After lots of handicapping, video watching, chart reviews, and typing, it's time for one of the busiest and most important weekends of the year. The two-day horse racing extravaganza kicks off tomorrow morning in France and ends Sunday evening at Santa Anita. I'll have a Live Blog for all of the weekend's action beginning bright and early Saturday morning with the start of the Arc festival in France. From there we'll tackle the Super Saturday stakes, Sunday morning's Arc, and, finally, the featured juvenile races on Sunday afternoon. After that's over, I'm going to take a long nap... and then start gearing up for Keeneland and the Breeders' Cup.
With that out of the way, below is a summary of the Saturday's action, along with my down and dirty thoughts on the Super Saturday graded stakes races, in order of post time. You can find the entries for all of this weekend's big races, along with the morning line odds and results, at the file below (via Google Docs).
|1-Oct||Queen Victoria||2:26pm/11:26am||WO||2yo, f||6.0 (S)|
|1-Oct||G1-Flower Bowl||2:47pm/11:47am||BEL||3up, f&m||10.0 (T)|
|1-Oct||G1-Hirsch Turf Classic||3:22pm/12:22pm||BEL||3up||9.0 (T)|
|1-Oct||G2-Indiana Oaks||5:19pm/2:19pm||HOO||3yo, f||8.5|
|1-Oct||G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup||5:46pm/2:46pm||BEL||3up||10.0|
|1-Oct||Maryland Million Classic||6:00pm/3:00pm||LRL||3up||9.0|
|1-Oct||G1-Lady's Secret||6:36pm/3:36pm||SA||3up, f&m||8.5|
|1-Oct||G1-Yellow Ribbon||8:38pm/5:38pm||SA||3up, f&m||10.0 (T)|
G1-Flower Bowl (2:47/11:47)
I firmly believe that Stacelita (FR) is the best female turf runner in the country, and one of the best turf horses of any sex currently running in North America. No horse is unbeatable, but I think the only way she doesn't win the Flower Bowl is if she runs an absolute clunker. The ground should be fine and her tactical speed should keep her right in the mix all the way around the Belmont turf course.
If Stacelita wasn't in this race I would be emptying out my 401k to bet on Deluxe, a Bill Mott trained filly that suffered a narrow defeat in the Paris Opera at Saratoga after a wide trip. I'll have to see what the will pays look like as I might fancy a cold Stacelita/Deluxe exacta.
G1-Hirsch Turf Classic (3:22/12:22)
Cape Blanco (IRE) has done nothing wrong since coming over from Ireland to ply his trade in North America, including strong wins in the Man o'War and the Arlington Million. Like Stacelita, he's able to run over a variety of ground conditions and his speed is a much greater asset on our flat turf courses than the undulating ones he competed over in Europe.
Winchester has been an ultra-consistent horse over his last x races, but he's going to have to come up with a career best to get by Cape Blanco at the wire. Possible, but difficult.
Derby Kitten might be the exotic value play when you consider he ran a good 3rd to Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million. He does have questions with the mile and a half distance.
UPDATE: Well, this is all a lot different now as Big Drama has scratched out of the Vosburgh due to a spiked temperature.
At his best, Big Drama is heads and tails above this field. At his worst, he's not. I don't think there's any question that he needed that race at Calder, but there is no way you can call his run that day "impressive" - either by the numbers or visually. The time was slow and the winning lengths were short not because the rider kept a strangle hold on Big Drama and didn't ask him for run. But because he just didn't accelerate at the top of the lane.
Is the defending Sprint champion all the way back to his early season form, or does he still need another race (preferably a tougher one than he got at Calder last time out)?
Needless to say, I think Big Drama is one of the more vulnerable horses on Saturday's Belmont stakes program. Given the presence of classy challengers like Euroears, Giant Ryan, Calibrachoa, and Trappe Shot, the Vosburgh looks like a tough spot for a less-than-in-form Big Drama.
I like Euroears and his morning line odds of 4/1 in this spot, especially if the track were to come up "Good" or "Sloppy".
The Uncle Mo Show once again takes center stage in New York, this time in the one mile Kelso. A one-turn mile suits Uncle Mo to a "T" and he looks awfully tough in this spot. I'll have a keen eye on Justin Phillip in the Vosburgh after he finished 2 ½ lengths behind Uncle Mo in the King's Bishop. A big performance by that colt would elevate my opinion of Mo even more.
I like Jackson Bend much more now that his connections are spotting him in one-turn races, but I don't know if he'll have enough time to run down Mo in the stretch unless things get out of control on the front-end. That said, I like the thought of Jackson Bend cutting back from this one mile race to the six furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint in five weeks (assuming they don't go to the Dirt Mile).
Jersey Town is capable of popping a big effort, but he'll need every bit of that to beat this field.
I don't have any great ideas or insight into this race as I think It's Tricky should get a good stalking trip right behind Plum Pretty and Love and Pride. It appears to be her race to lose.
Life At Ten... (sigh). Haven't we had enough of this?
Take a look at Life At Ten's past performances and it's clear to the most basic handicapper that this filly has been woefully off-form since winning this same race one year ago. It's not that she's losing races; every horse loses at one point or another. It's the fact that she essentially gives up as soon as it's time to run for the money. Go back and watch her four races from 2011 and you'll see the same pattern: show some speed early on, get headed on the turn, and then quit.
Life At Ten has done well at this distance and this track throughout her career, but she's clearly not the same anymore. Maybe she'll surprise us on Saturday. But most likely, she won't.
If Royal Delta wants to stake her claim as one of the top fillies in the country, beating Havre de Grace in the Beldame would certainly go a long way to accomplishing that goal. She's going to need Havre to be a bit off-form following her win in the Woodward because I don't think an on-form Havre de Grace can be beaten by an on-form Royal Delta. That being said, we've seen the Woodward take a lot out of horses in the past, so it's not inconceivable that she'll be less than her best.
G2-Indiana Oaks (5:19/2:19)
I like non-favorites in both of the graded stakes at Hoosier Park on Saturday. In the Indiana Oaks I'm going to toss what I think will be an overbet A Z Warrior and opt for the Michael Maker/Julien Leparoux long shot, Juanita. There's not a lot of speed in this race and I like the Mineshaft filly to try and take the field gate-to-wire.
With respect to the favorite: I don't like the way A Z Warrior is coming into this race, specifically her last two works at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert likes to work his horses fast (and he usually works A Z Warrior fast), but she put in a couple of lackluster drills prior to shipping to Indiana. That's enough to have me question a filly that's an ungodly even money on the morning line.
G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup (5:46/2:46)
On paper, this appears to be strictly a two horse race: Stay Thirsty and Apart. Both have questions coming into the race. For Stay Thirsty, can he continue his fine form after leaving Saratoga? For Apart, can he win going a mile and a quarter in his first try?
I expect Stay Thirst to get an excellent stalking trip behind Rodman and Birdrun, a trip that should allow him to get first run on Apart as they enter the stretch drive.
Any time a trainer is asked whether or not his horse can a) run on a different surface, b) run at a different distance, or c) if he needs the lead, the answer is always the same - Yes. That's before the race. After the race, if said horse fails to run well when attempting a new dynamic, the excuse is usually the same as the pre-race question. That's just the way it is. Horses are unpredictable, especially juveniles.
Creative Cause and Drill are the standouts two-year-olds in the Norfolk at Santa Anita on Saturday, yet neither of them has run a race on a conventional dirt surface. Bob Baffert, trainer of Drill, told HRTV yesterday that Drill loves running on dirt and is much, much better on that surface than he is on the Polytrack at Del Mar. If that's true, then we are likely in store for a treat on Saturday because Drill was pretty good on the Poly. But we'll have to wait and see if the pre-race predictions match-up with the post-race results. Bob Baffert is supremely confident that they will, and that's a good sign for Drill.
G2-Indiana Derby (6:15/3:15)
I'll just state this upfront: I like the stretch-out in distance for Caleb's Posse only as a prelude to a turn-back in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. I think he towers over this field on class alone, but I'm not convinced that a mile and a sixteenth is really his best distance.
I actually like the "other" Dale Romans horse, the lightly raced Friends Place, but he's coupled with Shackleford making him un-betable. Have I mentioned how much I hate coupled entries?
I've got kind of a "meh" feeling about this race: I don't like the short priced horses enough to play them at low odds, and the horse that I think would make a good price play is coupled with the morning line favorite. I'll watch this one for fun.
G1-Lady's Secret (6:36/3:36)
Blind Luck finds herself in a tough, tough pace situation in the Lady's Secret. Shipper Ask the Moon looks to be the absolute controlling speed in this race on a main track played extremely kind to frontrunners during the last winter/spring meet. We'll see if the surface renovation that took place over the summer (the 1,265,746th "surface renovation" at Santa Anita in the last five years!) changes the way the track is playing. If it hasn't, it's going to be awfully tough for Blind Luck to catch Ask the Moon in the stretch.
I'm a big fan of Zazu and think she's got a shot at an upset if Ask the Moon comes up a bit empty in deep stretch.
Coil's dreadful performance in the Travers was so bad and so out of the norm that you almost have to draw a line through it and chalk it up to the old "didn't like the surface" excuse. The question we face in the Goodwood is simple: Is Coil ready to bounce back from that effort? Just looking at his work pattern, he appears to be coming into the race decently and it seems highly unlikely that he'll run as bad of a race as he did at Saratoga. It remains to be seen how good he'll be.
Acclamation is entered in both the Goodwood and Sunday's Hirsch Turf. He's a standout in the Hirsch, but faces some questions in the Goodwood. Bob Baffet says that Game On Dude is going to the lead, which means Acclamation will not be allowed to lope along in the early stages. Can he face pace pressure and still run his best in a race on dirt? That's the big question.
Old warrior Awesome Gem is a dreadful 0-for-10 lifetime when running at a mile and an eighth (10-0-4-2).
G1-Yellow Ribbon (8:38/5:38)
I'm anxious to see the morning line for Saturday's races at Santa Anita in large part because I like the Peruvian filly, Private Affair, in the Yellow Ribbon. This race, like the Indiana Derby, isn't one where I have a strong feeling about any of the contenders. In fact, I think the Yellow Ribbon is a good example of the lack of depth among the filly and mare turf runners in the U.S. right now. As a result, I'm zeroing in on a filly that loves going ten panels (3-2-1-0) and that appears to have held her form pretty well after shipping from South America. Additionally, I think just a little improvement off of her last race puts her in the mix with this field.