|Goldikova, three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner|
Photo by Mary Cage
Entering the Breeders’ Cup off of a brilliant three-race winning streak that includes two grade one victories, this handsome chestnut gelding looks to be an intimidating force in the penultimate Breeders’ Cup event of 2012. Wise Dan concluded his 2011 campaign – in which he began to remarkably improve late in the season – with a win in the Clark Handicap (GI) over a nine-furlong journey on Churchill Downs’ dirt oval.
He commenced 2012 with a 10 ½-length romp over Keeneland’s synthetic track in the nine-furlong Ben Ali Stakes (GIII), setting a new track record prior to falling a head short behind Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) contender Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) over Churchill’s dirt. But that photo finish marked the only defeat Wise Dan has suffered this year.
The brilliant gelding returned to the turf – a surface over which he had not raced since a fourth-place finish in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (GI) – in the Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga. In the one-mile contest, the son of Wiseman’s Ferry overcame an array of trouble – including a yielding turf course and hitting the gate at the start – galloped to a 5-length victory. A month later, Wise Dan recorded his initial grade one victory of the season, overpowering eight rivals to take the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (GI) by an impressive 3 ¼ lengths. Three weeks later came his paid workout in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes at Keeneland, which resulted in an effortless 2 ¼-length triumph.
Despite the contingent of talented Thoroughbred titans lining up to face Wise Dan in the Mile, it is difficult to imagine this brilliant specimen suffering a defeat. He has proven to be among the best horses in the world this year and has been traveling along a continuous road of improvement. He has his work cut out for him, but Wise Dan will take on all rivals with his intimidating prowess and will not give up without a fight.
With a race record marred due to the disadvantage of being born in the same year as the great Frankel, Excelebration possesses many losses that could be victories had he not had to face the legendary Sir Henry Cecil trainee. The son of Exceed and Excel began 2012 with an easy win in the Big Bad Bob Gladness Stakes (GIII) over soft going at the Curragh. In his next two outings, however, the four-year-old faced Frankel, finishing second to him on both occasions in a pair of separate group ones.
Excelebration escaped from the shadow of Frankel next out in the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard (GI), racing one mile over good going at Deauville to defeat the high-rated miler Cityscape by 1 ¼ lengths. A half hour before the final start of Frankel’s career, Excelebration again conquered Cityscape – who had just returned from Canada, where he’d been trounced by Wise Dan. This time, Excelebration left Cityscape 3 lengths behind to take the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (GI) at Ascot.
Excelebration – who has come within 2 ¼ lengths of Frankel – will be very intimidating in the Mile. One of the best milers in the world, it will be interesting to see how this Irish-bred colt fares against Wise Dan. Both horses have conquered Cityscape, but what lies in store for them on November 3?
Trained by Freddy Head – the same man who not only trained Goldikova to three Mile victories, but rode the great mare Miesque to a pair of triumphs in the Mile – this George Strawbridge-owned filly began her 2012 campaign in June, capturing the Prix du Palais-Royal (GIII) by two lengths. Then she really made a scene. In Black Caviar’s first start outside of Australia, the undefeated mare traveled to Royal Ascot for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (GI). In her closest call yet, Black Caviar conquered the race by just a head. Who was the Thoroughbred that came within inches of defeating of the Wonder from Down Under? Moonlight Cloud.
Following a romp in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (GI), Moonlight Cloud finished fourth behind Excelebration and Cityscape at Deauville. She returned to her winning ways next out, however, defeating Farhh – who finished second to Frankel on two occasions – by a head in the Qatar Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (GI). This was the same race Goldikova won prior to her first triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Having been defeated by Excelebration before – as well as Cityscape, who was defeated by both Excelebration and Wise Dan – it appears to be difficult for Moonlight Cloud to overtake these superstars. But if anyone knows how to prepare a horse for the Mile, it’s Freddy Head. After all, this is a talented, group one-winning filly with the talent to be a competitive rival at the Breeders’ Cup.
This colt is without a doubt a gifted athlete. He is, after all, a Kentucky Derby winner, having conquered the 2011 Run for the Roses. However, as a result of recurring injury, Animal Kingdom has only started once since his Triple Crown adventures. That one start, however, was an easy victory going a mile and one-sixteenth over the turf.
This win came in February of this year in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. By an effortless two lengths, the champion colt defeated two graded stakes-placed runners and a multiple black-type winner. Though a very capable colt, it will be very difficult for Animal Kingdom to come off a long layoff in a race in which he will have to face some of the best horses in the world. However, as a classic-winning champion trained by one of the best conditioners in the nation, Animal Kingdom will pose as an imposing threat in the Mile. Another thing Animal Kingdom has on his side is history: Da Hoss won the 1998 Mile for his second victory in the Breeders’ Cup race despite having raced only once that year.
An Irish-bred gelding, Obviously has made the majority of his starts in southern California. Though talented, he began 2012 on a rather average note, but has rounded into top form. Beginning the year with several decent finishes in allowance and ungraded stakes events, including two victories, Obviously made his graded stakes debut in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (GII), in which he held off Mr. Commons by a nose.
Aside from the talented Joe Talamo, the best thing Obviously has going for him is a win with the same conditions as the Breeders’ Cup Mile: a one-mile journey over Santa Anita’s turf course. This came in his victory in the Arroyo Seco Mile Stakes (GII). Altogether, however, this gelding has faced rather weak fields throughout his career compared to the top competitors in this race. Though one of the top entrants in this race, I do not envision him capturing the win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Despite the win-lose-win pattern Little Mike has strung together this year, I do not picture him winning the Mile. Nonetheless, he is a hard-trying, gifted horse with three wins already to his credit this year, including two grade ones, one of which is the renowned Arlington Million Stakes (GI).
I view his last race, a fifth-place finish in the mile and one-half Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI), as one through which a line can be drawn. It was a stamina test for this gelding, who is suited to distances below twelve furlongs, as well as a taxing journey over a yielding turf course. I feel Little Mike will much rather prefer the one-mile distance of this event. Nonetheless, he has a difficult task ahead.
A horse that has raced many times at Santa Anita, Jeranimo only has one win this year, but has not finished worse than fourth in any of his five starts in 2012. That lone victory came in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI) at Hollywood Park, in which he won by 1 ¼ lengths. He has been rather consistent this year and though I do not expect for him to find the winner’s circle on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, for him to run well would not be shocking.
A son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, Mr. Commons has not scored a victory since February. However, that came in the Arcadia Stakes (GII), which is a one-mile event over Santa Anita’s turf course. The colt – whose worst finish this year was a fourth in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI) – has never finished out of the money over Santa Anita’s turf course, clearly having an affinity for the grass oval at the Arcadia, California track. This will be a difficult test for him, but I certainly have faith that he will run well.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile truly appears to be one of the best races of this year’s Breeders’ Cup and is unquestionably one of the races I am most looking forward to. I view Wise Dan as the most intimidating contender, though Excelebration does serve as a great threat for the brilliant gelding. Moonlight Cloud and Animal Kingdom round out the horses I view as the top four contenders, but this is altogether a very tough field. Goldikova will be missed, but this year’s Mile will surely be an exciting contest.