This is the last big weekend for prep races before the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park Oct. 30, and the 2-year-olds will take center stage.
Sense of Style, a filly who is perhaps the most promising of the juveniles, will get ready for the $1 million Juvenile Fillies in the Alcibiades at Keeneland today. She will be opposed by Miss Matched, another top filly. At Belmont, trainer Todd Pletcher, who has the most powerful barn of 2-year-olds in the East, will send out undefeated Ready's Gal in tomorrow's Frizette.
Sense of Style, unbeaten at 3 for 3, is trained by Patrick Biancone and ridden by Edgar Prado. The daughter of Thunder Gulch, who is a hot sire, broke her maiden with ease at Saratoga Aug. 1. She then won the Spinaway at The Spa Aug. 20 by nearly 7 lengths, and the Matron at Belmont Sept. 19, in which she did not break sharply but closed for the victory, going a mile. Biancone entered her in the Alcibiades because it is a two-turn race over a 1-mile track, the distance of the surface at Lone Star, as opposed to the Frizette, where a mile and one-16th is contested around just one turn over the 1 1/2-mile Belmont track.
"We want to try to win the Breeders' Cup, so we want to put everything on our side," said Biancone, who spoke via conference call. "That includes a two-turn race. After the Juvenile Fillies, I don't want the jockey to say, `Oh, if she had a two-turn race, it would have been better.'
"We don't want to jump to the lead in this race. She can come from behind any time. When the rider is patient, it's a very good thing for her. I visited Lone Star and it is a lovely place. The track seems to be very good. It is a mile track, but I think there will be no excuses for anybody there after the Breeders' Cup."
The unenviable task of trying to defeat Sense of Style falls to trainer John Ward, who will saddle Miss Matched in the Alcibiades. Ward is a realist and he feels that even if Miss Matched, who has only raced twice, can't handle Sense of Style today, she may be able to beat her in the Breeders' Cup.
A daughter of Formal Gold, Miss Matched was originally trained by former New England conditioner Bill Perry. She broke her maiden in a romp in her first career start, winning by better than 12 lengths at Monmouth July 15. She was so impressive, owner John Oxley, for whom Ward trains, bought her privately. She then ran second to Sense of Style in the Spinaway, which is contested at 7 furlongs.
"We were contacted by an agent who said the filly was available," said Ward, who will have Robbie Albarado aboard. "We did the math and got the deal done. We went to look at her and found that she is a very smart, kind filly. We thought we'd take a shot and go on with it. Mr. Oxley trusts my judgment, and he wrote the check. I really liked everything I saw. She just looked like a natural athlete, and she's been everything we hoped for.
"She is a very mature, special filly. She has a beautiful, long stride. We hope to keep on developing that attribute. We're getting her to relax. She's not a great big, strong filly, like some of the others out there, but she's coming along as well as we could hope for.
"This race is a setup for the Breeders' Cup. If she runs a really nice race, I'll be happy with her. I don't have to beat this monster [Sense of Style]. We'll face off again in Dallas. I hope I'll have Miss Matched set for a very dominating race in the Breeders' Cup. I'm looking for great improvement [today], but I'm not looking for a monster race from her yet.
"Running at Keeneland is more a function of what this horse is going to need when we come back in three weeks. The two turns and short stretch will set her up perfectly for Lone Star, which is a tighter-turns racetrack. She'll learn a lesson and be comfortable at two turns. Lone Star has its own peculiarities, and Robbie is very familiar with the track."
Meanwhile, Pletcher is loaded for bear at Belmont. He not only has Ready's Gal, who will run well if she avoids a slow start, going tomorrow, but also unbeaten (2 for 2) Proud Accolade in the Champagne for colts. A son of Yes It's True, Proud Accolade broke his maiden by more than 7 lengths at Saratoga July 31, then captured an allowance at The Spa by better than 5 lengths Sept. 1. He will have to take on Afleet Alex, who is 4 for 4, including wins in the Sanford and Hopeful at Saratoga.
"Both Ready's Gal and Proud Accolade have given me the impression that the mile and one-16th distance of these races is well within their scope," said Pletcher, who will use stable rider John Velazquez on both. "They both act like very seasoned professionals. They don't need the lead, but they both have tactical speed."
Ready's Gal, also 2 for 2, is a daughter of More Than Ready, and also broke her maiden at Saratoga in eye-catching fashion, then won an allowance at The Spa. The only problem Pletcher has had with her is that she doesn't like the starting gate.
"She's never been an extremely good gate horse," said Pletcher. "The gate's the biggest issue with her. She's not a behavioral problem, she just doesn't break sharp. She didn't catch on as quickly as the other 2-year-olds. She was ready to run before she did, but we were concerned about her in the gate. We'll just try to make sure that, come race time, she's standing squarely, although I wouldn't bet she'll be first out of the gate."
And, what does Pletcher think about running at Keeneland instead of Belmont to get ready for the two turns at Lone Star Park? "It's overrated," he said.