Sports

Trainer goes for 'double' with filly Goldikova

ARCADIA, Calif. — Two decades ago on the Breeders' Cup stage, all anyone wanted to ask Freddie Head about was the brilliant bay filly in his hands attempting to carve out an unprecedented piece of history.

If one had closed his eyes and listened to the former champion jockey talk Tuesday morning, he easily could have thought he was hearing a playback of a conversation from 20 years earlier.

Of the myriad accomplishments Head has achieved during his career, perhaps none is more defining than his role as the regular rider of Miesque — the Hall of Fame race mare who became the first horse to win back-to-back Breeders' Cup races in the Mile in 1987 and 1988.

Retired from riding and working as a trainer in his native France, Head finds himself on remarkably familiar ground on the 20th anniversary of his record-setting triumph.

This Saturday, Head will saddle Group I-winning filly Goldikova to take on a field of mostly males in the Mile. She was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite on Tuesday.

Should Goldikova triumph this weekend, Head would become the first former Breeders' Cup-winning jockey to train a Breeders' Cup winner.

"I would be very happy because people say good jockeys don't make for good trainers, and, well, I've showed them that's not true," the affable Head said Tuesday morning. "With jockeys, I mean, it's the greatest business in the world, it was great fun. With training it's good too, very rewarding. I very much enjoy my training."

The minute it was announced Goldikova would be entered in the Mile rather than the Filly and Mare Turf, Head knew the comparisons to Miesque would come raining down.

While he hesitates to speak of Goldikova in such lofty terms yet, he admits the bay daughter of Anabaa — another former top mount of his — is beginning to show the kind of form that could elevate her to that status.

"I think it's hard to compare because Miesque was something special," said Head, who is having a career-best year as a trainer, saddling 40 winners from 198 runners in France through Oct. 7. "I don't say she's as good as Miesque, but she could be.

"She has a lot of speed and is very easy to ride which wasn't always the case with Miesque. She's a true miler, and I think she's a true champion."

A bit of a late developer, Goldikova didn't make her career debut until last September. That patience proved key, however, as she promptly rattled off two open length wins at Chantilly in her only starts as a juvenile.

Were it not for the presence of the brilliant undefeated filly Zarkava, Goldikova might be the talk of Europe this season. Wertheimer and Frere's homebred filly ran second, then third to the eventual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner in the Group I French One Thousand Guineas and Prix de Diane. Goldikova finally broke out with a victory in the Group III Prix Chloe this July.

The quick-footed filly has gotten stronger since, earning back-to-back Group I wins in the Prix Rothschild in Deauville on Aug. 3 and the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on Sept. 7.

"Unfortunately we fell into a super, super horse in Zarkava and. ... now that we're on our own she's won three in a row," Head said. "I think she's a different filly now than she was (earlier in the year). I won't say she's a better filly than Zarkava, those two you cannot compare, but she's improving all the time."

Along with the presence of defending race winner Kip Deville and multiple Grade I-winner Precious Kitten in the field, Goldikova's biggest challenge in the Mile might be coping with the hard, dry turf course at Santa Anita.

"We're not used to running on such turf, but ... I don't think it will stop her," Head said.

And if it doesn't, Head again will find himself in the Breeders' Cup annals thanks to the exploits of another once-in-a-lifetime filly.

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