Trainer Al Stall Jr. on the Stephen Foster performance by Tom’s d’Etat: “To draw off like that, and almost break the track record, was unreal.”
The Breeders’ Cup will be one of the few major events in American racing taking place at its normal place in the calendar this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Tom’s d’Etat trainer Al Stall Jr., said that we shouldn’t forget that the schedule disruptions from earlier this year could still have an impact on the Classic.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever gone into the Classic and said it’s a soft field,” Stall said. “There are a lot of superlatives talking about these horses and I agree. I think the X factor is the 3-year-olds. Because of the way the Triple Crown laid out these year, they’ve had a nice progression into the race. There are two 3-year-olds that really got my attention — obviously, Tiz the Law and Authentic — and that’s a little bit different than in years past. Sometimes you’ll get a 3-year-old who’s a little bit down and out. Obviously Pharoah was the exception to that.
“It’s all about the trip and the luck from here on out.”
Stall does not expect any one horse will be allowed to take an uncontested easy lead, and much of the race will come down to strategy. He’s hopeful Tom’s d’Etat can sit off the early going, but it will come down to how the traffic plays out.
Perhaps surprisingly, Stall said there’s no one horse in this field that intimidates him more than any other, or even a handful. Stall said there are eight contenders (though he did not name them) he thinks could pull off a win.
If he were to win the Classic, Tom’s d’Etat will have done it off one of the longest layoffs since Invasor (ARG) in 2006. Stall said the break from the Aug. 1 Grade 1 Whitney to the Classic was a combination of design and circumstance. He considered sending the horse to the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup but when the stakes schedule was released, he realized that gave him 28 days to get the horse from one effort to the next. Stall’s gut told him to bring the 7-year-old in fresh. He let the horse relax for a little while, the began ramping up his breezes in mid-September and sent him out for an easy four-furlong work Oct. 31, which reminded him of the final work from Blame in 2010.
“He just went out there by himself and was looking around and stretching his legs,” said Stall. “He seems to have benefitted from that because he has seemed very, very comfortable all week.”
Much of the media attention (and likely, eventually, wagering) will be on Tiz the Law and the Baffert trio. It isn’t the first time Stall has come into the Classic hoping to steal the spotlight. Zenyatta’s loss to Blame was a heartbreaker for many in racing, but Stall has happy memories of that strange, quiet night at Churchill Downs.
“I just remember afterwards it was a perfectly clear, crisp, Kentucky fall evening and the sky was coral and the black was coming in. We were so happy for all the connections, everybody involved, the horse himself,” Stall remembered. “Our little pocket celebrated quite loudly while the rest of the grandstand was silent but we didn’t notice that.”
Stall confirmed Tom’s d’Etat will be retired after Saturday’s races. Earlier this year, it was announced he will take up stud duties at WinStar farm.
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