Two of the eight championship races suffered significant losses in final hours of preparation as Ivanavinalot was declared out of the $1 million event for 2-year-old fillies and heavy favorite Sky Mesa was scratched from the $1 million race for 2-year-old colts and geldings.
The weather forecast for the Chicago area called for rain most of the day Friday, with clearing overnight and a mixture of sun and clouds on race day. The Arlington Park track crew is perfectly capable of turning that weather into a fast track by first post but the turf track, which has had some moisture each day this week, is likely to be less than "firm" for the three Breeders' Cup races run on that surface.
A bit of "give" on the grass likely would benefit the talented European contingent, which is more accustomed to that type of racing than American horses.
Whatever the weather and however the track turns up, trainer Bob Baffert said Friday he still believes Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem is the horse everyone else has to beat to win the day's top feature, the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I am convinced," Baffert said, "that when he is on his game, he is the best horse. Period. He is acting like his old self and, hopefully, I've done my job to keep him happy so he can run his best on Saturday."
War Emblem, who will be retired to a stud career in Japan after this season, got a poor start in his last race in California and was never a factor. Baffert has "schooled" the Our Emblem colt in the Arlington Park gate this week and said he is confident the problem won't recur.
Among Classic competitors eager for a wet track is Patrick Kelly, trainer of Evening Attire, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. The son of Classic winner Black Tie Affair has won three of his four starts on "off" tracks and finished second in the fourth try.
"I guess it's going to keep on raining," Kelly said Friday with a smile. "He's won on the main track and inner track at Aqueduct, at Belmont and at Saratoga. He's run on fast tracks and sloppy tracks and we even ran him on the turf. I really believe he'll handle anything."
Several Classic starters have never run on a wet track, including longshot Volponi. He has had 13 starts on the main track, all on strips labeled "fast."
"It's going to be all right tomorrow," said Heriberto Cedan, assistant to Volponi's trainer, P.G. Johnson.
Among the Europeans, the moisture was cause for celebration. Jockey Mick Kinane, who rides High Chaparral in the $2 million John Deere Turf and Rock of Gibraltar in the $1 million NetJets Mile, his mounts will appreciate the rain.
"This little bit of rain has taken a bit of the sting out of the turf and I don't think we'll be complaining too much about that," Kinane said.
Kinane's horses are both morning-line favorites in their races.
The defections in the 2-year-old races could impact the events themselves and surely will affect the wagering.
Sky Mesa was the morning-line favorite for the $1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile, undefeated in three starts. He was discovered Friday morning to have a problem in his right front leg. Veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage said a preliminary examination indicated no fracture. The colt will be sent to Kentucky for further examination.
With Sky Mesa out, one of Baffert's three Juvenile starters, Vindication, became the morning line favorite at 4-1. Vindication, a son of the late Seattle Slew, also is undefeated in three starts but has not run since the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park on Sept. 14.
Ivanavinalot was the fourth choice in the original morning line for the $1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies. She won two of the three Florida Stallion Stakes races for 2-year-old distaffers and figured to be a pace factor in Saturday's race. Storm Flag Flying, a regally bred and undefeated daughter of Storm Cat, is the even-money early favorite in the Juvenile Fillies.
The eight-race championship card is being run at Arlington for the first time in its 19-year history.