ARCADIA, Cali. — In many ways, the story of Godolphin Racing this season can be told through the journeys of two of its top distaffers.
For the first half of 2009, both Music Note and her stablemate Cocoa Beach struggled to regain the elite form that rivals had come to expect of them. But in the last few months, each has undergone a resurgence that now has some believing the quest for Breeders' Cup glory will go through them.
Just as Saeed bin Suroor says the 15 contenders Godolphin Racing has brought to this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park is their strongest group yet, the program's head trainer is equally confident Cocoa Beach and Music Note represent their best chance at victory this year.
One year after finishing second and third in the $2 million Ladies' Classic, the Grade I-winning duo headline a field of eight starters for Friday's 11⁄8-mile test on opening day of the World Championships program.
After suffering through an early season drought, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's elite Godolphin Racing stable has been on a tear of late, winning 10 Grade/Group I contests since August.
Though they didn't begin their respective seasons until June, Music Note and Cocoa Beach have mirrored that improvement.
Music Note, third in the Ladies' Classic a year ago and the 9-to-5 morning line pick this season, recovered from a fifth-place finish in the Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap to score back-to-back wins in the Grade I Beldame and Ballerina Stakes. Following a fourth-place run in the Grade II Ballston Spa in Saratoga, N.Y., Cocoa Beach registered a strong third-place finish behind undefeated champion Zenyatta in the Grade I Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on Oct. 10.
"Cocoa Beach and Music Note earlier this year, I wasn't happy with them at all," bin Suroor explained Thursday morning. "They were very skinny, very light in condition.
"Those horses, you have to race them, and after the races, they improve, and that is what happened. Cocoa Beach finished third last time, but now she looks much better than the last race. Music Note is in great form, too, better now than she was any time in the year, but Cocoa Beach has improved a lot."
Bin Suroor attributes much of Godolphin's turnaround to picking the right spots for their horses, and the Ladies' Classic is one he says is ideal for his accomplished proteges.
A Grade I winner on both the turf and dirt, Cocoa Beach has arguably looked the best of her barn mates in training over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface, going 5 furlongs in :59 2/5 during her final drill. The 5-year-old daughter of Doneraile Court has also won three of five starts over the 11⁄8-mile distance as the added ground is conducive to her off-the-pace rallies.
The 4-year-old Music Note also sports three Grade I triumphs over the Ladies' Classic distance, but the bay daughter of A.P. Indy also boasts a high cruising speed that allowed her to win the7-furlong Grade I Ballerina.
"Any time you have two good fillies going into a race like this, it's a good feeling," assistant trainer Rick Mettee said.
Though the Ladies' Classic boasts six Grade/Group I winners in the field, perhaps the biggest challenger to the Godolphin duo is 3-year-old Careless Jewel. Since losing her career debut in April, the gray daughter of Tapit has rattled off five straight wins by a combined 321⁄5 lengths, the most stirring being her 11-length masterpiece in the Grade I Alabama Stakes in August.
Careless Jewel does own two wins over synthetics, having triumphed at Woodbine, and she could get loose on the lead with her blazing speed.
"Obviously, I'm looking forward to it, but this will be her toughest challenge yet," said her trainer, Josie Carroll. "Once in a while though, you get an exceptional horse, and I think she is just exceptional."
After watching its entire program get off to a disappointing start this season, Godolphin Racing hopes its two seasoned ladies can set the stage for their own exceptional finish.
"I know this is the best group we've had to come into the Breeders' Cup," bin Suroor said. "If we didn't have a winner here between Friday or Saturday, we'd be distraught."