With the Breeders' Cup just two and half weeks away, the major storylines are now in place to be written.
Zenyatta going for back-to-back Classics. Goldikova shooting for an unprecedented three consecutive Mile win. Uncle Mo vs. Boys at Tosconova in the Juvenile. Three-year-old Blind Luck expected to be favored in the Ladies Classic. These will be the biggest stories at Churchill Downs the first weekend of November.
One race that will not draw many headlines but is shaping up to be one of the most competitive at the two-day World Championships is the Turf Sprint. The race is significant if for no other reason than it is the opening leg of Saturday's Pick 6, and it certainly does not look like a race to single.
The complexion of the Turf Sprint has changed significantly in 2010 due to the fact that it will be a five-furlong race, as opposed to the last two years at Santa Anita when it was run at 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course. For that reason alone the defending titleholder, California Flag, likely will not be one of the favorites, especially coming off his dull 11th-place effort in the Woodford Stakes.
In talking with trainer Brian Koriner Tuesday, California Flag is still pointing toward the Breeders' Cup. He is chalking the poor effort up to his 6-year-old gelding not liking the Keeneland turf course.
"I've talked to a lot of people that have (shipped horses to Keeneland) and they said horses can have trouble there. The course has a sandy bottom and it was very dry. He probably just took care of himself and three-eights of a mile. I have no reason to think any differently. I've taken the horse all over the world and I've never seen that from him. It was like I was looking at a mirage.
"He came out of the race perfect. He worked over the course today and was fine. He'll ship (to Churchill) this Thursday."
The favorite in the Turf Sprint will likely be the winner of the Woodford, Silver Timber. The remarkable 7-year-old gelding won the Woodford for the second straight year and now will go on to Churchill, where he owns the five-furlong course record, which he set earlier this year in the grade III Shakertown.
Since trainer Chad Brown claimed Silver Timber for $25,000 in April, 2009 for owner Michael Dubb, all he has done is win eight races, including five graded stakes, and earn more than $450,000. Somehow, he was sent off at almost 9-2 in the Woodford even though he won the race as the favorite a year ago.
"He had some excuses in his last race at Saratoga (Troy Stakes, fifth)," Brown said. "The course was way too firm for his liking and he got in some trouble. When he finally got clear he got discouraged. But he trained super for us since that race and we knew he liked the Keeneland course, so we thought he'd run well.
"I'd be surprised if he wasn't the favorite (for the Breeders' Cup). He has the course record and he's in good form right now. We're excited. We love this horse; a lot of our employees love him. He's fit. We don't do a whole lot with him; just keep him happy. He seems to thrive in our program.
"When we claimed him, we thought he was a $50,000 type of horse who was in for $25,000. We thought he might be worth the money to run in a state-bred, non-winners of two optional claimer for $50,000, which he did in his next race, and he won. But he won so easily that we kept moving him up. He's a special horse."
Chamberlain Bridge could still be one of the favorites despite finishing fourth in the Woodford, where he was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths. It was his first loss in his last four starts and he has won three of four career starts at Churchill, his only loss coming by a neck in the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint (gr. IIIT) earlier this year. He'll be tough, especially since he is one of the few contenders that is a closing sprinter.
Included in the several other legitimate contenders are Stadivinsky, another former claimer for Dubb who was third but beaten only a half-length by Chamberlain Bridge in the Turf Monster Handicap last out; California shipper Tropic Storm, who was third in the Oak Tree Mile after carrying the lead into the lane; Awakino Cat, a winner of three straight stakes in New York for Linda Rice; Woodford runner-up Central City; and a pair of fillies--Rose Catherine and Unzip Me.
Three-year-old Rose Catherine has won four straight for Todd Pletcher, including the Turf Amazon at Philly Park last month. Four-year-old Unzip Me is another California shipper that has won seven of her last eight, including a pair of grade III events.
I'm sure there will also be a couple European horses shipping in for this lively race. Like I said, it's not the most glamorous Breeders' Cup event, but it sure will be competitive.