Breeders' Cup Always Delivers

The Breeders’ Cup began 27 years ago at Hollywood Park with seven season-ending championship races and an unprecedented $10 million in purses. This year’s version, hosted by Churchill Downs, will be a 15-race, $26 million extravaganza, held over two days, and encompass almost every division of the sport. It will be the richest two-day event in the history of horse racing worldwide. And even though 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta won’t be competing, don’t worry.  There are plenty of story lines and exciting match ups that will no doubt make this year’s version every bit as exciting as any in previous years.

The Championships get under way this Friday afternoon at 4:10 p.m. ET. There will be six BC races televised on ESPN2 with the highlight of the evening being the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies' Classic contested under the lights at historic Churchill Downs at 7:30 p.m. The action continues Saturday beginning at 1:20 p.m. with coverage on ABC, ESPN and TVG.

I plan to be at the track all day, both days, but I have to confess that what I’m most looking forward to is the final 100 minutes on Saturday.  That intense period will feature back-to-back-to-back runnings of the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (post time 5:25 p.m. ET), the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (6:07 p.m.) and the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (7:00 p.m.).  In quick succession, we will identify the winter-book favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby and the likely Horse of the Year winner this coming January in Los Angeles at the Eclipse Awards. As if that weren’t enough, sandwiched in between those two great contests is the brilliant Champion, Goldikova, seeking to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile for an incredible and unprecedented fourth consecutive year.  These final three races of the Championships are shaping up to be something very special indeed.

As is almost always the case, the Juvenile has attracted the best from the East, West, Midwest  and Canada, plus two interesting prospects from the United Kingdom. I’m still debating my picks in this race but I have narrowed it down to Union Rags, Creative Cause and Drill.  I might put all three into an exacta box.  I may also single a long shot—Take Charge Indy or Dullahan—because if I have learned anything in my years following the Breeders’ Cup it’s to expect the unexpected.

You can be sure that racing fans around the world will be focused on the great 6-year-old race mare Goldikova.  Although she’s the favorite, this won’t be a walkover. A full field of international runners, including the multiple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti, will seek to deny Goldikova an unprecedented “four- peat”.  I like Goldikova but seeing the way Gio Ponti closed to win the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland a few weeks ago, I have to bet a few dollars on the Christophe Clement trainee as well.

All of this sets the stage for another epic Classic.  Havre de Grace, the second-choice in the morning line behind Uncle Mo, will attempt to become only the second female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (following Zenyatta in 2009). A Classic victory also would propel her to Horse of the Year and result in an unprecedented third consecutive year in which a female has captured Horse of the Year honors. It won’t be easy. The Classic field includes at least four other horses—Flat Out, Game On Dude, Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo—who can lay claim to HOY with a victory.  Should none of the above win, Eclipse Award voters will be left with some head-scratching decisions. My head tells me that the Classic and Horse of the Year will go to Havre de Grace, but I will probably also bet a few dollars on Game On Dude because jockey Chantal Sutherland has a legitimate shot at becoming the first female jockey to win the Classic.

So those are some of my picks. What horses do you like and why?  Let me hear from you.

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