ARCADIA, Calif. -- Red Rocks, the last horse to beat reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, will start in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Saturday without a prep race in more than three months, a reputation for failing to put together consecutive wins, and an owner uncertain what to expect.
Red Rocks, who won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, has not had an ideal preparation in recent months, owner Paul Reddam said earlier this week. After Red Rocks upset Curlin in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park on July 12, Reddam hoped that the 5-year-old Red Rocks would start in two additional major stakes in New York - the Sword Dancer and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic - before the BC Turf.
"Two days before the Sword Dancer, he got a staph infection in his hock," Reddam said. "The horse did miss a full month of activity. He had to go to the clinic and stay there for quite a while, while they gave him heavy antibiotics to wipe out this infection.
"The question really for him is, is he fit enough to run with the best horses going 1 1/2 miles? I'd like to say I have an answer for that. The horse is coming into the race in less than ideal circumstances. We've had to rush him along."
The illness kept Red Rocks from displaying what Reddam thinks is his best asset - racing on firm turf over tighter American turf courses. During his European career, Red Rocks won two stakes in England and placed in four other stakes, including a second in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in France in 2006.
In three starts in the United States, Red Rocks has never been worse than third, including a third in the 2007 BC Turf over a soft course at Monmouth Park last fall that Reddam thinks did not suit the horse. "The ground was so soft that the race kind of screwed up," Reddam said.
A winner of 6 of 19 starts and $2,810,694, Red Rocks will definitely race on a firm turf course at Santa Anita next weekend. Despite the recent interrupted preparation, Reddam said the course itself will suit Red Rocks.
"We saw flashes of it in the previous years - he really likes the American racing," Reddam said. "He's very good with the tight turns. He's kind of a funny horse. In the English races, they run very slow. They started taking him back and he couldn't quicken to be competitive with the best horses. In the American racing, with more pace, he's got enough closing kick."
In the Man o' War at 1 1/2 miles on turf, Red Rocks rallied from third, 10 lengths off the pace, to win by two lengths over Curlin. Reddam was perturbed that the postrace commentary concentrated on Curlin's loss, and not Red Rocks's win.
"The whole race was about Curlin getting beat," he said. "The bottom line to me was that Curlin ran his race."
Red Rocks will make his first start for trainer Mark Hennig in the BC Turf. Hennig took over from English trainer Brian Meehan after the Man o' War, a transfer that Reddam said was in the works in the months before that race.
Red Rocks must run equally as well as he did in the Man o' War to win the BC Turf. The expected field of 12 includes the 2004 winner, Better Talk Now; Grand Couturier, who won the Sword Dancer and Turf Classic earlier this year; the American Grade 1 winners Dancing Forever, Red Giant, and Winchester; and the European stakes winners Conduit, Eagle Mountain, and Soldier of Fortune.