The Breeders Cup Turf is perhaps the most “international” of races on the series card. It was the 2003 Turf raced that held a heartstopping photo finish between High Chaparral and Johar, with Falbrav just a head back – and in a photo finish not even a flare of the nose could separate the first two. A dead heat is very uncommon and a dead heat at the top level – I can only think of two and the horses involved deserve credit. In 1992 Fraise got a nose in front of Sky Classic but this isn’t the kind of race there’s normally 8-9 length winning margins. High Chaparral (Ire) had won the Turf the year before, making it a back to back win for him, now retired to stud in Ireland. Ireland has sent over many winners for this race, including last year’s winner Red Rocks, 200 winner Kalanisi, 1999 winner Daylami, 1995 Northern Spur, and in 1987 the beloved Theatrical. 1986 winner Manila is the oldest living horse from the race, now reported to be at stud in Turkey while 1997 Chief Bearhart now stands in Japan. A $3million race for horses 3 year old and up at a mile and a half on the turf, this is a very big win and can be a big factor in the Turf Champion nominations.
This year provides some stories that if it were written would be said to be too unbelievable to be true, but as I’ve said horses don’t read. The Arlington Million winner, a Canadian colt named Jambalaya, is sidelined for the rest of the season and will not be able to compete in the race he qualified for. Second qualifying horse getting a ticket is is the French bred Shamdinan, keeping with the international flavor that has been noted in the Turf. Lightly raced in the US with one win from two starts, the win in the Secretariat Stakes meant he was headed for championship day – his other start has been a fifth place run in the Man O War Stakes. Not to be overlooked blindly, he was 1-2-3 in his first starts in France before a dismal run in the Budweiser Irish Derby overseas. With Canada’s Jambalaya sidelined other horses expected to appear include After Market, English Channel, The Tin Man, On The Acorn (GB), Better Talk Now, Doctor Dino (FR), Notable Guest, Obrigado (FR), Red Giant and Sunriver.
After Market is already slated to enter stud in 2008 at Lanes End so the Turf may be the last hurrah of a career that in 2007 has brought 8 starts, 4 wins and once second, with a bankroll of $686,725. Already a multiple Grade I winner a Turf win would be the feather in his cap. By Storm Cat out of a Rahy mare the lure of breeding and the risk of racing mean a choice needs to be made. He’s a talented colt that may well factor in the race.
English Channel figures to make the Turf exciting. The son of Smart Strike (also the sire of Curling) out of an unraced daughter of Theatrical but this guy has something that horses either have or they don’t – heart. Winning his last race prep, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes, by daylight the finish doesn’t tell the whole story. Bidding time on the rail it looked like he was hopelessly boxed and beaten with nowhere to run. The smallest of openings and he boldly plunged through, surely scraping the rail to do so, and exploded with a kick then looking around like “where did everyone go?” English Channel is right when he’s on – and was third in the Breeders Cup Turf last year. This year he’s won at Gulfstream, an uncharacteristic poor race in the Dubai Duty Free second in the Manhattan and Sword Dancer stakes and won the United Nations – at Monmouth park where the Breeders Cup is being contested this year. In 2005 he also was in the Breeders Cup Turf with a fifth place showing – so this is the third try for a horse who has raced at the top of competition. He won the United Nations as mentioned – twice and set course record times both years. This is a very nice horse – but can be beat. If he gets to fighting the rider and fails to relax he’ll beat himself and not have enough fuel in the tank for the explosive kick he’s capable of delivering.
The Tin Man is one of those stories – one of the last offspring of Triple Crown winner Affirmed to still be racing. He’ll match two legends for age as the oldest starters on Breeders Cup Day. Without the call of a breeding career the 9 year old continues to do what he does best – race. Second to Jambalaya in the Arlington Million, The Tin Man has accomplished a major feat *being* on the track. As a younger horse he was gelded when he faced an injury, and the heavy front end put him at threat for laminitis (the same insideous hoof disease that took Barbaro, Secretariat and many others). The injury wasn’t a simple one – with a major injury at 2, tendon surgery shortly after it, another ankle injury in 2005, TheTin Man won his first stakes race as a five year old. He overcame the problems and healed well enough to return not only to the track but to top competition. The distance might be a bit much for him but in three races this year he’s never been worse than second, with $486,920 in earnings this year. Indeed he’s been first or second in all his races back to 2005. Trainer Richard Mandella has picked key competitions, brings him right and lets him speak for himself on the track. Each race is a gift of performance from this grand old gelding.
Not to be outdone is Doctor Dino, who won the Man O’War stakes by a head over Sunriver. Doctor Dino had not won since last October before the September 8 contest but a return to jockey Olivier Peslier meant a return to the winners circle. However, trainer Richard Gibson has been quoted as saying “The Breeders Cup is very unlikely; he’s not Breeders Cup Nominated. We’ll speak to the owners, but before the race it was never an option.” Being qualified doesn’t mean competing.
Better Talk Now, a multiple grade I winner, suffered a puncture wound and missed some training for some time to allow healing, but is back in serious training. He knows how to contest this race – as a seven year old last year he was second in it. A son of Canadian champion Talkin Man, this is Better Talk Now’s fourth trip to the Breeders Cup. Only six horses have made four or more appearances – champion Kona Gold tops the list at five and now makes his living as a “pony” still on the track. Four starts have been made by El Senor, Hollywood Story, Precisionist and Riskaverse, with only El Senor making those four on the Turf. Sidelined in mid summer with the injury, Better Talk Now has a win and a third in three starts this year and earnings of $346,647. His last start was a third in the United Nations, a race he won in 2005.
The Turf promises to be interesting with some solid older horses and some young upstarts. Tune in on the 27th to see which is in front at the end of the Breeders Cup Turf.