mandella said Thursday, before he knew his horse wouldn't be running. "Any horse can pop one great race, but when they win two in a row the way Borrego has, it's very significant."

Saint Liam is a New York horse who trains at Aqueduct, one of Belmont Park's sister tracks. Trainer Rick Dutrow's 5-year-old almost beat Ghostzapper, the 2004 horse of the year, late last year and he has had three wins and a second in five starts this year. His only bad race was a sixth-place finish when he traveled to California for the Santa Anita Handicap.

All three of Saint Liam's wins have come in Grade I races -- the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, and the Woodward at Belmont. He'll be ridden today by Jerry Bailey, who has won the Classic with Black Tie Affair, Arcangue, Cigar and Concern.

"Saint Liam's had a good pattern of races going into this one," Bailey said. "If [the other horses] bring their 'A' game and Saint Liam brings his 'A' game, I think I've got the best horse."

Should neither Borrego nor Saint Liam win, Lost In The Fog, who's undefeated in 10 starts, eight of them this year, might win horse of the year with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, his first test against older horses. The Sprint is the fourth of eight Breeders' Cup races, which are worth more than $14 million.

Harry Aleo, the 85-year-old San Franciscan who owns Lost In The Fog, was asked about horse of the year.

"Not only is he horse of the year, he's the horse of a lifetime," Aleo said. "What else can you ask of a horse? If he wins, I'll jump out of the stands."

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