“He’s definitely our most live horse,” Romans said of the winner of the Metropolitan Mile in May and the 2011 Preakness. “All of our horses are coming into the races doing well, and all have chances. I think he’s the closest to one that should win.”
Romans has five entries but Shackleford looks like the standout. He is the 2-1 favorite in the $1 million Dirt Mile on Saturday, looking to improve on his second-place finish in the race last year.
After his brilliant win in the Met Mile, Shackleford caught wet tracks his next two starts, running eighth in his comeback at Saratoga before a second-place effort in the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park in late September.
“I think the Kelso showed him coming back to himself,” Romans said. “He ran on a sloppy track that day. It was more wet than people thought it was. He came back coated in mud. He showed himself, he showed his fight to hang on for second. It makes me think he’s back to his best.”
The Dirt Mile is just one event during the two-day, $25 million championships starting on Friday.
Game On Dude was made the early 9-5 favorite in a field of 12 for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race he led most of the way last year before being overtaken in the closing strides. This time, he’ll have home-field advantage running at Santa Anita, where the 5-year-old gelding is 5-0.
He will try to deliver a first-time victory in the Classic for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“He’s a better horse this year,” Baffert said Monday, when Game On Dude drew the No. 5 post for the 1 1/4-mile Classic. “He seems more relaxed. He’s getting better with age.”
Baffert is taking two shots at winning the $2 million Juvenile with Power Broker and Title Contender. They’ll be facing stiff competition in undefeated Shanghai Bobby, the 2-1 favorite trained by Todd Pletcher. The Juvenile winner is typically tagged as the winter favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Shanghai Bobby was one of nine New York-based horses scheduled to arrive Tuesday, but the flight has been pushed back to Wednesday because of Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the New York metropolitan area Monday.
Shanghai Bobby will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who has been aboard for each of the 2-year-old colt’s four victories this year. She could join Julie Krone as the only women to win a Breeders’ Cup race in the event’s 28-year history. Shanghai Bobby will face eight rivals in the 1 1/16-mile race.
Royal Delta, the defending Ladies’ Classic champion trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, sustained a minor cut on her right thigh while being loaded on a flight from upstate New York on Monday. He said the cut was stitched up and she should be fine.
“It’s no different than a hockey player getting a little cut on his forehead and getting stitched up,” Mott said. “They’re athletes.”
Royal Delta was entered in the Ladies’ Classic on Friday instead of running against the boys in the Classic on Saturday. She is the 9-5 favorite under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who won last year’s Classic on Drosselmeyer.
Awesome Feather, undefeated in 10 career starts, was the 3-1 second choice; undefeated My Miss Aurelia and Britain-bred Questing were the 4-1 co-third choices in the field of eight.
Romans said Pacific Classic winner Dullahan will run in the $3 million Turf rather than the Classic, where he had been pre-entered. Arlington Million winner Little Mike, also trained by Romans, will go in the Turf after being considered for the $2 million Mile.
The world championships open Friday with six races. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino owns South Floyd, who drew post four in the seven-horse $500,000 Juvenile Sprint.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees co-owns Worth Repeating in the $500,000 Marathon, which drew a full field of 14.
Saturday’s nine races include the $1 million Turf Sprint, with Mizdirection among the 16-horse field. He’s co-owned by sports talk radio host Jim Rome.
Mott still savors Cigar’s Breeders’ Cup win
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) – Trainer Bill Mott still savors Cigar’s victory in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Mott ranks among Breeders’ Cup leaders with eight wins and over $14 million in purse money earned, part of a resume that helped him become the youngest trainer inducted into the Hall of Fame as a 45-year-old in 1998.
Cigar’s exploits played a role in securing that honor. Not that Mott hasn’t worked wonders with other horses.
He pulled off a rare double in last year’s season-ending championships, winning the Ladies’ Classic with Royal Delta and the Classic with Drosselmeyer.
Only John Shirreffs in 2009 completed that parley – and he did it with a pair of fillies: Zenyatta in the Classic and Life Is Sweet in the Ladies’ Classic.
Mott is poised for another big Breeders’ Cup run this weekend at Santa Anita. Royal Delta returns to defend her title in the Ladies’ Classic, while Mott sends out Flat Out, Ron the Greek and To Honor and Serve in the Classic.
For all of his past success, Mott can’t envision any horse or any victory topping Cigar’s Classic win.
Mott and Cigar will always be linked. Cigar seemingly came from out of nowhere to reel off a record-tying 16 consecutive wins spanning the 1995-96 seasons. The high point of the run was 1995 Classic, a decisive 2 1/2-length win over L’Carriere at Belmont Park.
“They are all a little different, but Cigar was very emotional,” Mott said of his Breeders’ Cup triumphs. “It was the culmination of an undefeated year going 10 for 10. That was like a dream, the fact that he was able to pull it off was tremendous. They are all good, but that was special.”
Mott appreciated that he was in the midst of an extraordinary streak that would be extremely difficult to replicate.
“I remember telling my assistants at that time that you better get a grip on this because you’re not going to see this very often,” Mott said. “By the middle of that run, it was so special to have the opportunity to be around a horse like that. It was a special experience for me.”
And Cigar made the trainer’s job easier. Mott never had to manufacture an alibi during the winning streak.
“He was the right horse,” Mott said. “He just kept doing it and doing it. You didn’t have to make any excuses for him. It wasn’t like the pace was too fast or too slow, or he didn’t like the racetrack. He just kept pecking away, it’s hard to put two or three wins back to back, much less 10 like did that year.”
Cigar, the Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996, was one of six champions trained by Mott, who knows a racing stable is like a college team. Turnover is inevitable. Even champions must constantly be on the prowl for the next wave of talent.
“When I get in the right mood, I start to tell stories and reminisce about what happened 20 or 30 years ago,” Mott said. “When you start doing that, you’re getting old. We need to continue to look forward. As soon as those horses cooled out last year after the Breeders’ Cup, that’s unfortunately history. It’s for the record books. You got to start looking for something else to happen and hope that somebody else you already have in the barn can make it happen.”
NOTES: Irish-based Coolmore Stud purchased a 50 percent interest in Shanghai Bobby, the unbeaten 2-1 favorite in the Juvenile, from Starlight Racing Stable. No financial details were released. The colt is 4 for 4 and has already earned $607,000. … The sometimes fractious Alpha, 20-1 in the Classic, uneventfully schooled in the starting gate Tuesday. “I just wanted the gate crew to see that he’s a good boy,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of the colt who dead-heated for the victory in the Travers.