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Breeders' Cup XVIII's surest thing: Officer
Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com

It's been a while since we've had a 2-year-old to get excited about. Really excited about. Of course, every time we do they break our hearts. But could be different, very different, this time around. Which is why the real excitement Saturday should come not in the Classic or the Turf, but in the Juvenile.

How good is the Bob Baffert-trained Officer? The answer is, no one really knows. Watch his races. It is a treat, something to behold. Horses do not win any easier than he does. Five times he has run, five times he has won and never has jockey Victor Espinoza unleashed him from the hammerlock hold he has on the reigns. This is a very exciting horse.

"Officer is the real deal," said trainer Eoin Harty, who will take him on in the Juvenile with Essence of Dubai and Ibn Al Haitham. "I told Bob (Baffert) they ought to bring out an auxiliary starting gate, put it a sixteenth of a mile behind the main gate and make him break from there. If he shows up the rest of us are running for second money."

Other rival trainers tried to remain more upbeat, but realized that something probably has to go wrong for Officer to be beaten.

"I think he's beatable," said David Hofmans, the trainer of Siphonic. "He's never run in a full field. He ran against six others in his maiden and then five, two, four and four. He's going to have some traffic to overcome here. He's the best performer in the race and probably the best horse in the race. But this will be the toughest, most competitive field he has faced. Officer has kind of had things his own way. Don't get me wrong, he's a wonderful horse, but I'm happy to be there to test him."

Surprisingly, even Baffert wanted to tell everyone who would listen that his horse doesn't have to win.

"He's going to have to run to win because Came Home is a very good horse," he said. "They're both untested and both fast. It's not a gimme."

Forget about it. Officer is as close to a cinch in the Juvenile as a horse can be. It's not too early to look ahead, six months ahead, to be exact.

Everyone knows that winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is the kiss of death when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. After 17 tries, no Juvenile winner has won the Kentucky Derby. But so many were not legitimate Derby horses. They were, instead, precocious horses who could carry their a mile and a sixteenth but not a mile and a quarter. This horses appears to be cut from a different cloth.

"We don't know yet," Baffert said. "He still has to go a distance of ground and two turns. He's also got to hold together. As a trainer, you try to enjoy the moment because horses are so fragile. You try not to get too far ahead of yourself."

He's right. We've seen too many Arazis fall flat on their faces. Then again, with this horse, you can't help but dream of what might be. How good is he? Maybe we will find out Saturday.

Owners hope luck holds
You have to be lucky to make it to the Breeders' Cup. But some owners are luckier than others.

Dennis and Deborah Petrisak, co-owners of Juvenile Fillies starter Shesastonecoldfox put the daughter of Foxhound into a New York bred yearling sale last year at Saratoga and put a reserve price on her of a modest $20,000. Shesastonecoldfox would have easily met the price if she hadn't thrown a nutty. According to Dennis Petrisak, she was so poorly behaved that most bidders wanted no part of her. The bidding stopped at $19,000 and the Petrisaks had no choice but to keep the filly.

"She was a bad actor," Dennis Petrisak said. "She wouldn't get out of the stall and she wouldn't back into the stall. She was all washed out when people looked at her. People didn't want to buy a basket case, and that's what she was at the sale."

Shesastonecoldfox has been fine ever since. She's run against only New York breds, but has been nothing less than sensational while winning all four of her starts. After a 15 -length romp in the Joseph Gimma, the Petrisak's sold a half interest in her to some deep-pocketed owners in Prestonwood Farm. The sale price was not disclosed, but you better believe it was for a lot more than $20,000.

Prestonwood's purchase figures to be bad news for trainer M. Anthony Ferraro, the ultimate little guy in this year's Breeders' Cup. Ferraro is based at Finger Lakes in upstate New York, one of the cheapest tracks in the country. He is likely to be replaced by a more high profile trainer after the Juvenile Fillies. John Grabowksi, who has ridden the horse all four previous races, has already been given the boot, replaced by Jerry Bailey. Nonetheless, Ferraro isn't intimidated by being surrounded by the biggest training names in the business.

"My idol has always been my father (Mike)," he said. "He was the first one to win a Grade I race with a New York bred when Fio Rito won the Whitney. "He taught me that if we were given a chance with the kind of horses these other guys have we could do just as well."

Pace figures to be hot in Sprint
One of the more difficult races to handicap this year is the Sprint, which drew 14 horses, including 2000 winner Kona Gold. On paper, the race appears to be jammed with early speed, so much so that the first fraction could be faster than last year's :20.80.

"I think our horse will have the lead," said Caller One's trainer Jim Chapman. "He can set fractions like that and do it relaxed, while the others have to be under pressure to do it. But there's no doubt the fractions will be very fast."

Caller One figures to have plenty of company up front. Five Star Day, Squirtle Squirt and Xtra Heat all have equally blazing speed. Stranger things have happened, but don't they have to kill one another and set the race up for a closer like Delaware Township or a stalker like Left Bank?

Turf may be too far for Fantastic Light
Many people were questioning Godolphin's decision to send Fantastic Light to the Turf and Sakhee to the Classic because there are real doubts about Sakhee's ability to handle the turf. But an even more important point may be Fantastic Light's inability to handle the mile and a half he will face in the Turf. He is just 2-for-10 at the distance, including seven straight losses. Meanwhile, he is 4-for-7 at a mile and a quarter, the Classic distance.



 


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Finley: Monday Breeders' Cup notebook

McNamara: Is Officer the next big thing?





Audio/Video

Audio
 Kenny Mayne and Bob Baffert
Kenny and Bob discuss Point Given and Baffert's next potential superstar, Officer. Transcript
Listen

 Champagne Stakes
Officer extends his unbeaten streak to five in the Champagne.
(Courtesy CNBC)
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