<
>

Top 10: 'Dude' abides at the top

The choice is easy when there's nothing at risk, which, of course, is precisely the case for those of us sitting here in our offices or living rooms and for fans watching from grandstands or on televisions. For us, there are no expenses to account for, no consequences to deal with, and so when everything tumbles into bathos or crashes into disappointment and when unfulfilled possibilities disintegrate beyond recovery, we can just move on to the next race or the next fancy.

But for the owners and trainers who have much at risk and must accept the consequences, the decisions are anything but easy. Should Wise Dan run in the Breeders' Cup Classic rather than the Mile? Should Royal Delta go in the Classic rather than Distaff? The questions are easy for those of us who don't have to live with the answers.

And isn't it presumptuous of us to assume that our goals and objectives -- which can usually be summarized as intrigue and excitement -- should be theirs and that we know what's best for this horse, even though we're not at the track each morning to check feed tubs and monitor training?

Well, Wise Dan isn't going to run in the Classic, even though his persistent prominence in the ESPN.com Classic Contenders poll suggests many voters have other, more imaginary, plans for him. Or perhaps these voters hope to change the minds of his owner and trainer. But that won't happen, nor should it.

If you accept the premise, as many do, that a horse's career is like a jar of gold coins that can never be replaced or recovered, why risk losing or wasting such a precious coin? Each gold coin represents a superlative effort, and they're finite. Why consign one of his races, one of his optimum efforts, to a situation, because of the surface and distance, that might not allow Wise Dan to shine? And if you're convinced, as Wise Dan's connections are, that the horse performs better on turf than dirt, then why race on any other surface, or, to recycle a metaphor, why force Fred Astaire to play the piano rather than ask him to dance?

Wise Dan, of course, could repeat as Horse of the Year with a victory in the Classic. But he's a gelding, and he already has won Horse of the Year honors, and so, with no future as a stallion and a conspicuous bauble already perched on the mantel, how enticing is the golden Eclipse when weighed against the possibility of tarnishing what so far has been an unbeaten 2013 campaign?

Royal Delta also could claim Horse of the Year honors with a victory in the Classic, and with her best she'd be a contender. But she'd be the odds-on favorite in the Distaff.

"We haven't had any discussions about it," said her trainer, Bill Mott, referring to Benjamin Leon of Besilu Stables, Royal Delta's owner, and to whether the champion will race in the Classic or Distaff. "We'll pre-enter both races, as we did last year."

If the Breeders' Cup is to be her final appearance on the track, the Distaff would be a fitting cadenza. She could join the great Goldikova as the only horses ever to win a Breeders' Cup race three consecutive years. And that could very well outweigh a bid for Horse of the Year.

The Top 10 Breeders' Cup Classic Contenders

1. Game On Dude


He has become the clear favorite to be named Horse of the Year, but that's going to take a big effort in the Classic, where he finished seventh after a troubled trip a year ago. His trainer, Bob Baffert, said he's approaching the Classic differently this year.

2. Cross Traffic


He worked a bullet five furlongs Sunday (1:00.72) over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. The tenacious winner of the Whitney passed the Woodward to wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28, where he'll face horses more experienced and accomplished at the distance.

3. Royal Delta


She appears to be training sharply and steadily in preparation for the Beldame at Belmont Park on Sept. 28. Her trainer, Bill Mott, said she will be pre-entered in both the Breeders' Cup Classic and Distaff.

4T. Fort Larned


He resumed training this week at Churchill Downs. Last year's Classic winner scratched from the Woodward because of a muscle strain, but he could return in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

4T. Orb


After finishing third in the Travers, he returned to the Fair Hill training center, where he apparently thrived before traveling to Saratoga. He seems poised to move forward when he takes on older horses for the first time in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

6. Palace Malice


He worked an easy half-mile (49.63 seconds) Sunday over the Oklahoma track at Saratoga. Although fourth, he gave a winning effort in the Travers, where he crawled out of the gate, entered the first turn with a view of the entire field and raced five-wide in the second turn. He could be a major player in the Classic.

7. Flat Out


Third in last year's Classic, Flat Out impressed while winning the Suburban and again while finishing second in the Woodward. He might be as good as he was a year ago, but that wasn't good enough to win the Classic.

8. Wise Dan


The reigning Horse of the Year has traveled to Canada for Sunday's $1 million Woodbine Mile, where he'll take on Za Approval, Trade Storm, Excaper, Riding The River and Dimension. The Breeders' Cup Mile will follow.

9. Will Take Charge


Will Take Charge will aim at the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 21, where Power Broker will probably challenge. A big, long-striding colt, Will Take Charge was slow to develop, but he could be reaching his best at the best time.

10. Successful Dan


Second in the Whitney and third in the Woodward, he's reliable and always seems to be threatening, but he hasn't been able to overcome circumstances. When the circumstances are favorable, he'll win one of these big ones.

Also receiving votes: Alpha (19), Declaration of War (18), Mucho Macho Man (16), Kettle Corn (7), Paynter (6), Clubhouse Ride (6), Ron the Greek (6), Moreno (4), Departing (4), Point of Entry (4), Princess of Sylmar (3), Beholder (3), Graydar (3).

Previous poll: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3