- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

ARCADIA, Calif. — The biggest winner of the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships didn’t even run on the card. With no marquee horse emerging on Saturday to merit Horse of the Year honors, Mineshaft may receive it by default.

Medaglia d’Oro could have sealed the top honor by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Instead, he finished second. Funny Cide and Ten Most Wanted might have taken the crown if they didn’t run poorly in the Classic. Losing the Distaff cost Sightseek any chance for Horse of the Year.

With Azeri and Empire Maker joining Mineshaft in retirement because of injuries, lackluster efforts by the remaining big names made it one of the more starless of the 20 Breeders’ Cups. Maybe it was the smoke from two nearby wildfires that made favorites choke, but the card billed as racing’s fall championship day settled little in every division. Instead of crowning champions and providing a final glimpse of great horses heading to retirement, it was more boring than a B-movie.

With few major races over the final two months, Eclipse Award ballots were traditionally decided by the end of the Breeders’ Cup. Instead, several divisions and the top honor may have the closest ballots in years.

Mineshaft is the front-runner despite having never dominated the headlines like Funny Cide, Empire Maker or Medaglia d’Oro. Still, he won four Grade I stakes, including the Pimlico Special. That may be enough in a weak year.

The 3-year-old colt division is usually the sexiest given the Triple Crown’s influence. However, the spring classics are sometimes forgotten by voters. That could be the difference between Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide and late-blooming Ten Most Wanted.

Funny Cide enthralled the nation during his failed bid to become the 12th Triple Crown champion. The gelding adorned magazine covers not to mention launching his own beer and apparel. The parallels with Seabiscuit as an overachieving underdog made Funny Cide the public favorite.

But after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes over a muddy track, he finished third in the Haskell Stakes and ninth in the Classic where trainer Barclay Tagg obviously ran him under pressure from the owners.

A Classic victory over older horses and some of his fellow 3-year-olds might have been enough for Funny Cide to win Horse of the Year and his own division. Now he could be passed over for 3-year-old colt by Ten Most Wanted, who was second in the Belmont and Swaps Stakes before winning the Travers Stakes and Super Derby. Ten Most Wanted also took the Illinois Derby in April. Empire Maker’s Belmont and two Triple Crown preps triumphs have also faded from voter’s memories, leaving Ten Most Wanted as the slight favorite to take the division title despite no Triple Crown victories.

Older horse honors probably will go to Medaglia d’Oro, but Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect could be considered despite just two victories. The 5-year-old horse is a late bloomer. Because of heart problems, he didn’t race until 2002 and yet still won the Classic with a strong performance.

The Juvenile colt title has become a jinx in recent years. Few went on to run well in the Triple Crown and none has won the Derby since 1980. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Action This Day gets the burden of becoming the early Derby favorite despite only two victories. Cuvee’s four wins make him the best juvenile despite finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup. This division title will need the final two months of the season to be decided.

The Breeders’ Cup also didn’t impact the human awards. Trainer Richard Mandella won a record four Breeders’ Cup races, but Bobby Frankel is on the verge of a national earnings and single-season stakes records to take the Eclipse easily. Jockey Jerry Bailey is also ready to shatter the stakes mark so his Breeders’ Cup Mile victory aboard Six Perfections was fitting, but not necessary in order to gain the Eclipse.

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