Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM
FAST FORWARDBy John Piesen
As a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates’ fan, I’ll never forget a quote from John Galbreath, who, back in the day, owned the Pirates and Darby Dan Stable, one of the big-time racing operations in racing.
Moments after the Pirates beat the Yankees in game seven of the 1970 World Series, a baseball writer asked Galbreath a very simple question, one which always elicits an obvious response:
"Is this the biggest thrill of your career?"
"Not quite, young man," Galbreath replied, "...winning the Kentucky Derby (with Chateaugay) is the biggest thrill of my career."
Fast forward to 2013, and we have a similar situation. Joe Torre won four world championships as manager of the Yankees, a great feat indeed. But, as co-owner of Game On Dude, he’s heading into Galbreath territory.
Game On Dude, going better than ever at age 6, can complete a perfect seven-for-seven season, and clinch Horse of the Year if he wins the $5 Breeders’ Cup Classic a week from Saturday at Santa Anita.
If Dude does so, that will be Manager Torre whooping it up in the winner’s circle, and, who knows, he might even tell the media masses that "this is the biggest thrill of my career."
If only it were that easy.
The Dude was supposed to win the Classic last year. But he missed the break, and checked in seventh, beaten 15 lengths, as the 6-5 favorite.
Trainer Bob Baffert reacted by firing jockey Rafael Bejarano, hiring Mike Smith, and the Dude responded by winning six straight stakes -- three grade ones, two grade twos and one grade three -- to become top dog in all the polls. But this is horse racing we’re talking about, and, if the Dude gets beat this time, at a projected 3-5, the celebration will turn into a wake.
Can the Dude lose? Game On.And, as is my wont, I’m going to try to beat him on the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888 612 2283 and on my various Breeders’ Cup phone specials, a bargain for the price. Those specials are also available RIGHT NOW on www.johnpiesen.com!
There will be 15 Cup races (down one from last year) next weekend, five on Friday, nine on Saturday. Other than the Distaff, Friday’s finale, the only race that draws the buzz is the Classic.
Last year’s Classic was a ho-hummer as Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man raced one-two every step of the mile and a quarter racetrack. There was an obvious speed bias a year ago, but no such bias exists this year, and we can expect a more compelling race with the closers actually having a chance. If, under such conditions, Game On Dude breaks well and goes wire to wire, more power to him, and kudos to Torre, Baffert and Smith.
But, and it’s a big but, that mile and a quarter is a bit more than the Dude likes to go. His resume says it all.
The Dude is 5-for-11 at a mile and a quarter, 10-for-16 otherwise, meaning shorter races. And unlike his earlier races this year, when he held a huge class advantage, the Classic is loaded with talent, and it’s reasonable to assume that the Due won’t get a breather. A fast, guaranteed pace makes the Dude vulnerable, and among those in a position to take advantage, are the three very talented 3-year-olds -- Will Take Charge, Palace Malice and Moreno.
This makes Todd Pletcher (who else?) a key player. Despite losing Smith to Game On Dude, Palace Malice remains a major force in the Classic.
Just look at the Pletcher-trained colt’s last four races: decisive victories in the Belmont and Jim Dandy, a fourth in the Travers, beaten less than a length, with a horrible trip, and a second to the rail-skimming Ron the Greek in the mile and a quarter Jockey Club Gold Cup, a perfect prep for the Cup.
Now it gets really sticky.
The Toddster also plans to run Graydar, a confirmed speedball, in the Classic. Under normal conditions, using such an accomplished horse as Graydar (five-for-six lifetime) as a rabbit would be considered pure folly. But we are talking the richest race in North America...and Todd Pletcher, among his many charms, is ruthless.
Just last Wednesday at Belmont, for instance, he scratched the 3-5 favorite from a stake, and won the race with a filly who was the 12-1 rank outsider on the ML. Hey, maybe Todd thinks he can win the Classic with Graydar. Then again, Graydar can at least grab Game On Dude at the start, and bury him in :22 and :44 fractions to set up the race for stablemate Palace Malice.
Mr. Torre, consider yourself warned.
Like Pletcher, trainer Bill Mott is running two in the Classic...and like Pletcher, both Mott entries can rumble.
Flat Out and Ron the Greek both have experienced winning grade ones at a mile and a quarter, and, even at ages 7 and 6. respectively, both are major players.
Flat Out was too close to the pace when finishing third to Ron the Greek in the Gold Cup, gets a jockey change to Joel Rosario for the Classic, and figures to come running at the end.
So does Ron the Greek, who won the Santa Anita Handicap last year at the Classic distance.
And the Greek will be about the same price as the 21-1 he was when he won the Gold Cup.
If the Dude wins, he’s Horse of the Year hands down.
If he should lose, and Wise Dan wins the Mile Turf, in which indeed he should be 3-5, he would get a second straight HOY - a grave injustice.
And, if Dude and Dan both should lose, then the Toddster gets his first HOY with Princess Sylmar if she should win the Distaff. Simple enough for folks who care about such things.
But, if all three should lose, then it would take James Bond to figure things out...and he would probably be too busy to worry about it.
Speaking of the Distaff, it drew only six fillies, making it the shortest field in the 29-year history of the Breeders’ Cup.
Most experts see the race as a rematch of Princess Sylmar and Royal Delta, the two-time defending champion.
Both are super-quality fillies (well, Royal Delta actually is a mare), but don’t overlook Beholder. She’s the main speed with jockey Gary Stevens, and she’s five-for-six over the track, including a front-end upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year.
And, once again, we are looking at the possibility of a Pletcher rabbit. Authenticity would guarantee a speed duel, setting up the race for the Princess.
Unfortunately, Calvin Borel will be missing from this Breeders’ Cup. In case you missed it, Borel sustained a broken leg in a catastrophic spill Wednesday at Keeneland, and will be out indefinitely.
God speed, Calvin. Thanks for tuning in. Go Steelers, see you back here next next Friday for a final look at the Breeders’ Cup, and don’t forget 1-888-612-2283 or www.johnpiesen.com.
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