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TrackNotes: America's Big Weekend

Over at The Bright One, the newest racing story is two months old and isn't even about a horse or a race.

Up the river at The World's Greatest Newspaper, we learn through a bland canned piece picked up from the Los Angeles Times that trainer Bob Baffert really wants to win, and don't worry about Chantal Sutherland aboard Game on Dude in the Classic, a sexist question if ever there was one.

It ain't much, and we're glad Lance Louis, in typical Alfred E. Neuman style, isn't worried about anything on the Monsters' OL.

But, heads up, it is the biggest weekend in American sports as 178 horses in 15 races compete for $25.5 million in purse money in the 27th Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs Friday and Saturday.

There's one new race this year, the Juvenile Sprint (Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt), with Friday once again primarily Ladies Day and nine races for the males Saturday. The Weather Channel predicts ideal conditions.

We're certainly predicting there will be no snafus like last year's integrity breakdown when jockey John Velazquez told Hall of Fame jockey and ESPN analyst Jerry Bailey just minutes before the Ladies Classic that his Life At Ten did not feel right. She proceeded to basically gallop the race, was never the same again and is now retired.

How do I know this? A press release I stumbled upon at I think these clauses might be the tipoff: "Inclusion of the stewards and representatives of the Jockeys' Guild in a pre-event television production meeting; and, Advance meetings with the Jockeys' Guild regarding on-track veterinary team and pre-race communications protocols."

In other words, "Keep your mouths shut before the race, jocks. And Borel and Castellano, no fisticuffs!"

* * *

If you are going to watch any of the Breeders' Cup this year, be sure to tune in by 5 p.m. Saturday for the Mile (Grade I, turf) and Goldikova's attempt at her fourth straight win in this race. It figures to be one of the weekend's best and I guarantee at some point in the race, you will have chills.

Television coverage is all over the wide world of Disney. Check your listings early and beware of college football TV monkey wrenches.

I believe the Breeders' Cup Classic will be a respectable or even very good wagering race. Uncle Mo might very well be a false favorite, especially if he goes at 2-1 or less. Conversely, Havre de Grace could go off at better than her 3-1 morning line odds. Then you have to sort out the rest.

The Classic field, in post-position order with morning line odds.

1. Prayer for Relief is out with a fever.

2. Flat Out (8-1) is one of those horses that just jumps out at you. He comes in with four straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures (two wins and two seconds), including a 113 four back in his Suburban Handicap win and a 107 last out in a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both at Belmont. He drilled a speeding bullet :46-3 4-furlong workout (best of 58 works at the distance that day) Oct. 30 at Churchill and has risen steadily up the class ranks. What's not to like? Well, besides Stay Thirsty, and the lesser Drosselmeyer and Game On Dude, he hasn't beaten a ton. He ran well, but was unable to catch Havre de Grace two back in the Woodward, although coming back later to win the JCGC bodes well. You do have to be concerned that his only 10-furlong win was on the mud. He's somewhat of a closer and will need the likes of Game On Dude, To Honor and Serve, and Uncle Mo to burn a pace up front and run into it. A lot to do, but if he's as on the muscle as his workouts indicate, it's not impossible.

3. Drosselmeyer (15-1) just doesn't figure. He won the Belmont Stakes in 2010 but hasn't done a thing since, save for a win in the $60,000 One Count at Belmont back in May. Don't let the 104 Beyer in last month's Jockey Club mud fool you = coming off an 82, it's got giraffe written all over it. Even if you look at Bill Mott's freshening the horse with only two races since June 10, it's still hard to figure him here. Drizzle, drazzle, drozzle, drone, eventually this one will come home. But don't take less than a 30-1 magic wizard flyer bet!

4. Ruler On Ice (30-1) might be 2011's Drosselmeyer. He won the Belmont at 25-1, aided no doubt by Animal Kingdom taking a hard bump and nearly losing his rider. AK was injured in the race. Ruler beat Stay Thirsty in the Belmont, but looking at the mud that day and a win more than a year ago in the Delaware slop, he may need a rain storm that he's not going to get. He mixed it up with To Honor and Serve and Rattlesnake Bridge in finishing second September 24 in the Pennsylvania Derby, but he doesn't really seem to measure up here. His best might be the very back end of the trifecta or superfecta.

5. So You Think (5-1) is the highly touted New Zealand-bred, five-year-old son of High Chapparal (winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf, 2002 and 2003), saddling up for the first time in the United States and running for the first time on dirt. Top-shelf trainer Aidan O'Brien doesn't mess around in his international travels and you figure he thinks he can at least beat this field. You can call him a closer, as the European style is to build up steam to the end and roar in. He had a very tough beat by less than a length in the Qipco Champion Stakes (Group I) October 15 and was beaten nearly six in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe a month ago. But if you look at his Racing Post Ratings, they are consistently at the equivalent of 114 on the Beyer scale. That is plenty for this race. His 7-4-2-0 record this year is good but, as always, losses in his last two knock him off his pedestal. If he handles the travel and the dirt surface, there's no reason on earth he can't win this race and at a foreseeable 5-1 or better, a must use.

6. Ice Box (30-1) Thirty-to-one? How about 50-1? He won the Florida Derby in March 2010 and has been living off of it ever since. His Beyers have been at 90 or below and even his supposed mud form didn't show up in the Jockey Club. No form. No bet.

7. Rattlesnake Bridge (30-1) also falls short in this race. He beat nobody in the $165,000 Long Branch at Monmouth in July, but a decent second in the Grade I Travers caught the wiseguys' attention. He was sliced up at Uncle Mo's party in the Timely Writer in March. He probably needed to beat To Honor and Serve and Ruler On Ice last out in the Pennsylvania Derby to even get close to contender city in this one, but he didn't, and his Beyers are a tad low, hovering at about 94. He just doesn't seem to be a graded stakes-quality horse, especially in this ultimate of Grade Is. He'll have to run the race of his life and beat a lot of other very good individuals here.

8. Game On Dude (10-1) has a definite shot for a piece of the trifecta, but it's hard to see him winning. Immediately, I see the Bob Baffert trainee in the old "in-and-out" pattern of Beyers, with this race being an "out" event. I think we can ignore his form on the synthetic Del Mar and Hollywood tracks as he's done just about the same on dirt. He won the Grade I Goodwood at Santa Anita October 1, his first win in five attempts since the Santa Anita Handicap (Grade I) in March. Game On Dude should have no problem with the distance and while Chantal Sutherland is a good jockey and has won big races in Canada, the Breeders' Cup rookie will probably try to gun for the lead and will have to fend off tons of horseflesh bearing down on them. A tall order. I might take a flyer, but it will have to be 15-1 or better.

9. Stay Thirsty (12-1) might just become a wiseguy horse in this race, if you can believe that. I was down on him after losses in the Florida and Kentucky Derbies and a three-quarter length beat in the Belmont when I thought he should have beaten Ruler On Ice. After a six-week freshening, 'Thirsty joined the Breeders' Cup hunt with a powerful win in the Jim Dandy (Grade I), when he menacingly stalked the leaders and then powered away to win by four lengths. A month later, he earned Travers Stakes (Grade I) glory when he shot to the lead, hung around long enough to show them what's what and held nicely to his task in beating a rubber-leg-street Rattlesnake Bridge by more than a length. That's versatility in two big races, showing he'll handle whatever comes his way Saturday. Also known as Uncle Mo's stablemate, stories inevitably turn to Mo even when the subject is supposed to be Stay Thirsty. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by (Mike) Repole Stables. The son of Bernardini out of a Storm Bird mare (read: distance pedigree) finished nearly three lengths behind Flat Out for third in a muddy Jockey Club Gold Cup as jockey JJ Castellano looked like he was trying to governor Stay Thirsty on the backstretch and then didn't force a losing issue. Besides the races mentioned above, Stay Thirsty went the route of the Grade I Hopeful, Grade I Breeders Cup Juvenile and the Grade III Gotham to get to his three-year-old campaign. Add steadily improving Beyers all the way and no horse has had a more stellar path to this biggest of races. I'm with this horse and if he wins at 8-1, or 12-1 in my dreams, it could be party time.

10. Havre de Grace (3-1) should be the morning line favorite, but line maker Mike Battaglia tipped his hand by saying Uncle Mo will take the most money. It's the old what-will-he-be versus what-should-he-be oddsmaker argument. The talking heads will make a lot of comparisons between females Havre de Grace and Zenyatta, the Classic winner in 2009 and the close loser to Blame last year. That's because Havre de Grace beat the boys, including Flat Out, by 1-1/4 lengths two back in the Woodward. Zenyatta's one win against the boys was in the 2009 Classic. After wars with horses like Blind Luck, Unrivaled Belle, Switch and Royal Delta on the female side and the Woodward win, Havre de Grace comes into this Classic with better back class than Zenyatta did in 2009 and better recent class than Zenyatta last year. Trainer Larry Jones and Fox Hill Farms are grabbing for all the glory by entering this race, but it makes sense after she beat Royal Delta, who figures to be a near favorite in the Ladies Classic, by 8-1/4 lengths in the Beldame on October 1. The Saint Liam filly has been in triple-digit Beyers in all but one of her last nine races (at six different tracks) and even at that lofty level, her "in-and-out" pattern suggests "in." In the money in every one of her 14 races, she's won seven of her last 10 and, except for the Ladies Classic last year and her first race, has never been beaten by more than a neck. Yeah, she's done some great things on the female side, but she almost seems to have graduated from that, a tough-as-nails horse who has earned every bit of her entry into the Classic. Depending on how the civilian money goes on Mo, don't be surprised if Havre de Grace is the betting favorite as the gates open.

11. Headache (30-1) is your quarter-length victor of the win-and-you're-in Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap October 8. The five-year-old Tapit colt has been hovering right at the 99-100 Beyer level, not quite enough. He has improved this year with an easy optional claiming win at Churchill in May and then a decent win in the Cornhusker Handicap in June. A Grade III at Prairie Meadows and the Grade II at Hawthorne? That's his class level, not the Breeders' Cup Classic.

12. Uncle Mo (5-2), the "it" horse, is your morning line favorite. There are a lot of people who would like to tell Mike Repole, the Del Griffith of Repole Stables: "YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!" with a horse that has Dirt Mile written all over him. Uncle Mo will instead try to get the full 10 furlongs of the Classic, a distance he's never even run at. His longest win is the 1-1/16th Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year and you have to toss his 1-1/8 mile Wood Memorial as he was sick that day and for weeks afterwards. Coming into the 2011 Classic, he has as preps just a 7-furlong loss in the Kings Bishop and an easy 1-mile win in the Kelso Handicap (with a 118 Beyer I don't readily buy) over Jackson Bend, a horse that has opted for the Sprint. While he has too much to deal with here and no indication he can get the distance, his short price will be yet another negative. No thanks. But Mikey Repole says he's the best horse in the world, capeesh? So you dowhatyagottado, okay?

13. To Honor and Serve (12-1) is a horse on the improve who is going to have to progress even more in the Classic. As a two-year-old, he duked it out and prevailed over the highly touted Mucho Macho Man. This year, he ran into difficulty on the Florida prep circuit for the Kentucky Derby and then missed four months with a ligament strain. He ran the worst race of his life in the Amsterdam in August and then busted out - at least Beyer-wise - with an optional claiming win at Saratoga and then a win over Ruler On Ice and Rattlesnake Bridge in the Pennsylvania Derby. Beyers of 102 and 105 in his last two suggest he's on the right track, he's been training decently and the son of Bernardini should have no distance problems for trainer Bill Mott. His 2011 took a major detour, but his connections have to be happy and grateful he made it to this race as a three-year-old. I think Mott knows something and if the horse is any good, he'll overcome the post position. He might be a win candidate straight up and if he's 12-1 or better, I would find it even more difficult to overlook him.

* * *

My Classic superfecta? Stay Thirsty, To Honor and Serve, Havre de Grace, Flat Out and throw in Game On Dude if you can afford it. Boxed, of course.

Paging Jimmy Carter!
International racing tensions can only be heightened after a rail skirmish at Churchill Downs as track officials closed the turf course for training after a rain started falling Thursday morning.

Wet grass doesn't faze the Euro trainers and they reacted accordingly as their horses approached the rail opening to step on the turf course for morning calisthenics and were told the turf was closed. Voices were raised, menacing postures taken. No dice, the turf was closed.

How disastrous was this dustup? "Really, this has ruined our chances," said Robert Hannon Jr., trainer of Strong Suit, entered in the Mile.

Hindsight is always crystal clear, but I'll mention just a few tools that can be utilized to avoid these incidents: Doppler radar, stadium lights, rescheduling, up-to-the-second mobile texting. Capeesh?

If The Oak Rules The Forest
You won't see or hear it. Not easily, at least.

ABC won't be televising Giant Oak's showcase, the Breeders' Cup Marathon, the first BC race Saturday. If you want to see it, you'll have to be at an OTB, on the BozoPuter on an online wagering site, or on the limited-household TVG racing channel.

Seems the race is in a bad conflict with Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, and I don't need to tell you who always wins that battle.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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