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Breeders’ Cup Skinny: Elate Can Make Distaff & Classic Worlds Collide

Breeders’ Cup Skinny: Elate Can Make Distaff & Classic Worlds Collide

There’s a lot to unpack from this last weekend’s fast and furious “Win and You’re In” action, which means there’s also a lot to get ready for this upcoming weekend. A slew of races with major Breeders’ Cup implications will be held coast-to-coast, from Belmont Park to Keeneland to Santa Anita Park.

The Breeders’ Cup Skinny is keeping its head on a swivel and keeping you up-to-date on what you need to know for the World Championship in a little over four weeks.

Last week in our two-part series, we first tackled the Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies, then looked at the Sprint and the Classic. In an attempt to focus on the dirt races while we await word on what Europeans will contest the turf events, we’ll do a deep-dive into the Distaff division and sum up where we stand in the previously-covered divisions. With so much to talk about, we’ll finalize our dirt race previews next week with the Filly & Mare Sprint and the Dirt Mile.

Let’s quickly update the action in the four dirt divisions that we covered last week before deep-diving the Distaff:

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Juvenile: Eight Rings Bounces Back into Possible Favoritism

Eight Rings was ultra-impressive when winning Friday’s American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park over the same track and at same the distance that they’ll run the Juvenile. Jockey John Velazquez hustled Eight Rings out of the gate, and that made all the difference from his previous debacle in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), where he ducked in and threw the rider. This time, the Bob Baffert charge quickly got on top and never looked back.

Eight Rings will be the likely favorite in the Juvenile, with the Iroquois Stakes (G2) winner Dennis’ Moment a close second. That will not likely change, even without knowing the outcomes of this Saturday’s two qualifiers. The Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) winner Green Light Go could become the third betting choice with a strong performance in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, and Gouverneur Morris could get the hype train going for trainer Todd Pletcher if he takes down the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland.

American Theorem ran a strong second in the American Pharoah after contesting the early pace from the rail and will be an underneath consideration in the Juvenile. Scabbard, the runner-up in both the Saratoga Special and the Iroquois, is still my horse of choice to play in exactas and trifectas in the Juvenile, which will headline the Future Stars Friday Breeders’ Cup card.

Eight Rings and jockey John Velazquez after their American Pharoah win at Santa Anita Park (Photo: Ernie Belmonte)

Juvenile Fillies: Bast to be Cranked Next Time

Bast had to work to get the win over a stubborn Comical in the Chandelier Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park on Friday. Front-end speed on the California dirt carried last weekend and needs to be watched closely going forward. It may have propelled the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) winner Comical to be strong on the lead in the Chandelier, but there is no reason to believe that the dirt won’t play similarly on Breeders’ Cup Friday. That makes Comical a sneaky price play in the Juvenile Fillies if she can carry her speed again.

Bast will undoubtedly be the favorite in the Juvenile Fillies, no matter what happens in Friday’s Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland or in Sunday’s Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park . There were rumblings that Baffert didn’t have Bast “fully cranked” for the Chandelier, so perhaps there’s more in the tank. Still, even though she got the job done, she showed a chink in the armor.

Bast and jockey John Velazquez hold off Comical (inside) for victory in the Chandelier Stakes (Credit: Benoit Photo)

Sprint: Imperial Hint Gets Fitness for Third Try

Imperial Hint had to work in an exciting stretch duel with Firenze Fire to win the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) last Saturday at Belmont Park. Imperial Hint fought back late after Firenze Fire headed him in the stretch, showing the heart that The Little Rocket’s fan base adores.

Imperial Hint, trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr., got more out of this race fitness-wise than he did last year when he literally jogged home at the end of the Vosburgh. Maybe this will tighten him up for a big Sprint performance off of five weeks’ rest.

This weekend’s Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1) will be intriguing. The top 3-year-old sprinter Shancelot will look to show that his Amsterdam Stakes (G2) freak-out was for real. The Racing Dudes got the scoop at Santa Anita Park with his trainer, Jorge Navarro, after his workout over the local strip; check out that article here.

Mitole still waits in the wings. Over the weekend, he had his first workout since his Forego Stakes (G1) triumph.

Imperial Hint (inside) fights back to win the Vosburgh over Firenze Fire at Belmont Park (Photo: NYRA / Chelsea Durand)

Classic: Wide-Open Affair

What a wild year! Vino Rosso is now possibly the top choice for the biggest race of the year after crossing the line first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) this past Saturday. With his previous victory in May’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1), Vino Rosso has an all-important win at the 1 1/4-mile distance over the track surface that can’t be ignored.

Vino Rosso is sired by Curlin, whose offspring tend to blossom as they age. Now at the end of his 4-year-old season, he has aged perfectly like a fine wine. He’ll have something to prove in the Classic after this controversial disqualification.

I’ll hold off on my analysis of Code of Honor in the Classic until his connections fully commit. He was put up over Vino Rosso via disqualification in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

The day after the race, trainer Shug McGaughey said, “I’ll see how he comes out of it and talk to (owner) Mr. Farish as the week goes along and we’ll make up our mind. I’ll possibly give him some time and try and bring him back in the spring. Maybe the Carter (G1) at Aqueduct and the Westchester (G3) here.”

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Talking about next April and May doesn’t sound like a trainer looking to run a horse in five weeks, but trainer talk can sometimes be deceiving.

Also, what do you do with McKinzie in the Classic after he was unable to track down a loose-on-the-lead Mongolian Groom in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1)? I was likely playing against McKinzie at 1 1/4 miles before they even ran the Awesome Again, so I will likely stick to my guns.

Flying under the radar and training up to the Classic is my key underneath play, Yoshida. Don’t forget about him in this spot, though the way that Santa Anita Park is playing to early speed scares me that the surface will not help his closing kick.

On the other hand, Vino Rosso has now shown the ability to be nearer to the pace than he was earlier in his career. He was even on the lead in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, so he gets a big plus coming into the big race.

Code of Honor (outside) was put up as the winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup after being herded in the stretch by Vino Rosso (Photo: NYRA / Chelsea Durand)

We’ll actually dive more into the Classic analysis as part of our Distaff evaluation. Buckle up as we get down to business in this week’s Breeders’ Cup Skinny:

Distaff: Midnight Bisou’s Cake Walk?

Being a perfect seven-for-seven in 2019 will result in unquestionable favoritism for Midnight Bisou in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She showed professionalism and the heart of a champion to turn away Wow Cat on Saturday while winning the Beldame Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.

Prior questions about her aptitude at 1 1/8 miles continue to be quelled, as Midnight Bisou has now won back-to-back Grade 1s at the distance. On Monday, she returned to where it all started to begin training for the Distaff. The 2018 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) victor should be primed to cap off her possible Horse of the Year campaign on November 2 at The Great Race Place.

Midnight Bisou will be reunited with regular jockey Mike Smith in the Distaff (Photo: Michael Spector)

How big of a favorite she’ll be will come down to one factor and one factor only: will Elate run in the Distaff or in the Classic?

Elate will make her final prep at Keeneland in the Spinster Stakes (G1) this Sunday against a pretty decent field. Her biggest competition may come from the 3-year-old filly Dunbar Road, who will try elders for the first time. Both Elate (2017) and Dunbar Road (2019) won the Alabama Stakes (G1) at the 1 1/4-mile distance, so the 1 1/8-mile Spinster shouldn’t be a problem.

Can Chad Brown’s Dunbar Road go nose-to-nose with Elate? It’s a true unknown that will be answered on Sunday.

The rest of the Spinster field will likely include Blue Prize (trainer Ignacio Correas IV), She’s a Julie (Steve Asmussen), and Vexatious (Jack Sisterson), with Sally’s Curlin (Dale Romans) as a possible.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott would love to tighten up Elate with an easy win here and then set his eyes on bigger goals in the Breeders’ Cup, but what race will she enter? We may not know until final entries are drawn on the Monday of Breeders’ Cup week; it’s likely that Mott will pre-enter Elate in both the Distaff and Classic.

Elate before her runner-up finish in the Personal Ensign (Photo: Michael Spector)

So where should she run? Here are the pros and cons to each spot:

  • Distaff Pros: Elate won’t have to face off against males if she goes in the Distaff. She only lost the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) to Midnight Bisou by a nose after fighting on the inside at this same 1 1/8-mile distance. Surely Elate can turn the tables, right?
  • Distaff Cons: Elate has lost to Midnight Bisou three times this year, and even though the first two were at 1 1/16 miles earlier this year, do you really want to keep facing a filly that you can’t beat?
  • Classic Pros: Elate is undefeated in three starts at the 1 1/4-mile Classic distance; she gets into her best stride late. The Classic division is for the taking right now and has a $6 million purse, compared to the $2 million of the Distaff. When you have 4 million more reasons to run in a race where you might be one of the top betting choices, it becomes a matter of economics.
  • Classic Cons: Mott already has Yoshida pointing to the Classic, but they have different ownership, so that’s not an issue. Yes, she’ll have to face males for the first time, but what really is the downside to trying? If she loses, then no one will say it wasn’t worth a shot.

With McKinzie losing the Awesome Again, there isn’t even a strong Classic favorite. Is Vino Rosso the country’s top older male at this distance? His duel with Code of Honor was exciting, but does it make them both such strong favorites to win the Classic? And Code of Honor may not even go to the Breeders’ Cup, so why not try Elate here?

Midnight Bisou beat Elate in the Personal Ensign in a thriller and possibly the race of the year so far, but will they ever meet again? (Photo: Michael Spector)

More Distaff Doings

Assuming Elate goes to the Classic (and that’s a pretty big assumption), does that make Midnight Bisou a universal single in the Distaff?

For most, the answer is yes.

After watching the Zenyatta Stakes (G2) on Sunday, I’m not overly impressed by any of the females on the west coast. The winner, Paradise Woods, is a classy older mare who was third in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but she has been so inconsistent her whole career that you can’t trust her to repeat that effort. Runner-up Secret Spice and third-place finisher Ollie’s Candy are nice Distaff runners, too, and either can hit the Distaff board, but can they compete with Midnight Bisou when she throws it down in the stretch? I doubt it.

As for the rest of the Spinster field this upcoming Sunday, maybe Dunbar Road can take a step forward and be ready to fire a top race in the Distaff, but she’ll have to develop rapidly to reach Midnight Bisou’s level.

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Blue Prize and She’s a Julie are nice Grade 2 females, too, but they haven’t been able to beat the division’s top two all year. Vexatious recently made the move from turf to dirt and was beaten a neck by Blue Prize in the Summer Colony Stakes, but she will have to up her game just to beat Elate in the Spinster.

The Cotillion Stakes (G1) winner Street Band will come into the Distaff with a lot of steam, but the closing tactics that she used to win her best race may be thwarted if Santa Anita Park continues to lean toward speed.

This all leaves us with a not-so-thrilling rendition of the Distaff, should Midnight Bisou take on a bunch of second-level females and 3-year-olds who may not be ready to compete against her.

As we approach the Breeders Cup, continue to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim as I give my thoughts about the upcoming Super Saturday Part 2 at Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Santa Anita Park!

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