Friday, November 3, 2006

Moment Of Truth For Bernardini

Breeders Cup Classic. Saturday November 4th. Churchill Downs.

Post. Horse. Trainer. Jockey. Morning Line Odds

1. Brother Derek. Dan Hendricks. Alex Solis. 30-1
2. Premium Tap. John Kimmel. Edgar Prado. 30-1
3. Bernardini. Tom Albertrani. Javier castellano. Even
4. George Washington. Aidan O'Brien. Michael Kinane. 10-1
5. Lawyer Ron. Todd Pletcher. Pat Valenzuela. 20-1
6. Perfect Drift. Murray Johnson. Garrett Gomez. 20-1
7. David Junior. Brian Meehan. Jamie Spencer. 10-1
8. Lava Man. Doug O'Neill. Corey Nakatani. 6-1
9. Giacomo. John Sherrefs. Mike Smith. 30-1
10. Flower Alley. Todd Pletcher. John Velasquez. 30-1
11. Invasor. Kieran McLaughlin. Fernando Jara. 5-1
12. Suave. Paul McGee. Kent Desormeaux. 30-1
13. Sun King. Nick Zito. Rafael Bajarano. 15-1

All year we have watched Bernardini effortlessly (has he been whipped once since the Preakness? Was he even whipped in the Preakness?) destroy all competition in the East en route to winning 7 in a row and climbing to the top of the Classic division rankings as a 3 year old. Bernardini has been absolutely dominant all year but hasn't faced very stiff competition yet. The question that everyone wants to know will be answered tomorrow: is Bernardini the super horse/freak/best horse in many years that everyone thinks he is? Or is he a really, really good horse that will be found out when he runs against the best of the best? Post time for the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic is 5.20 p.m. EST. Thirteen Grade I winners make up the best BC Classic field in a decade, so it will only take 2 minutes to find out the answer.

"He might be a super freak, super freak, he might be super-freaky, yow."

Out West we have seen Lava Man win 6 in a row (against better competition) while becoming the first horse to ever sweep the "Big 3" races in Southern California in the same year: the Santa Anita Handicap, The Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic.

"Ain't nobody dope as Lava Man, he's so fresh so clean"

All year these two have been on a collision course which has finally come to pass. There are lots of angles just with these two:

East vs West
Bernardini represents the East, home of the horse racing establishment, which has always looked down it's nose at horses from the West. As such he has been massively (and deservedly) hyped as the next super horse before really beating any great competition- the fact that he is great is beyond question. Contrast this to a northern Califoirnia horse named Lost In The Fog who just last year dominated the Sprint Division and came in to the Breeders Cup as the favorite. He had won all of his races but not against the greatest competition, so the Breeders Cup Sprint would answer the same question about his greatness. But as a California horse, many in the racing world doubted him as an impostor who would be found out in the Breeders Cup. As it turned out they were right, but I'm just hinting at the perception/attitude in racing when it comes to East v West, where Eastern horses are always hyped and overhyped and Western horses are always doubted, second guessed, and written off (I am NOT saying that Bernardini is overhyped, just trying to point out that his situation this year is almost exactly the same as Lost In The Fog's last year, but they are being covered so very differently). For more background on this rent Seabuscuit, remember the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer rivalry of 1989, or consider that the greatest horse of the 1st half of the 20th century, Man O' War, didn't even run in the 1920 Kentucky Derby partly because his New York blue-blood connections looked down on it as some meaningless "western" race. Lava Man represents the West and his accomplishments are respected but not nearly as hyped as they would be if he was an Eastern horse. Of course, in their defense, he is 0-3 career when he races outside of California.

Class Warfare
Lava Man is a blue collar horse who started out on the fairgrounds of Northern California and then ran in claiming races in Southern California before he became great. He was claimed in 2004 for $50,000 after finishing 2nd in a race at Santa Anita. He is your Joe Six Pack, workingman, every-man horse. Bernardini is a blue-blood horse owned by The Ruler of Dubai.

Age & Sex
Bernardini is a 3 year old colt; Lava Man is a 5 year old gelding.

Bernardini is the uber-talented athlete whose natural ability is usually enough to blow everyone else away. Lava Man is a battler, a grinder who has to fight for everything he wins with grit & determination. In sports cliches, Bernardini is the super gifted athlete who gets by on talent and Lava Man is the not as talented athlete whose success is due to hard work. Or in non-sports cliche, Bernardini is the kid in high school who never studies and doesn't really try but still gets As, while Lava Man is the student who works his ass off to get the same As. This may actually favor Lava Man, as he is battle tested and the Classic will definitely be a battle. Some wonder if Bernardini can buckle down and win a dogfight in the stretch, as he has never been in one.

So finally we get to see them meet, but don't think for a second that this race is just about these two. Invasor is from Argentina and won the Uruaguyan triple crown before coming to America and winning all of his races here. Invasor has been just as dominant as the aforementioned two all year and everyone was looking forward to the 3 way showdown in the Classic, as Invasor won his last 3 starts and is 8 for 9 lifetime. Actually everyone was looking forward to Invasor and Bernardini finally facing off in last month's Jockey Club Gold Cup, but Invasor had a slight injury, missed a few days training, and withdrew from the race, which Bernardini went on to win with minimal effort. So Invasor was forced to train up to the Classic and comes in off a 13 week layoff, which puts him at a major disadvantage. BUt talent and ability wise, he is right there with Bernardini and Lava Man.

Invasor has the talent to win, must overcome bad schedule

Those are definitely the "big 3", but the rest of the race is filled with great horses. Ironically named British invader George Washington is a freak on the grass in Europe and will be running on the dirt for the first time as his owners try to find out if he is such a super horse/freak that he can switch surfaces and distance and beat the best horses in the world. Flower Alley was 2nd in the Classic last year and dominant early this year before 2 poor efforts dropped him off everyone's radar. He then switched to white-hot Todd Pletcher's barn, out of which he will be making his first start. Some think Pletcher can find the magic in Flower Alley and get him to run back to his past greatness. 7 year old Perfect Drift is the Susan Lucci/always a bridesmaid horse that all the locals want to win. Sun King is a very talented horse, and longshots Suave and Premium Tap look very live and could be sitting on a big race. 3 year olds Lawyer Ron and Brother Derek were all the rage going into the Derby, but then fell off and have since come back strong and have a chance to return to greatness. And Giacomo returns to the scene of his shock victory in the 2005 Kentucky Derby- unfortunately for him, Spanish Chestnut isn't in the race to run a murderous pace, wear out all of his challengers, and leave it for him to pick up the pieces.

Stop rambling on and on like John Kerry, I'm almost asleep: just tell me who wins

I have no idea. I was on the Bernardini is a freak wagon very very early (like, right after the Preakness after mentioning the possibility even earlier) but now the rest of the world is too and even money against 12 grade I winners is not for me. Hell, he'll probably go off at 3-5. Then mid to late summer I really liked Invasor and thought that he could beat Bernardini & Lava Man, but the 13 week layoff scares me now. I'd rather have Lava Man at 6-1 than Invasor at 5-1 given the long layoff. I'd love to see Lava Man win it since he is a California horse, and a blue collar one at that, and I think of the big 3 he offers the best value at 6-1 (although I doubt he goes off at that). Of the rest I really like Premium Tap at 30-1; I'm buying the case for him laid out by Steve Haskin. So I guess I would go with a what-the-hell $5 across the board on Premium Tap and maybe an exacta box with Premium Tap + the big three.

No matter who wins, it will be exciting as hell and I can't wait to see it.

I don't have any real strong feelings in the other races, except that Henny Hughes will win the Sprint as the favorite. That horse is one of the best horses I have ever seen race, and one of the most beautiful too. The Turf should be awesome as well, with English Channel (who I cashed a nice ticket with on Derby Day) and Cacique resuming their rivalry, and Hurricane Run in there as well.

Who do you like?

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