Twelve days before the biggest race of the year, where he would face the most challenging field in his life, Big Brown stepped onto the track for the last time. Not only was he to finally challenge the arch rival he never met, Big Brown was going to the Breeders’ Cup Classic to prove to the world what caliber of horse he truly was. Now, all that will be left is speculation.
We will never get to see the match-up that already begged for a page in the history books. Curlin is finally confirmed for the Classic, and now it is Big Brown that is out. In his last workout at Aqueduct over the turf, the Kentucky Derby winner grabbed a quarter in his right front foot and tore a massive chunk off his hoof. While the injury is not life-threatening, it will take several weeks to grow back. And so, Mr. Big has been retired. He will be shipped to stud at Three Chimneys in Kentucky after his foot has been given some time to heal.
The news came as a crushing blow to Big Brown’s camp and the whole of the racing world. The Classic was touted as the most highly anticipated BC in years—it was already being called the “race of the decade.” Not only has Curlin shown his love for the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, but the Japanese import Casino Drive is also confirmed for the Classic after winning an allowance race last Sunday at the same track. Big Brown’s absence opens a spot in the starting gates, too.
Suddenly, horses are crawling out of the woodwork from all sides of the country. Pyro, who Steve Asmussen once said would not be sent out for the Breeders’ Cup because of his distaste for synthetics, has already been cross-entered in the Classic and the Dirt Mile. Smooth Air, Well Armed, and even the top Brits are California bound. Even with Big Brown out of the picture, there is plenty to look forward to come October 25th.
Unfortunately, this article was shanghaied by Big Brown’s breaking story—this was supposed to be the girls’ platform to shine. And so, without further ado, I tell you to forget the boys for a moment and concentrate on Ladies’ Day, Friday, October 24th. Not only will the 24th kick off the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, it will feature one of the best fields in the entire two-day event.
Fourteen post positions were available to be filled in the newly donned Ladies’ Classic (formerly the Distaff), and of those spots, only eight fillies or mares have been pre-entered. It’s true the field was impacted by the loss of several capable athletes, like Tough Tiz’s Sis who was retired after a workout injury, and Proud Spell, who is enjoying a well-deserved break. But perhaps the biggest factor in keeping so many spots vacant is the imposing presence of so many champion mares.
Back to defend her title as last year’s Distaff winner is Ginger Punch, who was on a victory streak until her previous race, when Cocoa Beach dropped out of the sky and sprung the upset. The runner-up in last year’s neck-and-neck battle to the Distaff wire, Hystericalady, is back, too; she was also beaten in her previous start, but by the thing which is keeping every filly trembling in a corner: the unbeaten Zenyatta. There is no question the Ladies’ Classis is hers to lose. California is her home, and the big dark filly is as happy to run on the Pro-Ride as she is on the dirt. But what about those new challengers?
Both Ginger Punch and Hystericalady, proven champions, have been collared by Zenyatta. New to the circle is Music Note and Cocoa Beach. Music Note has shown herself to be a fighter, a talented 3-year-old with great heart and stamina. She will be fresh for the Ladies’ Classic, as she literally galloped past the wire in her previous start to win the Grade I Gazelle Stakes at Belmont when the rest of the field struggled to challenge.
And then there’s Cocoa Beach, the big question mark of the field. Having won on three different continents, then defeating the champion Ginger Punch, Cocoa Beach is the filly to keep an eye on. Did she take down the chestnut mare on a tough day, or is she truly that classy? Cocoa Beach has never faired worse than third in a race, but has also never run over a synthetic surface. Word from the backstretch is that the Pro-Ride is showing average results as a synthetic track—it’s definitely not as screwed up as Keeneland’s Polytrack, so there may be hope for our dirt horses yet.
And speaking of Keeneland, another entrant in the Ladies’ Classic is Carriage Trail, who won the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes and set a new track record over the Polytrack. Does she seem to be a factor? Not if you ask this handicapper. She earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup with the “win and you’re in” challenge, and has nothing much to offer besides her flukey victory at Keeneland. If you’re looking for a mare with better odds, try Santa Teresita, a girl who knows Santa Anita and is familiar with the taste of Zenyatta’s dust. She may not be able to handle the California Colossus, but she shows up on the synthetics.
The Ladies’ Classic isn’t the only race to watch out for on Friday. Along with the Filly and Mare Sprint and the Filly and Mare Turf, there are new babies to look out for in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It seems everyone has their eyes on that big gray 2-year-old Stardom Bound, and I will be no exception. Remember last year’s blazing victory by Indian Blessing? Well, she’s back this year in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, going against such champs as Zaftig, Indyanne, Intangaroo, and Dream Rush.
Go ahead, draw the shades and call in sick next Friday. Grab the phone, order a pizza (oh, make it two—plus breadsticks), and make certain you’ve got plenty of leftovers. Friday’s full day of racing can only be topped by Saturday’s. Do like me and take your phone off the hook. The races only last two minutes a piece; the world can wait.
For a complete schedule of Friday’s races for the Breeders’ Cup and where to watch them, visit here.