A month from now, with the top-level end-of-season extravaganzas in Europe – the QE II, Arc and Champion Stakes – in the formbook, attention will be on the world's richest meeting. The 24th edition of the moveable US banquet that is the Breeders' Cup has expanded to two days, 11 races and prize-money of $23m (£11m) and, although it does still, despite the rewards on offer, tend to be an afterthought over here, over there it is right on the radar.
This weekend a clutch of contenders will strut their stuff, notably long-absent Godolphin colourbearer Discreet Cat. The four-year-old was touted as a superstar after winning his first six races by an aggregate 38 lengths but has not been seen since finishing last behind Invasor in the Dubai World Cup in March.
After that anticlimax he was found to have an unpleasant, aggressive abscess developing in his throat, was still poorly when he returned to the blues' Belmont Park base and did not work again until August.
The Nad Al Sheba showpiece was the son of Forestry's first try at 10 furlongs. On Sunday he will drop back to six for the Vosburgh Stakes, a recognised trial for the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a Grade One contest in its own right, at his home track in New York. He is due to meet some smart speedsters, like Fabulous Strike, Mach Ride and First Defence.
"I would say this is not the easiest comeback race in the world," said Godolphin's man in New York, Rick Mettee. "He's done enough work to where he is fit, sound and going into a race in good condition. But it's a pretty hot race; it's a deep field with a lot of pace in there.
"We're getting near the time when we can't be too picky about choosing a comeback. It's a Grade One and we feel he needs to establish himself at that level again. It will be good to get him back in a big race and in the national spotlight."
After summering upstate in Saratoga, the white-blazed bright bay, a strikingly attractive individual, breezed five furlongs in a smart 1.00.84 at Belmont in his latest workout. Last year, he made a successful return to action after a five-month virus-induced absence, following his six-length UAE Derby victory over nine furlongs in March with one by 11 lengths in a seven-furlong contest in August.
"He had a layoff after he got here last year because of a sickness, but nothing like this year," Mettee added. "This took a lot more time to heal. It's been a steady road back but a long one. It will be good to get a gauge against real good sprinters to see where he fits."
Discreet Cat has three options on the Breeders' Cup programme, to be staged at Monmouth Park in New Jersey; the Sprint or the Classic on Saturday's main card, or the Dirt Mile the previous day. The Dirt Mile is, with the Filly & Mare Sprint and Juvenile Turf, one of three newly instigated races but, although each carries a purse of $1m, they do not have Grade One status.
The Classic, of course, does, plus prize-money of $5m. The market leaders for the 10-furlong dirt Breeders' Cup finale, Lawyer Ron and Street Sense, have their preps at the weekend, though not in opposition.
Lawyer Ron has come into his own as a four-year-old and, after winning two Saratoga features, the Whitney Stakes (in record time) and Woodward Stakes (by eight lengths), goes for his third straight Grade One in Sunday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont after working like a dream on Monday. "He was excellent," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He needs a race; he's a horse who tends to get fresh, and does well with activity."
The chestnut and his stablemate and fellow Classic contender Any Given Saturday, an easy winner at Belmont four days ago, have brought some cheer to Pletcher, whose crack filly Rags To Riches is on the sidelines with an injury.
Like Discreet Cat, the Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense might have become immortal, but his Triple Crown dream died with a head defeat by Curlin in the Preakness. The tough little bay, based with Carl Nafzger at Churchill Downs, stays in his own state on Saturday for the Kentucky Cup at Turfway Park, where he will clash for the third time with Derby runner-up and Preakness third Hard Spun.
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