Preakness winner Shackleford has been one of the most consistent male horses of 2011.
After edging out Game On Dude in the stretch of the Hollywood Gold Cup on the way to his first Grade 1 victory, First Dude looked to be the next horse to take a shot at filling the top spot of the Classic division. With his retirement early this week due to a strained tendon, the division remains mysterious as it has all season.
Here are the ten horse that DRF's Mike Watchmaker listed as his best of the older male division:
1. First Dude
2. Twirling Candy
4. Sidney's Candy
5. Game On Dude
7. Mission Impazible
9. Crown of Thorns
10. Pool Play
It's hard to quibble with that list as I think that it pretty much includes the top horses within the division this year. But like we discussed only a couple months ago, there's a ton of question marks with almost all of those horses.
Let's take a look at each of the male divisions (Older and 3yo) along with the fillies and mares.
- First Dude is now retired.
Twirling Candy hasn't been able to win going a mile and a quarter and is starting to feel a little bit like a horse that everyone waits to run that big race but never does. Perhaps it's a bit too soon to make that call but he's moving in that direction in my mind.
- Tizway has never won a race going more than a mile and looks like a one-turn horse more than anything else.
Sidney's Candy, now that he's with trainer Todd Pletcher and based on the East Coast, was originally going to get a shot at the top dirt races this summer for older horses. Apparently, his connection have realized something that I think a lot of handicappers already suspected: he's better on turf/synthetic than dirt. (DRF: Sidney's Candy appears headed to Fourstardave on turf)
- Game On Dude is probably as good as anyone right now after nearly pulling off the win at Hollywood.
- Setsuko...if we're doing a Top 10 list of older horses in the country and Setsuko almost makes the top 5, I think that says everything you need to know about the division. Yeah, he ran a good second in the Santa Anita Handicap but the horse has won one race in his entire career. One race.
- Mission Impazible at least wins a race now and then (he won the New Orleans Handicap last March) but he's another that seems exposed at ten furlongs.
- Apart has a lot of upside, perhaps he'll step up in the weeks ahead.
- Crown of Thorns and Pool Play...I suppose they are as good as any of the others at this point.
- Flat Out's dominating win in the Suburban puts him into the mix with everyone else but, like all the other contenders, he's been inconsistent from race-to-race. He's also only raced nine times in the last three years, so his durability is a big question mark.
The three-year-old division is a little more stable at the top but a crap shoot after that:
Shackleford is clearly the best of his age group that is currently in-training and he's been one of the more consistent horses, regardless of age, this season.
- Ruler On Ice got the job done in the Belmont but that race hasn't exactly produced a ton of horses that have gone on to great things in the last few years. This Sunday's Haskell will be a big test for him.
- Mucho Macho Man ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown and hasn't been heard from since. His last published work was June 5th.
- Uncle Mo. Who knows with this colt. Maybe he gets back to where he was as a juvenile, maybe not. I haven't a clue.
- Brilliant Speed is likely going to get a shot in the Jim Dandy and the Travers. We'll see if he's able to win on dirt.
- Gotham winner Stay Thirsty is also targeting the Travers.
So the males are a bit on the thin side in terms of "blow-you-away, top-level" talent, but they are a competitive bunch. If all of those males were to line up in the Classic (given what we know about them right now) I would think that the betting would be extremely spread out.
Now lets look at the females. If you haven't taken a gander at the fillies and mares competing during 2011 you might be a bit surprised at how many really good ones are competing right now. It's not just Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, it's a group of at least ten high-quality females. In no particular order:
- Blind Luck: Last March it was starting to look like Blind Luck was getting a bit of a "too little, too late" reputation; she just couldn't seem to get up at the wire inside the final furlongs. Three races later and she's become a filly that seemingly won't be denied. Her running style can still get her into problems due to traffic and pace, but she flat out runs a good race every single time she steps on the track (21-12-7-2 lifetime)
- Havre de Grace: If she's #2 among the fillies it's only by a nose. (12-6-4-2 lifetime)
- Awesome Maria: She hasn't met either of the top two since she finished a well-beaten 3rd to both at Philadelphia Park last October. Since then, her connections have wisely avoided the two monsters.
- Switch: Probably better suited for race at 7f or a mile but she's able to run a winning race at two-turns once and a while, as evidenced by her second to Blind Luck in the Vanity and 2nd to Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom.
- It's Tricky: She flopped at Gulfstream against R Heat Lightning and had come back to post very impressive wins in the Acorn and the CCA Oaks. She's developed nicely this summer.
R Heat Lightning: She's been out since before the Kentucky Oaks but let's not forget how impressive she was when she won the Gulfstream Oaks and the Davona Dale. If she can get back into form by the time fall rolls around she'll add even more star power to the division.
- Royal Delta: Disappointing in the CCA Oaks but is still a quality filly in a high competitive division.
- Buster's Ready: Probably not as good as the very top fillies in this group but she's no slouch.
- Zazu: Grade 1 Hollywood Oaks winner, Grade 1 Las Virgenes winner, 2nd in the G1-Santa Anita Oaks to Turbulent Decent and 3rd to Plum Pretty in the Kentucky Oaks. How good is this division when a filly like Zazu would probably be mentioned near the back-end of any top 10 list?
- Turbulent Descent: Won the Santa Anita Oaks, the Beaumont and the Hollywood Starlet at 8.5 furlongs, 2nd in the Acron, 2nd in the Las Virgenes...don't sleep on this filly.
It's tough not to get a bit excited about a race at the Breeders' Cup featuring the ten fillies and mares listed above. Not only would it be an excellent betting race, but it would likely be one of the deepest fields ever at the Cup.