- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Breeders’ Cup Classic already without several of the nation’s top thoroughbreds took another hit yesterday morning when Rock Hard Ten — undefeated this year and the race’s second favorite — was scratched because of injury.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Rock Hard Ten, a leading contender for horse of the year had he won the $4.68 million Classic, was bleeding from his right front hoof following an early-morning workout at Belmont Park.

“It’s a temporary problem. It can fairly quickly be overcome. But the timing is terrible,” Mandella told the Daily Racing Form. “Long term, it’s not a big deal, but he can’t run tomorrow.”

Rock Hard Ten’s defection leaves the field at 13 and makes the mile-and-a-quarter race (5:35 p.m.) even more wide open.

The 3-year-old class has been depleted this year. Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, Preakness/Belmont victor Afleet Alex and early-season star Bellamy Road are all recovering from various aliments, leaving just three 3-year-olds in the race. Additionally, last year’s Classic winner and 2004 horse of the year, Ghostzapper, has been retired to stallion duty.

“The nature of the game is that after a long year, horses are going to get injured or tired and not be in shape for the season-ending championship,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Flower Alley (10-1). “The name horses that casual fans know aren’t here, so it does lose some buzz.”

Owner Paul Makin created some buzz last week when he paid $800,000 to make Starcraft (12-1) eligible for the Classic. He had not been nominated for the race. Starcraft never has raced on dirt or in the United States but during a stretch last year he won five races over four distances.

“I’ve had a terrific battle with common sense,” Makin said, “and stupidity won out.”

Saint Liam (3-1) and Borrego (9-2) are the favorites.

Saint Liam is only 8-for-19 in his career and hasn’t strung together back-to-back wins since the spring. He has won three Grade I races this year — the Donn, Stephen Foster and Woodward — so there is some talent there, but all came at 11/8 miles. He has to make an extra furlong today and his last attempt at mile-and-a-quarter came in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, where he finished sixth.

“Saint Liam has been as impressive as anyone,” jockey Jerry Bailey said. “He should be on the lead or in a stalking position and I know he can run.”

Saint Liam’s last race was a two-length win in the Woodward Sept. 10 at Belmont.

“We’ve got a chance to improve a lot off that race,” trainer Richard Dutrow said. “Every time we’ve run him, I’ve felt confident that he was going to do everything right. I feel that he’s done that his last three races.”

Borrego’s last two races have been impressive — wins in the Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup — so he could be due for a bounce-back performance. His running style is different than Saint Liam’s. Borrego closed from eighth and ninth to win the last two races.

“He’s always been threatening to be a top horse, and in the last couple races I think he’s turned the corner,” Mandella said. “He’s a horse that everybody better be afraid of.”

Among the other interesting runners are Oratorio (10-1), the Irish-bred running on dirt for the first time; Flower Alley, the best 3-year-old American horse in the race, who won the Travers; and, if the race falls apart, a real long shot, A Bit O’ Gold (30-1), who is 6-for-10 on the dirt and three of four on the turf.

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