Breeders’ Cup to offer jockey bet for first time

For those bettors who haven’t had much luck in past Breeders’ Cups, a new bet will be offered this year — a wager on which jockey wins the most races during the two-day event scheduled for Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

The bet will likely include 14 entries — 13 individual jockeys and a field bet that will include all other riders. If this bet had been available in 2008, Garret Gomez would have been the winning selection after the New Mexico native won a record four races over the two days, including three on the second day.

A tie will be treated like a dead heat, and wagering will be offered beginning Nov. 5 after riding assignments have been announced.

In addition, bettors will be able to wager on a Ladies’ Classic-Classic daily double for the first time.

Hey, both these bets may flop, but I applaud the Breeders’ Cup folks for at least trying something new. You never know if something is going to catch on unless you try it.

After all, there were horsemen who believed the Breeders’ Cup would never catch on as a big-time event when it debuted at Hollywood Park in 1984, and look at it now.

Breeders’ Cup Classic is one terrific race

Are you kidding me? Ten — 10!!!!! — Grade 1 winners in 2009. The Kentucky Derby winner. The Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. Santa Anita Handicap winner. Pacific Classic champion. Last year’s winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Travers. A multiple Grade 1 winner on grass who will be trying to transfer his elite form to Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

I mean, c’mon, this is one race that would stand on its own merit even without the added bonus of Zenyatta, the unbeaten super mare who appears ready to tackle the boys for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

Just give us the other high-caliber stakes stars and this is a great betting race. Factor in the intrigue of Zenyatta trying to become the first distaffer to win the Classic, and this is high drama folks. And you thought last year’s Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita rocked, wait until you hear the ovation for Zenyatta if Mike Smith gallops her back in front of the clubhouse after she’s won the Classic.

And this is not even considering the two European stars (Mastercraftsman is likely to opt for the Dirt Mile) — Rip Van Winkle and Twice Over — who will try to duplicate the upset victory by Raven’s Pass in last year’s Classic when two-time Horse of the Year Curlin finished fourth.

“It’s one of the great fields for the Classic, top to bottom,” Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said on a Wednesday conference call set up to announce pre-entries for this year’s event.

Amen to that.

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Breeders’ Cup odds and ends

* Trainer Todd Pletcher has pre-entered 12 horses for the World Championships, scheduled Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet. Among the entries is Florida Derby winner Quality Road, scheduled to run in the $5 million Classic against the likes of Colonel John, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Mine That Bird, Richard’s Kid and perhaps the unbeaten mare Zenyatta.

* Trainer John Gosden, a former Southern California fixture who saddled two Breeders’ Cup winners in 2008, including Raven’s Pass in the Classic, has a 2-year-old filly who could give him his third victory in two years. Rainbow Quest, Europe’s 2008 champion 2-year-old filly, jogged over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface on Saturday and is being pointed toward the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf at 1 1/4 miles on Nov. 6.

* Former jockey Joe Steiner, who works horses regularly for trainer Bob Baffert, is extremely high on Baffert’s latest 2-year-old talent, Lookin at Lucky, who is the favorite for the $2 million Juvenile on Nov. 7. Steiner was aboard the Unbridled’s Song colt when he worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.80 last Wednesday at Santa Anita. “He went real easy,” Steiner said of the colt who is 4-0. “I let him just kind of stretch his legs. That’s all he did. He’s doing things in a good way all the time. He’s really got a terrific attitude.” Lookin at Lucky worked again this morning, going six furlongs in 1:12.40. Baffert says Lookin at Lucky is the best 2-year-old he’s had in at least the past five years.

* Five other Breeders’ Cup hopefuls — Always a Princess (Juvenile Fillies), Zensational (Sprint), Careless Jewel (Ladies’ Classic), Colonel John (Classic) and Richard’s Kid (Classic) also worked this morning. Always a Princess went five furlongs in 1:01.20, the speedy Zensational traveled four furlongs in 46.40, Careless Jewel went six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.20 for trainer Josie Carroll, Colonel John breezed five furlongs in 1:02.40, and Richard’s Kid drilled six furlongs in 1:12.80.

No Breeders’ Cup for Indian Blessing

Bob Baffert lost one of his best chances for a Breeders’ Cup victory Sunday when he told the Daily Racing Form he will not pre-enter Indian Blessing today in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, a race she finished second in last year behind Ventura.

Baffert is not happy with the way Indian Blessing, a 4-year-old Indian Charlie filly, has been handling Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface. She worked six furlongs over the track in 1:12.80 Sunday morning, prompting Baffert’s decision.

“I think I’m going to pass,” he told the Daily Racing Form. “She just doesn’t like the track. What can you do? She looks good. It’s frustrating. I’m not going to pre-enter because I don’t want the temptation to change my mind.”

Indian Blessing, who has won 10 of 16 starts for earnings of $2.9 million, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park in 2007, leading to an Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old filly that year. She was voted top female sprinter in 2008.

Scheduled to be bred next year, Baffert said he did not know if Indian Blessing would race again in 2009.

Baffert has never been a supporter of artificial tracks, speaking out in support of the new trainers group called California Horsemen for Change recently. One of the new group’s main beefs with management is synthetic race tracks.

Third in Breeders’ Cup victories with seven, trailing only D. Wayne Lukas (18) and Shug McGaughey (nine), Baffert could still enjoy a big Breeders’ Cup weekend despite Indian Blessing’s defection. His top hopefuls appear to be Lookin at Lucky in the Juvenile, Always a Princess in the Juvenile fillies, Zensational in the Sprint, and Richard’s Kid in the Classic.

Baffert could tie Lukas’ record of winning the same Breeders’ Cup race three years running if Zensational wins the Sprint. He saddled Midnight Lute for victories in the race the past two years.

Lukas saddled the winner of the Juvenile three consecutive years, beginning with Capote in 1986 and following up with Success Express and Is It True the following two years.

Summer Bird turns in ‘great’ workout

Summer Bird, the 3-year-old son of Birdstone who is one of the most improving horses in the country, worked five furlongs over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface in 1:00.45 between the thrd and fourth races Sunday in preparation for a start in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7.

The winner of the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup is a top candidate to win an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old male, and trainer Tim Ice believes he should receive Horse of the Year support if he wins the Classic.

Kent Desormeaux, Summer Bird’s regular rider, flew in from New York for the workout and guided the colt through splits of 24.42 and 48.56. Summer Bird galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.03 and Desormeanx was pleased with the work.

“He enjoyed it and he galloped out super,” he said.

“The work was great,” Ice said. “This was exactly what we wanted. He looked super getting over the track and he’s been getting over it very well ever since we got here.

“Kent had a ton of horse under him and he just let him work on his own, within himself. I’m super-happy with how he’s trained here and how he’s handled everything. We’ll walk tomorrow and he’ll go back to the track Tuesday morning.”

Ice said Summer Bird will have one more work before the Breeders’ Cup.

“He’ll work five-eighths next Saturday,” he said.

Summer Bird HOY candidate?

Many have already conceded Horse of the Year to Rachel Alexandra, who went 8-0 in 2009 and beat the boys three times during a spectacular season.

But Tim Ice, trainer of Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Summer Bird, believes his 3-year-old son of Birdstone should receive strong consideration for the award if he can win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

Summer Bird, who lost by six lengths to Rachel Alexandra in the two 3-year-olds’ only meeting in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2, arrived at Santa Anita this week to begin preparations for the Breeders’ Cup and will work between the third and fourth races Sunday over the artificial Pro-Ride surface.

Kent Desormeaux, who won Oak Tree riding titles from 1990 through 1992 and has been aboard Summer Bird for the Haskell and the colt’s three big victories, will fly in from Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Ky. for the workout.

“Even when I ran him in the Haskell, Kent came in once before the race to work him,” Ice said. “Basically, I just want Kent to get a feel for him over the track. Not that Kent doesn’t know the track, but I want him and the horse to be in sync when they’re over it together. It’s always a plus, I think, to have the rider work him over the track.”

One thing is for certain — Summer Bird will clinch top 3-year-old male honors, if he hasn’t already, with a victory in the Classic.

Breeders’ Cup continues to go international

In recent years, the Breeders’ Cup has attempted to increase its total mutuel handle by going international, striking deals with France in 1996 and then more countries after that.

In 2007, the Breeders’ Cup reached an agreement with Hong Kong, and on Thursday they took another major international step by agreeing to a deal with Great Britain-based Betfair, which adds a potential 3 million customers that are now allowed to participate in a common Breeders’ Cup mutuel pool.

“This is a very big deal for us in the expanding internationalization of the Breeders’ Cup,” said Breeders’ Cup official Jim Gluckson in an e-mail.

The Breeders’ Cup will receive a percentage of the revenue from exchange bets placed by Betfair customers. Betfair will also video stream the Breeders’ Cup, scheduled Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

In exchange betting, customers lay odds and others place bets on those odds. Betfair takes a percentage of the handle before the payoffs.

Last year, international handle for the Breeders’ Cup was $17.6 million.

Plenty of Phillies and Yankees caps

I could have sworn I saw some Breeders’ Cup officials walking around Santa Anita this past weekend wearing Yankees and Phillies caps.

Let’s face it, the Breeders’ Cup DEFINITELY does now want a Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels, and they’d really prefer if neither team was in the World Series.

Think about it for a minute — there’s never been a Freeway Series, and if it did occur, the front pages of every sports section in Southern California would be full of World Series stories, relegating pre-Breeders’ Cup coverage to second-tier status.

Even if only one of the two teams makes it, Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 are scheduled to be played the week leading up to Breeders’ Cup XXVI, with Games 6 and 7 — if necessary — slated the same days as post-position draw day and Breeders’ Cup eve.

Nope, there are probably no bigger anti-Dodgers and Angels fans right now than the folks who run the Breeders’ Cup.

This could be final Breeders’ Cup as we now know it

In my opinion, racing fans can expect two and maybe three changes to the current Breeders’ Cup format after this year’s 26th running on Nov. 6-7 during Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

* This will be the final Breeders’ Cup run over a synthetic race track. The backlash Breeders’ Cup officials have felt over holding the event at Santa Anita and its synthetic Pro-Ride surface for an unprecedented second consecutive year — not to mention the number of horsemen who continue to jump off the artificial surface bandwagon by the day — are too strong for event organizers to ignore.

* This will also be the final year where the Breeders’ Cup will include 14 races. In these tough economic times when horse racing numbers — both in attendance and betting handle — are in decline, officials just can’t afford to continue to offer as many races. Look for the less-popular races like the Dirt Mile and Juvenile Turf and/or Juvenile Fillies Turf to perhaps fall by the wayside. The Marathon may survive only because it has a purse of only $500,000.

* This could also be the final year of the two-day format, although this is more up in the air than the two aforementioned items.

I had an interview with Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli recently and he said a decision on the two-day setup, the number of races and any potential purse cuts will be coming soon.

“What we’ve always said internally and publicly is that we’re going to evaluate the two-day format and the 14-race program card following this year,” Avioli said. “This will be the third year that we’ve had a two-day format and the second year that we will have had 14 championship races. Some of the criteria that we’re going to use in evaluating it are going to be the graded stakes races, the graded quality, it’s going to be the level of participation that we have in these races from the top horses in the world.

“Each race in the world gets a ranking from the International Federation of Horse Racing Authority, and last year for example the Classic was the No. 1 race in the entire world. And we had a handful of other races in the top 10 in the world. So we want to make sure the races that we’re putting on are quality races with quality fields. We’re also going to take a look at the total amount of wagering that we receive on these races because that’s relevant to our bottom line.

“Last year was the first time we had a two-day format with a full Breeders’ Cup card on Friday and I don’t think this gets noted enough, but we set a North American record of over fifty million dollars for the most money ever wagered on a weekday in North America on horse racing. So from our one-year experience, the two-day format and the 14-race card worked very well, but we’re going to take a wait-and-see attitude and see how it goes this year and then make any changes for next year that need to be made following that evaluation.

“We had approximately 30,000 people in New Jersey at Monmouth (Park) for the first Breeders’ Cup Friday (2007), and that was in an absolute torrential downpour. What we have to constantly remind people is that this is something new. This is only the second year of this and if this is going to succeed, which I believe it will, it’s going to take three, five, 10 years for it to reach its full potential.”

Baffert can tie Breeders’ Cup record this year

D. Wayne Lukas, still the Breeders’ Cup all-time leading trainer with 18 victories, also set another record when he saddled the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile three consecutive years in the 1980s. It’s the only time a trainer has won the same race three years running.

This year, Bob Baffert, a distant third to Lukas with seven Breeders’ Cup victories (Shug McGaughey is second with nine), can tie Lukas’ mark by winning the Sprint for a third consecutive year after finding the winner’s circle with Midnight Lute the past two Breeders’ Cups. He’ll saddle Zensational, who figures to go postward as one of the choices if not the favorite, this year.

Baffert also has a solid shot at two more Breeders’ Cup victories with Lookin at Lucky in the Juvenile and Indian Blessing in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Indian Blessing ran a strong second behind Ventura in last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint and the two figure to hook up again this year on Nov. 6 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.

Two other Baffert runners, Richard’s Kid (Classic) and Always a Princess (Juvenile Fillies), also could find the winner’s circle with any sort of good fortune and pull Baffert closer to Lukas, the man who introduced the white-haired trainer during his Hall of Fame induction this summer.

Lukas saddled Capote, Success Express and Is It True for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victories from 1986-88.