ARCADIA, Calif. — Were this any of the previous 28 Breeders' Cup World Championships, a few pretty young faces probably would have been blamed for the small number of entries in the event's two marquee Juvenile races.
With their combined 9-for-9 record, this might not be the best time for a marginal contender to take on Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite Shanghai Bobby, Juvenile Fillies pick Executiveprivilege and their respective Grade I-winning stablemates.
But it's a more-polarizing force shouldering at least some of the blame for the diminished participation.
The question that has produced the most varied answers this week is what affect a new rule preventing participants in the five Breeders' Cup juvenile races from receiving the anti-bleeder medication Lasix on race day will have on the results.
From the moment that edict — as well a plan to bar all race-day medication from its events next season — came down from Breeders' Cup Ltd., there has been much back and forth over worst-case scenarios that could materialize and how much of a detriment it will be.
The Juvenile drew nine entrants, its smallest field since 2004, and the Juvenile Fillies garnered only eight contenders, its smallest bunch since 1995.
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Fortify in the $2 million Juvenile is the only North American-based entrant who has not raced on Lasix to this point. Mike Repole, who campaigned 2010 Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, is keeping his 2-year-olds home in protest. Trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle Shanghai Bobby and the two-pronged attack of Dreaming of Julia and Kauai Katie in the Juvenile Fillies, but he concedes concerns about how his horses and the public will be impacted.
"One of my concerns about removing the Lasix from racing in general is that I think it can be disadvantageous for the betting public," Pletcher said. "They have the added security that Lasix might prevent one of the horses that they're wagering on from bleeding. I think that's something that as an industry we must look very closely at and try to do whatever we can not only to protect the horses, but the owners, the trainers, the jockeys, and the bettors.
"It doesn't mean in this case that we're not going to participate with some of these juveniles, but, you know, it will be a concern."
Not surprisingly, the European participants take a different tone. For them, competing without race-day medication has long been the mandate.
John Gosden, who trained in California in the 1980s before returning to his native England, understands the pushback from some North American horsemen but also believes the Breeders' Cup is doing right by its participants in taking a hard line.
"Obviously, they (the trainers) wouldn't be happy in a sense that it has become sort of a dependency," said Gosden, who will saddle The Fugue in the Filly and Mare Turf. "I can understand the people who train here where they're coming from. But if you're talking as purist and for the breed, I strongly see why it is being done."
Trainer Aidan O'Brien, who has George Vancouver and Lines of Battle in the Juvenile Turf, said, "I think it's a brave move by Breeders' Cup to go the route they're going. They're going to meet pressure but there is no doubt this is the right thing for us."
Even if the Lasix ban did undoubtably cost the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies some numbers, it didn't deter the division's best from showing up.
The Bob Baffert-trained Executiveprivilege has yet to be conquered in five starts with her most impressive win being a 61/4-length rout in the Grade I Chandelier Stakes over at Santa Anita on Sept. 29.
"She's just very professional," said Baffert, who also has Grade I winner Power Broker in the Juvenile. "She knows where the wire is and she gets it done."
Thus far in his four-race career, the biggest obstacle Shanghai Bobby has had is getting away from Hurricane Sandy and to Santa Anita Park from his New York base Wednesday morning.
If the son of Harlan's Holiday flashed his potential when he won the Grade II Hopeful, he then rubbed it in everyone's face when he powered home to a 5-length triumph in the Grade I Champagne Stakes on Oct. 6. Though his connections initially were hesitant to go on to the Breeders' Cup, earning a potential championship outweighed any Lasix concerns.
"I don't think it's the right decision to not let the 2-year-olds run on Lasix but that's the rules we have to play by, and if we want to come play, that's what we do," said Jack Wolf, managing partner of Starlight Racing, which owns Shanghai Bobby along with Coolmore. "He's such a versatile horse, he can stalk, he can go to the lead. But if I had a 2-year-old who I was on the fence with, I'm not sure I'd want to run against this bunch either."