ELMONT, N.Y. -- No guts, no glory. That should have been Go For Wand's credo for the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park Saturday.
Instead, trainer Billy Badgett and owner Jane du Pont Lunger want to amend the motto to this: No guts -- but give us the glory anyway.
Go For Wand, the brilliant 3-year-old filly, could have generated the greatest excitement in the Breeders' Cup if she had been entered against the country's best older males in the $3 million Classic.
A victory would have made her the horse of the year without question. But she is bypassing this challenge to run against members of her own sex in the Distaff -- a strategy that may enable her to win the horse of the year by default instead of earning it.
There is no question that Go For Wand is an exceptionally talented and consistent racehorse. In a 12-race career, she has 10 victories and two second-place finishes. She was the champion of her generation as a 2-year-old last season. But what is most impressive about the bay filly is that she combines the raw speed of a sprinter with the stamina of a distance runner.
In the seven-furlong Test Stakes at Saratoga, Go For Wand engaged in a seemingly suicidal duel for the early lead and went on to win in a spectacular 1:21 flat. In the Beldame Stakes here last month, she hooked up in a similarly tough duel, only this time she was going 1 1/8 miles.
Even Badgett said: "After she had gone three-quarters in 1:09 1/5, I was waiting for her to stagger home." Instead, she drew away to win in 1:45 4/5 -- the fastest time for the distance ever run by a member of her sex.
Indeed, that performance was as impressive as any race by any male who was pointing for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Dispersal, the morning-line favorite for the race, had run nine furlongs in the same time of 1:45 4/5 at Belmont, but hadn't looked as impressive or authoritative as Go For Wand. Badgett said he was going to think about entering his filly in the Classic.
It was almost a can't-lose situation. Go For Wand already had locked up the 3-year-old filly title. She would be facing two formidable rivals in the $1 million Distaff, Bayakoa and Gorgeous, so it would not be a rash gamble to shoot for $3 million in the Classic.
Any owner whose middle name is du Pont could certainly afford to take whatever gamble was involved. And, most important, this was a year when the male competition in the Classic was unprecedently weak.
Trainer Wayne Lukas had once faced a similar decision with Lady's Secret, and had bypassed the Classic because it was loaded with tough competition. But he said: "This is the year to try it. If I had Lady's Secret this year, and the Classic looked like it does with about 10 horses who all look equal, we would have entered her in a heartbeat."
Badgett contemplated the gamble -- and rejected it: "I figured the Classic was going to have a big field, and at a mile and one quarter the post position draw was going to be very important. And I just decided that asking a 3-year-old filly to go against 13 colts and older horses was asking way, way too much."
Lunger, he said, was in full agreement: "She's from the old school that thinks you should never run fillies against colts."
But what school teaches that? The reason fillies don't beat colts often in this country is that they are rarely given the opportunity, and thus the notion that they can't do it is a self-perpetuating myth.
In Europe, where there aren't so many big-money races limited to females, fillies and mares regularly take on males, with no evident disadvantage. France's most important race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, has been won by members of the "weaker sex" seven times in the last 19 years. (And many of those have been 3-year-olds.)
In Europe, females are expected to beat males if they want to be considered champions. A filly wouldn't win a horse-of-the-year title by compiling an impressive record strictly against members of her own sex any more than Yale could be named the collegiate football champion by compiling a glittery record within the Ivy League.
But the people who vote for the Eclipse Award have shown a willingness to give racing's top honor to the equine equivalent of Yale. They bestowed the horse-of-the-year title on Lady's Secret after a campaign in which she never scored a meaningful victory against males.
In the latest poll conducted by Thoroughbred Racing Communications, Go For Wand is ranked the country's No. 1 horse -- ahead of the leading male, Criminal Type, who had a distinguished campaign before being sidelined with an injury. She is the favorite for the horse-of-the-year title.
"We haven't been thinking about it all year," Badgett said. "If Criminal Type had gone out a winner, he'd probably be the horse of the year. But if Go For Wand wins Saturday, she has to have a pretty good shot at it now. It's kind of fallen into our hands."
That is hardly the way to crown a champion.