The race got even more interesting when its star attraction, Goldikova, got the rail in Monday's post position draw. The French-trained mare is trying to make history by winning the race a fourth straight time. In her past two triumphs, she has been drawn outside.
"We hope to give her her head early on and let her get a good start," traveling lad Thierry Blaise said. "She has traveled here very well, as usual. She is our queen."
Last year, Goldikova started in the No. 10 gate, raced well off the pace and closed sharply along the outside. She employed similar tactics two year ago when she started No. 11.
Her first victory, in 2008, when she started from the No. 4 gate, illustrates the potential for trouble. In that race, she ran closer to the pace but was boxed in from the quarter pole to the eighth pole before jockey Olivier Peslier was able to find her room. She still won comfortably.
Now, three years older and with three second-place finishes in five starts this year, Goldikova faces some tough opposition in the likes of Gio Ponti, who finished second in this race last year and comes off a win in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and Turallure, an impressive winner at Saratoga and Woodbine in his last two starts.
Still, Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia installed Goldikova as the morning-line favorite at 7-5. Gio Ponti was posted at 4-1, Turallure and Shoemaker Mile winner Courageous Cat at 8-1.
Thirteen, including some other dangerous Europeans, are set to go in the Mile -- the penultimate race on the two-day program -- with the Classic wrapping up the proceedings on Saturday night.
The two-day program, with purses worth $26 million, will be televised on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and in about 130 countries around the world. Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will have live radio coverage.
The other 13 races, in running order:
This year's new race, the $500,000 Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint, attracted just nine starters, with Secret Circle the standout and 6-5 morning-line favorite. No horse on the entire, two-day card is more heavily favored, although the Eddington colt, trained by Bob Baffert, has won only two races, both of them in California. Secret Circle drew gate No. 6 with jockey Rafael Bejarano set to ride. Three others -- Seeker, Vexor and Trinniberg -- also are at single-digit odds.
A full field of 14 is set for the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, with two "also eligible" in the event of scratches. The favorite, Elusive Kate, comes off four straight wins in England and France for trainer John Gosden, including the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium de Pouliches at Longchamp last time out. William Buick will start the daughter of Elusive Quality from post No. 10. Second pick Somali Lemonade has won both of her starts and in both races came from far back in big fields. Alex Solis will start the Lemon Drop Kid filly from the far outside, No. 14 gate barring changes to the field. The race is 1 mile.
In the $1 million Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint, 6-5 favorite Turbulent Descent drew post No. 3. The 3-year-old Congrats filly has won six of her lifetime starts, including a dominating victory in her last race, the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga. Switch, breaking from the No. 6 spot, was listed in the morning line at 3-1 and Pomeroy's Pistol, out of the No. 12 hole, was slated at 6-1 with the other 10 starters all at double-digit odds. The race covers 7 furlongs on the main track.
My Miss Aurelia, undefeated in her three starts in New York, is the morning-line choice in the $2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies. The Smart Strike filly romped in her last start, the Grade I Frizette at Belmont and will start No. 9 in a field of 14 on Friday. Weemissfrankie, winner of the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita, and Grace Hall, undefeated in three starts, were posted at 4-1 on the early line, with Candrea at 6-1. Irish ace trainer Aidan O'Brien has ambitiously placed Homecoming Queen in this 1 1/16-mile event -- her first on dirt.
Stacelita, off back-to-back Grade I wins in the Beverly D. at Arlington and the Flower Bowl at Belmont, was installed as the 2-1 morning-line choice in the $2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf, which drew a dozen starters. Nahrain, undefeated in four career starts in England and France, was listed at 7-2 with Frankie Dettori up, and Spinster winner Aruna was posted at 9-2. Another Euro, French-trained Announce, was installed as fourth favorite at 5-1.
A trio of 3-year-old fillies tops the favorites in the $2 million Ladies' Classic, which anchors the Friday card. Plum Pretty, favored at 2-1, is the Kentucky Oaks winner and Royal Delta, at 5-2, won the Alabama at Saratoga. It's Tricky, at 5-1 on the morning line, won the Coaching Club American Oaks. The 9-furlong event was reduced to 10 starters when others opted for alternate races.
A.U. Miner is the morning-line favorite in the $500,000 Marathon, run at 1 3/4 miles. The 6-year-old son of Mineshaft won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles last time out and finished third in his only previous attempt at the 14-furlong distance. Others fancied in the morning line are Birdrun, Giant Oak and Cease. A French-based wildcard, Brigantin, was entered by trainer Andre Fabre off a nice run last time out in the Group 1 Qatar Prix de Cadran at Longchamp. He has never raced on the main course, however.
The $1 million Juvenile Turf is among the widest-open of the 15 Championship races. Majestic City was made the 4-1 early favorite in a full field of 14 plus one "also eligible" with four others at single-digit odds and a lot of question marks. Majestic City finished second to Dullahan in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland but the later opted for the Juvenile on the main track. A pair of English runners, Farraaj and Caspar Netscher, also look capable.
Defending champion Big Drama is the morning-line pick to repeat in the $1.5 million Sentient Jet Sprint. The 5-year-old is 2-for-2 this year with only one September heat against lesser competition since winning the Grade II Mr. Prospector in January. Jackson Bend, Euroears and Amazombie all were posted at single-digit odds for the 6-furlong race, which attracted nine runners.
The shortest race on the program, the 5-furlong, $1 million Turf Sprint, drew a full field of 14 with four posted at short odds. The pick, Regally Ready, has five wins from eight starts this year. Caracortado, at 4-1, won the Del Mar Mile in his last outing and shortens up significantly from his usual trip. Havelock, 9-2, is 4-for-6 at the 5-furlong turf trip. Last year's winner, Chamberlain Bridge, was set at 5-1 after drawing the outside gate. California Flag, who won this race two years ago, was posted in the morning line at 12-1.
Battaglia couldn't make up his mind about the $1 million Dirt Mile, which drew a field of nine. Five prospective starters -- Trappe Shot, Wilburn, The Factor, Shackleford and Caleb's Posse -- are listed at odds between 3-1 and 5-1. This race could be the key to solving the Pick Six.
The $3 million Emirates Airline Turf took a hit when prospective favorite Cape Blanco was retired with an injury after winning the Arlington Million and the Turf Classic Invitational. But the nine left to run make up a deep and talented field, chock full of European runners. Sarafina, despite her seventh-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last time out, gets the Battaglia nod at 5-2 odds. The French-trained, 6-year-old Refuse to Bend filly won her three races before the Arc and has face the best Europe has to offer. Other Euros well favored include Midday and Sea Moon at 4-1 and two from Aidan O'Brien's powerful Irish stable – Await the Dawn and St Nicholas Abbey. The best local hope, at 10-1 on the morning line, is Dean's Kitten, who finished third in the Million and second in the Turf Classic. Teaks North, victor in two Grade I events earlier this year, is listed at 20-1.
Union Rags is undefeated and basically untested in three East Coast starts and that was enough to make him the 2-1 favorite in the $2 million Grey Goose Juvenile. Union Rags, a Dixie Union colt, will start from the No. 10 gate in a field of 13. Beyond that, it's a tough call with two Europeans – Crusade and Daddy Long Legs – making their first starts on the main track; Fort Loudon, who swept the Florida Stallion Stakes series for state-breds taking on open company; and Hansen, who has romped in both his starts over the all-weather track at Turfway Park among the possibilities.