Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Repeating as a champion is the most difficult thing to do in sports. Horse racing is no different.
Of the Breeders' Cup winners from last year who are back to defend their titles, the one who looks to have the most difficulty is 2012 Turf winner Little Mike.
The Dale Romans-trained gelding will be challenged by 11 veteran turf runners over Santa Anita's grass course Saturday. The same course the 6-year-old as a 17-1 longshot skipped over to win last year's race by a half length over 2-1 favorite Point of Entry.
That victory had been Little Mike's last win until his most recent start in the Turf Classic at Belmont Park. An impressive win over a solid field at odds of 7-1.
"This is a big win for this horse and for the barn," Romans said after the victory. "We've had kind of a rough year, and this is our first Grade 1 of the year. He's finally rounding back into form. His form hasn't been that bad, if you analyze it. They've gone after him early in his last two races. We needed to change tactics and come from off of (the pace). Nobody was giving us easy leads like they were last year. He just proved how versatile he is. I knew we needed to try something different to get him back to the level where he was last year."
There's enough speed in the 1 1/2-mile Turf that Little Mike will again have to settle behind the pacesetter. But having Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle again will be of great benefit.
"With Mike having had that race under his belt and (Santa Anita) being his home racetrack, I feel pretty good about going," Romans said.
The defending winner is 6-1 in the morning line, the co-fourth choice along with the dangerous Big Blue Kitten, who was second, by a nose, in the Turf Classic. Big Blue Kitten likes to come from off the pace and drawing post 10 will allow jockey Joe Bravo to survey the field during the early going.
"I thought Big Blue Kitten had a good, ground-saving trip, other than the fact that he had to pause momentarily turning for home, which probably cost him the win," said trainer Chad Brown. "Up to then he did save a lot of ground and had clear sailing, but that's turf racing. I thought Joe (jockey Joe Bravo) did a good job making a split-second decision to get himself out of trouble. It was only a momentary pause, but anytime you lose by an inch, you probably can say it cost us."
Brown also has Real Solution in the event after a third in the Turf Classic.
"He only got beat a length for the whole thing, and he had to run farther than a length for how wide he was. You're going to have to go around horses at some point, but I felt watching the head-on (replay) that he was quite wide the entire way going a mile and a half. I really needed to see if he could go a mile and a half to go on to the Breeders' Cup. Only getting beat a length going that wide, he earned his right to go out there."
Real Solution will definitely be in the Turf on Saturday. The Arlington Million winner gets Javier Castellano to ride from the far outside post and is 8-1 in the program.
Last year's runner-up, Point of Entry, is back making his first start in nearly four months after being sidelined with an injury. Winner of seven of his last eight starts, the 5-year-old will have Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez again in the saddle and leave from post 8.
In spite of the horse's long absence from the races, Point of Entry is still the 4-1 second pick in the 12-horse field.
"I'm more than pleased with how he's doing," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "He's going the right direction, the right way, without overdoing it. Right now, I'm really, really enthusiastic about what I'm seeing."
Coming in from Europe for a second straight Breeders' Cup is 3-1 favorite The Fugue. Trained by John Gosden, the 4-year-old filly will break from post 7 with William Buick riding. The Fugue was third in last year's Filly & Mare Turf as the 8-5 favorite over the Santa Anita course.
The 9-2 third choice is home favorite Indy Point, trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens from post 9. The 4-year-old colt from Argentina won the John Henry Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.
"He's run further than a mile and half. He won the Derby in Argentina that was a mile and nine-sixteenths, so the distance will be no problem," noted John Fulton, racing manager for owner Felipe Lovisi.
There's an unbelievably strong field for the Turf. Little Mike will have his work cut for him if he is to repeat as the champion.