For the Week Concluding October 3, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – During the first three days of the Santa Anita fall meeting, it was – and it’s been this way for a few years now – quite difficult to make up an appreciable amount of ground on the main track. Runners that were not always squarely in contention had little chance to hit the board, much less win. For example, there were seven dirt sprints carded on opening weekend, and only one horse, California Street, came from farther back than three and one-half lengths to win, and he did so in a six-runner extended (seven furlong) sprint as the 7/5 favorite. Likewise, pace setters/pressers absolutely dominated in the six main track route races that were carded. Each winner was either on the lead or no farther than a half-length behind the pacesetter from the second call to the finish. Mid-pack or deep closers? They had no chance
The Santa Anita dirt strip continues to play noticeably sluggish and slower compared to most of the other major North American main venues like Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Gulfstream Park. Contrary to popular belief, a deeper surface doesn’t hinder speed; in fact, it’s the late-runners, unlike their turf counterparts who can quicken on a dime, that simply spin their wheels trying to accelerate. Unless the handicapper can project a far faster set of early fractions than is par for the level, he might as well toss out any horse that is likely to be five lengths or more off the pacesetter at any stage of the race.
2 – Given that early/pressing speed was so dominate, the player must examine the results of the major dirt track Breeders’ Cup prep races in Arcadia with a fair degree of skepticism. Ain’t Easy won the Chandelier S.-G1 with a perfect pace-stalking, rail-skimming journey, while Corniche, sent hard from the bell to take advantage of his coveted rail post position, wired the field in the American Pharoah S.-G1 in a race that was pretty much decided at the seven-eighths pole. In the Awesome Again S.-G1, Medina Spirit was able to establish the lead entering the clubhouse turn, and giving how the track was playing, who didn’t suspect the race was over at that point?
In the six furlong California Sprint Championship, late-runners Flagstaff and C Z Rocket never had a look once Dr. Schivel, broken right rein and all, was quick enough to establish the pace from his rail post during the opening quarter mile. Ce Cee did advance from a bit farther back to win the Chillingworth S.-G2 over seven furlongs – she was third of five, four lengths off the dueling leaders at the half mile pole – but did what she was supposed to do when easily sweeping on by at 20 cents on the dollar. And, in the Zenyatta S.-G2, Private Mission was always part of the pace to the far turn, took control when ready, and was never threatened thereafter in a race in which the field was spread far down the track like the final furlong of the Grand National at Aintree.
Perceived bias notwithstanding, a strong case could be made that the best horse finished first in each of those races. But in evaluating each winning performance, the handicapper cannot overreact. Over a distinctly different surface and layout at Del Mar at the end of the month, the form may not hold. There will be no silver platters.
3 – The two pivotal races last weekend in the 2-year-old division were the aforementioned American Pharoah S.-G1 at Santa Anita and the Champagne S.-G1 at Belmont Park. The favorites won both races by daylight but did so with pristine trips, so we’re not totally convinced that there’s a massive amount of improvement in either one of them. As the field straightened for home in the Champagne, pace-stalking Jack Christopher already had disposed of the Hopeful S.-G1 winner Gunite and appeared headed for a double-digit victory, though the official margin turned out to be a diminishing two and three-quarter lengths for a son of Munnings, who clearly is extremely talented but is no slam dunk to improve around two turns
The colt that really caught our eye, runner-up Commandperformance, was a rallying second sprinting at Saratoga in his debut and certainly moved forward when staying on nicely to be seven clear of the rest. He’s not a blaster, more of a grinder, but as a son of Union Rags from the deep-closing stakes-placed Tapit mare Smitten he gives every indication that he’ll improve with distance and experience. For whatever it’s worth, Commandperformance galloped out past the winner, so the Todd Pletcher-trained colt has the makings of a wise-guy horse in the four weeks leading up to Breeders’ Cup day.
4 – Whereas Jack Christopher improved from a 92 to a 93 Beyer speed figure (both excellent numbers), Corniche’s fig sunk from his suspiciously high 98 in his debut to a far less brilliant but certainly solid 86 in the American Pharoah S. Front-running trips often produce inflated ratings, which is why Corniche, even in victory, didn’t score particularly high on the goose-bump scale. We’ll find out down the road whether this son of Quality Road is a need-the-lead type, but we suspect there will be no experimenting on Breeders’ Cup day. He will be sent from the bell and then deal with whatever engages him early.
Pappacap did what he could to finish second to Corniche, but this was already his fourth career start, so room for significant improvement may be somewhat restricted. That said, the Mark Casse-trained colt was a stakes winner sprinting at Del Mar during the summer meeting, and in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he will be given the role of a closer over a main track with a projected race flow that will promote his style, so his connections have a right to be hopeful that the son of Gun Runner can step forward.
5 – The three main Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 prep races over the weekend all were won in gate-to-wire fashion, with Knicks Go enjoying a stroll in the park on the front end to capture the Lukas Classic S.-G3 at 10 cents on the dollar at Churchill Downs (104 Beyer); Art Collector (107 Beyer) taking full advantage of a similar easy trip in the Woodward S.-G1 to hold sway over Maxfield, and Medina Spirit (107 Beyer) gaining control of the racetrack soon after the start and then toying with his older rivals in the Awesome Again S.-G1. Knicks Go is a committed front runner and won’t back down on Breeders’ Cup day; Medina Spirit also is clearly most effective on the pace but may be relegated to a stalker’s role; and Art Collector, who isn’t as quick as the other two, projects to settle in the second flight and then launch his bid from there.
Meanwhile, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie will have dead aim on all three of them and licking their chops when the pressure is turned on. Should be a fun race.
From the week concluding September 26, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – With his somewhat controversial victory in the Pennsylvania Derby-G1 behind him, Hot Rod Charlie now will step out of his comfort zone (3-year-olds) and set his sights on the big boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 at Del Mar Oct. 30. Don’t underestimate him. After earning a career-top Beyer speed figure (111) last weekend, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt has become highly-competitive on pure numbers compared with the best in the older division, and with further development likely and an ideal stalking style for the Classic’s 10-furlong journey the son of Oxbow has a legitimate chance to win North America’s richest race and perhaps steal an Eclipse Award from division leader Essential Quality and maybe even secure Horse of the Year honors, as well.
Channeling his inner Angel Cordero, Jr. jockey Flavian Prat was, to put it kindly, somewhat aggressive aboard Hot Rod Charlie (again), bullying Midnight Bourbon (again) by allowing ‘Charlie to drift out and intimate his main rival as the field entered the lane. Aware that the inside paths are usually slower and deeper through the stretch at Parx, Prat wanted to secure better footing, and if his premediated tactics came at the expense of Steve Asmussen’s colt, all the better. Unlike the incident at Monmouth Park in the Haskell S.-G1 in which Prat carelessly shut off Midnight Bourbon in mid-stretch that caused a spill and led to ‘Charlie’s disqualification, the rider’s strategy on Saturday was accomplished with specific purpose. Yes, there was an inquiry and a claim of foul, but the results stood. Really, It could have gone either way.
2 – Asmussen was furious when the stewards failed to take action in the Pennsylvania Derby, but the manner in which Jackie’s Warrior toyed with four thoroughly outclassed older rivals in the Gallant Bob S.-G2 earlier in the day certainly soften the disappointment. The son of Maclean’s Music will enter the B.C. Sprint-G1 as a strong favorite following his career-top 110 Beyer speed figure victory by nearly seven lengths despite merely coasting to the wire, and while there was nothing of note behind him this brilliantly-fast sophomore colt will bring to Del Mar a resume that shows eight wins from nine one-turn career outings and numbers that have risen in each of his last six starts.
As exceptionally quick as Jackie’s Warrior can be, he’s always been quite handy and tractable. Assuming the Del Mar main track isn’t blatantly biased against the inside lanes (as it was when the Breeders’ Cup was last staged there in 2017) and Jackie’s Warrior lands a decent draw, he’s sure to be one of the shortest priced favorites on the card.
3 – Gamine certainly will be a heavy favorite to defend her B.C. Filly & Mare Sprint title – a career record of nine wins from 10 starts pretty much guarantees she’ll be odds-on – but Bella Sofia may offer some genuine competition. Her victory on Sunday at Belmont Park in the Gallant Bloom S.-G2 served as an ideal springboard to what surely will be her toughest task yet but the rags-to-riches $20,000 2020 OBS June sale purchase has won her last three starts by a combined 14 lengths and wasn’t fully extended in any of those outings.
Similar to Jackie’s Warrior, the Rudy Rodriquez-trained filly is an easy ride. She can win on the lead or settle and pounce, and her Test S.-G1 score two runs back over the Breeders’ Cup seven furlong trip was her most impressive performance in her four-wins-in-five-starts career. She’s not yet where she needs to be to defeat Gamine, but she keeps getting faster so we’ll watching her workouts closely see how much of a forward move she might be able to produce five weeks down the road.
4 – Another legitimate short-priced favorite has emerged in the B.C. Dirt Mile-G1 following the stroll-in-the-park afternoon workout by Life Is Good in the Kelso H.-G2 at Belmont Park on Saturday. The victory from three hopelessly overmatched rivals over the one-turn mile produced “only” a 99 Beyer speed figure, eight points lower than his career top, but the Todd Pletcher-trained colt never took a deep breath while brushing aside any worries that he might “bounce” following his hard, taxing, gut-wrenching neck defeat to Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S.-G1 four weeks previous at Saratoga in what was his first start since exiting the Derby trail in mid-March.
A nine-length debut winner in his only previous outing over the quirky Del Mar main track and a two-time graded stakes winner around two turns last winter, the son of Into Mischief was ridden for the first time by I. Ortiz, Jr., who we assume will retain the mount (Mike Smith had been Life Is Good’s regular pilot up util then). The screws certainly weren’t tightened on Saturday; Pletcher has plenty of time to do that before heading to California.
5 – The Breeders’ Cup will be without Europe’s top 3-year-old, St Mark’s Basilica. So will the rest of the racing world following the announcement yesterday – as predicted in this space a few weeks ago – that the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt has been sent home to prepare for stud duty at Coolmore to fill the void left by the deceased Galileo despite being at the peak of his form with several fall options still available. The “lads” are saying that the colt was injured in early August when he threw a front shoe during training that struck him in a hind leg, but he did win the Champions S.-G1 from BC Turf heroine Tarnawa after the “incident.” Let’s just say we’re skeptical.
A son of the highly-successful Siyouni from a mare by Galileo, St Mark’s Basilica, has everything a top European stallion prospect needs to possess, namely superior pedigree and conformation, precocity, class, brilliance, and multiple Classic wins on his resume. So, an argument can be made that he had nothing left to prove. Now that, we can buy.
From the week concluding September 19, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analysis
1 – One of the most valued handicapping resources offered to members of xpressbet.com is the access to race replays from every major European venue, and most of the minor ones, as well. Certainly, on pure form, it was easy to project Walton Street as the highly-likely winner of the Canadian International at Woodbine on Saturday but viewing his races on the website earlier this year in Dubai that featured a Grade-2 victory with a career-top 122 Timeform rating and then a very respectable fourth in the Sheema Classic-G1 behind Mishriff helped build the confidence needed for the player to take the veteran gelding at a short price.
With tactical speed that always produces a clean journey, the Charles Appleby-trained son of Cape Cross gelding made short work of his outclassed North American-based rivals while being assigned a Breeders’ Cup Turf quality Beyer speed figure of 110 (by comparison, Tarnawa earned a 109 in last year’s BC Turf). Godolphin is loaded in the division, but it would appear that Walton Street’s pace-stalking style is made to order for the tight Del Mar turf course, so it surely would be nice to see him at Del Mar on the first Saturday in November.
2 – The continued to success of the Europeans in valuable grass stakes races in the U.S. and in Canada was never more evident than this past weekend. Ten minutes after Walton Street’s dominating victory, Appleby sent out the rapidly-developing 3-year-old Yibir to win the Jockey Club Derby Invitational-G1 at Belmont Park, and once again it was the video replay of his recent victory in the Great Voltigeur S.-G2 that made him an exceptional gamble at 7/2. Just as he had done at York last month, the son of Dubawi was off slowly and trailed the field while just galloping along for the 10 furlongs of the mile and one-half trip. As the field approached the top of the lane, jockey Jamie Spencer asked for run and the Godolphin homebred produced a startling turn of foot to go from last of seven to hit the front in less than a furlong before drawing clear in a mockingly display of superiority.
True speed figures in these long-distance races are difficult to calculate due to the variance of pace, but it should be noted that while Yibir earned “only” a 97 Beyer figure the posted final half mile split in the 12-furlong affair was :46.73. According to the chart, the winner was five lengths behind the leader at that stage and then rallied widest of wall. When it comes to these types of races, it not how fast you run, it’s how fast you run when your asked to run. Yibir looks very much like the goods.
3 – The Appleby yard still had plenty of ammunition left for two more Grade-1 events Sunday at Woodbine. In the Natalma Stakes – a race named for the dam of the immortal Canadian racehorse and Northern Dancer – the fresh-off-the-lane the twice listed stakes-placed Wild Beauty left her previous form behind when rallying from last of 10 to secure a thoroughly convincing victory under Frankie Dettori by more than two lengths. For comparison’s sake, the race that was assigned an excellent 89 Beyer speed figure, whereas the win by Aunt Pearl in the 2020 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf earned a 91. As a daughter of Frankel, her best surely is yet to come, and it she returns for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, she will be hard to beat.
A half hour after Wild Beauty’s success, the Appleby-trained Albahr, a once-beaten winner of his previous three outings in England including a listed stakes, handled a moderate field in the Summer S.-G1. The Dubawi gelding earned a less-than-flashy Beyer number of 82 but displayed plenty of quality after doing himself no favors when breaking poorly. That said, he’s not close to the best Godolphin may choose to send to the BC Juvenile Turf, a scary thought, indeed, for North American-based hopefuls.
4 – Hidden Connection, from the first crop of Curlin’s Cigar Mile-G1 winning son Connect, certainly was visually pleasing in her seven lengths-plus debut maiden win at Colonial Downs. But it’s the second career start that often provides a much truer picture of a young runner’s potential. Would Hidden Connections verify the promise she displayed last month in the 8.5 furlong Pocahontas S.-G3 at Churchill Downs on Saturday, or would she be exposed for having beaten modest competition? The bettors believed, knocking her down to the 9/5, and the Bret Calhoun-trained filly never provided any worries in a nine length romp that appeared as dominant to the eye as it appears on paper. She’s only the second stakes winner to appear in the first four generations of her female family, so let’s give credit to her young sire, who stands at Lane’s End and looks like he’s going to make it.
Despite the extended margin of victory, Hidden Connection earned “only” an 87 Beyer speed figure, a very good number to be sure but just three points higher than her maiden win in Virginia. It seems to this observer that the Beyer boys may have lowballed by a few points each of the four route races on the program. According to the Equibase, Hidden Connection’s second race rated eight points stronger than her debut.
5 – The juvenile colts also had their chance to shine on Saturday but scored low on the goose-bump scale. In Kentucky, Major General (9/2), an all-out Saratoga maiden debut winner last month, remained undefeated when registering a neck victory over 37-1 Indian Downs shipper Tough to Tame to win the Iroquois S.-G3, but despite slightly quicker early splits wound up running 1.10 seconds slower than Hidden Connection on the same program. Even money favorite Stellar Tap, a smart debut winner at the Spa, faded under pressure, wound up fifth, and clearly isn’t what his connections were hoping he’d be. This race will not produce the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner.
At Los Alamitos, trainer Bob Baffert finished one-two Saturday in the four-runner restricted Capote Stakes with Enbarr outlasting Montebello by a length. The former, beaten in a photo in his debut by subsequent Del Mar Futurity winner S.-G1 Pinehurst, earned a 78 Beyer number, two points better than the fig assigned to Major General but couldn’t have gotten a better trip if he had paid for it. Montebello, a well-beaten runner-up in a New York-bred stakes at Saratoga after a narrow maiden debut win at Del Mar, has yet to master the art of changing leads and won’t reach whatever ceiling he may have until he does.
Meanwhile, Baffert’s participation on Breeders’ Cup Day is in jeopardy after it was announced on Saturday that the Breeders’ Cup Board has begun a review process over the trainer’s five failed drug tests within 365 days that dates back to May 2020. According to its rules, Breeders’ Cup Limited “reserves the right to refuse pre-entry or entry of any horse, in BCL’s sole discretion.” Stay tuned.
From the week concluding September 12, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – Best race from last week weekend occurred at Leopardstown in Ireland, where St Mark’s Basilica, after veering right and carrying out Tarnawa about eight lanes in the final quarter of a mile, survived a stewards’ inquiry (there was no contact) to win the Irish Champions S.-G1 by three-quarters of a length while reaffirming his standing as Europe’s top-ranked three-year-old. Believed to be most effective at a mile and one-quarter but perhaps a bit suspect if tried at 12 furlongs, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt nonetheless would be a lovely addition to the Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 lineup at Del Mar in November, but from what we can gather it’s highly unlikely that such a trip will occur event though his latest victory carried with it an automatic berth through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
In fact, local observers have speculated in the days since the race that we may have seen the last of St Mark’s Basilica, which would be a shame. Winner of the Dewhurst S.-G1 as a 2-year-old, the son of Siyoun had been successful in the French 2000 Guineas-G1, French Derby-G1, and Eclipse S.-G1 prior to Irish Champions S.-G1 success, thus accomplishing more than enough to fill the void at Coolmore left by the loss of Galileo.
“He’s just an exceptional horse,” said O’Brien. “We’re so lucky to have him, and it’s to keep him safe now and have him go off to stud, which is going to be very exciting for us all.”
2 – Tarnawa lost nothing in defeat. An excellent case can be made that she should have been moved up via disqualification (Ryan Moore, aboard St Mark’s Basilica, received a one-day ban for his ride and reportedly apologized to Tarnawa’s rider, Colin Keane) but there are no plans to appeal and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner will now be pointed for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp Sunday, Oct. 3, according to trainer Dermot Weld. Tarnawa certainly will be among the major contenders in that race; whether or not she returns to the States to defend her Breeders’ Cup Turf crown remains to be seen.
But even if she doesn’t make the trip, there will be, as usual, several other high-class European-based performers that will be considered, most of whom will have stronger credentials than any of the candidates the home team will be able to offer up.
3 – Top performance on closing weekend at Kentucky Downs may have come courtesy of the undefeated (in two starts) Koala Princess, a runaway debut maiden winner on the front end at Monmouth Park last month and then even more visually impressive when rallying from eighth of 11 under expert handling by Joel Rosario to capture the $500,000 Ainsworth Stakes over six and one-half furlongs. A 2-year-old Runnymeade Farm homebred daughter of More Than Ready trained by Arnaud Delacour, Koala Princess has lovely, easy action but can accelerate on a dime, and thus should certainly be as effective if not more so around two turns.
There will be talented Europeans in the field, of course, but as of now her connections have to feel good about their chances in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies turf. She’s certainly the best among the North American ranks in the division that we’ve seen so far.
Meanwhile, all-sources handle at a six-day Kentucky Downs meet was $74,088,532, far exceeding the record of $59.8 million set last year. A single-day handle record of $20,849,967 also was established Saturday when there was no major racing in New York (Belmont Park re-opens this Thursday) or Southern California (Santa Anita’s fall meeting begins Friday, Oct. 1). The significance of this blossoming boutique meeting will continue in years to come as it solidifies its mid-September spot on the national racing calendar.
4 – Last year we strongly suggested – not that we thought anybody in management would listen – that Santa Anita consider restructuring its main track to grass, and its grass course to synthetic, a drastic change to be sure but one that most assuredly would produce a long term positive effect on field size and mutuel handle. According to our theory, a horse’s career likely would be extended if allowed to consistently compete over a more forgiving surface that in most cases would produce a slower, softer pace and one that would lend itself to more contentious racing and a much more exciting product. Additionally, many lower end horses that are incapable of being competitive on dirt at or near the bottom claiming ranks ($8,000 in Southern California) still could earn a living at those same levels on grass, if such races could be carded over a widened course that would allow for several rail settings.
Turns out that Santa Anita management has met me half way. Though a Woodbine-type transition apparently wasn’t practical structurally or financially, the condition book covering the first 10 days of the fall season lists 89 races (not including extras), of which 48 have been written for grass, a percentage that lands just shy of 54 percent. And, last week it was revealed that sprint racing will resume over the popular Hillside Turf Course at Santa Anita during the upcoming fall season to compliment one-turn races on the flat that began last year and have been extremely well-received by the horsemen and horseplayers.
5 – We clicked on bloodhorse.com to read a summary of the opening day’s key results at the Keeneland Sales. The headline read: “Keeneland Summer Sale Opener a Sign of Strength.” Hey, good news! But in the second paragraph, the story stated that the median price was $325,000, down from $330,000 in 2020, and that the buy-back rate was 39.1%, up from 36.2% from last year. Furthermore, combined with the 45 hips that were withdrawn, there were 106 yearlings of the 201 catalogued that were not sold. That’s 52.7%.
If these figures truly represent, “strength,” okay with me.
From the week concluding September 6, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper & analyst
1 – Did we see the winner of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile S.-G1 in the Hopeful S.-G1 or Del Mar Futurity-G1 on Labor day? Don’t think so. Let’s do this chronologically and discuss the Saratoga race first. Heavily-favored (3/5) Wit stumbled badly at the start, was needlessly rushed to make up much of the lost ground into the teeth of a torrid :44 2/5 opening half while advancing to be with range at the quarter pole, was understandably spent, yet bravely still managed to save second money, almost six lengths behind the surprising (11-1) winner Gunite. As a son of the notorious one-turn specialist Practical Joke, Wit can’t be expected to be better (or at least as good) routing than sprinting and though the poor start certainly cost him his best chance, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt appears destined to be very much like his old man. We’d have to think his connections will look next at the Champagne S.-G1 Oct. 2 at Belmont Park. It’s a one-turn mile, and for now that’ll probably be his limit.
Conversely, Gunite, from the first crop of the champion racehorse and spectacular freshman sire Gun Runner, should run on. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt took heat and came away when asked, though it helped that the field contained no effective closers, except for High Oak, who had easily handled Gunite in the Saratoga Special last month. But after looking like a serious threat approaching the quarter pole, High Oak flattened out like the proverbial pancake. To his credit, Gunite has never taken a backward move, showing the following Beyer speed figure progression: 83-81-73-54-43. That’s the pattern you love to see in a 2-year-old, or any horse, for that matter.
2 – Pinehurst was supposed to be the “other” Bob Baffert-trained colt in the Del Mar Futurity-G1. The son of Twirling Candy, a half-length debut maiden winner last month, was handed the front end when nothing else was sent, and after cruising to the lead while always in hand easily shrugged off the stalking contingent that included his 3/5 stable mate Murray (who was awful and tossed in the towel after a half mile) to draw clear in the lane and win without a challenge. The performance didn’t score highly on the goose-bump scale or with the Beyer boys (79), either.
Don’t get us wrong, we like Pinehurst, he’s genuine. But the most promising 2-year-olds we saw out of this barn during the summer meeting were two sons of Quality Road, Corniche (see below), and Rhetoric, third (but moved up to second via disqualification) in his debut August 21. The Futurity came up too quickly for the latter, but we’d expect to see him reappear over a distance of ground either in a maiden race or perhaps even in the American Pharoah S.-G1 at Santa Anita on opening day of the fall season, Friday, Oct. 1.
3 – Trainer John Sadler would rather not discuss the Santa Anita Sprint Championship-G1 or Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 as a possible next start for Flightline, arguably the fastest, most gifted racehorse he’s trained since the filly Melair in the mid-1980’s. After breaking his maiden in April at Santa Anita by more than 13 lengths with a 105 Beyer speed figure, the son of Tapit was sidelined by a foot abscess, according to a report in Daily Racing Form. Purchased as a yearling for $1 million, the 3-year-old colt returned in a first-level allowance race Sunday at Del Mar and romped again, this time by 12 and three-quarters lengths (eased up late), getting the six furlongs in 1:08 flat, a clocking that translates into a Beyer mark of 114. The thing is, this colt is smart, sensible, and tractable, which is why we’re convinced he’ll get at least a mile and perhaps even a bit farther in due time.
Sadler did mention the seven furlong Malibu S.-G1 for 3-year-olds on opening day in December at Santa Anita as a long range goal, but you’d have to think he’ll run somewhere before then. The veteran trainer knows how to handle a top class horse – he designed a masterful plan with Accelerate to win the 2019 BC Classic-G1 – and he realizes Flightline brings more pressure and responsibility than any other colt he’s ever trained, because with his pedigree, flawless conformation and raw, natural ability, Flightline has the potential to be worth millions at stud. So, the plan, whatever it turns out to be, has to be perfect.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: There are 62 (not a typo) yearlings by Gun Runner entered in the Keeneland September Sales, which begins next week. They won’t be cheap, at least the ones that can walk in a straight line. In addition to Gunite, the freshman Candy Ride stallion also was represented by Saturday’s Spinaway S.-G1 winner Echo Zulu, an authoritative four length winner that garnered a legitimately strong 90 Beyer speed figure. We’re not convinced Echo Zulu will be quite as effective around two turns, but for now she’s easily the current leader in the juvenile filly division
Flightline wasn’t the only sprinter to earn a stratospheric 114 Beyer over the weekend. Baby Yoda, as 3-year-old Prospective gelding that debuted in a maiden $10,000 claimer in May at Pimlico, won a first-level allowance sprint for trainer Bill Mott at the Spa on Saturday, pressing the pace to the head of the lane and drawing clear by more than four lengths while running six and one-half furlongs in 1:14 1/5. This represented a 21 point improvement over the 93 he was assigned in a one and one-quarter length starter’s allowance victory in his previous start in July. Andy Beyer, himself, penned a story in the DRF three days later defending the accuracy of the ridiculously high number. It’ll be interesting to see if Baby Yoda will be able duplicate the figure next time (doubt it) or come back to earth (likely) in his next start, whenever it might be.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: Much more impressive visually and simply faster on the track than Pinehurst was his stable mate Corniche, a colt purchased for $1.5 million at Keeneland last year that debuted on Saturday at 50 cents on the dollar following a series of American Pharoah-type workouts. In what almost certainly will prove to be a highly productive race, Corniche went about his business without taking a deep breath, winning by more than four lengths in a sizzling 1:03 flat while covering the final sixteenth of a mile on the lead in less than six seconds.. The Beyer speed figure of 98 makes him the fastest 2-year-old in North America, and his dam (Wasted Tears) was a multiple graded stakes winner going long on grass, so you wouldn’t think extra distance will be any kind of issue. It won’t be.
On the opposite side of the hype spectrum is Grace Adler. A win by more than 11 lengths by an unbeaten (in two starts) $700,000 2-year-old daughter of Curlin filly trained by Baffert in the seven furlong Del Mar Debutante-G1 should produce at least some buzz. But it hasn’t. The victory, in a somewhat slow 1:23 3/5 with a final three furlong split of :39 2/5 produced a thoroughly uninspiring 74 Beyer speed figure that may even be a bit inflated due to the mild rally-wide track bias that the winner, from her cozy outside draw, took full advantage of. Much like Baffert’s Debutante winner from last year, Princess Noor, who was far less impressive on the clock than she was through the binoculars, Grace Adler still has much to prove, though she still may turn out to be pretty good. Remember, Curlin runners get better with both age and distance, and she will have a home field advantage of sorts in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
From the Week Concluding August 29, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – The victory by Essential Quality in the Travers S.-G1 clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division but his connections now have their sights on the Horse of the Year, and rightfully so, though there are still doubts among many form analysts as to how good he really is. A five-time winner from six starts in 2021 – his only defeat suffered when fourth (beaten a length) in the Kentucky Derby – the son of Tapit always seems to make hard work of it when winning, very much unlike, say, American Pharoah, who would blow his opposition out of the water during his spectacular campaign in 2015. The margins of victory in his most recent five wins are a cumulative two and one-half lengths, which brings into question whether he’s a colt that just does only what’s required or whether he’s simply beating a less than average lot of 3-year-olds and will get exposed when facing older horses, such as current kingpin (and his Brad Cox-trained stable mate) Knicks Go, whose Beyer numbers in the Cornhusker S.-G3 (113) and the Whitney S.-G1 (111) are clearly faster and more impressive.
Those concerns aside, there is nothing to prevent Essential Quality from stepping up his game during the fall, as many quality 3-year-olds will do. We know he can handle any distance or surface (wet or dry), and because of his versatility and handiness he almost always works out a clean trip. He’s also relentless under pressure. As the Travers unfolded, you suspected it may take Essential Quality a while to get by the easy front-running Midnight Bourbon, but in our mind at least there was never any doubt that he would. His Byer fig of 107 was two points less than his career top in the Belmont Stakes (109), so if you’re a handicapper enslaved by speed figures you’re probably fairly confident that he’ll get exposed eventually. We’re not so sure about that.
2 – Medina Spirit handed Essential Quality his only defeat in the Run for the Roses but two weeks later put up no resistance in the Preakness S.-G1 when challenged by Rombauer, fading to third, beaten more than five lengths. Given most of the summer off, Medina Spirit returned to winning form in the listed eight furlong Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday, setting good fractions and then holding off the stalking Rock Your World, the colt he had chased home in the Santa Anita Derby-G1. The length-and-one-quarter score earned a 100 Beyer speed figure, which is very nice number in the spring but is just decent at this time of the year for a 3-year-old.
The two may hook up again in the Pennsylvania Derby-G1 Sept. 25. Medina Spirit is a very good colt and, at least for now, he’s still the Kentucky Derby winner. But he’s not Essential Quality. As for Rock Your World, it’s understandable his connections want him to remain on dirt and with his own age group until the big purse money runs out, but we remain convinced he’ll eventually prove better on grass.
3 – Life Is Good had his unbeaten streak snapped in his fourth career start when missing by a neck to the high class 3-year-old sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkins Memorial S.-G1 on Travers Day but the son of Into Mischief, away since suffering an injury in March that cost him a chance to participate in the Spring Classics, returned as well as he left, and that’s pretty much all trainer Todd Pletcher was hoping to see. What happens next? Life Is Good was twice a stakes winner around two turns at Santa Anita last winter so the decision as to which direction to take him – either back him up to a sprint or stretch him out to a mile – will have to be made.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 as the year-end goal makes the most sense. As for the B. C. Classic, we’re not sure a mile and one-quarter will ever be his best trip, and there just isn’t enough time to lay a proper foundation, anyway. In due time the son of Into Mischief might stay 10 furlongs, especially next year when he’s stronger and more seasoned, but when a colt is this talented and has so much potential you have to do right by him. The long range goal should be to keep him sound and healthy, let him properly develop, and then see what kind of fantastic 4-year-old he can become.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Though they may be somewhat disadvantaged for having to travel to the West Coast for Breeders’ Cup, North America’s best sprinters reside in the East this year, specifically in Steve Asmussen’s barn, and it would not be surprising to see them dominate the division throughout the remainder of 2021. First, there’s the aforementioned Jackie’s Warrior, winner of seven of eight career starts around one turn, though it must be noted that 3-year-olds have won only nine of 37 previous BC Sprints, . Then there’s unbeaten and brilliant fast sophomore Beau Liam, who though clearly untested, is every bit as fast on pure figures as the much more accomplished stablemate. His second level six length allowance romp on Saturday received a 107 Beyer figure, identical to Jackie’s Warrior. Asmussen’s third high class sprinter, the 4-year-old Yaupon, overcame a mugging by Firenze Fire to win the Forego S.-G1 , though his Beyer figure (103) didn’t quite match up with his younger stable mates.
Earlier on the Saturday program, Jack Christopher, who had trained well enough to make our “Clocker’s Prime and Ready List” several weeks ago, finally got to the races and did what gamblers expected, blowing out a good field at even money almost nine lengths while earning a spectacular 92 Beyer speed figure. The son of Munnings from a half-sister to Street Boss is bred strictly to sprint, but he’s such a good mover that he might eventually run a bit far than he’s supposed to.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar – It’s not like Ginobili was never a pretty decent prospect – he finished second (beaten less than a length) to undefeated Nadal in the 2020 San Vicente S.-G2 at Santa Anita – but his last two races have left his previous lifetime form far behind, and his victory on Saturday in the Pat O’Brien S.-G2 over seven furlongs earned him a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-G1 that will be contested over the same track that has showcased his rapid recent rise to stardom. Prior to earning a pair of triple-digit Beyer figures that also featured a nearly 10 length romp in a first-level allowance main track miler in July, the son of Munnings owned a career top Beyer of 90 (in the San Vicente) from 11 previous starts. But those races came before trainer Richard Baltas decided to equip the gelding with blinkers. Whether or not the addition of the hood, a return to Del Mar (where he had defeated Honor A. P. in a maiden race as a 2-year-old), or something else less apparent contributed to his sudden emergence, the fact is he’s now a viable Breeders’ Cup candidate and will have a home court advantage in November that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Electric Ride, yet another graduate of our “Clocker’s Primed and Ready List,” was somewhat ignored on the tote (9/2) when debuting in the Saturday opener in a race that included a few other hot prospects, but it was the daughter of Daredevil (Swiss Skydiver, Shedaresthedevil, etc.) who aired by nearly nine lengths after being taken in hand and coasting home in the final sixteenth of a mile. The John Sadler-trained juvenile, a $250,000 OBS April sale purchase, earned a strong 85 Beyer speed figure that perhaps due to the ease of the victory doesn’t quite do her justice.
From the Week Concluding August 22, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – The career past performance chart of Malathaat makes for a very impressive resume. Six wins from seven starts including last weekend’s Alabama S.-G1, with her only defeat occurring by a short head in the C.C.A. Oaks-G1. Earnings of more than $1.5 million. Three Grade-1 wins from her last four starts, an accomplishment that already has clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old filly division with another month of summer and an entire fall of competition still remaining. Hall of Fame credentials, right?
But there is something about her – perhaps her good but certainly not over-the-moon speed figures, the lack of signature win over a signature rival, her grinding style, the smallish margins of her victories and the hard work required of them – that perplexes racing analysts. How good, really, is Malathaat? Yes, the best of her crop, for sure. But how does she stack up with the older fillies and mares that she will face in what now has been disclosed as her next start, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1 on the first Saturday in November at Del Mar?
My take? She will be dangerous. Very dangerous.
In a division that is led most certainly by Letruska – she a winner of five of her last six starts (with three triple-digit Beyer figures) – Malathaat still needs to improve to reach the top, but as a 3-year-old, and by Curlin, whose best runners almost always improve with age, the T. Pletcher-trained filly from A. P. Indy’s Frizette-G1 winning daughter Dreaming of Julia has every right to be better in November than she is in August. She’ll be fresh. She won’t be short. And in a race that in projecting ahead should have plenty of pace challengers, Malathaat will have every chance to do then what she did last Saturday.
2 – The victory by Tripoli in the Pacific Classic-G1 wasn’t surprising if for no other reason than the Southern California older male division has taken turns beating each other throughout the year, and apparently, last Saturday, it was his turn. Over a racetrack that was extremely kind to speed and the inside lanes, the 10-furlong main track event presented Tizamagician with a golden opportunity as the controlling speed, and as the field hit the midpoint of the far turn he appeared destined for victory. But when the R. Mandella-trained colt tried to put distance between himself and the stalkers, he couldn’t shrug off the ground-saving Tripoli, who simply overpowered his main foe enroute to his first ever stakes win and career top Beyer speed figure of 104.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 will be staged over this same track and distance, and Tripoli, a son of Kitten’s Joy who by rights shouldn’t even like dirt, now must be considered a legitimate threat, though at this stage he’s nowhere near Knicks Go on resume or speed figures, not to mention the John Gosden’s Mishriff, the Saudi Cup winner who has been described by his trainer as the “ideal mile and one-quarter horse.” But give Tripoli his due. He’s gotten better. Needs to do more, yes, but there’s still time.
3 – It was the fictional character Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez) who said in White Men Can’t Jump, “sometimes when you win, you lose, and sometimes when you lose you win.” Not sure how high Rhetoric can jump but he would have needed to leap over both Forbidden Kingdom and Kamui to win the Saturday fourth race at Del Mar after being blocked, bumped, and shut off in the final sixteenth of the abbreviated sprint for maiden juveniles. Eventually, he passed the wire behind those two when missing by only half-length, so he lost, technically. The bettors lost, and, yes, they really lost, even though the Quality Road colt from terrific Grade-1 winner Hard Not to Like eventually was moved up to second. But you know who also lost but who really, really won? Trainer Bob Baffert, and the colt’s multi-ownership connections, because in defeat they came away knowing they had the best colt in the race, a colt who in no way shape or form wants to sprint, and a colt which, like most Baffert youngsters, seems certain to get better with every subsequent race and every added furlong.
Baffert can run him back vs. maidens over a mile, or he might just wait to stretch him out in the American Pharoah S.-G1 during the fall Santa Anita meeting and, assuming he wins (he will) use that race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. We’ve seen some nice 2-year-olds so far this summer, both at Del Mar and Saratoga. But if you’re talking “down the road,” my future bet goes to Rhetoric.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Trainer Wesley Ward had the Skidmore Stakes for 2-year-olds on Friday pretty much covered no matter what surface the race ended up being contested on. Kaufymaker was turf only, but when the race was switched to dirt, she came out, and her main track-only stable mate Averly Jane came in. The daughter of Midshipman didn’t waste any breath running alone, annihilating her foes by more than seven lengths in a rapid 1:03.79, earning a powerful 86 Beyer in the process. Now undefeated in three starts by a combined 19 lengths with wins on good, sloppy, and fast ground, she was a mere $35,000 yearling purchase bred by the University of Kentucky. Her bankroll has risen to $193,140. She will be earning more.
First place runaway maiden winner of the week goes to the debuting Todd Pletcher-trained colt My Prankster, who embarrassed what we thought was a good maiden field by 10 lengths on Saturday in 1:16.27. The Beyer speed figure was 92. Fast. A $600,000 Fasig-Tipton Select yearling purchase by Into Mischief, he’s from My Wandy’s Girl, a champion race mare imported from Puerto Rico who won several good sprint stakes racing mostly on the Maryland circuit seven or eight years ago.
Second place runaway maiden winner of the week is Makin My Move, a John Kimmel-trained daughter of Carpe Diem who toyed with state bred fillies in the Friday second race, winning by more than 12 lengths in 1:10.92. The final time translates into a 71 Beyer speed figure, which doesn’t make her Ruffian, but still is pretty good for two-year-old New York-bred filly. Carpe Diem has been on the soft side so far as a sire but Keeneland shoppers looking to spend in the teens could do worse.
5 – The weekly Wash from Del Mar– No trainer was colder than Phil D’Amato during the first two weeks of racing at Del Mar and no trainer has been hotter since at the seaside oval. D’Amato, best known for turning modest, inexpensive English and Irish imports into stakes performers (hello, Going Global), finally received the opportunity to train a fancy Kentucky-bred two-year-old and guess what, he can do that, too. Ain’t Easy, a $400,000 Keeneland yearling by Into Mischief from a young group-stakes placed Australian mare, received no wagering action despite the presence of Joel Rosario in the saddle and a 59 4/54 local gate drill. Fooled me. She settled in mid-pack early but then accelerated like a good filly to win by more than five lengths in 1:04.65 in the Saturday opener. Visually, she was better than her assigned 73 Beyer number, and while we know the Into Mischiefs can do anything, this filly’s female family is mostly quality speed, so it’ll be interesting to see how far she wants to go. We’re saying at least a mile, no problem.
Because he wears four bandages and has had to be stopped and started on a couple of times in the last 18 months, Mo Forza doesn’t really resonate as one of North America’s most durable (and best) turf milers, but his winning performance in the Del Mar Mile-G2 on Saturday in his first outing in almost 11 months was thoroughly gratifying to his owners, and trainer Peter Miller. A winner of this same race last year off a long layoff, the son of Uncle Mo now has captured seven of 13 career starts, and if he can get to the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 in November over this same course and distance in peak form, well, let’s just say the Europeans better not bring their second stringers.
From the Week Concluding August 15, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – After Bolshoi Ballet flopped in the Saratoga Invitational Derby-G1 Aug. 7, winding up a no-excuse fourth at even money behind fellow Irish shipper, the 21-1 long shot State of Rest, the plausible explanation was that he had “Euro-bounced” after being so impressive in his previous cross-Atlantic foray when winning the Belmont Derby-G1 in early June. Had Bolshoi Ballet done what was expected and win again, there would have been fewer doubters that Santa Barbara, for the same connections, would be able to repeat her thoroughly dominating victory in her U.S. debut, the Belmont Oaks Invitational-G1, when she returned for the Beverly D. S.-G1 at Arlington Park on Saturday. Didn’t happen. Inside the furlong pole, Santa Barbara roared past Mean Mary (who had her chances greatly compromised after breaking through the gate prior to the start) to win as impressively as she had done at Belmont Park. The 3-year-old daughter of Camelot seems highly-likely to return to the States for a third time to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar.
Last week we opined that the late-developing War Like Goddess had become the best long distance North American based turf filly following her visually stunning victory in the Glens Falls S.-G2 at Saratoga. We’ll stick with that because the younger Santa Barbara technically isn’t North American based – she does her training at Aidan O’Brien’s yard in Ireland – but in a division that is often far less glamorous that some of the others, this impeding collision between these two exceptional fillies is something to really look forward to.
2 – What was Got Stormy doing in the Grade-1 Fourstardave Handicap, anyway? Yeah, she won it two years ago, but wasn’t she far past her prime, having finished off the board in three of her last four starts, with a low-rated Grade-3 victory against moderate fillies and mares sandwiched in between? Isn’t she better sprinting? That’s what we thought. That’s what many of the serious bettors believed, who let her go at 12-1. Glad to be wrong (preferred the runner-up Set Piece, who flew home but too late, I’ll live with it). Her winning 103 Beyer speed figure equaled the number she earned when second to Halladay in this race last year, so we can safely assume that the now 6-year-old mare, a winner of 12 races from 30 career starts while consistently facing the best males and females North America, really hasn’t lost too many steps after all, and that’s a credit to the newly enshrined Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, who’s had her for all but her first two races.
She’ll face the boys again in the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Del Mar (she won the Matriarch S.-G1 there in 2019) but before that probably have a prep, maybe sprinting next month at Kentucky Downs. We’ll probably wind up trying to beat her again on Championship day in November but a big part of us will rooting for her, nonetheless.
3 – We don’t second guess the Southern California stewards very often. Actually, we almost always agree with their decisions. Not so with their ruling to disqualify Next Revolt from first to fourth in the Thursday fifth race at Del Mar. Under Flavian Prat, the gelding came over a half lane – okay, perhaps a bit more – entering the stretch on the already faltering Invictatatus, forcing that one to check and briefly steady. Invictatatus was never, ever, ever going to win or finish second (he wound up being beaten 10 lengths), but a case could be made that he may have been able to salvage third money, even though the incident happened more than a furlong before the wire. Next Revolt’s owners (that’s who I identify with) lost a winner’s purse of $16,800 while the handicappers (not me) who correctly tabbed the original first place finisher at 9/2 got nothing, not to mention the bettors who played the race correctly in rolling exotics and got knocked out, too.
Yes, Prat was careless, give him days (they did), but horse players should be part of the equation, too – and we’re not referring to the ones that got kissed in, but those who played the race properly and deserved to be rewarded. In these situations, you have to have your priorities in order. In adjudicating an inquiry or a foul claim, and it’s a close call, shouldn’t the judges consider who would be wronged the most? In this case, would it be the owner of the much-the-best original winner and those that correctly played him? Or the owner of the badly beaten “fouled” horse who lost $1,680 (the difference in purse money from third to fourth) and the show bettors who got $2.80 after their horse got moved up?
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: Sunday’s first race winner Silipo, a 2-year-old by Candy Ride making his debut for a $40,000 tag, did what was required in registering a more than three length win in a modest 1:06.13 and was claimed by Bruce Brown. In watching the gelding’s action, the old L.A. Ram split end Crazy Legs Hirsch suddenly popped into my mind. Wisconsin Badger fans are aware that Crazy Legs has been rated the 94th best player in NFL history by The Athletic. . .Street Vendor rallied from eighth to second into the teeth of slow splits in the Sunday second when debuting going long on the turf for Todd Pletcher. The Nyquist colt brought $500,000 as a yearling. He’s not worth it just yet. Soon, maybe. . .Really believed hot recent maiden winner Ducale would come right back on the raise in the Saturday eighth but the Twirling Candy colt flipped in the paddock and had to be scratched. If he’d run, it’s highly unlikely he would have challenged Speaker’s Corner. In his first start since beating Caddo River in a 2-year-old maiden race last October, the Street Sense colt returned better than he left for trainer Bill Mott, winning by more than five lengths in 1:22.29, which translates to a 101 Beyer Speed figure. He may be the late developing 3-year-old star we’ve been waiting for all summer.
Most of the time it’s better to believe what you see, not what you read. Grade-1 winner Simply Ravishing, beaten more than 19 lengths as the favorite in the Ashland S.-G1 at Keeneland in her sophomore debut, returned in the Thursday third, the Saratoga Dew Handicap. The assistant trainer was quoted in the DRF about how ready she was, how terrific she had trained. We went to the xbtv.com website to watch one of her recent works. She looked awful. Dead on the board and not even favored, she wound up last of five, beaten 23 lengths, by Dancing Kiki. . .Two-year-old maidens who win at six furlongs on this track and go faster than 1:11 have done something noteworthy. Key Point, a New York-bred son of Into Mischief, ran 1:10.89 as a debut winner in the Thursday fifth, but didn’t really figure out what was required of him until the final sixteenth, at the which time he apparently realized the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. Yeah, we like his chances in state bred stakes, but his connections may have larger goals in mind.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: The Steve Miyadi-trained Saul’s Call looked like he was worth the money when he blew out a juvenile maiden $50,000 field by more than six lengths on Sunday. At least one trainer thought so, but the claim was voided by the state veterinarian. Sometimes, it works the other way. Later that same day in the fourth race, Big Well was claimed for $20,000 but finished last. That claim was voided, too. . .Does anybody in California do better with European imports than trainer Phil D’Amato? Keep in mind that these aren’t proven stakes winners he’s getting, more like modest handicappers. His 2-year-old filly Helen’s Well had a prior run earlier this year at some track called Rosscommon in Ireland (she finished fourth), made her U.S. debut in the Saturday fifth, and after walking out of the gate rallied with purpose to score as miles best like a filly who’ll certainly return in stakes company next time out.
While we’re on the subject of juvenile fillies running long on the lawn, you can never be sure what you’ll see in a maiden California-bred event. Most of the time you won’t see much. Not so in the Thursday fourth race when Dendera and Eleuthera left the others far behind, with the latter particularly impressive in her second place finish in her debut for trainer Ben Cecil. The Square Eddie filly was given far too much to do in a poorly timed ride but finished full of run to be a distant second while preserving her maiden status that will provide additional experience next time, assuming, of course, they run her back vs. maidens. She’s owned by Paul Reddam. . .Claim of the week was made by Ryan Hanson, who took English-bred gelding Barristan The Bold on the big class drop for $32,000 from Friday’s second race. Finished third, should have galloped.
From the Week concluding August 8, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – Some horses have a knack for winning photo finishes. When the result of a race remains in doubt approaching the shadow of the wire, they somehow manage to reach back for reserve energy that only the good ones can find, as opposed to a lesser horse that might simply buckle under pressure. I can relate to the latter; I ran track in high school and my coach told me I was the human equivalent of a maiden claimer. I said, “state bred or open?”
Trainers often romanticize that top horses “know” where the wire is. Maybe they do know, but if so then they’re smarter than some jocks, who I’ve seen stand up at the sixteenth pole. We’ve all witnessed horses that hit the front and then appear to pull themselves up or lose focus and begin to coast, making the margin of victory much closer than it should have been.
Then there’s Knicks Go. He’s apparently not interested in posing for any stinking photos. He wants to blow you out.
The victory by the Brad Cox-trained horse in the Whitney S.-G1 at the Spa on Saturday was thoroughly predictable – the best horse with the easiest trip usually wins – as was his margin of domination, which in his case always has been of blowout proportions. The son of Paynter now has won eight races during his career with the following margins of victory beginning with his most recent: 4 1/2; 10 1/4; 2 3/4; 3 1/2; 10 1/4; 7 1/2; 3 1/2; and 5 1/2.
One other thing about Knick’s Go. He’s never won a race in which he didn’t lead wire-to-wire. We’re not really sure if any older horse currently in training can defeat him even if able to get in front of him early, but we do believe this: Knick’s Go will continue to win if he’s on the lead from the start. And it won’t be in a photo.
2 – Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he was “pleasantly surprised” at the manner in which Bella Sofia dismantled a superior field of 3-year-old fillies in the 7F Test S.-G1 at Saratoga on Saturday. The bargain basement $20,000 OBS 2020 summer sale purchase registered a career top 101 Beyer speed figure in the four and one-half length victory while improving her record to three wins in four starts. In doing so, she became a legitimate candidate for year-end Eclipse Award consideration in the 3-year-old filly division and/or the filly and mare sprint category, though there is still much work to be done.
But if Rudy had read this column last month he wouldn’t have been “surprised.” We certainly weren’t. Here’s what we wrote in this space following her allowance win at Belmont Park on July 11:
“As impressive as any performance witnessed during the past week was the runaway romp by Bella Sofia in a first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-old fillies Sunday at Belmont Park. The margin of victory (six and one-half lengths) and the manner in which the win was accomplished (she easily disposed of a pace rival and then drew off with a ton left) surely stamps the daughter of Awesome Patriot as a legitimate threat to repeat on the raise when facing graded stakes company at Saratoga.
Bella Sofia will get some time off to recover from what had to be a physically taxing, exhausting effort and probably won’t return until the fall. With her stalking/prompting style and the ability to re-break at the head of the lane, she has the perfect set of skills for the BC Filly & Mare Sprint, which like the Test S., is run at seven furlongs.
3 – Maybe it’s not the most glamorous in thoroughbred racing but the long distance filly and turf division in North America has a new star, and shockingly she’s not from Europe and not trained by Chad Brown. Her name is War Like Goddess, purchased for $30,000 as a yearling at Keeneland and trained by Bill Mott. If you didn’t see her victory in the Glens Falls S.-G3 at Saratoga on Saturday, take the time watch what was a much more impressive than raw running lines would lead you to believe. Victorious now in five of six career starts, the daughter of English Channel came against slow fractions while being forced to rally widest of all yet was relentless through the lane, quickly and easily swallowing up her rivals with a turn off foot had to shade 23 seconds for the final quarter mile of the 12-furlong marathon trip.
She didn’t bring much at auction, because as successful of a sire as English Channel has been, his progeny are generally late developers, are pretty much grass only, and tend to be on the smaller side. I’ve never owned one, but I’d love to. When does that Keeneland catalogue come out, anyway?
The Europeans don’t always send their best for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf – they’ve never really had to – but I’m not sure they have the luxury of bringing a second stringer this year. War Like Goddess earned a career top Beyer number of 99 in the Glens Falls, but even if accurate that only tells us what she did. It doesn’t tell us what she’s capable of.
4 – Her World was supposed to debut in a maiden grass sprint for juvenile fillies at Saratoga July 29, but the race got washed off the turf, so trainer Wesley Ward, not willing to wait any longer to unleash his latest keg of dynamite, vanned her down to Monmouth Park for the Tyro Stakes over five furlongs on turf against the boys, who as it turned, clearly had no chance after the opening 20 yards of the race had unfolded. The Irish-bred daughter, from the first crop of the brilliant young Scat Daddy stallion and Irish champion Caravaggio, simply ran her rivals off their feet enroute to a six length score in :56.62. A compact filly blessed with extremely quick action and athleticism, she was a $400,000 Keeneland yearling purchase that apparently was originally – and prophetically – called Rocket Woman. Both names remain registered to her dam’s 2019 foal, according to The Jockey Club registry.
Can’t say yet that she’s this year’s Golden Pal but the Ward barn has to be thinking Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on the first weekend in November at Del Mar, where the short stretch provides the speed types with a major advantage.
5 – On Labor Day weekend, Friday, Aug. 31, 2001 (three weeks shy of exactly 20 years as of this writing), I was in a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama, having just flown in on the UCLA football team Delta Airlines charter for their opening game the following day in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. I was nervous, not about the game as I knew we’d beat them (and we did), but rather about the afternoon’s Spinaway S.-G1 at Saratoga. Team Valor’s filly Cashier’s Dream was supposed to win – she would go off at 30 cents on the dollar – but when you’re facing the bluebloods with a Michigan-bred, you don’t have the luxury of being overconfident.
Barry (Irwin) and I had purchased her for our stable earlier that summer after her first two outings, both wins, in a maiden $50,000 claimer and an allowance race at Churchill Downs. At the time it seemed like we had more trainers than horses, but when we discussed who we should transfer her to, we decided to add a new one to the roster. “What about Steve Asmussen?” Barry asked. “Well, his brother (Cash) once rode a winner for us, so there’s that. Actually, I like him a lot,” I said of the young trainer who had saddled his first Grade-1 winner only two years before. I think he’s on his way to becoming somebody.”
Cashier’s Dream won the Spinaway by a pole, and despite having her career tragically cut short due to illness, remains one of the best fillies we’ve ever owned. He didn’t train many for us, but Steve was one of the best horseman we ever employed, and though he had an early reputation of being difficult to deal with, that never was the case with us. Over the weekend he became the winningest trainer in North American thoroughbred history at 9,445 when he saddled Stellar Tap to a runaway debut maiden win at the Spa. With a little luck, he’ll reach 10,000 by the end of next year. Congrats!
From the week concluding August 1, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analysis
1 – There were a trio of important sprint stakes races over the weekend, two of which were won by 3-year-olds, one of which scored high on the goose-bump scale. Jackie’s Warrior had been upset by Drain the Clock in the Woody Stephens S.-G1 in early June but in their rematch in the 6.5 furlong Amsterdam S.-G2 at Saratoga it was no contest as the son of Maclean’s Music ran his rival into the ground during a torrid early pace duel and then coasted home to register a more than seven length victory. The assigned Beyer speed figure of 101, while arguably accurate, doesn’t do Jackie’s Warrior justice considering the blistering early fractions that he dispensed, and the victory, albeit vs. 3-year-olds only and over a muddy track that may (or may not) have moved him up, stamps him as the leader in the national sprint division for at least until Life Is Good makes a reappearance.
During the winter, Jackie’s Warrior was given one shot to gain passage on this year’s Derby trail, in the two-turn one mile Southwest Stakes-G3 at Oaklawn Park in February. He finished a well-beaten, fading third to Essential Quality, and that, thankfully, was the end of that. Since then he’s been allowed to concentrate on races that fit his profile in one-turn races up to a mile, winning the Pat Day Mile-G2 by a head and then missing by a neck in the Stephens before his Amsterdam success. Though his next start will be at seven furlongs in the H. Allen Jerkens S.-G1 Aug 28, It will be at the shorter six furlong trip of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 where we think he’ll truly be at his very best.
2 – Dr. Schivel is the other 3-year-old to make noise in the sprint division, doing so on Saturday when beating older horses in the Bing Crosby S.-G1. But how strong of a race was it? More than half the field appeared to finish in a heap and the assigned Beyer speed figure of 90 will get you nothing but hot and dirty on Breeders’ Cup day.
Successful in four of six career outings, the son of Violence did register a 97 Beyer in an overnight race at Santa Anita in his first start of the year in June, a respectable figure but not one that’s going to win the B.C. Sprint. Maybe he can do better. He’ll have to. The good news for Dr. Schivel is that he clearly loves the always quirky Del Mar main track (home to this year’s Breeders’ Cup), having won all three of his starts there including the 2020 Del Mar Futurity-G1.
3 – Continuing with our theme of the impact of speed figures in the evaluation process, the first-time starting juvenile filly Magnolia really caught our eye on Saturday when graduating in a five furlong turf sprint at Del Mar. Off a bit slowly and then stymied behind the leaders while saving ground to the head of the lane, she displayed quick action and extreme athleticism to angle out for room in the upper stretch and then quickly reeled in the leader to win like a filly who is destined to be somebody down the road.
Her Beyer speed figure of 70 was okay, not great, but the final furlong, officially clocked in :11.41 (she was at least a length back at this stage) under mild hand coaxing only may paint or more accurate picture. As a daughter of Frosted, she’s supposed to run on, so we’d think the listed Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf Sept. 5 will be next. Then, we’ll learn if the Simon Callaghan-trained filly is better than the fig says she is.
4 – It was a little puzzling that the Monmouth Park stewards waited two weeks after the fact to announce that jockey Flavien Prat had been handed a seven day suspension for careless riding aboard the disqualified Hot Rod Charlie in the Haskell S.-G1. Prat was cited for “failing to make a reasonable effort to keep his horse from drifting in past the 1/8 pole, allowing his horse to cross in front of Midnight Bourbon, which resulted in Midnight Bourbon clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie, causing Midnight Bourbon to stumble badly, unseating his rider.”
The owners of the fallen colt surely would have collected at least third money of $100,000 had Prat maintained a straight course but instead received nothing but a bill for a standard jockey’s fee owed to their rider, Paco Lopez. Meanwhile, in what may be a case of being good to have friends in high places, Prat is allowed to serve his days beginning September 7 and ending Sept. 13, a time frame that conveniently begins one day after the rich Del Mar season closes and occurs during the first week of the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Los Alamitos Racetrack. Not sure how many mounts Prat was expected to ride during the Fair meeting, but at the recently concluded two week summer session at Los Alamitos, he, according to the track’s website accepted exactly zero mounts.
5 – I had the good fortune of covering the Preakness S.-G1 on site at Pimlico for HRTV for a dozen years, a significant journalistic experience to be sure, one that allowed me to be rooftop for one of the most thrilling horse races I’ve ever seen, the victory by the filly Rachel Alexandra over Derby winner Mine That Bird in 2009. Three years earlier, the undefeated Barbaro, who had captured the attention of the mainstream media as a likely Triple Crown winner following his runaway Kentucky Derby triumph, was expected to take his next step toward racing immortality that afternoon but tragically suffered what proved to be a catastrophic injury in the opening furlong of the race, and ultimately had to be put down several months later despite heroic attempts to save him.
The winner of that Preakness wasn’t the story line, in fact almost all of our reporting centered on Barbaro’s dire post-race condition and his hastily assembled emergency transportation with escort to a nearby veterinary clinic. Through it all, we managed to occasionally drop into the discussion that a little known 12-1 longshot named Bernardini, trained by Tom Albertrani, actually had won the race
We may not have realized it at the time, but Bernardini was a fabulous race horse an in retrospect may have won the Preakness under any circumstance. The Darley Stable (Godolphin)-owned colt would proceed to win the Jim Dandy S.-G1, the Travers S.-G1 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 (each victory under wraps) before going to the post in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at even money, a race that I’ll always believe he should have won. The victim of pilot error or perhaps overconfidence by jockey Javier Castellano, Bernardini was asked to move too soon while very wide into the teeth of a contested pace and eventually paid the price when worn down close home by Invasor, who won by a length and in doing so earned Horse of the Year honors.
A resident of Jonabell Farm throughout his stud career, Bernardini was euthanized last Friday at age 18 due to laminitis. Though he never produced anything that was quite as accomplished as himself, the son of A. P. Indy was highly successful in his second career, siring at last count 80 stakes winners and the dams of 54 stakes winners. Those numbers will rise in seasons to come, and his influence in North American breeding will be felt for decades.
From the week concluding July 25, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – It’s not called the “Graveyard of Favorites” for nothing. Unbeaten Malathaat (1/5) couldn’t lose the Coaching Club American Oaks-G1 at Saratoga, until she did. But that wasn’t the shocking part, because she performed as well as could be expected, actually earning a career top 96 Beyer after responding bravely to constant pressure before falling short by a head. What was unforeseen was the monumental step up in performance by Maracuja, who left 14-1 but would have been triple that price (at least) if there had been a full field of runners instead of just a four. This was the same Maracuja that was 37-1 when last seen finishing seventh (beaten more than seven lengths) in the Kentucky Oaks-G1 behind Malathaat and had gone three weeks without a recorded workout between June 13 and July 4, during which time she was getting over a “setback,” according to trainer Rob Atras.
But, make no mistake, the outcome was no fluke. After pressing Malathaat during the opening half mile, Maracuja began to retreat midway down the backstretch and found herself last approaching the half mile pole and appearing be done at that point. But, in an instant and apparently channeling her inner Billy Mills, she somehow managed to re-rally wide into the lane and then just kept on coming (“Look at Maracuja! Look at Maracuja!”). Despite this extraordinary performance, the daughter of Honor Code still has much to accomplish in order to enter the conversation for a year-end Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old filly. But now, at least, there’s a path. The Alabama S.-G1 (August 21) is next.
2 – “Can’t miss” favorites can get beaten at Del Mar, too, as witnessed by Going Global’s stunning defeat at 2/5 by a half-length to Madrone in the San Clemente S.-G2 on Saturday. Yes, she had been freshened for eight weeks and displayed a work tab that was light if not steady, but this was her first defeat in six starts since arriving in the States after the Irish-bred 3-year-old had compiled such a record that trainer P. D’Amato was speaking of her in terms of being the best grass filly he’d ever trained.
Though Flavien Prat provided no excuses (“the winner got the jump, but I got through”), jockeys always have been reluctant to position themselves outside entering the far turn in a Del Mar turf race for fear of being parked out and losing valuable ground, especially over a course with a bull ring equivalent stretch run of just 817 feet run. Nobody would dispute that an ideal trip on grass would be to save ground with cover and then quicken through the lane, but at Del Mar the ability to mount momentum, as Madone did outside in the clear from the mid-point of the far turn to the wire, is often just as effective and often times less problematic. While Prat and Going Global were bottled up for at least a furlong during the critical stage of the race, Madone was in full flight. That, more than anything, made the difference. We’ll see what happens when they meet again in the Del Mar Oaks-G1 Aug. 21.
3 – Jockey Kent Desormeaux took to his twitter feed to vent frustration following his suspension for three days after his mount in the Friday Del Mar first race, the debuting 2-year-old filly Seven Exes, was disqualified from fifth to sixth for shifting in at the break and causing crowding at the start of the race. After viewing the head on, it’s hard to believe that Kent was even called in, much less cited. Indeed, the filly veered in sharply and initiated a chain reaction, but it certainly appeared that the jockey did what he could to straighten her out after contact was made. Remember, this was a 2-year-old in her first career start. It happens.
Contrast this to jockey Kyle Fry’s premeditated gate break maneuver in the Del Mar 11th race on Saturday, July 17. Leaving from the rail midway up the turf chute, Fry, from the number one post position aboard Jimmy Blue Jeans, drifted out noticeably leaving the gate in what certainly appeared to be an attempt to gain a better angle entering the main course, but in doing so caused a reaction that completely sawed off the runner drawn right next to him, Wyfire, which clearly cost that colt valuable early position and arguably his best chance. Wyfire did manage to pick himself off the ground to eventually rally and wind up fourth, but there was no inquiry, no disqualification, and no days. This might be a video Kent should use as evidence to cite inconsistency, if nothing else, during his appeal hearing, assuming the ruling is still pending.
4 – Adayar, a son of Frankel who defeated terrific older rivals Mishriff and Love at Ascot on Saturday, became the first colt to win the Epsom Derby-G1 and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.-G1 back-to-back since the brilliant Galileo pulled it off 21 years ago, and in doing so stamped himself as a top contender for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and a viable candidate for European Horse of the Year honors. And he may very well be good enough to do just that. But you have to wonder, as many English scribes are currently debating, is Adayar even is the best colt in Charlie Appleby’s yard? Yes, he did defeat his stable mate Hurricane Lane, who finished third in the Derby, but ‘Lane had a legitimate excuse (blew two shoes) before returning to win both the Irish Derby-G1 and the Grand Prix de Paris-G1. If everything goes well for both, the question may be settled on the first Sunday in October at Longchamp.
As for Mishriff, his trainer John Gosden sportingly made just a brief mention of the weight discrepancy (11 lbs.) afforded the 3-year-old Adayar on Saturday over his older rival while no doubt keeping in mind that such a weight break has helped him with many of his own 3-year-old in the past. Gosden said the Juddmonte International at York Aug. 18 is next for Mishriff. As for any long range plan for the Saudi World Cup winner, we’d have to think, the Breeders’’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on the first Saturday in November is in the back of trainer’s mind, as well.
5 – It took trainer Bob Baffert forever (or the Del Mar equivalent of six racing days) to saddle his first winner of the 2021 season, first when sending out the “other Baffert” Risk and Reward to a 7-1 upset victory over his 4/5 favored stable mate Bobby Bo in the Sunday opener, and then, in the next race, unveiling what appears to be an exceptional prospect with the 2-year-old Street Sense colt Murray, a strolling winner by almost 12 lengths despite being taken in hand and allowed to coast in the final 70 yards. The Beyer speed figure of 78, while quite good, didn’t quite meet the visual, but that’s fine.
Murray was produced by the Tiznow mare Now Now, who was unplaced in two starts but is a half-sister to Amsterdam S.-G2 winner Listen Here, to Pennsylvania Oaks winner Indy Bird, and to the stakes-placed dam of the terrific Grade-1 winning turf filly La Coronel, which means he has a right to run short or long, dirt or turf. Chances are he’s going to be good at something.
From the week concluding July 18, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper/analyst
1 – The disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie in the Haskell S.-G1 – the fastest (and easiest) decision by a board of stewards we’ve seen since maybe ever – lands strictly on the shoulders of Flavien Prat, not Paco Lopez, not the no-whip rule, and certainly not Hot Rod Charlie, who didn’t lug in but was clearly steered in, either carelessly or purposely, by Prat. In a television interview the following day on TVG, Prat said he wasn’t even aware that his actions had placed Midnight Bourbon in close quarters in mid-stretch. “I had no clue what happened. It was just after the wire that I realized he was in between us.”
Well, folks, that’s the definition of carelessness. And Prat, a great jockey to be sure – head-and-shoulders above his colleagues on the Southern California circuit and never considered to be a rough or dirty rider – appeared to make a calculated mistake, that of assuming that Midnight Bourbon had dropped away and was clear of heel-clipping range. In leaning to his left in an effort to have Hot Rod Charlie better engage his main challenger Mandaloun, Prat did what he thought he needed to do in order to extract the maximum competitive energy from his colt. And the maneuver served its purpose, as Hot Rod Charlie indeed sensed the challenge, dug down deep and got the best of Mandaloun right at the wire.
We’ll never know which of the two would have crossed the wire first if Prat had not decided to change lanes without signaling; we can only be thankful that Midnight Bourbon (who managed to keep his feet in a truly magnificent display of athleticism) and Lopez (who must be thinking what the reaction would have been if HE had done what Prat did) weren’t injured.
2 – There were several superior performances last weekend by horse and trainer, not the least of which was the second straight victory by Althiqa (and now three-out-four in head-to-head battles) over Summer Romance in the Diana S.-G1 at Saratoga that produced yet another one-two finish from these two terrific Great Britain-based fillies. We expected the result of last month’s Just A Game S.-G1 to be reversed because of a highly favorable pace flow that likely would favor the front-running Summer Romance (it did), but Althiqa, despite being forced to rally wide into slow fractions, collared her Godolphin stable mate close home while continuing the superlative form that had been evident this past winter in Dubai.
It’s been reported in Daily Racing Form that both fillies will return to the States in the fall, Althiqua for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf over 11 furlongs at Del Mar, and Summer Romance for the First Lady S.-G1 at Keeneland. We’re not sure there’s an American-based older filly or mare turf specialist who could beat either one of them right now.
3 – Just in time for the late-summer yearling sales, freshman stallion Practical Joke is off to highly-promising start at stud, with his first crop represented by Wit, now unbeaten in two starts, a six length maiden win at Belmont Park last month and then the Sanford S.-G3 over the weekend at Saratoga by eight lengths, with runner-up Headline Report more than five clear of the rest. If Wit turns out to be as accomplished a racehorse as his sire, that will be nice, but if you recall, Practical Joke was notorious for being almost unbeatable in one corner races but something far less than that when stretching out around two turns.
Though it’s far too early to pigeon-hole Wit as a late-running sprinter, at this stage of his young career, there is a strong possibility that is what he will prove to be. Assuming he stays healthy and continues on a logical schedule that should include the 7f Hopeful S.-G1 and then perhaps the 8F Champagne S.-G1, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt won’t have to cross that bridge until the 8.5 furlong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile S.-G1 on the first Friday in November at Del Mar.
4 – And then there’s Gun Runner, who appears on the path to where his sire, Candy Ride, always has been. With his first foals racing this year, the Three Chimneys stallion already has sired eight winners (seven doing so in their debuts), perhaps none more impressive than the filly Echo Zulu, successful by five and one-half lengths at Saratoga opening day for her sire’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, in a performance that was assigned a 92 Beyer speed figure, 16 points better than what Pretty Bird earned when easily winning the Schuylerville S.-G3 later in the day.
While Echo Zulu has been the most impressive juvenile filly we’ve witnessed so far, we also very much liked what we saw at Del Mar from Smash Ticket in her victory on Saturday. Second to the very speedy Wicked Halo in her debut at Lone Star Park, the daughter of Midnight Lute (and a May foal, no less) earned a stakes-quality 78 Beyer speed figure in a five-length maiden romp, winning like a filly who seems certain to run on.
5 – News flash: the rail is death at Del Mar. Like always. Like it’s certain to be on Breeders’ Cup weekend in November, just as it was when Championship Day was held there four years ago. Yes, things could change (no, actually, they won’t), but during the first three days of the 2021 season, here are the stats for post position number one on dirt: Sprints (15 races, no wins, no seconds, three thirds). Routes: (5 races, no wins, no seconds, one third).
Meanwhile, horses drawn in either of the two extreme outside posts in all main track events have won 10 of the 19 races. So, when you open your Form and peruse the past performances charts, start from the outside and work your way down. If you find something you like right off the bat, circle it and just move on to the next race. Hey, just trying to make things easy.
From the Weekend Concluding July 11, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper/analyst
1 – It may be difficult to truly appreciate the impact that Galileo had on thoroughbred racing, both on the track and in his record-setting career at stud. Arguably the sport’s most influential stallion in the past half-century if not of all time, the winner of both the Epsom Darby and the Irish Derby in 2001 was the product of 14-time champion sire Sadler’s Wells and Arc winner Urban Sea and thus truly epitomized the old saying, “breed the best to the best and hope for the best.” At stud, Galileo sired at last count 338 stakes winners, including the undefeated Frankel, certainly one of the greatest race horses in European history.
Galileo’s influence is guaranteed to carry on through his sons and daughters for as long as The Jockey Club keeps records. He was euthanized July 10 at the age of 23 due to a chronic injury to his left fore front, hours before his 3-year-old son of Bolshoi Ballet became his 91st Grade/Goup-1 winner when capturing the Belmont Derby-G1.
2 – Trainer Aidan O’Brien is properly regarded as one of the world’s greatest trainers but gamblers who have backed his Irish-based runners in New York in the past few years have been wondering what the hype is all about. Having a record of something like 1-for-61 prior to his sending Santa Barbara and Bolshoi Ballet across the pond gave many handicappers what proved to be an unnecessary reason for pause in the Belmont Oaks-G1 and Belmont Derby-G1, respectively, even though both imports appeared on resume to be absolute standouts. Both runners left at just slightly better than even money, with Santa Barbara accelerating impressively in the closing stages to win the Oaks as much best and then an hour later Bolshoi Ballet taking an overland journey to produce a smart score in the Derby.
It must be noted that they are 3-year-olds and thus have plenty of room for further development. However, neither are considered to be at the top of the list among those that could venture to Del Mar in the fall for the 2021 Breeders’ Cup festival, a scary thought for an American long distance turf contingent that, as usual, appears at the midpoint of the season to be only slightly above ordinary.
3 – It’ll be interesting to see if Oaklawn Park’s decision to move next year’s $1.2 million Arkansas Derby-G1 up to April 2, five weeks prior to the Run for the Roses rather than its traditional three week slot, has any impact on the placement of the yet-to-be-scheduled $750,000 Florida Derby-G1, which, if tradition holds, would be positioned to run on that same day. One would think that with a more lucrative purse of $450,000, the Arkansas Derby might be in line to attract the stronger field. However, when it comes to Kentucky Derby preparation, most horsemen are far less concerned about a purse discrepancy than taking the path of least resistance towards the accumulation of points that assures a spot in the starting line-up on the first Saturday in May.
Gulfstream Park management could move the Florida Derby to the next day (Sunday), wait a week and make it a Stronach Group coast-to-coast double header with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby-G1, or simply stand pat. As a loyal employee, whatever management decides is officially fine by me.
4 – As impressive as any performance witnessed during the past weekend was the runaway romp by Bella Sofia in a first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-olds fillies Sunday at Belmont Park. The margin of victory (six and one-half lengths) and the manner in which the win was accomplished (she easily disposed of a pace rival and then drew off with a ton left) surely stamps the daughter of Awesome Patriot as a legitimate threat to repeat on the raise when facing graded stakes company at Saratoga. Though she won her debut by more than 11 lengths and then was beaten just a length by (at-the-time) undefeated Australasia in the listed Jersey Girl S. last month, this effort left her previous two outings far behind while earning an Equibase speed figure of 112, easily a career top.
It’s hard to believe that the Rudy Rodriguez-trained filly brought only $20,000 at the 2020 OBS June sale, though to be fair she was a sibling to nobody and her 10 2/5 seconds breeze during the preview session was visually average at best.
5 – It’s been getting worse by the year but in 2021 the proliferation of mis-timed fractions and final times of races throughout North America has reached a level of absurdity. Not a day goes by when horse players, especially those that depend on accurate speed figures as the backbone of their handicapping process, aren’t burdened with charts that are peppered with the infuriating “hand-timed” designation. What’s worse is when final times are clearly wrong, and the tracks don’t even both to issue a correction.
On Sunday alone, the Equibase official chart failed to list any fractions or final time associated with the featured River Memories Stakes at Belmont Park. We put a man on the moon more than 50 years ago. It shouldn’t be that difficult to accurately clock a horse race.
From the Weekend Concluding July 5, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper/analyst
1 – The most significant performance of the extended holiday weekend comes courtesy of St Mark’s Basilica in his nothing-short-of-exceptional victory in the 10F Coral-Eclipse S.-G1 at Sandown on Saturday. After winning three previous Group-1 races against his own age group, including the Dewhurst S. at Newmarket, the French 1000 Guineas at Longchamp and the French Derby at Chantilly, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt made a mockery of older rivals, chief among them Saudi Cup-G1 and Dubai Sheema Classic-G1 winner Mishriff, while producing the type of acceleration two furlongs out that only the great ones possess.
The French-bred son of Siyouni must now be rated the best horse in Europe, if not the entire planet, and would be a wonderful addition to any Breeders’ Cup field, though he may very well have other fish to fry overseas in the fall. “Of all the times we’ve trained horses through all the years, I can’t remember that we’ve had (a performance) like that,” said O’Brien.
2 – A critical race at Belmont Park for older horses, the 10F Suburban S.-G2, offered a rematch of the first two finishers from the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1, the unbeaten Happy Saver, and the Dubai World Cup-G1 winner Mystic Guide. But over a sloppy sealed surface that neither appeared to grab, it was Max Player (not Maxfield) who sprung the upset in a race that proved little other than the winner’s affinity for a muddy track.
A distant third in both the Belmont S.-G1 and the Travers S.-G1 last summer and then nowhere to be found in his four most recent races (including a 24-length drubbing to the aforementioned Mishriff in Saudi Arabia), the son of Honor Code was game in victory but earned only a 101 Beyer speed figure, an indication that the others ran down to his level, not the other way around. Attached to the victory is an all-expense paid ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 at Del Mar. But there will be no rain on the first Saturday in November in San Diego county.
3 – A legitimate Grade-1 front-runner such as Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 winner Knicks Go facing a handful of thoroughly outclassed rivals that have no chance to apply even a modest amount of early pressure is the perfect recipe for the easily predictable outcome of the 9F Prairie Meadows Cornhusker-G3 Friday evening. His 10 length margin of victory manufactured a career-top 113 Beyer Speed Figure while reaffirming what trainer Brad Cox said after the 5-year-old son of Paynter finished a fading fourth at 4/5 in the Met Mile in early June. “He’s a two-turn horse, was Cox’s simple but entirely accurate explanation.
Now, with 21 races on his resume, Knick’s Go clearly has established one other indisputable characteristic: when facing top class company; he is a dyed-in-the-wool need-the-lead type. Though unproven at 10 furlongs – but certain to stay the trip under pristine conditions – he could very well resurface at Del Mar August 21 for the $750,000 Pacifica Classic-G1 in what would serve as a dress rehearsal for the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 that will be staged over that same course and distance 11 weeks later. Mystic Guide could be headed in the same direction, as well.
4 – It’s the time of the year when we’re inclined to seek out potentially high-class, late-developing 3-year-olds – those that weren’t ready or seasoned enough for the Triple Crown – to make an impact in the sophomore ranks and perhaps even steal an Eclipse Award, such as what Arrogate did a few years back. While he’s nowhere near that level just yet, First Captain will have his chance to establish championship credentials at Saratoga, with the 10F Travers S.-G1 his late-summer goal. Unbeaten in three starts but yet to race farther than a mile, the son of Curlin, at 40 cents on the dollar, was workmanlike when grinding out a one and three-quarter length victory in the Dwyer S.-G3 at Belmont Park on Monday. The Beyer speed figure was a just okay 90, a career low.
However, Shug’s colt has a pedigree to excel over a classic distance and farther. In as division which currently has Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie squarely at the top, a new shooter such as this $1.5 million yearling purchase, may still be capable of bringing fresh blood and new life to a division that remains there for the taking.
5 – Gamine has been beaten just once in nine starts. She failed to see out the nine-furlong trip in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks-G1 when third (and then subsequently disqualified for a bad test) but has been otherwise perfect, most recently coasting home to register a 10-length romp in the 6.5F Great Lady M. S.-G2 at Los Alamitos on Monday. In any other year, she’d probably be sent to Saratoga, where she won the 2020 Test S.-G1 by seven lengths, but a trip to New York isn’t currently an option for trainer Bob Baffert. We anticipate Gamine will remain in the West and be given a run, perhaps two, to prepare to defend her title in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint-G1.
The Rancho Bernardo (Aug. 20) at Del Mar logically would be next, but that race is just a Grade-3 with a $100,000 guaranteed purse and will be carded under handicap conditions, so you have to wonder just how much weight she’d be asked to carry in order to make the race competitive. Facing males eight days later in the 7F Pat O’Brien for twice the purse money (it’s a win-and-your-in race, too) might be a better option, especially under the 122 lb. impost she would carry, according to the conditions of the race.