Jockey Chantal Sutherland rides Game On Dude to victory in the Goodwood… (Associated Press )
Reporting from Louisville, Ky. — A mare is seeking a horse racing accomplishment for the record books. So is a woman. And a group of men have put their faith in a young female horse that has performed as if their late Southern California friend is orchestrating the outcome.
These are some of the stories leading into the Breeders' Cup as the sport's largest collection of international thoroughbreds compete in 15 races Friday and Saturday worth a combined $25.5 million at Churchill Downs.
Saturday's action is headlined by the $5-Million Breeders' Cup Classic featuring a loaded field that includes 5-2 favorite Uncle Mo, gifted filly Havre De Grace (3-1) and 10-1 Game On Dude, ridden by Chantal Sutherland.
Sutherland, trying to become the first woman to win the Classic, made her first ride at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning. She'll ride 20-1 longshot Great Hot in Friday's $1-Million Filly and Mare Sprint.
Friday's six races, worth a combined $8.5 million, feature races for female juvenile horses at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby.
"It was fast," Sutherland said of a track later deluged by rains. "It wasn't deep, the surface is fantastic and it certainly does have a long stretch."
Next year's Breeders' Cup will be at Santa Anita, where Sutherland just completed the fall meet.
Sutherland had a lengthy Thursday discussion about how to navigate Churchill Downs with retired jockey Jerry Bailey, calling the guidance "unbelievable … I hope no one else here talks to him."
Game On Dude trainer Bob Baffert said the horse probably will run to the lead from the No. 8 position, minimizing the likelihood of an intense shoulder-to-shoulder battle for Sutherland alongside master riders such as Garrett Gomez and her ex-boyfriend Mike Smith.
Even though she dressed in pink with Hello Kitty gear on for her Thursday workout, Sutherland said she anticipates having her toughness tested in the 1¼-mile Classic.
"I've got the type of horse who likes a challenge; he's a pit bull," Sutherland said. "And I've been running five miles a day, sprinting those last two kilometers as fast as I can to imagine what it'll be like going down the stretch. I can't imagine fatigue. I see this as a fight, a battle. I've dreamed of this. To have it come to fruition, you don't realize what that means to me."
Enormous implications will also be there Saturday when the gate opens in the $2-million Mile and favored Irish horse Goldikova attempts to win her unprecedented fourth consecutive title.
Doing so will be a challenge for jockey Olivier Peslier, given that the 6-year-old horse hasn't won in three of four races since June and drew the No. 1 post position.
Trainer Freddy Head said this will be Goldikova's final race after winning each of the three prior Miles in rallying fashion by more than a length. Head was hopeful Friday's forecast for sun would keep the track from being too soft after constant rain Thursday made it sloppy.
"She runs a little bit below her usual performance when it's soft," Head said, denying that age has diminished the champion. "She's gotten a little lazy and heavier as she's got older — isn't that natural? — but she still has the same will to win. I saw her galloping this morning, and it was just like two, three years ago."
New to this level of racing are Southern Californians Joe Ciaglia, Mike Mellen and reality-television star Rod Dyrdek of MTV's "Fantasy Factory," and "Ridiculousness."
In February, Ciaglia, Mellen and their friend, trainer Peter Eurton, mourned the heart-attack death of their friend, former "Laverne & Shirley" director and character actor Frank Alesia at age 67.
"Frank was a comedian at heart who always made people feel at home and special around him," Eurton said.
Alesia's wife, Sharon, opted to stay in the horse business, and Eurton attended a horse auction in Florida in which a filly he and Ciaglia liked was being bid beyond the ownership's typical $50,000 to $80,000 range — to $175,000. They bought.
Ciaglia, 48, a skate park builder from Upland, said he felt a competitive tug to "take a shot, pull the trigger," in Alesia's honor. They named the filly Weemissfrankie, and she'll run as a well-supported 4-1 in Friday's $2-million Juvenile Fillies after winning all three races she has entered, including the Del Mar Debutante, since July.
"I'm sure Frankie's out there and is a driving force behind her — if you believe in that sort of thing," Eurton said.