Saturday, Shug McGaughey said his inclination was to await the Breeders' Cup before sending the Horse of the '80s into competition again. But 12 hours after he watched Easy Goer toy with four vastly overmatched, older opponents while conceding weight to each in the Grade I Woodward Handicap, it began to appear otherwise. The Phipps Stable might be represented by its most distinguished four-legged member in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 7 at Belmont Park after all.
Having conquered the muddy track that was perceived as his Achilles heel and enduring yet another frustratingly tentative performance by rider Pat Day -- which probably is his Achilles heel -- it was again unnecessary for Easy Goer to extend himself more than briefly. In the final quarter-mile of the 10-furlong Woodward, he lengthened his considerable lead in the campaign for Horse of the Year with the same abbreviated burst of bridled speed that was sufficient to win the Whitney, despite Day's misadventures en route to the quarter pole, and the Travers. Not since Easy Goer's overpowering victory in the Belmont, which followed severe and justified criticism of Day's judgment during his ride in the Preakness, has the sensational chestnut 3-year-old been handled in a style complementary to his ability.
Meanwhile, Easy Goer has reached the all-important final stage of the season -- 48 days short of the Breeders' Cup -- while having been asked to extend himself for less than a total of six furlongs since June. He has been in training since January and appears to be gaining strength in September. He is far too much horse for those who have raced against him, and quite probably more horse than he has found it necessary to reveal.
"Running in the mud didn't seem to take much out of him," McGaughey said Sunday, "but then, he didn't have to run very far."
In McGaughey's master plan, Easy Goer runs the race that defines his season Nov. 4 in the Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park with the entire racing world watching. But that is no reason to miss the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
McGaughey has yet to say he is committed to running Easy Goer in the hugely prestigious Gold Cup, but considering the role his connections play in that organization, it is far-fetched to imagine any other scenario unless the colt suffered some setback in training. The name Phipps is virtually synonymous with the Jockey Club. "I'm more inclined to run now than I was before (the Woodward)," McGaughey said. "For one thing, I've had more time to think about it. And I thought that the Gold Cup was three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, but it's actually four.
"I thought his (Woodward performance) was very impressive. Coming back at scale weights, especially on a fast racetrack, could be right up his alley. I'm not worried about getting him physically ready for the Breeders' Cup, but keeping him mentally ready would be more of a factor."
Although Red Ransom has yet to run in a stakes race, his status as the 2-year-old star of the Rokeby Stable is secure. Stablemate Crowning Tribute, a supplemental nominee, and co-favored Sir Richard Lewis -- each 3-2 in the wagering -- failed to assert themselves in Sunday's 100th running of the $140,600 Futurity, won by Mike Rutherford's Senor Pete ($14.20) in an mild upset. Also, Buckland Farm's Dance Colony extended her undefeated record to four, three of them stakes, taking a three-length decision in the $114,400 Astarita for 2-year-old fillies.
While Crowning Tribute appeared to dislike the footing on a track labeled "good," and Sir Richard Lewis, who sweated profusely and appeared distressed in the post parade, showed no interest once the gate opened, Senor Pete wore down Dawn Quixote in a :45.89 half and was unthreatened once in front. The winner covered seven furlongs in 1:23.44. Adjudicating was second in a field of five.
Odds-on Dance Colony ($3.80) had no difficulty with the footing and used a :46.03 half to overtake frontrunning Saratoga Sizzle, drawing away in the final sixteenth-mile to win by three lengths over Charging Falls in 1:17.92 for 6(TM) furlongs.