Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Preakness winner Curlin and leading older horse Lawyer Ron top a star-studded field for today's $5 million Classic at Monmouth Park, a race that will determine Horse of the Year honors.
"The great thing about this Classic is everybody involved in championship honors is here," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has two of the nine horses in the Classic, favorite Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday.
"What better place to decide it than right here on the racetrack."
The first two-day Breeders' Cup, featuring 11 races worth $23 million, began Friday with three new races. The eight traditional races are today, highlighted by the 12-mile Classic (5:35 p.m. post time).
Wet weather is in the forecast and could be a factor. It rained Friday, and the main track was listed muddy and the turf course good.
"There are so many types of wet tracks, we'll just have to wait and see what it's like," Pletcher said.
Twice before in the 24-year history of the Breeders' Cup has the track come up muddy, the most recent at Belmont Park in 1995, when Cigar won the first of his two Classics.
Lawyer Ron, with victories in the Whitney and the Woodward, and Haskell winner Any Given Saturday should handle a wet track, Pletcher said. Street Sense jockey Calvin Borel says "the more it rains the better he'll like it."
Curlin, who defeated Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Goodwood winner Tiago, have never run on a wet track, while Hard Spun has won over a sloppy track.
Bob Kulina, Monmouth Park's general manager, said a heavy rain could force the track crew to pack the dirt surface down to keep out water. If that's the case, the conditions might favor front-runners like Lawyer Ron and Hard Spun.
No matter what the track conditions, Curlin trainer Steve Asmussen says "in such a competitive field, Curlin's going to have to run a very sharp race. We have a lot of horse going in."
The rest of the field includes George Washington, Awesome Gem and Diamond Stripes.
Despite the bleak forecast, officials still expect 45,000 to fight traffic and show up at the track on the Jersey Shore, which underwent major renovations to get ready for its first Breeders' Cup.
Lawyer Ron, leaving from the No. 1 post under John Velazquez, and Hard Spun, leaving from the No. 8 post under Mario Pino, are expected to set the early pace.
Street Sense, out of the No. 2 post, should be tucked in behind the leaders near the rail, with Curlin and perhaps Diamond Stripes in pursuit, followed by the rest of the field waiting to make a run around the final turn and into the stretch.
The Classic field features the first three Derby finishers - Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin - for the first time, as well as seventh- and eighth-place finishers Tiago and Any Given Saturday. The 3-year-olds have taken turns beating each other the past few months, and have defeated older horses as well.
"You just can't get a better field put together," Street Sense trainer Carl Nafzger said. "You got speed, you got closers. They've been beat but they've been beat by each other, but not anybody has really ever buried anybody in this field. I'm just glad to be part of it."
George Washington tried the Classic last year, but he was bumped around the turn for home and finished sixth in his only visit to America. He was retired after the race, but brought back for a 4-year-old campaign after a failed attempt as a stallion. So far, he's 0-for-3.
"I know the 3-year-olds in America are very good, but they've been knocking heads all year," said George Washington jockey Mick Kinane. "Hopefully they've knocked each other out."
Three-year-olds have won the Classic seven times, and in 1994 and 2000 they swept the first four places.
In 2000, it was Tiznow, Giant's Causeway, Captain Steve and Albert the Great.
RACES IN AIKEN
The 16th annual Aiken Fall Steeplechase will be held today at Ford Conger Field in Aiken.
Five races are scheduled for today, including the featured Southern Bank and Trust Holiday Cup. Seven horses are entered in that race, which will feature a purse of $25,000 and will cover 22 miles over national fences.
Race day activities include a carriage parade between the first two races, a village of shops in the infield, and sponsor tents and exhibits.
Gates open at 9:30 a.m., and post time for the first race is 1 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the gate, and children 6 and under are admitted free. For more information, call (803) 648-9641.
- From staff reports