Returning champs among Cup pre-entrants
The $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up as a doozy of a race -- even without Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby and Preakness winner, returns to the limelight as the chestnut gelding joins defending champion Pleasantly Perfect, Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and perhaps the great mare Azeri in a field of 13 pre-entered for the BC Classic at Lone Star Park in Texas on Oct. 30.
A total of 101 horses were pre-entered Wednesday for the eight-race, $14 million racing extravaganza billed as the World Thoroughbred Championships.
The Classic field should live up to its name -- with or without Azeri, who was cross-entered in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. Owner Michael Paulson has until next Wednesday, when final entries are drawn, to decide which race his 2002 Horse of the Year will run.
Funny Cide, coming off a stirring victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, will also take on Woodward Stakes winner Ghostzapper and Whitney Handicap winner Roses in May. Both colts are unbeaten this year.
Also pre-entered for the 1 1/4-mile Classic were Bowman's Band, Dynever, Fantasticat, Freefourinternet, Newfoundland, Perfect Drift and Personal Rush.
Four of the races drew full 14-horse fields, with three -- the BC Juvenile Fillies, the BC Mile and the BC Sprint -- oversubscribed. Final fields are determined by a two-tiered ranking system.
Smarty Jones, retired after his Triple Crown try was spoiled by Birdstone in the Belmont, remains the favorite to win Horse of the Year, but a Classic win by one of several horses could make the final vote interesting.
Last year, Mineshaft was retired before the Breeders' Cup but was Horse of the Year.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has horses pre-entered in six races, including Newfoundland in the BC Classic, Proud Accolade in the $1.5 million BC Juvenile, and Ashado in the Distaff. Trainer Richard Mandella, who set a Breeders' Cup record with four winners last year, returns with only one horse -- Pleasantly Perfect.
Azeri, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, would probably be the favorite in the Distaff, a race that drew 12 pre-entries, including Grade 1 stakes winners Island Fashion, Society Selection, Stellar Jayne and Storm Flag Flying. Azeri, coming off a win in the Spinster Stakes, won the Distaff in 2002 but was injured and did not run in last year's edition.
Sightseek, perhaps the top female this year, was retired after winning the Beldame on Oct. 9.
Besides Pleasantly Perfect, two other winners are back from a year ago -- Cajun Beat in the $1 million BC Sprint and Six Perfections in the $1 million BC Mile.
The Juvenile, which usually determines the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby, has the usual cast of trainers looking for a win. Four-time Derby winner Lukas pre-entered Consolidator, two-time Derby winner Nick Zito has Sun King and three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert has Roman Ruler -- his only Breeders' Cup starter. Afleet Alex, though, could be the favorite based on four wins in five starts.
The $1.5 million Juvenile Fillies includes Frizette winner Balletto, the Pletcher-trained Ready's Gal, Darley Alcibiades winner Runway Model, Matron winner Sense of Style and Oak Leaf winner Sweet Catomine.
The always contentious Sprint features the likes of Bwana Charlie, Champali, Clock Stopper, Midas Eyes, and Speightstown taking on Cajun Beat.
In the $2 million Turf, Kitten's Joy looks like the horse to beat in an 11-horse field. The 3-year-old colt owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey has won six of seven starts this year, including the Secretariat Stakes and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in his last two starts. Also pre-entered were Balto Star, Magistretti and Europe-based Powerscourt and the 3-year-old filly Ouija Board.
The Mile drew the largest field at 19. Among the likely challengers to the 4-year-old filly Six Perfections are Blackdoun from France, Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap winner Mr O'Brien, Shadwell Turf Mile winner Nothing to Lose, and Eddie Read Handicap winner Special Ring.
The Ramseys also own Roses in May and Nothing to Lose.
The Filly & Mare Turf will have seven foreign-bred horses, including expected favorite Light Jig, trained by Bobby Frankel, and Katdogawm -- both from England. Also in the field is Riskaverse, winner of the Flower Bowl Invitational.
Azeri was one of seven horses cross-entered. The others were Domestic Dispute (Mile, Sprint), Balto Star (Mile, Turf), Bowman's Band (Classic, Mile), Freefourinternet (Classic, Mile), Ouija Board (Turf, Filly & Mare Turf) and Nebraska Tornado (Distaff, Filly & Mare Turf).