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This weekend is your last chance to see many big-time horses race before the Breeders’ Cup. A lot of the well-known horses like Arrogate and Gun Runner will “train up” to the Breeders’ Cup (we’ll analyze that trend in next week’s Skinny), but there are still plenty of good races across the country this weekend with the utmost importance towards the 34th Breeders’ Cup.
We covered the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” (BC W&YI) action coming up at Keeneland this Friday and Saturday in Part 2a, so we’ll preview the great racing at Belmont Park on Saturday and Sunday in this article. We’ll also sprinkle in the last W&YI at Santa Anita.
We have a lot to cover in this week’s two-part Skinny, so here’s Part 2b of this six-week march to BC:
The BC Classic gate continues to get loaded with horses from the Bob Baffert barn each week, as he’s now added West Coast and Mubtaahij as probables to run alongside his top older males Arrogate and Collected. Most have already written off the east coast contingent (sans Gun Runner) as strong contenders, but don’t be too quick to judge. The Jockey Club Gold Cup (JCGC) has produced its fair share of BC Classic winners over its long history, and there are a few entered this year that could step up on the big stage.
Keen Ice has been known to shock the world. If you don’t respect Keen Ice by now, then you’re probably still hung up on some bet you lost in the 2015 Travers, or still mad at him for being the only horse to beat American Pharoah in his Triple Crown year. Either way, you need to respect Keen Ice, especially at the JCGC distance of 1 1/4 miles. He won the Grade 2 Suburban to start July over this same dirt course and distance, upsetting a top older male, Shaman Ghost. He’ll be very tough to deny. In his last race, the Grade 1 Whitney, Keen Ice stumbled badly out of the gate and was way too far back early to catch Gun Runner. He still finished a good second there, and with a better start and added distance, it’s possible that he would’ve been more of a threat to Gun Runner late.
Even if he doesn’t win on Saturday, trainer Todd Pletcher will probably still bring him out west to contest the BC Classic, a race in which he finished third last year behind Arrogate and California Chrome. He also finished fourth in the BC Classic in 2015, so he brings plenty of experience and class. I can literally write about Keen Ice for this whole article, so I’ll just stop now… check out my thoughts about his development in my Whitney recap.
Pletcher has also entered graded stakes winner Destin and Grade 1 Woodward runner-up Rally Cry in the JCGC, but both would need to run a top race in order to advance to Del Mar.
The Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan will try elders for the first time after a disappointing fifth in the Grade 1 Travers, where he was way too far back early and couldn’t threaten late. Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott is adding blinkers to try getting him to focus and possibly not drop so far out of the field at the start.
Pavel is another 3-year-old trying elders for the first time after winning the Grade 3 Smarty Jones in September for trainer Doug O’Neill.
Diversify (trainer Rick Violette) and Highland Sky (Barclay Tagg) will fill out the gate in the JCGC.
The key to the JCGC is whether or not the pace will be hot enough for closers like Keen Ice and Good Samaritan to be moving late. Pavel and Rally Cry may duel on the front-end and provide that pace, but the major question is how fast they’ll go early.
A bulky field of 12 will line up for the Champagne, and there are many ways to go here.
If it’s juvenile stakes racing on New York dirt, I start with the Pletcher entries, but the “Todd Squad” sends out only one here: Hazit. A strong gate-to-wire maiden-breaking winner on debut in a salty group at Saratoga on the Travers Day undercard, Hazit was a $430,000 purchase as a 2-year-old-in-training at OBS in March for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. Sired by War Front, he has plenty of pedigree to stretch out over this one-turn mile from his 6 1/2-furlong maiden win. Starting from outside post 11, he may need to rate behind other speed to his inside, but he’ll have plenty of track to gain position in this one-turn configuration.
Good Magic was second to Hazit in that maiden race, and trainer Chad Brown will try to get the son of Curlin his first win in a Grade 1. Good Magic gets the services of top jock Jose Ortiz here.
New York-bred Aveenu Malcainu is undefeated after his two career starts at Saratoga, including a nice win in the state-bred $200,000 Funny Cide. The Jeremiah Engelhart trainee will try open company for the first time here.
The only graded stakes winner in the group is Firenze Fire, who won the Grade 3 Sanford at 13/1 odds to open the Saratoga meet in mid-July for trainer Jason Servis. His fourth-place finish in his next race, losing by 4 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Hopeful, left a lot to be desired. He’ll have to prove that his Sanford win wasn’t an aberration, but he’s also collared with the far outside 12 post to start.
Others entered in the Champagne include Bahamian (Simon Callaghan), Full of Run (Servis), Honorable Treasure (Kenny McPeek), Kowboy Karma (Larry Jones), Blame It On Honey (Anthony Farrior), and Master Manipulator (Eric Guillot). Enticed, for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, is entered both here and in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on Saturday.
For all of the picks from the Racing Dudes, check out the JCGC Wagering Guide.
Let’s take a quick excursion to the west coast, finishing up the Saturday W&YI action at Santa Anita, with older sprinters looking to advance to the BC Sprint.
Ransom the Moon already has his ticket paid for the BC Sprint by virtue of his Grade 1 Bing Crosby win at Del Mar to end July. That race was marred by champion sprinter Drefong throwing rider Mike Smith early after ducking into the gap, then running the whole race riderless and fanning Ransom the Moon’s main competition wide coming into the stretch. Ransom the Moon indeed benefitted from a bizarre scenario, but that shouldn’t be used against him going forward. The Phil D’Amato trainee was a deserved top choice in the Bing Crosby, and if he wins the Santa Anita Sprint Championship this Saturday, he may be my top choice over Drefong in the BC Sprint.
Roy H ran second in the Bing Crosby after being fanned six-wide by Drefong, so he has every right to advance off of that race and a subsequent layoff for trainer Peter Miller. Before the Bing Crosby, Miller shipped Roy H east to win the Grade 2 True North during the Belmont Stakes Festival in June.
Giant Expectations has an all-expenses-paid entry into the BC Dirt Mile after winning the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar at the end of August. He’ll cut back to 6 furlongs here, looking to prime the pump for trainer Peter Eurton.
American Anthem is the new kid on the west coast sprint scene as the graded stakes-winning 3-year-old tries elders for the first time. Trainer Bob Baffert has done wonders with this horse. After trying and failing along the Kentucky Derby trail, he’s found his place as a strong sprinter. Baffert did note during an interview earlier this week with Steve Byk that the 6-furlong distance is a bit troubling. Baffert said that 7 furlongs or a mile may be more to American Anthem’s liking, but this was the only spot that he could find to race him without shipping.
Edwards Going Left (John Sadler) and Mr. Hinx (Steven Miyadi) fill out the small but competitive six-horse field.
Let’s swing back to New York for Sunday BC W&YI action at Belmont.
Since the Flower Bowl is a turf stakes race in New York, we have one simple rule: start with Chad Brown.
Brown looks to win this race for an unprecedented fourth year in a row, entering both Dacita and Grand Jete.
Dacita came back into top form at Arlington Park in mid-August, exploding late in the stretch to win the Grade 1 Beverly D. Her 2017 debut race, a second in the Grade 3 Beaugay over a yielding Belmont turf, was acceptable, but then her sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 New York during the Belmont Stakes Festival had many doubting if she was still a top turf female. The Flower Bowl will tell us a lot about this 6-year-old mare’s chances in the BC.
Grand Jete dead-heated to finish second in the Beverly D. and had won three in a row for Brown after coming over from Europe for her owners, Juddmonte Farms. As only a 4-year-old filly, we may have yet to see her best race, so it’ll be exciting to see if she can step forward here.
We talked about Zhukova in last week’s preview of the Grade 1 Hirsch, but trainer Dermot Weld decided to skip that race against males in order to focus her here against her own gender. Zhukova would’ve had no issues if the track came up soft, as she beat males by a romping 6 lengths in the Grade 1 Man O’ War here in May, but rain is no longer in the Elmont forecast.
Beauly (Brendan Walsh), Guilty Twelve (Graham Motion), and War Flag (Shug McGaughey) fill out this six-horse field.
The Frizette is the opportunity for Separationofpowers to bounce back off of a grueling race in the Grade 1 Spinaway to end the Saratoga meet in early September. In one of the fastest Grade 1 speed duels at the meet, Separationofpowers got hooked up with speedster Pure Silver through :22.36 and :45.30 opening fractions in that 7-furlong affair and was passed late by winner Lady Ivanka and runner-up Maya Malibu, but she shouldn’t be dismissed off of that effort. Her maiden breaker at Saratoga by 11 3/4 lengths was one of the top performances of the meet. Sired by Candy Ride out of an Empire Maker mare, she has plenty of distance pedigree to excel at this one-turn mile.
The aforementioned Maya Malibu also returns here in the Frizette and ran a sneaky-good race that day, coming up the rail at Saratoga to get second. She retains the services of Hall-of-Fame jockey Javier Castellano for trainer Graham Motion in this spot but drew the rail position.
Pletcher has a top filly in here named Critique, who won by a romping 16 lengths on Saratoga’s closing day on a rained-off-the-turf event over 7 furlongs. As that was run over a good dirt course, and she needs to prove herself over a fast track here.
Others entered in this bulky 10-filly field include Caledonia Road (Ralph Nicks), Drama Run (Quartarolo), Go (Quartarolo), Purrfect Miss (Englehart), Strategic Dreams (Rodriguez), Teen Angel (Caiazzo), and Wall of Compassion (Rodriguez).
For all of my thoughts leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim.
(Note: while we had planned to cover the Sunday races at Keeneland, this article was getting rather long, so we apologize for cutting this short)
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