Breeders' Cup is upon us

ARCADIA, Calif. -- I could have tossed my stopwatch into the garbage bin, for all it mattered. A stopwatch rarely grasps what's essential anyway, or, as horsemen are sometimes fond of saying, "Time only matters if you're in jail." But that isn't to suggest what's essential at the racetrack reveals itself only to an arcane expertise.

Sometimes what's essential is clearly visible for all to see, as it was Monday at Santa Anita, where Groupie Doll's talent seemed Brobdingnagian and towered over the morning's activity. Groupie Doll cruised around the Santa Anita oval gracefully, changing strides in a blink and without encouragement and effortlessly rolling by horses in the stretch; exercise rider Jeda Schlink barely moved, as if sitting atop something that was quietly motorized. The Santa Anita clockers officially caught Groupie Doll's three-furlong jaunt in 34.40 seconds, I got her final quarter-mile in 23.18, and she galloped out a half-mile in 47 or so, but the numbers didn't begin to add up to the overall impression, which is that this filly is on the threshold of something superlative.

A few hours later, oddsmaker Jon White made Groupie Doll the even-money morning-line favorite for Saturday's $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. And so after all the entries were taken for the two-day, 15-race Breeders' Cup extravaganza here at Santa Anita, Groupie Doll loomed as the most imposing and formidable (and from here the most likely winner), or at least White made her the favorite with the shortest odds. But that was expected. After all, since adding blinkers she has dominated her competition, winning four races by 20 total lengths, and she's one of the brightest of the many Breeders' Cup stars.

But some of what happened Monday was unexpected. Beholder, who would have been the 6-5 favorite, White said, in the morning line for Friday's $500,000 Juvenile Sprint, was entered instead in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. Kauai Katie, who would have been the 9-5 second choice in the Juvenile Sprint, also was entered in the longer (1 1/16 miles) race, which has suddenly become one of the day's most intriguing. Unbeaten Executiveprivilege is the 2-1 favorite in the morning line, followed by unbeaten Dreaming of Julia and Beholder at 5-2 and Kauai Katie at 3-1.

Beholder's trainer, Richard Mandella, explained that he changed plans because the swift filly has shown more maturity of late. She drew the inside post position and, Mandella said, although he hardly needed to, that she'll be the early leader. "The Pope" of Santa Anita has won six Breeders' Cup races in his career, all of them here, and when he passes on a $500,000 layup to shoot for $2 million -- well, he must like the shot.

Royal Delta, who's the 9-5 morning-line favorite in Friday's $2 million Ladies' Classic, was among 17 horses that arrived Monday afternoon at Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup, most of them from New York. Awesome Feather, Ron The Greek, Flat Out, To Honor And Serve and Point of Entry were also in that group. A second group of horses was expected Tuesday, but because of the storm and the flooding in the New York area that flight has been postponed until Wednesday.

The Ladies' Classic has attracted three champions, two of them unbeaten, and so this year's just might be the best edition of the race ever, a history that includes Personal Ensign's great surge to win in 1988 and that began with a romp by the great Princess Rooney in 1984, when the race was known as the Distaff. But never before has the field included three champions, as it does this year. Awesome Feather, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2010 who's unbeaten in 10 races, is 3-1 in the morning line, and My Miss Aurelia, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2011 who's unbeaten in six races, is 4-1, along with Questing, the romping winner of the Alabama Stakes. Royal Delta won the Ladies' Classic last year, when she was the champion 3-year-old filly, and so will be attempting to become only the second horse ever to win the race twice. Bayakoa won the Distaff in 1989 and again in 1990.

Monday's drawing of post positions also could affect some of the Breeders' Cup races. The $1 million Turf Sprint, for example, will be run at 6½ furlongs over Santa Anita's unique downhill course, where outside positions are often an advantage. Unbridled's Note, who's the 5-1 second choice in the morning line, drew No. 13; Bridgetown, the 9-2 favorite, drew No. 9; and California Flag, who won this race the last time it was run here, in 2009, drew No. 1 and is 6-1.

Saturday's $5 million Classic, which is the richest race in North America and the culmination of this Breeders' Cup extravaganza, could very well decide Horse of the Year. Game On Dude, who's unbeaten in five races at Santa Anita, is the 9-5 favorite in the morning line, followed by Flat Out and Fort Larned at 5-1, Ron The Greek at 6-1, and Mucho Macho Man and To Honor And Serve at 8-1.