Classic: 'Best race that's ever been run' Breeders' Cup event headed to starting gate with 11 top horses

October 29, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The countdown begins.

Breeders' Cup officials announced yesterday that 117 horses had been pre-entered in the seven Breeders' Cup races Nov. at Churchill Downs. But the focus clearly was on the 11 in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"This may be the best race ever put into a starting gate," said D.G. Van Clief Jr., president of the Breeders' Cup.

Tom Meeker, president and CEO of Churchill Downs, was even more emphatic.

"Without a doubt," Meeker said, "the Classic is the best race that's ever been run -- at least at this juncture."

He meant at least on paper. Now the 11 horses pre-entered (meaning their owners paid the first of two $40,000 entry fees) must make it into the starting gate.

And the stellar 11 are: Skip Away, Silver Charm, Touch Gold, Awesome Again, Coronado's Quest, Gentlemen, Arch, Swain, Victory Gallop, Wagon Limit and Running Stag.

Mike Watchmaker, national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form, decreed Skip Away the 2-1 early favorite, followed closely by Silver Charm at 5-2.

In a development that will be widely unpopular with bettors, Touch Gold, Awesome Again and Coronado's Quest will be coupled in the wagering. Watchmaker tabbed the entry (meaning if you bet one, you get all three) at 4-1.

Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Baltimore County, is majority owner of Coronado's Quest. But Janice and Robert McNair's Stonerside Stable owns 25 percent.

Stonerside Stable also owns 25 percent of Touch Gold. Frank Stronach owns the other 75 percent. Stronach also owns Awesome Again. That convoluted connection means that the horses are linked by common ownership and, under the rules of racing, one betting interest.

Van Clief said the Breeders' Cup asked the Kentucky Racing Commission to consider letting the horses run as separate entries. But the commission declined.

Coronado's Quest, separately, would likely be at least 15-1. The 3-year-old colt won the Travers Stakes and Haskell Invitational Handicap against horses his own age. But when he challenged older horses for the first time in the Woodward Stakes, he finished last.

The horse who won the Woodward, Skip Away, and the horse he's never met, Silver Charm, will attract most of the attention during the buildup to horse racing's richest day.

Sonny Hine, trainer of Skip Away, and Bob Baffert, trainer of Silver Charm, have waged a war of words over whose horse is better, who's been ducking whom, and which one should be Horse of the Year.

Yesterday, both trainers were subdued.

Hine said Skip Away's right front ankle, swollen after his loss Oct. 10 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, has not bothered the horse or compromised his training.

"The fact we got beat gave everybody a lot of hope," Hine said. "But I'm taking Skippy down there ready to run."

Baffert said Silver Charm is in the best shape of his career. The gray 4-year-old won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year, and then captured the $4 million Dubai World Cup in March. But after returning from the Middle East, Silver Charm tailed off this summer.

"I'm glad we're finally going to meet Skip Away when my horse is back on his game," Baffert said.

Here are Watchmaker's odds for the rest of the Classic field: Gentlemen 8-1 (Gentlemen was cross-entered in the Mile), Arch 10-1, Swain 10-1, Victory Gallop 15-1, Wagon Limit 20-1, Running Stag 30-1.

The pre-entries included 23 European horses.

Michael Dickinson, who trains at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, conditions Da Hoss, 15-1 in the Mile, and Cetewayo, 12-1 in the Turf.

Lemon Drop Kid is 5-1 in the Juvenile. He is owned by Jeanne "Jinny" Vance, who lives in Sparks. The Maryland-bred Partner's Hero is 15-1 in the Sprint. And the 20-1 Millions, trained by Leon Blusiewicz at Pimlico, is the 15th entry in the Juvenile, meaning that he'll break into the 14-horse field if one of the entrants drops out.

The other early favorites: Affirmed Success at 2-1 in the Sprint, Sharp Cat at even money in the Distaff, the five horses trained by D. Wayne Lukas (Cat Thief, Mountain Range, Tactical Cat, Time Bandit and Yes It's True) at 2-1 in the Juvenile, and Excellent Meeting at 5-2 in the Juvenile Fillies.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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