Though his horses are facing some of the toughest fields in this weekend’s 15-race Breeders’ Cup World Championships lineup, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin currently has one key advantage over some of his fellow East Coast-based brethren: He’s already at Santa Anita Park.
With Hurricane Sandy throttling the East Coast, travel plans for some of the more notable Breeders’ Cup contenders and their connections are – no pun intended – up in the air. Though a plane full of New York horses, including all of Bill Mott’s contingent, Grade I winner Point of Entry and undefeated champion Awesome Feather, got into Santa Anita Park Monday morning, likely Juvenile favorite Shanghai Bobby, stablemate Dreaming of Julia and multiple graded stakes winner Mucho Macho Man are among the horses who may not get out until Wednesday.
Count trainers Todd Pletcher, Shug McGaughey, Kathy Ritvo, and Graham Motion among the human pack trying to get out of dodge as well. Thanks to some fortuitous planning nearly a month ago, McLaughlin and his Breeders’ Cup lineup were able to escape from New York this past Saturday, saving himself the stress of being at Mother Nature’s mercy.
“We shipped on Saturday morning from Greentree (training center) to Newburgh which is two hours and then they flew on to Kentucky and flew on out here,” said McLaughlin, who will saddle Questing in the Ladies’ Classic, Emcee in the Dirt Mile, Alpha in the Classic, and Fortify in the Juvenile. “We feel very fortunate to have gotten out on Saturday. We got lucky, we planned it a month ago but the horses shipped great.”
While Questing is part of arguably the best field depth wise on the Breeders’ Cup card, Emcee has been training as strongly as any horse in McLaughlin’s care. The dark bay son of Unbridled’s Song – who had also been pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, took the Grade I Forego at Saratoga on September 1 and has thrown down bullet moves in each of his last four works, including a four furlong breeze in :47.40 at Greentree on October 26.
His quirky nerves have necessitated that Emcee be put in a special, more spacious stall while at Santa Anita. At least McLaughlin’s nerves don’t have the added stress of merely trying to get his horses on the grounds for the biggest race of their careers.
“We had a decision to make with Emcee between the Dirt Mile and Sprint,” McLaughlin said. “We felt like the six furlongs is a little like the Kentucky Derby with a full field – one has a great trip and 12 of them have a rough trip. The Dirt Mile takes all that out of it, no bad post. He’s never been a mile or a two turns but we feel like he can do it and wants to do it.”