On Oct. 29, Breeders' Cup Day at Belmont Park, there will be eight Grade I races. On Saturday, there will be four Grade I's run at the big horse park on Long Island: the Gazelle Stakes and Garden City Breeders' Cup Stakes on turf, both for 3-year-old fillies; the Man o' War Stakes on the grass and the Woodward Stakes. They don't call it the Fall Championship Meeting for nothing.
Since the inception of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, Belmont's autumn races no longer crown champions. Instead, they prepare potential Eclipse Award winners for the big day, when the hardware is earned. When the Cup is staged elsewhere, usually Belmont form is overrated, and many New York horses often are overbet losers. This year, with the Cup at Belmont for the fourth time, a race over the track means more, and horses who run big there deserve serious consideration on Cup day.
The $500,000 Woodward, one of the most prestigious races on the New York calendar, tops the first Saturday of the meeting. It features a rematch of Commentator and Saint Liam, who ran 1-2 last month in an epic renewal of the Whitney Handicap, second in importance at Saratoga only to the Travers.
Commentator got loose on the lead on a speed-favoring surface and held on by a neck over Saint Liam, whose trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., wants to make sure that doesn't happen again. To put early heat on Commentator, Dutrow has entered an entry of rabbits, Show Boot and Crafty Player, as allies for his big horse. Jerry Bailey replaces Edgar Prado on Saint Liam, the 4-5 morning-line favorite even though he's not part of the entry.
"Yes, there is a change in tactics," Dutrow said Tuesday. "I'm going to run a fast one early with [Commentator]. Most likely it will be Crafty Player. He's got plenty of speed and can go three-quarters in 1:10. So that'll be good enough to get the job done for us, I hope."
Gazelle Stakes (1 1/8 miles)
What are the odds that two California-breds would be out on the lead together in a five-horse Grade I at Belmont? It's probably never happened, but that's the likely pace scenario in the Gazelle. Dancing Edie switches back to dirt after three strong grass races out west and should apply pressure early on Leave Me Alone, front-running winner of the 7-furlong Test Stakes at Saratoga. If Leave Me Alone gets clear again, she might last 9 furlongs around one turn. Even though she's never gone this far, she did win a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile ungraded stakes this spring at Hollywood Park. I think she may tire late, so I'll make a lukewarm play on late-running In The Gold, a troubled third in the Test. She's run well in both her starts at Belmont. Unfortunately, she's 0-for-3 (three seconds) at 1 1/8 miles, all in stakes, but one loss was by a nose and another was in the Kentucky Oaks, so she definitely classes up here.
1. In The Gold. 2. Leave Me Alone. 3. Seeking The Ante.
Garden City Breeders' Cup Stakes (1 1/8 miles, turf)
Two European shippers, France's Asi Siempre and Ireland's Luas Line, spice this one up, but I like the home team, My Typhoon, a Bill Mott-Jerry Bailey production. The Garden City is a Grade I in name only, and I doubt anything in here will make an impact on Breeders' Cup day. My Typhoon is game and has good tactical speed, and she worked brilliantly over the Saratoga turf this week. Luas Line is the main danger, although she was only a so-so fourth in her only U.S. race, the American Oaks at Hollywood. She did chase home three standouts there -– Cesario, Melhor Ainda and Singhalese –- and if she handles firm ground better than she did that day, she'd be no surprise.
1. My Typhoon. 2. Luas Line. 3. Asi Siempre.
Man o' War Stakes (1 3/8 miles, turf)
Last month in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, King's Drama was lone speed, and he used that advantage to set easy fractions and held off Relaxed Gesture by three-quarters of a length in a sprint finish. This time, Relaxed Gesture could have a much easier trip, because instead of chasing the leader he can sit back and watch Shake the Bank, a rabbit for the closer Better Talk Now, go with King's Drama early. Relaxed Gesture isn't as good as Better Talk Now, upset winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Turf, but the race appears to set up for him. He should get first run on Better Talk Now and might be able to fend him off late.
The question marks about Better Talk Now are firm ground (three straight losses) and the course (0-for-2 at Belmont). My main concern with Relaxed Gesture is his three consecutive seconds in stakes, where he's 0-for-5, but maybe this will be breakthrough day.
1. Relaxed Gesture. 2. Better Talk Now. 3. King's Drama.
Woodward Stakes (1 1/8 miles)
With the retirements of Ghostzapper and Roses In May, the 5-year-old Saint Liam has the potential to be the top older horse in North America. To elevate his stature he'd better win this one, and I think he will. In his only previous race at Belmont, last year's Woodward, he lost by a neck to Ghostzapper, who went on to an undefeated season and the Horse of the Year award. Ghostzapper never had to work harder than he did that day, and Saint Liam's job this time should be less taxing. Commentator should get early pressure from Show Boot, Crafty Player and Shaniko, which should set it up for Saint Liam. He'll be odds-on, so this is a race to watch more than bet on. Deep closer Sir Shackleton could pick up the pieces late and is worth a play underneath Saint Liam in exactas.
1. Saint Liam. 2. Sir Shackleton. 3. Commentator.