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OCTOBER 20, 2010

One for the ages

by John Mucciolo

I've watched and witnessed countless Thoroughbred races over the past decade and a half, but the upcoming Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) is shaping up to be the greatest compilation of equine athletes that I will have viewed to this point of my middle-aged existence.

While most of the marquee names need no introduction to the spirited fan, we will touch base with seven of these stellar competitors to shine an even brighter light on what promises to be a race for the ages. The field is not officially set, but barring a change of heart from the respective connections or an untimely injury, here are some of the top superstars to be involved in this much-anticipated race.

GOLDIKOVA (Ire) (Anabaa): This sublime future Hall of Fame mare has won the last two runnings of this race for trainer Freddie Head and hasn't slowed at age five as her 2010 form suggests. Easily one of Europe's best over the past 50 years, the brilliant miler can win in any way (on the lead, stalking, last to first) over any course (firm, good, soft) and has routinely defeated her male counterparts in the most prestigious mile events overseas and on U.S. soil. This quote from her conditioner pretty much sums up her ability:

“She's like a car. When she goes she has the speed and can do anything and at any distance.”

Goldikova will be the favorite to pick up an unprecedented third Breeders' Cup win, and who would dare go against her?

GIO PONTI (Tale of the Cat): The dual champion is the top turf horse in the United States for two years running and could actually benefit from the mile distance in here for conditioner Christophe Clement. The sensational five-year-old has an explosive turn of foot and handles any type of ground, which makes him especially tough. Second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), the Kentucky-bred had an absolutely perfect prep for this and should be primed for a top showing.

RIP VAN WINKLE (Ire) (Galileo [Ire]): Multiple Group 1 hero from the powerful Aidan O'Brien barn has been very good this year with four first or second-place finishes in Group 1 races leading up to this clash of titans. The highly-regarded four-year-old was a mere 3-1 in the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009 and could be ready for a peak race following his close second in the Queen Elizabeth II S. (Eng-G1) mot recently. The bay colt has always been mentioned with the top European runners since he began training, and a win here would put a nice cap on a fine career for the Coolmore brass. He'd be no surprise to anyone who follows this game.

PACO BOY (Ire) (Desert Style): This multiple Group 1 hero is among the best Euro milers over the past two seasons, and if not for the misfortune of facing Goldikova on numerous occasions, he could be the one we would all be talking about in this race. The bay five-year-old has lost four in succession, but Goldikova was his nemesis on three occasions and we can't hold that against him. The Richard Hannon charge would be no surprise with a career-best performance.

PROVISO (GB) (Dansili [GB]): How about a peaking, blue-blooded Juddmonte homebred who has reeled off four Grade 1 wins in succession and has proven her mettle against the boys while being trained by one of the most accomplished conditioners in recent history? And she could conceivably be the fifth choice in this race! I, personally, would not take this five-year-old mare for granted in this ultra-competitive grass test. We will make a case for this mare to be named Horse of the Year if she tops this field and an upset occurs in the Classic!

STARSPANGLEDBANNER (Aus) (Choisir): Australian-bred speedster lacks the credentials of most of these but isn't short on talent, proven by his wins in the July Cup (Eng-G1) and Golden Jubilee S. (Eng-G1) this year. Also in the hands of O'Brien, the four-year-old has mainly sprinted as of late, but many overseas believe that the one mile trip could be his best. He'll likely be an outsider in here, but not many outsiders are this fast and he'll have to be caught in order to win. Omit him at your own peril.

COURT VISION (Gulch): A fine winner of the Woodbine Mile (Can-G1) last out, the Richard Dutrow trainee would be a surprise to topple this electric bunch, but his resume is fantastic and I don't remember a time in my handicapping life when I quickly omitted a four-time Grade 1 star coming off of a huge effort. The five-year-old was just 1 1/2 lengths shy of winning this race at Santa Anita last season but is facing a far different cast in here.

All I can say is wow!



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