Originally posted on Smilepolitely.com...
I admit, I've had a difficult time getting excited about this year's Breeders' Cup. It's not only a little deflating the best horse in America won't be running in it, but with the championships being held on a biased surface, I can't help but feel the outcomes will be slanted. One only has to take a glimpse at the pre-entries drawn this past Wednesday to realize this is not the typical way horse races are conducted; for instance, only nine horses were pre-entered into the Breeders' Cup Turf, and none of them are the dominating turf horses from either America or Europe—no, you'd have to look under the Breeders' Cup Classic to find those entrants, running over Pro-Ride instead of grass, and against America's best dirt horses.
But there's a silver lining in all of this mayhem caused by the synthetic monkey wrench, and that is our all-American girl, Zenyatta. The undefeated mare, 13 for 13 starts (11 of them stakes races, 7 of those Grade Is), based in California, outside of which she's only raced once in her lifetime, has been pre-entered in both the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, and the Breeders' Cup Classic. On Wednesday, her trainer, John Shirreffs, stated in a national teleconference, "If she works well Saturday and continues to train well the following week, we'll definitely lean toward the Classic... She has a great shot to win the Ladies' Classic, which has a very large purse. But the Classic is an opportunity to try to garner Horse of the Year honors, and to not run her when she's doing so well would be a mistake. Mr. Moss said it's not about Horse of the Year as much as it is to see her compete at the highest level."
It's only too bad Zenyatta's connections haven't had this attitude the whole year-long. 2009 has been a cakewalk compared to Zenyatta's 2008 campaign; this one last shot to prove her status as one of the all-time Greats in racing has been a long time coming. She only deserves this opportunity to prove her hand against males for the first time on the world's biggest stage. Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, racing against Rip Van Winkle, Einstein, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Quality Road, Mine That Bird, and Colonel John; if we had to have the Breeders' Cup World Championships at California only to build up to this moment, this two-minute race, I think it'd all been worth it. But only if she runs in the Classic.
If Zenyatta is pointed to play with the boys for the first time, the field for the Ladies' Classic becomes relatively wide-open, with perhaps one exception. Only nine fillies or mares have been pre-entered to this epic girl-fight, and without Zenyatta, the veritable Berlin Wall of mares will be lifted for other females to get a shot at Breeders' Cup glory. Of the contenders, Careless Jewel looks to be the filly who is most deserving to carry on Zenyatta's torch.
A winner of 5 of 6 lifetime starts, Careless Jewel is a 3-year-old gray filly just coming into her own as a runner, quickly gaining respect by knocking off 5 consecutive victories over the synthetic track at Woodbine and traditional dirt at three different tracks, including Saratoga, where she won the Grade I Alabama Stakes. With her impressive resume, Careless Jewel will inherit the role as the favorite if Zenyatta sits this one out and runs against the boys instead.
Lethal Heat was second-best to Zenyatta in the Grade I Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on October 10, and has that prep under her belt as an advantage. Cocoa Beach is also entered, who ran second to Zenyatta in last year's Ladies' Classic; unfortunately, the Godolphin filly hasn't been the same mare this year as last and it's hard to tell where her form stands at this point. Music Note, who was third in last year's Ladies' Classic, has won her last two races and has a good chance of improving off those victories. The 1-2 finishers in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland are also entered, Proviso (GB) and Mushka; in the Spinster, Proviso was disqualified to second when she veered into Mushka's lane in the final leaps of the stretch. Life is Sweet and Rainbow View are also entered. If Careless Jewel doesn't like the Pro-Ride, look to Proviso and Lethal Heat to try and steal the show.
The next time this column publishes, the first day of the Breeders' Cup will already have begun. Friday's races will kick off at 12:35pm PT with the Breeders' Cup Marathon, and will be preceded by the Juvenile Fillies Turf at 1:08pm, the Juvenile Fillies at 1:45pm, the Filly and Mare Turf at 2:23pm, the Filly and Mare Sprint at 3:02pm, and the Ladies' Classic at 3:45pm PT.
Now that online wagering has been made legal in Illinois, bettors can head over to TVG.com if for some reason they can't call in sick and make it to their local OTB. Not only will there be flurry of bets on the ponies, but the jockeys are also getting some action. For the first time, pari-mutuel wagering will be offered to bet on which jockey will win the most Breeders' Cup races. Last year, that honor went to Garrett Gomez when he took four races; when in doubt, you can count on Go-Go no matter where the track happens to be, unless, of course, he's riding against Mike Smith on Zenyatta.