Oct 15, 2010
THRU THE BINOCULARS
By: John Piesen
LOOKING AT THE CLASSIC
The entire free world and beyond will be cheering and wagering on Zenyatta on Nov. 6 In her farewell race in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
That’s as much a lock as we’ll get to see in our lifetime.
You know the story. A charismatic mare who has won all 19 of her starts, 15 of them grade ones. It seems that in at least half of those races, she was so far back that she looked to have no chance…but she always managed to get there, and then lead the cheers for her adoring fans.
Despite her unblemished record, her charisma and her style, Zenyatta was short-changed for Horse of the Year back-to-back, losing out to Curlin in ’08, and Rachel Alexandra in ‘09. You can’t rewrite the past, but if – and that’s always a big if – she’ll get HOY this time, assuming she wins the Classic.
But if she’s does not, you can bet your first-born that my colleagues in the media will stonewall her agin and cast their votes for the BC Classic winner.
Zenyatta will be odds-on in the Classic but she’ll still have to get around the racetrack, and overtake 13 talented male rivals to do so. As we said, rooting for her in the Classic is a lock. Winning the race is not.
No doubt this will be the deepest field Zenyatta will ever face, at least a dozen lengths better than the two groups she beat in the Apple Blossom, and the field she beat in the ’09 Breeders’ Cup Classic when her main rival was a grass horse (Gio Ponti).
This time the Big Z (and jockey Smith) can not afford any mistakes if she is to beat the likes of Quality Road, Blame, Lookin at Lucky and Haynesfield, among others.
The “among others” includes a pair of horses you may have never heard of…for sure at least one.
They are Espoir City from the country of Japan…and Morning Line from the city of Saratoga Springs.
If you want to knock off Zenyatta, and grab bragging rights for a century (or if you’re just trying to fill out tris and supers), these two well may be the way to go.
Espoir City is by far the best Japanese horse to come to the Breeders’ Cup. Of course, there were only two before him – Casino Drive (12th in ’08) and Personal Rush (sixth in ’04).
Espoir City is a mere 11 of 20 overall, but is 10-for-13 on natural dirt, on which he will be running at Churchill. The 5-year-old scored his biggest career win last Fall in the Japan Cup Dirt, his connections then made the rather long journey to Louisville to reconnoiter the area, and EC was given the summer off in order to go into the Classic a fresh horse. Off the layoff, he was a fast-closing second last month in a mile prep run in 1:34.
Espoir City is a grandson of Sunday Silence, the ‘89 BC Classic winner at Gulfstream Park, Horse of the Year, and later a premier stallion in Japan.
Like grandfather, like son?
The trainer is Akio Adachi, and the rider is Tetsuko Sato. Maybe not big names in the United States, but they are big deals in Japan. Kind of the Pletcher/Johnny V of the Far East.
You can be sure that Adachi and Sato, through their interpreters, are saying nice things about Espoir City.
Hey, who knows?
Maybe we’ll be saying nice things about Espoir City on the morning of Nov. 8.
And mention of Johnny V brings us to Morning Line.
They ran the $1 million Pennslyvania Derby at Philadelphia Park, and it was as big a secret as we get in racing.
The race was run at 6:30 p.m., there was no TV, maybe a couple of hundred folks left their seats at the slot machines to watch the race. And, for that matter, it really wasn’t Philadelphia Park. It was and is something called Parx Racing!
But they went ahead and ran the race. Morning Line gamely came again to pass Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm in mid-stretch, and held off the late challenge of First Dude, who had hit the board in all three Triple Crown races and the Haskell.
Morning Line raced the nine furlongs in a lively 1:47 2/5, and earned a 103 Beyer number. Pretty heady stuff.
A check of the Form showed that Morning Line is a $700,000 son of two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow trained (at Saratoga) by Nick Zito, and ridden by John Velazquez, who gave up his closing-day business at Saratoga for the call. Fortunately for John, he already had the Spa riding title wrapped up.
Although the Pennsylvania Derby was Morning Line’s first stake, and the competition, as you can see, was first-rate, Morning Line, thanks to his high-profile connections, went off a solid third choice in the field of nine.
And that was the world’s introduction to Morning Line.
After the van trip back to the Spa, Zito declared that Morning Line will head for the BC Classic. After all, this isn’t Zito’s first late-developing 3-year-old. There was Albert the Great, who was fourth (to Tiznow) in the 2001 Classic at Belmont.
There’s only one problem. Morning Line will need a new rider since Johnny V. of course will be up and aboard ride Quality Road for main man Pletcher in the Classic.
Saint Nick in fact may run two in the Classic. There also is Fly Down, a hard-luck second in the Belmont and Travers, and fresh from a no-chance third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Wouldn’t Fly Down vs. Morning Line be an interesting one-on-one BC proposition?
Pick ‘em would sound about right.
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As for Zenyatta, she looked her usual self working five-eighths in company on Thursday at Hollywood Park. This was her first work since Oct. 2 when she won the Lady’s Secret Stakes by a half-length at Hollywood on Oct. 2. to spike her record to 19-for-19.
With Smith aboard, Zenyatta covered the five panels in 1:02 3/5, just about normal for the wondermare.
“She never got out of second gear, a nice work for her first one back,” said trainer Shirreffs. “It was just to get her focus back on a routine. It’s not how fast. It’s about getting back to work, and letting her know that another work will be coming. It’s about getting the proper spacing.”
Sherriffs said that Zenyatta will work again on Oct. 22 and Oct. 30 at Hollywood, and then ship to Churchill by air on Nov. 2. He will be at Keeneland on Saturday to saddle Harmonius for the $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
In her last start, in the Del Mar Oaks on Aug 21, Harmonious closed fastest and widest for second to Evening Jewel, who will be favored in the grade one, to be run at nine furlongs on the grass.
Jockey Rosario replaces Smith on Harmonious, while Espinosa will occupy his usual seat aboard Evening Jewel, who has been no worse than second (4-3-0) in her seven starts this year, all grade ones and grade twos.
Check the Label and Snow Top Mountain, exiting a one-two finish in the Garden City at Belmont Park, will be major players under Dominguez and Albarado, respectively.
Dade Babe, once a quarter-claimer for trainer George Handy, figures to be loose on the lead.
Since not even Dominguez can be in two places at the same time, he must surrender the mount on Strike the Bell (to Solis) for the Belmont feature, the $100,000 Athenia for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, a grade three.
Good luck this weekend. Don’t forget to check out the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) for my selections, and we’ll see you back here next Friday.
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