Trainers split on doubling in Juvenile, Derby

Some say Cup race effort hurts chances in Kentucky

Horse Racing

October 22, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - As soon as Silver Wagon captured the Hopeful and Birdstone won the Champagne - two prestigious stakes for 2-year-olds - their owners and trainers announced that the horses would skip the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

They said they believed a push to win the Juvenile on Saturday at Santa Anita Park would jeopardize their horses' chance of winning the Kentucky Derby next spring.

As Nick Zito, trainer of Birdstone, said to reporters in the Champagne winner's circle: "I want those phone calls in the spring. I want you guys bugging the you-know-what out of me."

Two other top 2-year-olds, Eurosilver and Ruler's Court, are also passing the Juvenile. And last year, Funny Cide skipped the Breeders' Cup after his trainer, Barclay Tagg, told the gelding's owners: We can try to win the Breeders' Cup or we can try to win the Kentucky Derby - but not both; that would be too much.

A no-show in the Breeders' Cup, Funny Cide, of course, won not only the Kentucky Derby but also the Preakness.

In the first 19 renewals of the Breeders' Cup, no winner of the Juvenile, which is restricted to 2-year-olds, has also won the Kentucky Derby, which is restricted to 3-year-olds.

This so-called jinx has become a concern because top 2-year-olds have begun avoiding the Juvenile, threatening to diminish what is the premier showcase of the fastest young horses in the world.

Tagg and fellow trainers Ralph Ziadie (Silver Wagon) and John Ward (Monarchos, Sky Mesa) say that the stress of getting a 2-year-old to the Breeders' Cup is too great on horses they refer to as babies.

"It's just very, very hard on a young horse, especially if you want to get a campaign out of them next year," Tagg said. "I don't think they're mature enough, mentally or physically, to take the beating."

Sky Mesa would have been favored in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year at Arlington Park, but he missed the race after wrenching an ankle a couple of days before.

Ward had managed Sky Mesa carefully through three races, all wins, leading to the Breeders' Cup, trying to conserve the horse for the challenge of the Juvenile as well as the rigors of the Triple Crown.

Still, Ward said last year to anyone who would listen that he thought the 1 1/8 miles of the Juvenile was too demanding for a young horse. The Juvenile is usually 1 1/16 miles; it was longer last year because of the configuration of Arlington.

Even 1 1/16 miles is too far, Ward said. Tagg and Ziadie concur. They said the Juvenile should be a mile at the longest, maybe even seven furlongs (seven-eighths of a mile).

"A 2-year-old has to run over the top to win the Breeders' Cup," Ward said. "He has to run such a big effort that it knocks him out, physically and mentally. The only way to have your cake and eat it, too, is to reduce the pressure on the animal in the Breeders' Cup."

Michael Veitch, a reporter for the Saratogian in New York, calculated that of the 230 horses in the 19 Breeders' Cup Juveniles, only 51, or 22 percent, made it to the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby.

Of the 13 starters in last year's Juvenile, none competed in the Derby, although Wando, 12th in the Juvenile, swept the Canadian Triple Crown.

As counterpoints to Tagg, Ziadie and Ward, trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, the most successful active Triple Crown trainers, strenuously disagree.

"I don't buy into that at all," Lukas said. "I don't think the Breeders' Cup has any bearing on the Kentucky Derby as far as the same horse winning both races. There are too many variables involved."

The main one, Lukas said, is that a 2-year-old who can win the Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles, where speed and precocity are paramount, usually bears little resemblance to a 3-year-old who can win the Kentucky Derby, where stamina and seasoning are most important.

Lukas said that of his five Juvenile winners, only Timber Country was cut out for the Derby. Timber Country finished third in the Derby in 1995, then won the Preakness two weeks later.

Although not trained by Lukas, Chief's Crown, winner of the inaugural Juvenile in 1984, also finished third in the Derby the next year.

If you consider Juvenile starters who did not win, then the race has produced 13 horses who finished first, second or third in the Derby, as well as six who won the Preakness and eight who won the Belmont.

Lukas described the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a "career-making race," and statistics bear him out. Of the 19 Juvenile winners, 15 have been voted Eclipse awards as champion 2-year-olds and become instant stallion prospects.

Baffert won the Juvenile with Vindication last year and just missed by a nose with Point Given in 2000. He's won three Kentucky Derbies.

Baffert said you can examine the statistics, and you can consider the jinx. But what you'd better do, he said, is run your horse when he's ready and not look too far into the future.

"You can outsmart yourself in this business," Baffert said. "If your horse is doing great, you'd better run him when you can run him. If you skip the Breeders' Cup and he gets hurt between now and the Derby, then he'll be just another $2,500 stud fee somewhere."

At a glance

What: Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships

Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.

When: Saturday

Feature race: $4 million Classic

TV: Chs. 11, 4, 1-6 p.m.

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