There was almost too much racing action to follow this weekend. Almost. With about a month to go before the 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, things are starting to come into focus across the country. The Breeders' Cup Classic saw four horses make their claim as top contenders, while the turf races will once again bring together top runners from both North America and Europe. We've got juveniles stretching out and stepping up, along with sprinters looking to sharpen their natural speed in preparation for the year's biggest day of racing.
Thirty-two days to go until the Breeders' Cup.
I've got four files that may be of assistance in re-capping the weekend. The first is the Super Saturday/Arc Festival Results file. The second is the current Breeders' Cup Challenge race results. The third file is an overall Breeders' Cup prep races (both Challenge and non-challenge), followed by a Breeders' Cup Contenders file by division. The first three should be up-do-date, and I'm working on getting the fourth more organized over the next couple of days.
With the housekeeping out of the way, below is a rundown on my thoughts on this weekend's results and what impact (if any) they will have on the Breeders' Cup next month.
- In terms of the preps for the Classic, I thought Havre de Grace was the most impressive of the four winners (Havre de Grace, Flat Out, Game On Dude, and Uncle Mo), but I would put Game On Dude a close 2nd. I thought Flat Out's win in the JCGC was very good, but just a notch below those other two.
I don't know that I love Game On Dude in the Classic - I think he'll be hard-pressed to take the field 10 furlongs on the lead - but he's was exceptional in the Goodwood.
As for Uncle Mo: there's no question he's a fantastic colt and he appears to be back (finally) to his juvenile form after a tumultuous spring. But I can't get excited about him for the Classic off of his Kelso performance. It's not that I think he did something wrong in the Kelso. He didn't. He did everything right. My issue is that he got everything his own way in a one-turn race on a track playing very kind to speed all day long. He did exactly what he should have done, and that was dominate. But that race didn't tell me anything about whether he can go 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs while receiving pressure on the lead. And that makes me skeptical.
- I also don't know how much stock to put into the Vosburgh, a race where a lot of things went wrong for several of the horses. While I thought Giant Ryan was excellent, the pace got all messed up when Euroears was taken out shortly after leaving the gate. With no pace pressure on him, Giant Ryan rode the fast Belmont surface to a relatively easy gate-to-wire win. Like Uncle Mo in the Kelso, I am impressed by Giant Ryan's performance but have questions as to whether he can repeat it at Churchill Downs.
- In a bit of a Vosburgh side note: the scratch of 2010 BC Sprint winner Big Drama will create a layoff situation for the defending champ heading into Louisville. That's not necessarily a bad thing for sprint contenders (layoff horses have done well the last few years in sprint races at the Breeders' Cup), but you have to wonder if Big Drama has enough foundation to pop another big effort at Churchill.
- It's too bad that turf horses are generally ignored for Horse of the Year honors because there is no doubt that Acclamation has been the most consistent horse in North America this season. Despite his five consecutive graded stakes wins, it is unlikely he'll receive major consideration for end of the year honors unless he wins the Breeders' Cup Turf and things fall apart in the Classic. And that's a tough situation to be in.
- Jamie Spencer had to work on Cape Blanco (IRE) very early and very hard in the Hirsch Turf Classic, and he did enough to hold off stubborn Dean's Kitten at the wire.
The jockeys described the turf at Belmont on Saturday as very "sticky", and it certainly appeared like that when you watched the replay of the both the Hirsch and the Flower Bowl. But despite the fact that the end of the Hirsch didn't look great visually, I thought the top two ran very well for a couple of reasons. First, no one else was even near Cape Blanco and Dean's Kitten at the wire; they were over eight lengths clear of 3rd place finisher Grassy (and about a mile ahead of Winchester, who didn't have anything during the entire race). Second, the fifth quarter mile split was run in a solid 24.16 seconds before the top 2 struggled through 27.53 in the final two furlongs. Considering the conditions of the course, and the fact that Jamie Spencer moved Cape Blanco really, rally early, I don't think it was too bad of a race.
Edited: Well, I guess it wasn't all good since news has come out that Cape Blanco suffered an injury during the race and has been retired. (see the FanShot on the front page.)
- I really liked the run by Weemissfrankie and Creative Cause in the two juvenile races at Santa Anita this weekend, especially Weemissfrankie in the Oak Leaf. Sitting mid-pack through quick early fractions, the Sunriver filly angled out to the center of the track in the final furlongs and wore down a game Candrea at the wire. If the Oak Leaf had been run on Polytrack, where the off-the-pace runners are much more effective, that would have been a nice effort. Since it was run around two-turns on dirt, I think it was a much nicer performance.
The Santa Anita main track appears to be less speed-biased than it was in the winter/spring meet, but it's still more kind to speed than Del Mar.
Weemissfrankie carved out factions of 23.38, 24.18, 24.01, and 31.35 in the 8.5 furlong journey, with a final half-furlong in 6.48 seconds.
- Nashua winner Vexor is likely headed to the inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint.
- I've really liked Zazu all year long and was happy to see her come up with the win in the Lady's Secret on Saturday. On the flip side, it was very disheartening to see Blind Luck run up the track as she did; that's just not her. While it's disappointing that Blind Luck won't be coming to the Breeders' Cup, it's really seems like the right move by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Stacelita (FR) is just phenomenal and is going to be an absolute handful in the Filly & Mare Turf, depending on which horses come over from Europe.
Looking at the Flower Bowl with an eye on what happened in the Hirsch with Cape Blanco and Dean's Kitten, it's hard not to be impressed with a final split of 24.13 over the slow and sticky turf course. The thing I really like about Stacelita is her ability to win from up near the lead or from further back in the pack. And she's not wholly dependent on pace, like a lot of turf horses are. As long as the rider keeps her relatively covered up in the early going (unlike her race in the United Nations), she's going to give you a good effort.
- Speaking of horses coming over from Europe, the Arc winner appears to be a likely Breeders' Cup starter in either the Turf or the Filly & Mare Turf. I would think the 12 furlongs of the Turf would suit Danedream (GER) a little better than the shorter F&M Turf, but she'd be a low-priced horse in either of those two races.
- While it's clear that Goldikova (IRE) appears to finally be off of her best form she will still be a handful for any of her rivals in this year's Breeders' Cup Mile. However, I think it's safe to say she's extremely vulnerable this year.
There was nothing bad about Goldikova's defeat to Dream Ahead in the Prix de la Foret on Sunday; she simply got beat by a horse on very good form. It's also important to note that the ground at Longhcamp on Saturday and Sunday was quite kind to horses with a lot of speed (more on that later). Dream Ahead had already shown himself to be a very good sprinter in previous efforts by winning four Group 1s in 2010 and 2011, all at six furlongs (Sprint Cup - Haydock, July Cup - Newmarekt July Course, Middle Park Stakes - Newmarket Rowley Course, and Prix Morny - Deauville).
The Prix de la Foret is run at seven furlongs. Dream Ahead was previously 0-for-3 when running longer than six furlongs, but I think you can make a case that the fast Longchamp ground helped him to carry his speed a greater distance than in previous races.
- Oh, and one final note. I already mentioned this yesterday but it bears repeating: Life At Ten was finally retired after a dismal performance in the Beldame (she finished last). The six-year-old mare deserves it.