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TrackNotes: Whither Illinois' Giant Oak? And Other Pressing Issues

Random thoughts that must find the light of day before the heavy golden doors of the monastery seal behind us as we solemnly vow ourselves to pace and speed contemplation and wagering enlightenment just a week out from the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Championships:

Will Goldikova add even more to her brilliant legacy with a fourth straight victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile (Grade I, turf)?

Be thankful for another visit by the truly great Irish-bred as the now six-year-old daughter of Anabaa returns to the scene of her scintillating 2010 Mile victory, the turf at Churchill Downs.

She's due to arrive in Louisville Saturday - Goldikova's certainly used to the trip by now - and trainer Freddy Head has already pronounced her "better than ever."

We'll see if that satisfies the wiseguys who contend she's lost a step as she's won "only" twice this year in five races. The other three were close seconds, and all five were Group 1s. Her last was a tough neck beat to Dream Ahead in the Quatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, France.

The 26-17-6-2 wonder mare should be happy to see a lot of the old gang at the gate as Courageous Cat, second in Goldikova's 2009 victory at Santa Anita is entered, two-time runner Court Vision will be there as will previous runners Get Stormy and Sidney's Candy.

Last year's runner-up Gio Ponti comes in off an impressive "comeback" victory of sorts in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland October 1. Gio ran into the hot Cape Blanco (since retired because of injury) twice, in the Man o' War three back at Belmont and on a very heavy turf in the Arlington Million August 28. This is Gio Ponti's second race off a short rest after the tough Million and the fact he came back to win is a great sign for this classy six-year-old son of Tale of the Cat.

But if Gio belongs in this race, why is he also entered with first preference in the Classic? Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker surmises that Gio's connections are simply going for the gusto of the Classic. Makes sense because the Classic field may be easier for him to beat than Goldikova and a Classic win would be huge for a lot of reasons, including the $2.7 million winner's share of the purse.

The Breeders' Cup moved the Mile to the second-to-last race of the weekend, fully understanding its significance. This race alone is worth tuning in, and you might be able to brag at the bar that you saw Goldikova make history.

This year's Breeders' Cup Classic has the potential for a rather stinky field. But as with any race of this magnitude, there will be a couple of interesting storylines and that very lack of luster could also make it a great betting race.

Havre de Grace, the four-year-old daughter of Saint Liam, an old favorite of yours truly and the 2005 Classic winner, takes on the boys for the second time this year. She simply posted the highest Beyer Speed Figure of her career, 111, in beating the colts (including Classic entrant and potential post-time favorite Flat Out) September 3 in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga.

Havre followed that up with a stunning 8-1/4-length win in the mud in the Grade I Beldame Invitational October 1 at Belmont. Her only loss this year was by a nose to archrival Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap in July.

In her only race at Churchill, Havre de Grace finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, but although she was certainly coming into her own at that time, Larry Jones took over training duties from Tony Dutrow, and she's put together a 2011 campaign - five wins in six races, including three Grade I's - that has her in contention for Horse of the Year honors. She'll lock it down with a win in this race.

Another angle is Uncle Mo's entry in the Classic when he'd probably romp in the Dirt Mile. The Indian Charlie three-year-old can run visually spectacularly, but all you're going to hear coming up to the race is "Can he get the distance?"

You'll recall that last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner was derailed on his way to the Kentucky Derby by a liver ailment that they say nearly killed him. After a "something's wrong" third in the Wood Memorial in April, his next race was a strong second in the Grade I King's Bishop at seven furlongs at Saratoga in August, and a fairly easy win at a muddy mile in the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont October 1.

Not particularly regally bred for the Classic's 10 furlongs, there's no question he has the talent and attitude to win the Classic. But does he have the mile-and-a-quarter stamina? We don't know, as he's never been that far.

Mo's training well and owner Mike Repole always thinks big, so they're not backing down.

We know this happens too often in racing, but the Classic would have been that much better if Tizway had not suffered a career-ending ligament injury.

The six-year-old son of Tiznow, the storied back-to-back winner of the Classic in 2000-01, was headed for Horse of the Year honors with a win in this race after already winning two Grade I's this year, the Metropolitan Handicap in near-record time and the Whitney Invitational.

Emblematic of so many modern race horses, Tizway ran only 20 times in his life, finishing with a 7-1-5 record.

As a fan, you never really get over this kind of disappointment. Just sayin'.

Whither Giant Oak?

Here are several of his recent running lines: "Loomed 5wd, flattened; Fanned 6w into upper; Bid 7 wide, flattened; 4-5w,rzd 1/4,angl 8wd; 3w turns,5w1/4,willing; Loomed 5 w, missed".

When is this horse going to lay low a little bit and save some ground? It doesn't help him when he has to run farther than all the rest of them.

The Illinois-bred Chris Block trainee is going to need every inch of the 1.75 miles of the Breeders' Cup Marathon, and to win, that would include being able to stay somewhat inside, even if it is behind the pack, and then run down and outlast the rest.

He finished fifth as the betting favorite in last year's Marathon, forgotten after the Borel-Castellano fist fight post-race, and comes off a disappointing fifth in his Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap homecoming October 8.

As always with Giant Oak, we'll just have to see. He'll need everything to go his way.

Other Breeders' Cup horses you may be interested in:

* Caracortado, Regally Ready, Chamberlain Bridge and California Flag in the Turf Sprint;

* Jackson Bend, Wilburn, Caleb's Posse in the Dirt Mile;

* The females Midday and Sarafina and Winchester in the Turf;

* Royal Delta, Pachattack, Bobby Flay's Super Espresso and Satan's Quick Chick in the Ladies Classic.

A few things pop out when I think about all this gambling legislation sludge.

I predict the Illinois racing industry will end up getting nothing more than road apples instead of slots at the track when all is said and done, thereby hurting an industry that really is an industry: The care, feeding and racing of Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses.

But I'm also not sure racing should necessarily enter into such fealty to the shiny suits in Springfield, not that the Illinois racing overseers are choirboys.

Racing nationwide and in Illinois needs to develop common goals, innovative marketing and consistency across the sport. Just a few ideas: Get rid of the artificial surfaces wherever they are installed; require owners and trainers to race top horses against each other more often by forcing a funnel effect culminating on Breeders' Cup weekend; show the American public how great racing is (don't be afraid of trash-talking casino gambling in the process) and; along with providing a consistent product available to all through television and simulcasting, let sports fans know "HEY, there's a track, simulcasting facility or laptop computer near you!"

Why do I believe the people who run racing, to a person, are incapable of such stuff, even as the sport dies a slow death?

Wagering on the NFL becomes particularly difficult when you have teams like the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who may or may not show up for any given game.

It was galling to see that when Tampa Bay finally did get up on an even keel (sorry about that) with the Bears, they were certainly capable of winning if not flat out the better team.

Based on that, I'll continue my disdain for the Bears, but I must embrace the idea that they continue to be one of the luckiest teams in football. A lot of conflicting handicapping next time as we'll have to take into consideration the bad records of teams coming off byes, the presence of some talent in Philadelphia and the Eagles' need to win the game. I also don't like the green QB - I won't print his name - who might be one of the most overrated quarterbacks/football players of all time.

I know it was never going to work this way but going back to the early '80s, I'm still waiting for the city and state to call Reinsdorf's bluff so I can watch the sniveling sports lord grovel at the feet of this "world-class" sports town or get on a plane to Tampa.

I'm as strong as ever in my resolve to never, ever buy a ticket to support these teams. As much as I used to love just going to the ballpark, I have to suspend too much reality to do it. So take once-every-few-years Gibson's and Bacardi rum off the list. Never liked Captain Morgan and without any car being in my consciousness, staying away from Toyota is easy. Seeing as how I prefer real beer, same with Bud Lite.

But after all that, it's still galling that I am involuntarily paying for these fat cats. About all I do have left is the amusement of watching people buy the tickets, get abused and then complain about it.

Thank the lord for the equines.

"Rebuilding" is not a dirty word and if Theo Epstein thinks it is, then it's his first step toward getting crushed by Kubbie Kulture.

In the near term, all they need to do is teach the players to hit the cutoff man, remember how many outs there are and hustle. If they can do that, the fans should also understand just how huge a first step that is.


Comments welcome.

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