The aura of invincibility fell away from Goldikova last weekend in Paris, but do not count out the 2008 Breeders' Cup Mile champion just yet.
Heavily favored Goldikova finished third in Saturday's Prix de la Foret, a seven-furlong race at Longchamp. Trainer Freddie Head seemed shocked by her defeat but said Tuesday that Goldikova remained on course to ship to Santa Anita for the 2009 Mile.
"For the moment, we're still going there," said Head, who was reached by telephone. "She came out of the race well, and she looks fine. We're not going to change our plans. When you get beat, you're always looking for things. We did a few tests, but all seems okay."
The surprise at Goldikova's defeat might have obscured an important fact: Goldikova didn't run badly at all. She was beaten just a half-length in a 14-horse field and had a strange trip. Usually held off the early pace, Goldikova had a difficult journey, breaking from a tough post, then going up to battle on a pace more like what one would expect in a five-furlong race than one at seven furlongs.
"It was too fast," Head said. "She carried [her speed] all through the race, and she wasn't ready for a race like that. It's the first time we've run her that way. I think she didn't have a chance to breathe."
Goldikova wasn't the only high-class overseas Mile possible in action last week. On Friday at Dundalk in Ireland, Mastercraftsman won a 1 1/4-mile synthetic-track race, the Diamond Stakes, by five lengths. Trainer Aidan O'Brien is expected to enter Mastercraftsman in the Classic and the Mile, but the Classic is the more likely spot for Mastercraftsman.
Potential Mile preps come fast and furious this weekend in the United States. There are four Saturday: the Grade 1, $300,000 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont, the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, the Grade 1, $400,000 First Lady at Keeneland, and the Grade 2, $150,000 Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita.
The Jamaica is a 3-year-old-restricted race over nine furlongs but could showcase the talent of highly promising Courageous Cat. The one-mile First Lady for fillies and mares does not usually produce a Mile starter, but the winner of the Shadwell almost always goes on to the Mile. Likely to be favored there is Justenuffhumor, who entered the Saratoga meet an allowance horse but emerged with a pair of Grade 2 wins, looking like one of the top middle-distance horses in the country.
Justenuffhumor did not ship after the Saratoga meet ended and has been exercising at the Greentree Training Center, which has no official clocker this time of year. Though until recently no workouts showed on his form, Justenuffhumor has been breezing weekly, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, and appears to be doing as well now as he was in August. But while McLaughlin confirmed the Mile as a goal, he said he wished the Shadwell was 1 1/8 miles rather than a mile. Justenuffhumor has made his last five starts at distances of at least 1 1/16 miles.
The Southern California turf milers have yet to distinguish themselves so far in 2009, and perhaps the best of them, Whatsthescript, third in the 2008 Mile, has lost all three of his races this year. Whatsthescript and Cowboy Cal are the top Mile hopefuls in the Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita.