Haskin's Classic Report: Is it Their Time?

Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Aidan O’Brien and Kathy Ritvo are on a mission: get rid of that agonizing, heartbreaking second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that is hanging over their heads and win this darn thing already.

All four trainers have finished a close second in the Classic and will be trying to land their first victory this year with horses who have a legitimate chance to win. Baffert, in fact, has finished second twice, 14 years apart, and saddles two horses this year, including the morning line favorite Game On Dude. O’Brien also has finished second twice.

You can’t say Baffert, Pletcher, and O’Brien haven’t been trying. All three combined are 0-for-34 in America’s richest race. Ritvo, of course, is a mere 0-for-1, having lost by a half-length with Mucho Macho Man last year after a stirring stretch duel with eventual winner Fort Larned.

Baffert, O’Brien, and Ritvo all had a Classic victory right in their hands, but it slipped away just feet or inches from the wire.

If Silver Charm hadn’t followed Swain toward the outside fence in 1998 and open the door for Awesome Again to come through, there is a very good chance Baffert would have had his Classic victory a long time ago.

He probably thought he had it won in 2011 after Game On Dude shook free from a pesky Uncle Mo in the stretch and looked like a winner. But Drosselmeyer, winner of the previous year’s Belmont Stakes, came flying way out in the middle of the track and caught Game On Dude, who never saw him, in the final yards.

If Mick Kinane hadn’t lost his rein right at the height of his battle with Tiznow, who knows if O’Brien wouldn’t have had his first Classic triumph in his first attempt.

He caught a big break in 2008 when the Classic was run on a synthetic surface and Henrythenvigator ran a bang-up race to finish second. What made the defeat tough to swallow was that he had beaten the winner, Raven’s Pass, three of the four times they met in Europe.

Pletcher sent out a live horse in Travers winner Flower Alley in the 2005 Classic, and Flower Alley did run a winning race, but had the misfortune of running into eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam, who beat him only a length in a tough struggle.

And finally, Ritvo had Mucho Macho Man, who has had a problem passing horses in the final furlong, at the top his game in 2012, but the towering colt just couldn’t get by Fort Larned in one of the most thrilling stretch battles in the Classic in years.

Baffert and O’Brien have proven that you can never take anything for granted just because you came close early on. Both have been trying to make up that narrow margin of defeat for more than a dozen years.

For Pletcher, he’s never even come close to winning the Classic since Flower Alley. Of the nine horses he’s run in the past eight years none has finished better than sixth. He appeared to have Quality Road in top shape in 2009, but the then 3-year-old went beserk first behind and then inside the gate and had to be scratched. This year, Pletcher has a Belmont Stakes winner in Palace Malice, and in the past four years. Belmont winners have finished first, third, and fourth in the Classic.

While Pletcher is coming into the Classic on a path he’s taken before, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Baffert, O’Brien, and Ritvo are all trying something new.

Baffert and O’Brien have decided to skip a prep race, passing up the Awesome Again Stakes and the Champion or Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, respectively, and send a fresh horse into the Classic off 2 1/2-month layoffs. Even they have no idea whether this new tactic will work or not. It has been done before. In 2006, Kiaran McLaughlin was forced to miss the Jockey Club Gold Cup with Invasor after the colt came down with a virus right before the race. The Uruguayan import wound up winning the Classic off a three-month layoff, defeating heavy favorite Bernardini, and nail down Horse of the Year honors.

Ritvo, instead of taking the conventional route and prepping back East as she did last year, decided to ship Mucho Macho Man to California well in advance and give him his prep in the Awesome Again, which he won comfortably. By doing this, she pretty much eliminated the possibility of a sloppy track, which Mucho Macho Man detests, and give the horse a race over the track, which he showed he loved in last year’s Classic.

So, will any of these trainers remove the specter of those second-place finishes? You know one thing: Baffert, Pletcher, and O’Brien certainly are not going to stop trying.


19 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Paula Higgins

My heart is with MMM and Kathy Ritvo. This is a horse and a woman who have persevered through thick and thin. They deserve it for many reasons.  After MMM, Paynter and Game On Dude are my next 2 picks. I would be deliriously happy to see Paynter win it as well, but I just don't think that will happen. He fought the fight of his life and won. That will always be his most important victory. But if Bob Baffert won, I would be happy for him too.He had a very tough year last year. I would love to see something really good happen for him. The bottom line is that  I just want them all to come home safe and may the best horse win. Pletcher has won enough this year LOL. I mean seriously, this must be the ONLY thing he hasn't won.

28 Oct 2013 9:51 PM
Coldfacts

When Declaration of War  enters the BCC starting gates it will be 73 days between races.

If he were being trained by an American trainer he would be an automatic toss for me due to the length of time between races.

Aidan Obrien is simply brilliant at preparing horses to perform off long respites.

Master Of Hounds contested the BC Juvenile Turf on 11/06/2011 and finished 6th. His next start was 140 days later on the 03/26/2012 in the UAE Derby where he lost by a NS.

His next start was on 05/07/2012 in the Kentucky Derby where he finished 5th.

Master Of Hounds made one start in 181 days prior to contesting America's premier race for 3YOs and that start was in Dubai.

He used the similar program for Lines Of Battle who finished 7th in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

Over the years Aidan O'Brien has shipped the likes of Giants Causeway, Hold That Tiger, Hawk Wings, Galileo and others to contest one of America's premier G1 race on dirt.

The above mentioned horses competed against America best at significant disadvantages. They were all from a different time zone and raced exclusively on turf.

Of the four trainers cited, he is the most deserving of a victory. H has been the foreign based trainer that has been most supportive of the BCC despite repeated disappointments.


28 Oct 2013 11:33 PM
The Deacon

I believe that it is Game On Dudes time.......just a feeling. Home track, has had a good rest and Mike Smith rides him very well.

29 Oct 2013 2:31 AM
datflippinrabbit

The Irish horse starting for the first time on dirt to win the BC Classic.Hummm i doubt that,however the euros are always deadly on the turf.

29 Oct 2013 4:26 AM
Coldfacts

Kindly ignore the last three paragraphs of my 28 Oct 2013 11:33 PM post at they should have been deleted.

29 Oct 2013 9:25 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

I hope the third time is the "charm" for the Dude.  

29 Oct 2013 10:59 AM
Rusty Weisner

Steve Haskin,

Always a timely column.  I was just wondering yesterday what O'Brien's record was in the Classic.

29 Oct 2013 12:17 PM
Stellar Jayne

Steve,

Thanks for the thoughtful review.  Basically, I just want them all to come home sound they all (the horses) deserve to win, but in my heart-of-hearts it is MMM all the way.  But time has taught me the least expected horse comes through and shines on the given day.

29 Oct 2013 12:48 PM
prudofrompuertorico

To win any race is really difficult, to win a stakes race, degree of difficulty increases many times,graded races many more times. My point; any  race with multiple Grade 1 winners, no easy task to be on the board. Safe trip to all.

Thank you for an excellent article.    

29 Oct 2013 1:24 PM
mz

Datflippi rabbit:  Arazi

29 Oct 2013 1:50 PM
LanceS

I've come up with an interesting BC trivia question.  This year Tiznow, Tizbud, and Tizso each has an offspring entered in BC races.  Has there ever been three full siblings all with offspring in the same Breeders' Cup before?

29 Oct 2013 3:23 PM
LanceS

Specific to the Classic, I'd love to get 12-1 on Flat Out!

29 Oct 2013 3:24 PM
edrul427

It is going to be a shame that any of them have to lose this important race .They all have extraordinary horses and as we all know not always the best horse wins a race for causes beyond their control.But anyway good and safe race to all.

29 Oct 2013 3:42 PM
Mary

Declaration of War and Moreno, my picks.

29 Oct 2013 9:58 PM
Greg R

Only one of them can win it, so one of them will probably be second again!!

If the three gentlemen don't win the Classic, they still have chances in other races.  I have the feeling Baffert will have a good BC, even if the Dude misses.  If forced to pick a longshot for BC, I'd pick his Secret Circle in the Sprint.  He was off the radar for so long, but this sparkplug of a horse might be the most naturally talented sprinter in the field, which is weird coming from Eddington, an oversized, galumphing galloper.  There are no Artaxes or Speightstowns in this year's Sprint, so a "dark horse" has a great shot.

30 Oct 2013 12:56 AM
lunar spook

MARY- I agree with u on declaration of war, if this horse can take to the dirt surface look out , I find it interesting that Obrien bypassed the turf races to enter him in the classic , must feel something , however I cant go along with u on Moreno , he will melt down in the stretch to a hot pace !

30 Oct 2013 9:10 AM
itishpol

i'm new to the breeder's cup statistics. how many races  have had women trainers and how many have won. I hope all come back sound and healthy. my picks from an uneducated point of view are princess of Sylmar, dec.of war, paynter

30 Oct 2013 9:44 AM
steve from st louis

I like the four pounds Will Take Charge gets. Trevor will have to replay his Zenyatta call "...this...is...unbelivable!"

30 Oct 2013 12:35 PM
Coldfacts

"Home track, has had a good rest and Mike Smith rides him very well."

GOOD had home track advantage in 2012 when he finished 7th.

Declaration of war has been rested for 73 days while GOD has been rested 69 days. One his a 4YO and one is a 6YO.

Mike Smith rode the 6YO Zenyatta to a 2nd place finish in the 2010 BCC.

Finishing 3rd in the 2010 BCC was Fly Down who finished 2nd in 2010 the Belmont that saw GOD finishing 4th.

GOD has a not been accustom to winning the big ones. He was 4th in the Belmont and 2nd in the 2011 BCC. He was not good enough to win the Belmont. He was not good enough to win the BCC as a 4YO.

Is he really expected to win the BCC as a 6YO?

30 Oct 2013 12:37 PM

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