For five months, trainer Carl Nafzger has been waiting for Unbridled to trample the critics who said his horse was simply lucky to win the Kentucky Derby. Today, in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic, Unbridled will get one last chance, ironically on the same track, Belmont, where his season began coming apart.
"I never realized how much the Triple Crown can take out of a horse until we started training after the Belmont," said Nafzger, whose horse had won the Derby, finished second at the Preakness and fourth at Belmont _ 13 lengths out of the lead. "It took him a long time to regain his strength.
"But he's ready. He's coming into this race much more mature. He's filled out now. We've got as good a chance as anyone."
That almost every horse has a chance is the underlying theme in this year's Classic, which is the seventh and final race on Breeders' Cup Day. Racing begins at 1:30 p.m.. The weather forecast is for some wind, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s.
"Last year, this was a two-horse race between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence," said Shug McGaughey, who trains Rhythm. "This time it will be different. I would suspect that we will see a lot of shuffling around over the course of the race."
McGaughey was confident, almost cocky, in his forecast, especially after Dispersal, an early speed horse, had drawn the No.
12 position in the 14-horse field. That meant that Dispersal would have much more ground to cover than other horses closer to the rail, since the start will be on the clubhouse turn. Nevertheless, Dispersal's trainer, Bud Delp, saw a positive side to his predicament.
"I want my colt to break real clean, which really shouldn't be much of a problem since the other horses out there aren't speed horses," said Delp. "If he loses ground, okay. Just as long as he is only two or three lengths out of the lead."
One favorite that won't be in any hurry to dictate the pace is Rhythm at the No.
"The last few races we've been laying back and he's been real effective," said jockey Craig Perret. "I really expect a big race from him."
Aside from their own horses, both Nafzger and McGaughey liked the Canadian Triple Crown winner Izvestia on the rail and Flying Continental at No.
Many of the horses that failed to make the Classic field will be entered in the $2-million Turf. Among the favorites are Saumarez (co-owned by hockey star Wayne Gretzky), With Approval and Colchis Island.
Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lucas will have two entries (Fire In Ice and Deposit Ticket) in the $1-million Juvenile, which is for 2-year-old colts. But the favorites are Fly So Free and Best Pal.
Both the Turf and Juvenile could be overshadowed by the $1-million Distaff, for fillies 3-years-old and up, and the Juvenile Fillies, another $1-million race.
In the Distaff, Go For Wand is chasing Horse of the Year honors. But the other half of what is expected to be a two-horse race is the formidable Argentine-bred Bayakoa, which won the Distaff last year.
In the Juvenile Fillies, Meadow Star, trained by Leroy Jolly, is the prohibitive favorite. A victory could be a springboard for the Kentucky Derby. In the other two $1-million races, Dayjur is favored in the Sprint, and Distant Relative is the favorite in the Mile.
BAUER'S BREEDERS' CUP PICKS
These are the selections of free-lance handicapper Bob Bauer for today's Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park. The horses are listed in order of preference.
SPRINT: Corwyn Bay: California-based sprinter is lightly raced and has won both his races this year; rates the call in a wide open affair. Dancing Spree: Can nail the speed. Won this race last year. Veteran jockey Angel Cordero Jr. returns. Dayjur British invader has won three Grade I stakes in a row. He tries dirt racing for the first time; his breeding suggests he can make the switch.
JUVENILE FILLIES: Meadow Star: Sensational 2-year-old is 6-for-6 lifetime and appears to be the best. Garden Gal: Finished second to Meadow Star twice in stakes at Saratoga. Light Lite: Won the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita wire-to-wire. Should be a factor.
DISTAFF: Go For Wand: The horse to beat; whipped older fillies and mares by 4} lengths in record time in Beldame Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 6. Bayakoa: Won this race at Gulfstream last year. Owners are paying $200,000 supplemental fee to enter. A dangerous rival.
MILE (TURF): Priolo: European star has been freshened for this and is fit and ready. Trainer Francois Boutin and jockey Cash Assmussen know how to win on the grass. Expensive Decision: Set world record for a mile at Belmont Park in the Kelso Handicap over a hard turf course. Today's going may be softer than he likes. Royal Academy: Has upset chance. Veteran British jockey Lester Piggot rides.
JUVENILE: Deposit Ticket/Fire In Ice entry: D. Wayne Lukas trained pair can be double trouble. Best Pal: Has won five of six starts. His connections have put up $120,000 supplemental entry fee. Don't ignore. Fly So Free: Won the Grade I Champagne Stakes by more than five lengths earlier this month. A contender.
TURF: Saumarez: The one to beat; scored impressively in the Arc de Triomphe, one of Europe's premier events.. Cacoethes: A speedy threat. Was a front-running winner in the Belmont Turf Classic earlier this month. French Glory: Packs a powerful closing punch. A threat if the leaders fall apart in the stretch.
CLASSIC: Flying Continental: Scored handily in the Jockey Gold Cup over the Belmont Oval. The choice in a very competitive event. Go And Go: Irish invader romped in Belmont Stakes, had problems in Saratoga. Can make amends for Travers Stakes disappointment. Dispersal: Has Won five straight races. Was injured in victory in Woodward Handicap. Appears fit. Draws tough outside post.
BOB'S BEST BET: Meadow Star (Juvenile Fillies).