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Nov 04, 2005



As you may recall, last Friday's Breeders' Cup preview in this space focused on jockeys Garrett Gomez and Edgar Prado. As it developed, Gomez and Prado combined to win four of the first five Breeders' Cup races, and the Sprint exacta.

After Prado won the Sprint on Silver Train, a Breeders' Cup person dropped off a Shoemaker Award ballot at my desk in the press box. The Shoemaker Award goes annually to the outstanding rider of the Breeders' Cup.

I wasted no time writing down Prado's name. But a half-hour later, following the Mile, I crossed out Prado's name, and wrote down Gomez.

In the post-race coverage of Cup Day, the Garrett Gomez story has dominated. How he spent 40 days in prison on drug charges, how he lost his family because of his drug addiction, how he was banned from racing for two years.and how he has been back riding only two months, and won his first two Breeders' Cup races.

It's a great story, and now Garrett Gomez is sitting on the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Even if Stevie Wonderboy doesn't make it to the Derby, or if he makes it and becomes the 22nd straight BC Juvenile winner to not win the Derby, Gomez and Stevie will be racing's biggest story in the winter and spring of 2006.

Presumably, trainer O'Neill won't find it necessary to build a cage around his barn at Churchill.

As for the 2005 Breeders' Cup overall, I found it a terrible letdown. No Afleet Alex. No Ghostzapper. No Giacomo. No Bellamy Road. No Roses in May. No Rockport Harbor. No Kitten's Joy. No Powerscourt. No Arc winner. And, finally, No Rock Hard Ten.

Then at mid-day, it was announced to the public that Leroidesanimaux, the Mile favorite, would be wearing aluminum shoes, obviously to protect sore feet..To hell with the public, who had been betting the Breeders' Cup for 24 hours. To hell with the public handicappers, 80 per cent of whom had picked Leroy. And to hell with the integrity of the game.

Then, as the day wore on, and an announced crowd of 54,000 tried their best to stay warm (I say announced because a police sergeant, who has been working Belmont for 30 years, told me the crowd was 35,000), the oats hit the fan.

In the Juvenile Fillies, Wild Fit was far and away the best horse. But she got a terrible ride, and settled for second to Folklore.

You read it here that Folklore won't beat Wild Fit with a 20-yard head start when they start going two-turns next year.

Then the chalk hit the fan. First Samurai, who was hyped as the best 2-year-old since Gallant Fox, went down. Ouija Board went down as jockey Bejarano stole the race with Intercontinental. Then, of course, Lost in the Fog, the star of the show, got wiped out at the break, and was done. Leroy ran huge on his sore feet, but he too went down. And Shakespeare by any other name went down.

Can you believe that there was $4.7 million in the Pick Six pool, and nary a ticket alive going into the Classic. And that includes one $97,000 ticket that didn't make it past the first leg (Intercontinental).

Yes, the Classic.

It was the weakest Classic field in the history of the Breeders' Cup, made weaker when Rock Hard Ten was scratched the day before. Only two horses - Saint Liam and Borrego - took action, and Borrego, favored through most of the wagering, never ran a lick.

That left Saint Liam, and he was all out to get by the 3-year-old Flower Alley in deep stretch. Perfect Drift, who has won all of two races in two years, finished third. Starcraft, an $800,000 supplemental, and the most hyped horse of the lot, was awful.

Saint Liam thus became jockey Bailey's fifth (and last?) Classic winner, and will be the ninth Classic winner to get Horse of the Year. It's interesting that Saint Liam and Afleet Alex finish the year with the same 4-for-6 record.

And, hold just a minute.

What if Saint Liam had made a mistake, and Flower Alley won the Classic. That would have made Flower Alley 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year, although Afleet Alex beat him a combined 15 lengths in the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbys.

And what's a Belmont Breeders' Cup without tragedy. Although Funfair may have lacked the charisma of Go For Wand, his fatal breakdown in the Mile was equally tragic.

And Wildcat Heir, the second choice in the Sprint, stumbled and fell in upper stretch, pitching jockey Elliott to the ground. Fortunately, in this case, neither horse nor rider were injured, but it was a painful reminder of Elliott's bad karma at Belmont Park.

Then there was an incident early in the day.

Jockey Court gave up an entire Santa Anita card to fly to New York to ride Gotaghostofachance in the first race, the Sport Page. But Court's flight was delayed four hours, and Jon barely made it to Belmont in time.

Court won the race on Gotaghostofachance, his first-ever New York stakes win. The horse paid $12.20. Can you imagine how shorter he would been if the public had known what Court went through to get there?

Despite his winner, Court was one the two saddest guys in the jocks' room. After all, he was 4-for-4 on Leroy.only to get fired by trainer Frankel when John Velazquez became available. Who knows? Maybe Leroy would have won if Court had been in the saddle.

The other sad face belonged to old friend Rich Migliore.

The Mig sustained a broken leg in a paddock mishap at Belmont two weeks to the Breeders' Cup, and was forced to give up the BC mount on Artie Schiller (to Gomez).

Hobbling on crutches, the Mig visited friends in the jocks' room on Cup Day, and did a brief sound bite for NBC. Then he left the track.

"I can't bear to watch," Mig told me. "I know Artie's gonna win."

And that's two straight years broken bones forced the Mig to miss the Breeders' Cup.

Finally, of the top ten riders in Breeders' Cup history, only Bailey won a race Saturday. Day, McCarron and Pincay are retired, and the other six Top Ten riders - Stevens, Smith, Solis, Santos, Nakatani and Valenzuela - went a combined 0-for-20 on Saturday.

Obviously, the torch has been passed to a new wave of riders - Gomez, Prado and Bejarano.

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