Countdown to the Cup: Pray for Rain
By Steve Haskin
Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 2:05 PM
Posted: Monday, September 14, 2009 10:22 PM
Circle the date Oct. 4 on your calendar. Your assignment is to pray for rain in France — enough to turn the Longchamp turf course soft. The softer the better.
Yes, it is a selfish request, as no one wants to see thousands of dejected European racing fans, but considering what a soft course that day would mean for the Breeders Cup, we have to at least give it a shot, whether you believe in divine intervention or not.
A soft course would mean that European megastar Sea the Stars likely would be withdrawn from the Prix de l’Arc d Triomphe (Fra-I) and could very well point for the Breeders’ Cup Classic instead.
Sea the Stars’ trainer John Oxx said in the Sporting Life: “If we miss the Arc then we'll have to look at the two races that are left, which are Newmarket (Champion Stakes) and Santa Anita. It would likely be the Classic rather than the Turf,” Oxx told At the Races.
“We'll have to look at that but the horse tells you what to do. He has to still be in good form and giving us the right signals. It's very late in the year for a horse that has had a Guineas run but if he missed the Arc we'd have to seriously consider America.”
Remember those words “seriously consider America” as Arc day nears. They are huge. The presence of Sea the Stars, who has rattled off victories in the 2,000 Guineas, English Derby, Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International, and Irish Champion Stakes, while knocking off every group I horse Aidan O’Brien has thrown at him, would give the Breeders’ Cup one of its greatest drawing cards ever, and help fill the void left by Rachel Alexandra’s absence. Imagine a match-up between Zenyatta and Sea the Stars, along with Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird, Belmont (gr. I) and Travers (gr. I) winner Summer Bird, Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Einstein, Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Rail Trip, Pacific Classic (gr. I) winner Richard's Kid, Whitney (gr. I) winner Bullsbay, and maybe even Quality Road and Macho Again.
Even if Sea the Stars runs in the Arc, perhaps the five weeks between that race at the Breeders’ Cup will entice the colt’s connections to take a shot anyway. But as Oxx said, he’s been running all year, going all the way back to the Guineas.
Speaking of Sea the Stars, the British bookmakers are quoting him between 2-1 and 9-4 favorite for the Classic. Zenyatta is basically 4-1 across the board. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Rip Van Winkle, who gave Sea the Stars all he could handle in the Eclipse Stakes and then came back to the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) can be had from 9-2 to 6-1. Summer Bird’s odds range from 4-1 to 8-1.
That brings us to the huge overlay, and that is Mine That Bird, who obviously doesn’t even get respect in England. Nine of the 12 British bookmakers have him at 20-1, despite his explosive Kentucky Derby victory, his bad trip in the Preakness, poor rides in the Belmont and West Virginia Derby, and the fact that he was the Canadian 2-year-old champion, racing exclusively on a synthetic track. If you can forgive his poor effort in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on the Pro-Ride, feeling he was off form, you can’t help but be attracted to his 20-1 odds.