DEL MAR, Calif. -- With a win by Colonel John in the Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga, and a second-place finish by Well Armed in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday, owner Bill Casner and trainer Eoin Harty were feeling quite satisfied while watching several of their other runners train on Monday morning at Del Mar.
"We're stepping pretty high this morning," Casner said. "This is a long ways from Sunland Park."
Three decades ago, Casner was training horses at Sunland. But after striking it rich as a businessman with Kenny Troutt, his partner in WinStar Farm, Casner now plays at a far higher level. Both Colonel John and Well Armed now will be pointed to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, where they figure to also face Go Between, who beat Well Armed by a neck in the Pacific Classic.
Colonel John got a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 106 for his win in the Travers, while Go Between got a 104.
The Classic field will take further shape in coming weeks. Curlin, the defending winner of the Classic and 2007 Horse of the Year, at this point is not considered a candidate for this year's Classic, though his 2008 campaign marches on this Saturday at Saratoga in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes.
And then on Sept. 13, Big Brown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby winner, is scheduled to have his final prep for the BC Classic in the Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park, the purse for which will be $500,000 if he runs.
Colonel John was scheduled to return to California on Monday night, Harty said. He won the Travers by a desperate nose after being extricated from a precarious spot at the top of the stretch by jockey Garrett Gomez.
"For him to get knocked off stride and then come on shows what kind of athleticism he has," Casner said.
Harty said Colonel John would have one prep before the BC Classic. He can keep Colonel John against 3-year-olds and run in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 20, or face older horses for the first time in the Grade 1, $500,000 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.
"That's pretty much it," Harty said.
The Goodwood, though, is the obvious next spot for Well Armed, so Harty and Casner will have to decide if they want to put two horses in the same race and use it as a means to an end, or try to divide and conquer.
Well Armed "came out of the race great," Harty said.
"He got beat fair and square," the trainer added. "It wasn't like he was getting tired in the final sixteenth. He just got outrun.
"He's a phenomenal horse. I've never seen him get tired."
Gomez flew to Del Mar from Saratoga on a private jet with Casner and Harty Sunday morning. En route, according to Casner, Gomez repeatedly watched a replay of the Travers.
"He's a thinking man's rider," Casner said.
They parted ways at the airport, though, and were on opposite teams Sunday afternoon. It was Gomez, aboard Go Between, who prevented Casner and Harty from doing what Gomez accomplished, sweeping two $1 million races on consecutive days at tracks 2,500 miles apart. Gomez has now won the Pacific Classic a record four times.
If both Colonel John and Go Between make it to the BC Classic, Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson, will have a difficult decision to make on which horse to ride.
Go Between is a terror on a synthetic surface. In 6 starts, he has 3 wins and 3 seconds, including a runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year.
"He'll gear towards the Breeders' Cup," Go Between's trainer, Bill Mott, said Monday morning at Saratoga. "He probably wouldn't have to make another start. He had eight weeks prior to this race and fired pretty good."
Mott said Go Between was to return on Tuesday to Churchill Downs, where he has been based with Mott's Kentucky assistant, Kenny McCarthy, who traveled with Go Between to Del Mar.
Mott has been in a slump at Saratoga. He acknowledged that the Pacific Classic win "comes at a pretty good time for us."
It had been 12 years since Mott ran a horse in the Pacific Classic. Who could blame him for not returning any sooner? That year, Cigar had his 16-race winning streak come to an end when he finished second to the longshot Dare and Go in the Pacific Classic.
"It certainly helps take some of the sting out of that one," Mott said.
- additional reporting by Mike Welsch