There are two Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" races this week - the San Diego Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the Del Mar's main track, and the Greenwood Cup for older horses going a mile and half at Philadelphia Park.
Before breaking down these races from a handicapping standpoint, it is worth noting that a true iron horse of the sport will be going in the Greenwood Cup - Evening Attire. The 10-year-old gelding will make his 69th career start and seek his 11th stakes victory. Incredible.
The cool part about this story is that five years after his last appearance at the Breeders' Cup, Evening Attire has a chance to get back to Santa Anita for another appearance - a half-decade later! It was in 2003 that the son of Black Tie Affair last ran in the Breeders' Cup, as he finished seventh in the Classic at Santa Anita. How special would it be if the old man won the Greenwood Cup to earn a berth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon?
When I talked to Patrick Kelly on Wednesday, the trainer said he wasn't concerning himself with the Breeders' Cup and at this point is Evening Attire's career, he takes one day at a time. But if he wins and stays healthy, you would have to believe that they would ship him to California in October. What a great story that would be. As we talked about in the previous blog, our sport needs more old timers like this. These are the kinds of horses that people love to come out and see. And with all the bad publicity that the Breeders' Cup is getting for various reasons, Evening Attire's presence would give it a much needed boost.
Here's hoping Evening Attire, Surf Cat, Lava Man, Red Rocks and some other racing veterans find their way to California in October.
And now to the races...
I give Evening Attire a decent chance to win this race. There are only six entered and it's not a particularly strong field. I am immediately tossing Phil the Power, Solemn Promise and Bureaucratic. That leaves me with the "old man," Barcola and Three in a Bag.
Evening Attire has been very competitive in his last two, including a nice runner-up performance in the Brooklyn Handicap last month where he earned a 105 Beyer. Kelly said he is training very well, but is concerned about the heat. It is supposed to be very hot in Philadelphia this weekend and he said Evening Attire, who will be shipping in race day, doesn't do well in extreme temperatures. From a racing standpoint, he beat Barcola in December in the Queen's County Handicap, so he fits very well here.
Barcola was third to Curlin in the Stephen Foster last month and won the Brandywine at Delaware in May. He should be on the lead and might be tough to catch, even at 12 furlongs. Three in the Bag is the scary horse in here. He has won his last two by a combined 24 lengths, both in optional claiming events.
The Pick: Barcola is 7-5 on the morning line and will probably be even money by post time. He'll be tough to beat, but I can't in good conscience take him at those odds. You know where my heart will be, but I'm going to pass on Evening Attire and go for the horse that is in the best form - Three in the Bag. A 6-year-old gelding, he has two resounding wins at Philly this year, and although he hasn't tried stakes company since 2005 he is ready for this step. His trainer (Tony Dutrow) knows how to win at this track and he should offer the best value.
San Diego Handicap
Looks to me like it's between Surf Cat, Rebellion, Well Armed, and if you want to take a shot, perhaps Global Hunter for a berth in the BC Dirt Mile.
At age 6, Surf Cat is still very good. He has a pair of grade II wins this year, and has been off the board just once in 12 starts dating back to 2005. He's always sharp. Rebellion is also in fine form, winning both the Commonwealth and Ack Ack since April. And he gets Bejarano. He should be flying from off the pace. Well Armed makes his first start since returning from Dubai, where he was a well-beaten third in the World Cup. He has been working nicely at Del Mar.
The Pick: Tough to choose here, especially because at the time of this writing the morning-line odds have not yet been posted. It might be one of those where I wait 15 minutes until post to see the odds, but for now I will go with Well Armed. Normally, I don't like betting horses in their first start back from Dubai, but based on his works the 5-year-old gelding is obviously sharp. There isn't a ton of early speed in here, so he should be able to get the lead and go. He's got two wins on synthetics and the distance should be fine for him. Plus, he beat Heatseeker twice this year. That's telling, given the fact that Heatseeker handled Surf Cat easily last out.