LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It was completely unexpected and even more unwelcome. A stunning announcement knocked the Breeders' Cup storyline onto a much different path Thursday morning. Beholder won't race in Saturday's $5 million Classic.
Her trainer, Richard Mandella, explained that an endoscopic examination showed Beholder bled internally during her routine gallop. The blood, however minor, is a sign of some pulmonary irritation. That forces her out of the Breeders' Cup, of course, but it's not a serious problem for the great mare, who spiked a temperature when she first traveled here from California. The development, however, could prove to be a serious problem for just about everybody else, with one exception, American Pharoah. Without Beholder to press him, American Pharoah should be able to control the pace in the Classic in much the same way he controlled the pace in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Even before the scratch, with Liam's Map opting for the Dirt Mile, the Classic lacked serious confrontational speed. Only Beholder, who had won the Pacific Classic over males by more than eight lengths after pressing a lively pace, seemed to possess sufficient natural quickness to confront the Triple Crown winner early. And if not early, she would have pressed him and then challenged in the second turn. Now, though, with her staying in the barn, American Pharoah could have a clear path to the Grand Slam.
Having arrived at Keeneland on Tuesday, American Pharoah galloped here for the first time Thursday, aggressively pulling exercise rider Jorge Alvarez around the Polytrack training oval. Alvarez leaned back in the irons and strained to keep American Pharoah under control. From here, the colt looked heavier and even stronger than he did at the end of his Triple Crown campaign.
A few moments later, back at the barn, American Pharoah's trainer, Bob Baffert, explained that the colt was "full of himself" because of a natural eagerness after a few days of inactivity. His two turns around the training track were his first strenuous physical activity since his workout Monday at Santa Anita, where he breezed a half-mile in 46.60 seconds. And, of course, he hasn't raced since Aug. 29, when he finished second in the Travers at Saratoga.
"He's had a chance to get his weight back," Baffert explained, "his strength back. He's at his peak, and he's happy."
Although American Pharoah hasn't raced in nine weeks, his Hall of Fame trainer expressed complete confidence that the colt will be at his best for the final race of his career. "He's going to come out running," Baffert said.
When American Pharoah finished second at Saratoga, he ran the opening half-mile in 48.30 seconds, but then, when pushed by Frosted, he zipped the second half-mile in 46.78 seconds. It was an unprecedented split. Probably no horse in the past 30 years could have run such a fast second half-mile and then won at 1 1/4 miles. And so it was as much Frosted, who held on for third, who beat American Pharoah as Keen Ice, who actually won the race. Frosted and Keen Ice are also entered in the Classic.
Honor Code, the winner of the Whitney and the Met Mile and arguably the leading candidate to be the season's champion older horse, also galloped strongly Thursday, albeit on the main track. He began slowly but finished powerfully. The clocker probably could have given him a workout time (39 seconds) for the final three-eighths.
Classic Selections: American Pharoah, Honor Code, Frosted, Keen Ice.
Songbird, unbeaten and unchallenged in her three races on the West Coast, looks like one of the day's more probable winners. But a couple of fillies have impressed here in the mornings, Tap To It and Nickname. And the diminutive Rachel's Valentina has more talent than size; she's unbeaten in two races, and nobody has outworked her in the mornings.
Selections: Songbird, Tap To It, Nickname, Rachel's Valentina.
Third in this race a year ago, Undrafted is probably a little better now. He had a deceptively good workout here on the turf and should benefit from a hot pace. From the No. 1 post position, Pure Sensation will probably try to go to the lead immediately; he's unbeaten this year and has won three of his four turf races. Ready For Rye, an intriguing long shot, will have to step forward significantly if he's to threaten, but he may be able to do just that; he has won his two turf races in hand. Lady Shipman set a course record when she won at Saratoga in August, and if she can return to that level of performance she's the one to beat.
Selections: Undrafted, Pure Sensation, Ready For Rye, Lady Shipman.
Filly And Mare Sprint
With such speedsters as Stonetastic, Merry Meadow and La Verdad (who won the Iroquois Stakes just six days ago at Belmont), the pace here should be contentious and hot. Stonetastic is probably the fastest of the fast, but she never has won at this seven-furlong distance, which seems ideal for Cavorting. With a long run to the turn, the No. 14 post position should be too much of a problem for Cavorting. Judy The Beauty, who won the race a year ago, doesn't seem to be quite as good now as then, but she put in an eye-catching workout this week. And Artemis Agrotera, who hasn't raced since finishing seventh in this event a year ago, appears to be training sharply.
Selections: Cavorting, Stonetastic, Judy The Beauty, Artemis Agrotera.
Filly And Mare Turf
Legatissimo is one of the top-rated fillies in Europe, having defeated older horses in each of her past two Group 1 victories. And she's amazingly versatile: soft ground or hard ground, left turns or right turns, she can handle it all. Dacita made an auspicious American debut, charging from far back to win at Saratoga. Stephanie's Kitten won the Flower Bowl on soft ground and might have similar footing here. Secret Gesture finished close to Legatissimo in Ireland before coming here for the Beverly D, where she finished first but was disqualified.
Selections: Legatissimo, Dacita, Stephanie's Kitten, Secret Gesture.
The Sprint is always one of the most contentious of races, and over the years it has produced many upsets. Private Zone, the 5-2 favorite in the morning line, is a terrific and admirable racehorse, but I suspect he's not quite as good as he was when he won the Churchill Downs Stakes in May, or at least he's not training quite so aggressively. And from post position No. 13, he could easily be three or four wide in the turn. Runhappy is intriguing. He often hesitates a step at the break, which might be enough to get him beaten here; still, he could be on the lead and the rail when the field enters the turn. Favorite Tale is very quick, but he, too, drew poorly and might be forced a little wide in the turn. Salutos Amigos returned to form with his runner-up performance in the Vosburgh, and he'll benefit from a lively pace, as will Limousine Liberal, who has trained sharply here.
Selections: Runhappy, Salutos Amigos, Private Zone, Holy Boss.
This is the Europeans' game, a mile on the turf. And several highly regarded Europeans have come here for this. Make Believe, who appears to be more nimble and versatile than Esoterique, could be the best of the group. He surged to the lead with authority in the recent Prix de la Foret in France and without being fully extended cruised home. Esoterique's past four victories have all been on a straightaway. The question is how will the powerful mare handle Keeneland's tight turns. Tepin can handle them just fine, thank you, and would love soft turf; she won the recent First Lady here by seven lengths. Tourist also has run well over this course, and he seems to be improving.
Selections: Make Believe, Tepin, Tourist, Esoterique.
Several of these youngsters have more potential than victories; they're more intriguing than accomplished. But they also look like they're poised to jump forward. Brody's Cause, the 7-2 favorite, probably benefited from circumstances when he rallied outside to win the Breeders' Futurity. And Nyquist, who's 9-2, seems to have regressed since pressing a rapid pace and winning at Del Mar. Of the favorites, only Greenpointcrusader, the 4-1 second choice in the morning line, looks formidable; he had a terrific work here a week ago. But even he has done his best work on a sloppy track, where he won the Champagne. This could be a race that produces some big numbers on the tote board.
Although unbeaten, Riker is a long shot largely because he has won all his races on a synthetic surface. But he looks to be athletic, and he has trained well here this week. In the Grey Stakes at Woodbine, after getting away with some slow fractions, he ran the fourth quarter-mile in 23.81 seconds, which is quite extraordinary for a juvenile, and then cruised home. But he has speed, too, as he showed when shooting to the lead in 45.08 seconds for the opening half-mile of the Colin. Exaggerator finished second in the Breeders' Futurity here on a day when most of the winners rallied outside and he was stuck down on the rail. Conquest Big E, a handsome gray colt, has enormous potential; after a troubled debut, he won his last outing handily despite a wide trip. Unbridled Outlaw never has had a chance to show his talent, encountering trouble in all three of his races, even his win, where he ducked in at the start and hit the rail. In his most recent race, the Iroquois Stakes, only if he had fallen down could he have had a worse trip.
Selections: Riker, Greenpointcrusader, Exaggerator, Unbridled Outlaw.
Will this be a showcase for Golden Horn, the Arc winner? Perhaps, but no winner of the Arc de Triomphe ever has won the Turf, and Golden Horn's trainer, John Gosden, said he probably wouldn't be attempting this if not for one thing: Golden Horn is being retired. Moreover, he strongly prefers firm ground, and the rain that has fallen all week makes that somewhat unlikely. So although he's the best of the group, he might be vulnerable. Big Blue Kitten might be the best of the American horses, but he prefers ground, too. Still, he never gives a poor effort, no matter what the conditions might be. The Pizza Man. who won the Arlington Million, has looked terrific this week. Could he be this good? Found had some trouble in the Arc, where she ran ninth, but if the big horse doesn't fire she could upset.
Selections: Found, The Pizza Man, Golden Horn, Big Blue Kitten.