Will She Or Won't She?

WILL SHE OR WON’T SHE?
by John Piesen


I received a phone call this week from an old newspaperman friend. His purpose was to get my expert opinion on who’s the superior racemare: Zenyatta or Ruffian?

Wow, what a difference a year makes. At this time last year, the question was: who’s better – Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra?

Win or lose Saturday, Zenyatta is the answer to both questions. I’ve been a Zenyatta guy since I watched her win her fourth start – the 2008 Apple Blossom – from the roof at Oaklawn Park.

But as a handicapper, that doesn’t mean she’s an automatic top selection Saturday on the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). My selections for the Classic, as well as the entire Churchill Downs full card, will be available, and, although I might be a bit biased, I highly recommend checking it out.

This has been quite a week for Zenyatta. She was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment, a rare horse racing piece in Sports Illustrated, and the object of affection of thousands of folks at Churchill Downs since her arrival Tuesday by private jet from southern California.

Zenyatta naturally will be the favorite in the Classic, which goes as race 11 at 6:45 p.m. on the 11-race card – and the eighth Breeders’ Cup race – but the fact is that favorites have not done all that well in the Classic when run at Churchill.

Churchill hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 1988, and the favored Alysheba was life-and-death to beat Seeking the Gold.

The BC since has been conducted at Churchill five times, and, in each case, the Classic favorite went down – in order Festin in 1991, Tabasco Cat in ’94, Skip Away in ’98, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and Bernardini in ’06.

Will Zenyatta, the oldest horse (6) in Saturday’s Classic as well as the only female, break that streak? The world awaits the answer. And we’ll get the answer early Saturday evening (the Classic will be run in the low ‘40s, and, for the first time, under lights).

At this point, all we know for sure is that, going into the first turn of the mile and a quarter race, Haynesfield will be first, and Zenyatta will be last.

From that point on, who’s to say what will happen?

The only sure thing is that, win or lose, Zenyatta will be the story. If she wins, she goes down in racing history as the greatest racemare ever, and conceivably the greatest racehorse period. If she loses, she will be demeaned by the know-it-alls and told-you-sos of the world.

Was the World Series an omen? Does the autumn of 2010 go down in history as the period when California ruled the sports world?

All I know is, like millions of others, I can’t wait to find out.

But let’s acknowledge that the Classic will be only one of eight Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, most of which probably will produce surprise winners, and monster payoffs in the gimmicks. That is why I will have four selections up and running in each BC race on the
John Piesen Hot Line.

Let’s take a look:

RACE FOUR

Who will be the favorite in the Juvenile Turf? The track oddsmaker makes Irish shipper Master of Hounds the 9-2 favorite, which gives you an idea of how wide-open the race is.

The Euros have been complaining all week that the firm grass will be unsuitable for their horses. So does that mean we can throw out Master of Hounds, Mantoba and Utley? My best guess would be no.

With the short run to the first turn, the outside horses – Rough Sailing, Humble and Hungry, and Pluck will be at a disadvantage.

Pluck, one of trainer Pletcher’s eleven BC runners, is no relation to the Pluck who chased Kelso several times in the mid-‘60s.

RACE FIVE

Which was the better prep for the BC Sprint? The Vosburgh or the Ancient Title?

Big Drama and Girolamo, the first two program choices, must overcome the treacherous inside posts. In his last six starts on a fast strip, all stakes, Big Drama has been no worse than second.

At least half the 12-horse field is speed so the chances are that the Sprint winner will come from off the pace. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Why does D. Wayne replace veteran Thompson with rookie Rosario on Hamazing Destiny?

Oh, brother! Javier Castellano replaces Abel Castellano on Pashito the Che.

This is first-time dirt for Kinsale King, a $1.5 million earner. Martin Garcia is 3-for-3 on KK – at 7-1, 9-1 and 61-1.

RACE SIX

At five furlongs, the Turf Sprint is the shortest race in the 26-year history of the Breeders’ Cup.

California Flag had the home-field advantage when he won this race wire-to-wire last year at Santa Anita at 6 ½ furlongs.

This is a rare BC grass race that does not include a single Euro.

For some reason, the late-running 7-year-old Silver Timber is the program choice at 4-1, but I have no idea who will actually go favored.

Rose Catherine, the only mare in the 14-horse field, is 5-for-5 going five panels on the green.

California Flag will have a rough time making the lead from the 12-hole.

RACE SEVEN

Uncle Mo will be a short price for Pletcher/Velazquez in the Juvenile, but this is his first time going two-turns. In the six previous Juveniles at Churchill, the winner was in front at the stretch call.

The two speeds coincidentally are J.B.’s Thunder and J P’s Gusto, both of whom are first-time dirt. If one of the two gets loose, he’ll be tough.

Boys At Toscanova, a 35K Keeneland yearling, is being touted by trainer Dutrow as the next Big Brown.

The winner will be the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but only one horse (Street Sense) has pulled off a Juvenile/Derby double.

Warning! Stay Thirsty, a 500K son of Bernardini, completes the Toddster’s uncoupled entry.

RACE EIGHT

Goldikova, winner of the Mile the last two years at Santa Anita, will seek to become the first three-time winner of a BC race. At 6-5 on the morning line, she is the shortest ML price in the 14 Cup races.

Goldy is facing a much stronger group than she handled last year when she won the Mile by a half-length from the 11-hole. This year she breaks from the 10-hole, meaning she may never see the rail.

The competition includes multiple Eclipse Award-winner Gio Ponti, Delegator, Proviso, and Paco Boy, who has twice been a close-up second to Goldy, whose connections fear firm ground.

Beethoven and Sidney’s Candy are the lone 3-year-olds in the field. Sidney may shake loose on the lead.

RACE NINE

Trainer Zito called an 11th-hour audible, switching Pennsylvania Derby winner Morning Line from the Classic to the Dirt Mile, and the morning-line man made Morning Line the 7-2 favorite. Cool Coal Man completes the uncoupled entry from Saint Nick.

Saeed bin Suroor runs a dangerous uncoupled entry in Gayego, who won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park one week aftyer Zenyatta won the first of her two Apple Blossoms, and Vineyard Haven, who was to have been Joe Torre’s Derby horse until VH was sold to
the Sheiks.

Here Comes Ben has won his last four, and is 3-1-1 from five starts at Churchill. Mad Flatter, Tizway exit big-number stakes scores.

Mike Smith is back on Mine That Bird, who returns to the scene of his greatest triumph. Trainer Lukas has to be running out of excuses.

First-time dirt for Crown of Thorns, who exits three Grade One placings on the Left Coast.

RACE TEN

By virtue of victories in the Arc and Epsom Derby, Workforce has banked $4.3 million from a mere five starts, and will go favored in the Turf. If Workforce should win the Turf, and Zenyatta gets beat 30 minutes later in the Classic, you could make a case for Workforce as Horse of the Year.

No kidding.

Behkabad had road problems closing for fourth to Workforce in the 20-horse Arc, and is 6-for-9 lifetime.

Dangerous Midge is first-time Dettori.

The Firestones can make headlines with Winchester for the first time in 30 years (see Genuine Risk).

RACE ELEVEN

When the Classic field was first printed in the New York Daily News, Zenyatta was listed. In bold type. That, boys and girls, is star power.

Now all Zenyatta (and jockey Smith) must do is to navigate around and/or through the deepest Classic field ever to attain her place with the racing Gods.

As mentioned above, Haynesfield will be in front early, And if Johnny V takes back on Quality Road , the New York-bred will take some catching.

Blame, Fly Down and Pleasant Prince are the only ones in the 12-horse field with a win over the track.

Chances are Lookin at Lucky will be wide throughout from the 12-hole.

Strange that jockey Borel, who owns Churchill Downs, is sitting it out.

Thank you for tuning in. Good luck in the Cup, and otherwise this weekend; check out the JPHL, and we’ll see you back here next Friday

18
Aug
19
Aug

Today’s Hot Plays