2016 Awesome Again, FrontRunner and Zenyatta Stakes Previews. Will California Chrome be awesome again? Plus updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings

challenge

September 27th 2016

Three very key “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are coming up this Saturday at Santa Anita Park with the FrontRunner Stakes for the Sentient Jet Juvenile race, the Awesome Again Stakes for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Zenyatta Stakes for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. This block of races will be televised live on NBC Sports.

Below are the post-positions and morning line odds for all three races. 

The FrontRunner Stakes – 1 1/16th Mile – Saturday October 1st – Race #6 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 5:00 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports.

Post Position/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Gormley – Espinosa/Shirreffs – 8/1
2. Plum Daddy  – Smith/Callaghan – 6/1
3. Secret House  – Gonzalez/O’Neill – 20/1
4. Midnight Pleasure – Garcia/Ruis  – 6/1
5. Straight Fire  – Prat/Desormeaux – 9/5   
6. Klimt – Bejarano/Baffert – 6/5
7. Vibe – Desormeaux/Desormeaux  – 20/1    

Race analysis: This should be a battle between Klimt and Straight Fire. Straight Fire has the highest average Beyer Speed Figure (90) in his 3 starts of any 2 year-0ld thus far. However, he couldn’t stay with Klimt through 7 furlongs in the Del Mar Futurity so I don’t expect much will be different in 3+ weeks. But with 2 year-olds, you never know. Plum Daddy has won at 8 furlongs (1 mile). So if I were betting, I would probably place a small 6 over 2,5 over 2,5 Trifecta. But betting on 2 year-olds is risky due to their inconsistency.


The Awesome Again Stakes – 1 1/8th Mile – Saturday October 1st – Race #7 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 5:30 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports.

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. California Chrome (125) – Espinoza/Sherman -2/5
2. Dortmund (121) – Bejarano/Baffert -5/2
3. Hoppertunity (121) – Pratt/Baffert – 6/1
4. Win the Space (121) – Stevens/Papaprodromou -20/1
5. Soi Phet (121) – Desormeaux/Powell -30/1
6. El Huerfano (121) – Pedroza/Miller – 50/1
7. Hard Aces (124) – Gonzalez/Sadler  – 15/1

Race analysis: Dortmund is training well and I expect him to give California Chrome a better battle than he did in the Pacific Classic. The 9 furlong distance puts Chrome more in his crosshairs. However, this is California Chrome’s race to lose and exotics will payout next to nothing like they did in the San Diego Handicap if Chrome wins. So this is a better race to watch and than wager on. That being said, whenever all the money is tilted towards two favorites, in this case California Chrome and Dortmund, you can really cash if they have an off day. Case in point last week with the Penn Derby where a 10 cent Superfecta paid out a whopping $1,269.33.

So if you like living life on the wild side, hit a nice paying bet earlier in the day and don’t mind losing $18 for a potential nice payout, try a 10 cent Superfecta with six horses (exclude #6 El Huerfano) and keying three of them to win. How about Win the Space, Soi Phet and Hoppertunity? Like I said, expect to lose but if the weird happens, you’ll have a nice payout. It probably won’t be anywhere close to $1200 like in the Penn Derby due to this race having a 7 horse field vs a 12 horse field. Or just put $18 on Chrome to win and make $3-7 dollars.


beholder-distaff-2013

The Zenyatta Stakes – 1 1/16th Mile – Saturday October 1st – Race #9 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 6:30 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports.

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Off the Board (121) – Pereira/Mandella – 30/1
2. Beholder (125) – Stevens/Mandella – 3/5
3. Vale Dori (121) – Bejarano/Baffert – 10/1
4. Tara’s Tango (123) – Garcia/Hollendorfer – 6/1
5. Stellar Wind (125) – Espinosa/Sadler  – 8/5

Race analysis: There are handicappers out there who believe that Beholder is prime to be upset again by Stellar Wind like she was in the Clement L Hirsch Stakes back on July 30th. I tend to believe that Beholder and Gary Stevens were caught off guard by that performance and will bounce back. That being said, you are better off laying down a large 2,5 Boxed Exacta. It seems very safe with this field.

If you want to try a Trifecta bet and are looking for a horse to round one out, I like Vale Dori better than Tara’s Tango. Vale Dori has raced against the boys in the UAE Derby back in March and finished 4th.


2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic

After a very weird Pennsylvania Derby, with Nyquist and Exaggerator finishing 6th and 7th and behind Wild About Deb and My Man Sam, the 2016 Kentucky Derby class has faded down the stretch to new shooters. The only 3 year-old who is a serious threat to win “The Classic” this year is Arrogate. And note that 3 year-olds have won the Breeders Cup Classic only 9 times in 32 runnings of the race. That is only 28%. 

One thing I have been keeping an eye on is Beyer Speed Figures. Below is the Beyer Speed Figures for the last ten runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The average Beyer Speed Figure for this 10 year period was 113.4.

2015       American Pharoah (120)
2014       Bayern (113)
2013       Mucho Macho Man (112)
2012       Fort Larned (117)
2011       Drosselmeyer (104)
2010       Blame (111)
2009       Zenyatta (112)
2008       Raven’s Pass (110)
2007       Curlin (119)
2006       Invasor (106)

I think it is going to take a 112+ Beyer Speed Figure to win this year’s Classic. This was the Beyer Speed Figure that Effinex received for his 2nd place finish behind American Pharoah in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (BCC). American Pharoah’s highest Beyer Speed Figure entering last year’s classic was 109 before he reeled off a 120 to become the first Grand Slam winner of Thoroughbred racing. Bayern’s highest was 111 before he produced a career high 113 in the 2014 edition of the BCC. So a 109 Beyer Speed Figure could be a benchmark for 3 year-olds to be viewed as serious threats to win The Classic. The highest Beyer Speed Figure a 3 year-old has produced thus far at more than a mile distance is the 122 by Arrogate.

After the Awesome Again Stakes this Saturday, there is only one more “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders Cup Classic. The Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont Park on October 8th which will be shown on NBC.

And now onto the rankings. I have only ranked contenders through the Top 7 and separated them into different categories. I don’t think any of the horses outside of my Top 7 are serious threats to win at this point. Perhaps the Awesome Again Stakes and Jockey Gold Cup races may change my mind.

2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

The Big Three – West Coast Triumvirate

1)  California Chrome* – He’s undefeated in five starts in 2016. The all-time North American leader in race earnings with $13.25 million dollars. His win in the Pacific Classic was arguably the best performance of his career. Next Start:  The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park this Saturday October 1st.

Career: 23 Starts 14-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 6
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  4-1-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Lucky Pulpit  
Trainer: Art Sherman 
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.93 (calculated) – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 113 – 2016 Pacific Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic

2) Arrogate – There is no doubt that Bob Baffert has a star colt in Arrogate who set a Travers Stakes and Saratoga track record (1:59.36) for a 1 1/4 mile race. His final quarter mile fraction was 23.84. American Pharoah’s final fraction in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was 24.60. Here are the best career final fractions of his competition in mile and a quarter races: California Chrome 24.44 2016 Pacific Classic, Melatonin 24.27 2016 Gold Cup race at Santa Anita, Beholder  24.65 2015 Pacific Classic. Arrogate will get a 4 pound advantage over California Chrome and older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I just need more than one great performance to elevate him higher over Chrome who is undefeated in 2016. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will get that. Next Start: Bob Baffert indicated that he is going to train Arrogate up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic like he did with American Pharoah. 

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Unbridled’s Song
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009 & 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.362016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 122 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 122 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1222016 Travers Stakes

3) Melatonin–  The Rodney Dangerfield of thoroughbreds because he gets no respect. At the Classic distance of a miler and a quarter, he is undefeated in two starts and has an average Beyer Speed Figure of 108. The surprise winner of the 2016 Santa Anita Handicap. He proved his Big ‘Cap performance was no fluke by finishing 2nd behind Effinex in the Oaklawn Handicap and completing the Big ‘Cap-Gold Cup Double. His win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita assures him a spot in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is trained by David Hofmans who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1996 with Alphabet Soup. He was originally pegged to start in the Pacific Classic but he wasn’t entered due to coming off a persistent illness. Next Start: He will train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 13 Starts 5-3-3-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  2-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>1st
Sire: Kodiak Kowboy
Trainer: David Hofmans (1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Joe Talamo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  1:59.79 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

Slim chance of winning, top picks for your Superfecta

4) Beholder Her 2nd place finish in the Pacific Classic was a commendable performance. However, she has slipped a bit off of her 2015 form where she had the stunning performance in the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic (shown below) that put her #1 in many Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings last year. Her trainer Richard Mandella said that he may opt for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff instead of The Classic. Until this decision is made, Beholder will stay in my rankings. Next Start:  The Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park this Saturday October 1st.

Career: 24 Starts 17-5-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Henny Hughes
Trainer: Richard Mandella (2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.772015 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 106 – 2016 Pacific Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic

5) Dortmund Nice performances in the San Diego Handicap (2nd) and Pacific Classic (3rd), but he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The rumor mill suggests that he might be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over The Classic. if Beholder and Dortmund are entered in The Classic, Gary Stevens will most likely be Beholder’s rider. Next Start: The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park this Saturday October 1st.

Career: 12 Starts 8-1-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Big Brown
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.29 (calculated) – 2016 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

6) Frosted  I moved Frosted back up 3 spots because I feel that the added rest after his disappointing Woodward performance will do him good. I still think he would be better suited for the Dirt Mile but that will be a tough race as well. He set the track record in the 124th running of the Metropolitan Handicap with a time of 1:32.73 that resulted in the highest Beyer Speed Figure (123) of his career and the highest of any thoroughbred thus far in 2016. As he has stretched out past a mile, his Beyer Speed Figures have declined (107 in the Whitney Stakes and 105 in the Woodward Stakes). But he got off to a bad start in the Woodward Stakes and that may have cost him a win. Next Start: He will train up to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Career: 18 Starts 6-6-2-2    Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.05 (calculated) – 2015 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 123 – 2016 Metropolitan Handicap
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 123 2016 Metropolitan Handicap

7) Effinex – His 4th place finish in the Whitney Stakes was a disappointment. He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, it is very clear that he has slipped a bit, only capturing wins in the Oaklawn and Suburban Handicaps. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained 5 year old can be enigmatic at times and prone to get off to bad starts (see 2016 Stephen Foster Handicap). But then he can bounce back with a nice performance like he had in the Suburban Handicap in July. Jockey Mike Smith seems to get the best out of him but Smith will ride Arrogate in The Classic. Next Start: The Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 25 Starts 9-2-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 6th–>1st–>4th
Sire: Mineshaft
Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens 
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009, 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.04 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 106 – 2016 Oaklawn Handicap

Career Best Beyer Speed: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Not a serious threat to win but ‘hit the board’ potential

Hoppertunity – He kept his streak alive of finishing 4th or better in every graded stakes race in his career with a 4th place finish in the Pacific Classic. He is extremely consistent and you get the feeling that he would probably finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field. Next Start:  The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park this Saturday October 1st.

Career: 21 Starts 5-6-4-5   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-3
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>4th–>4th
Sire: Any Given Saturday
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.16 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race:  105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 105 – 2016 San Antonio Stakes

Shaman Ghost – After rewatching his Woodward Stakes performance and also learning that had a post-race cough after his disappointing 5th place finish in the Suburban Handicap, I am once again a believer in this Jimmy Jerkens-trained son of Ghostzapper. When you watch the Woodward Stakes race (shown below), Shaman Ghost ran one helluva race. He displayed a willingness to fight for a win and also an ability to go wide and snake through traffic. This is a very talented 4 year-old with a bright future. His jockey Javier Castellano won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic on his father. Next Start: The Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 12 Starts 6-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>1st
Sire: Ghostzapper
Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens
Jockey: Javier Castellano (2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.12 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: ? – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 106 – 2016 Woodward Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 106 – 2016 Woodward Stakes

Mubtaahij – This once enigmatic colt has been a fairly consistent in his last three starts. He finished 2nd in the Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome, 3rd in the Suburban Handicap and finished 2nd in a photo finish for the win in the Woodward Stakes. He appears to be a rail-runner which limits his options down the stretch and he has yet to win a Grade 1 stakes race. Next Start: The Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 14 Starts 4-3-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 3 Starts  0-1-1-0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>2nd
Sire: Dubawi
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr
Best 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.28 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 99 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 106 – 2016 Woodward Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 106 – 2016 Woodward Stakes

Qualified for ‘The Classic’ but would be longshots

Exaggerator The Slopmeister is dependent on a fast pace and an off track. If it rains in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his odds will shorten.

Career: 15 Starts 6-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>11th–>7th
Sire: Curlin (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.51 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016: 103 – 2016 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Santa Anita Derby

11) Bradester*  Rumored to be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He has never raced further than 9 furlongs.

Career: 25 Starts 10-6-2-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 0 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>8th
Sire: Lion Heart
Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2016:  101 – Stephen Foster Handicap
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2015 Salvator Mile Stakes

3 Year-Olds who could be big Classic contenders next year

American Freedom  He will be entered in either Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Las Vegas Dirt Mile.

Career: 6 Starts 3-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.52 (calculated) – 2016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 104 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 104 – 2016 Travers Stakes

Connect  The surprise winner of the Pennsylvania Derby. He makes up for a disappointing 6th place finish in the Travers Stakes.

Career: 6 Starts 4-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>6th–>1st
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Javier Castellano (2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.84 (calculated) – 2016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: ?? – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Pennsylvania Derby

Gun Runner  – A very consistent runner who could star as a 4 year-old. He is rumored to be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Career: 10 Starts 5-1-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 5th–>3rd–>2nd
Sire: Candy Ride  
Trainer: Steve Asmussen (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Florent Geroux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:02.03 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes

Nyquist  – Probably a better fit for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at this point since he has faded down the stretch in two 9 furlong races.

Career: 11 Starts 8-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>4th–>6th
Sire: Uncle Mo  
Trainer: Doug O’Neill 
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.31 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby

–Michael

My “way, way too early” 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite

notthistime-2016

September 22nd 2016

Judging from times and Beyer Speed Figures, get ready for a great Triple Crown season next year. The 2016 2 year-old class is a very deep and talented one and much better than last year’s class that included Nyquist, Exaggerator and Mohaymen and better than California Chrome and Shared Belief’s class thus far. And this talent extends itself even to turf. So don’t be surprised if North America produces a colt that will finally compete and beat the European turf horses.

This depth of talent has been the primary reason why I have been reluctant to anoint any 2 year-old thus far as my “way too early Kentucky Derby favorite” like I did one year ago this month with Nyquist. So I am going to scale it up one notch and reveal my “way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite.”

Before doing so, I am going to give you my way too early favorites for each of the final North American prep races right before the Kentucky Derby.

Louisiana DerbyStraight Fire

Although he finshed 2nd to Klimt in the Del Mar Furity, his average Beyer Speed Figure in 3 starts is 90. This is the highest average Beyer Speed Figure of any 2 year-old thus far. I am not completely sold on his pedigree. His sire Dominus had moderate success , winning only one Grade 1 race (Dwyer Stakes) before switching to turf.

Much like Firing Line had to get separate from Dortmund on the Derby Trail two years ago, I feel after the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and many losing battles against Klimt, that the Desormeaux brothers will convince Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing (based on the West Coast) to move their talented colt Straight Fire to the Fairgrounds. Although The Fairgrounds doesn’t have a sterling record of producing Kentucky Derby winners, it has a ton of great history and I feel that the track surface and humidity is a great training ground for the Derby. Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner won the Louisiana Derby this year and finished third in the Kentucky Derby (much better than I expected). And running in the Louisiana Derby, you get an extra week of prep for the Derby. His Next Race: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.


Florida DerbyThree Rules

I am not sure what the Florida-bred “Three Rules” is named for. My best guess is: 1) Enter races at Gulfstream Park, 2) Run fast, 3) Win! The ringer of 2 year-old races at Gulfstream Park, he is undefeated in 4 starts. The 94 Beyer Speed Figure achieved in the Dr Fagar Stakes was his best career Beyer but I believe his best race was the Florida Affirmed Stakes shown below. His Next Race: The Florida Sire In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream Park on October 1st.


Santa Anita Derby Klimt

It’s hard to beat Bob Baffert at Santa Anita Park. From the same owner-trainer combination that brought you Bayern and Dortmund comes Klimt who is named after a famous, very controversial pseudo erotic Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Long pause as many Google his artwork. At any rate, Kaleem Shah has another great colt in Klimt whose time of 1:21.80 in the Del Mar Futurity (shown below) was faster than Nyquist’s time of 1:23.28 in the same race last year. And just 0.32 seconds off of American Pharoah’s time of 1:21.48 in the Del Mar Futurity on a faster synthetic surface.

Klimt is a seriously talented colt with a good pedigree. His sire Quality Road won the Florida Derby, Met Mile, Donn Handicap and Woodward Stakes. Concerning is two separate quarter cracks that kept Quality Road out of all three legs of the Triple Crown. Hopefully this won’t be a problem for Klimt. His Next Race: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.


Blue Grass StakesNot This Time

Trainer Dale Romans calls Not This Time “spooky good” and he has won his last 2 starts by a combined total of nearly 19 lengths. This Giant’s Causeway colt reminds Romans of his half-brother Brody’s Cause but he is a much faster colt at this stage than Brody’s Cause. Not This Time is also Liam’s Map half-brother, the two sharing the same dam (mother) in Miss Macy Sue. His winning time of 1:45.22 in the muddy Iroquois Stakes race (shown below) was a better time than American Pharoah’s time (1:45.78) in the muddy Rebel Stakes as a 3 year old. May I suggest a name change? How About “Not Even Close” because he has annihilated his competition.” His Next Race: The Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park on November 5th.


The Wood Memorial – Theory

When it comes to the pedigree, trainer and jockey combination, Theory is probably the most attractive 2 year-old colt. Trained by Todd Pletcher who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. Ridden by jockey John Velazquez who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom. Theory won in his debut at Saratoga and produced an 85 Beyer Speed Figure (see race HERE). His sire Gemologist went undefeated in five starts heading into the 2012 Kentucky Derby where he finished 16th. His Next Race: The Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park on October 15th.


Arkansas DerbyClassic Empire

Despite the fact that he made an about-face coming out of the gate in the Hopeful Stakes, I am still really high on this Mark Casse-trained colt who is American Pharoah’s half-brother. He didn’t want to run that day but when he decides to run, watch out. He’s very talented, just needs maturation. I wrote an article on Classic Empire back in July which you can read by clicking HERE.  The Arkansas Derby seems like an ideal final prep race for Classic Empire just like it was for his famous half-brother American Pharoah. His Next Race: The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on October 8th.


My way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite

At this stage of the 2 year-old campaign, two horses have emerged as the best on the West Coast (Klimt) and the best on the East Coast (Not This Time). Right now, I have to give the nod to Not This Time. Why?

  • He has proven against his peers that he already likes distance and has won impressively at 1 Mile (by 10 lengths) and also at the 1 1/16th Mile distance (by 8 3/4 lengths).
  • He has proven that he is fast on a dry, fast track and also fast in the slop.
  • His final fractions in the Iroquois Stakes are much more impressive than Klimt’s as I will illustrate below.

Final Fractions – Not This Time vs. Klimt

To best illustrate the superiority of Not This Time’s fractions compared to Klimt’s, I will convert their times into miles per hour.

In the Del Mar Futurity, Klimt ran the final furlong (1/8th of a mile) of this 7 furlong race in 12.66 seconds as the battled Straight Fire down the stretch. This works out to be average speed of 35.5 mph.

In the 8 1/2 Furlong Iroquois Stakes, Not This Time was in 5th place (3 lengths) behind the leader at the 3/4 pole and the final 2 1/2 furlongs was run in 30.7 seconds. That is an average speed of 36.6 mph in the slop. Allowing 0.16 second per length, Not This Time ran the final 2 1/2 furlongs in 30.22 seconds. This works out to be a speed of 37.2 mph and please note that Not This Time wasn’t pressured at all for the lead.

In Not This Time’s maiden victory at Ellis Park on August 12th (to see the race, click HERE), he ran the final furlong in 11.82 seconds in this 1 mile race. This works out to be an average speed of 38.0 mph. In the final 2 furlongs, his time was 23.33 seconds. This equates to an even better average speed of 38.5 mph.

So when it is “Go-Time”, Not This Time has some seriously good afterburners. He is going to be difficult to catch down the stretch. This is why I have made him my way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite. There is a ton of racing left between now and the Kentucky Derby and horses mature and improve by leaps and bounds during this stage. But any horse who beats Not This Time along the way is probably the new Kentucky Derby favorite.

–Michael


Here are the “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Sentient Jet):

FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita – October 1st on NBC Sports Network
Champagne Stakes at Belmont – October 8th on TVG
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland – October 8th on NBC


 

2016 Pennsylvania Derby – Nyquist vs Exaggerator once more

 

nyquist-winner-2015

September 21st 2016

Coming this Saturday is another interesting battle of the top three finishers in this year’s Kentucky Derby: Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun RunnerWith a purse of $1.250,000, the Penn Derby always attracts some of the top 3 year olds and this year’s field (shown below) is no exception. Other entries include: the West Virginia Derby winner Cupid, the Smarty Jones Stakes winner Awesome Slew and the Withers Stakes winner Sunny Ridge who placed 3rd in the Haskell Invitational. 

The Pennsylvania Derby – 1 1/8th Mile – Saturday September 24th – Race #11 at PARX – Post-Time: 4:45 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Awesome Slew (122) – Lopez/Plesa – 10-1
2. Exaggerator (124) – Desormeax/Desormeax – 9-2
3. Summer Revolution (117) – Smith/Rodriguez – 8-1
4. Connect (119) – Velazquez/Brown – 12-1
5. Cupid (122) – Bejarano/Baffert – 5-1
6. Wild About Deb (117) – Pejeira/Preciado – 20-1
7. Gun Runner (122) – Geroux/Asmussen – 6-1
8. My Man Sam (117) – Franco/Brown – 20-1
9. Nyquist (124) – Gutierrez/O’Neill- 5-2
10. Sunny Ridge (122) – Bravo/Servis – 12-1
11. Discreet Lover (117) – Flores/Lewis – 30-1  
12. Hit It Once More (119) – Ortiz Jr./Sciacca – 20-1

Race Analysis: This should be one helluva race. Summer Revolution will provide the speed and early pace which will bode well for Exaggerator’s closing style. He should get Awesome Slew to go with him from the #1 post. Right now the weather forecast shows that it will be a dry race by post time (25% chance of early morning showers). So I think Nyquist will bounce back and finish ahead of Exaggerator. But will it be good enough for the win? Nyquist deserves to be the race favorite but not at odds lower than 2-1. He hasn’t won since the Kentucky Derby back in May.

Nyquist is my reluctant top choice but I think we could have a surprise winner in this one. The Bob Baffert-trained Cupid is capable of providing the upset as is Gun Runner. But my longshot choice would be the son of Awesome Again–Awesome Slew–who might be prime to wire this field like he did in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx shown below. And he won’t have to come from the outside post  across traffic to get there starting in Post #1.

Summer Revolution seems initially inviting with Mike Smith on-board but he has never raced further than 7 furlongs and finished 4th in his last start (King’s Bishop Stakes) against lesser competition. Connect is a good horse who I was high on entering the Travers Stakes. He received a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the Curlin Stakes but disappointingly finished 6th in the Travers. And he was 6th after 9 furlongs in that race too.

So I would probably recommend a boxed Superfecta of five horses (1,2,5,7 & 9). A 10 cent boxed Superfecta with 5 horses would cost $12. If any of these horses are scratched, then add the 4 horse Connect. If you believe Connect will bounce back, another 10 cent Superfecta you can try is 1, 2, 7, 9 with 1, 2, 5, 7, 9 with 1, 2, 5, 7, 9 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 which would cost $12.60. This bet eliminates Cupid from winning and Nyquist from a 4th place finish but adds Connect as a 4th place finisher.

–Michael

The Road to 2017 Kentucky Derby begins – Iroquois Stakes Preview

 

 

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September 16th 2016

The road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby officially begins this Saturday where it ends–at Churchill Downs with the Iroquois Stakes. This is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Sentient Jet Juvenile race and the winner also gets 10 points in the Kentucky Derby standings.

The race is named after the horse Iroquois–the first American horse to win the Epson Derby. Four years ago this race was increased from one mile to 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile). The past three years, this race has spawned just three Kentucky Derby starters: Tapiture and Ride On Curlin in 2013 and Mr. Z in 2014. 

Overall, I feel the field for this year’s race–at this point in these 2 year-olds careers–appears to be better than the last three Iroquois Stakes fields. I also feel that there is at lease one future 2017 Kentucky Derby starter in this field. Perhaps even two or three. Five horses to watch closely are Not This Time, Blame Will, Recruiting Ready, Lookin At Lee and Thirstforlife.

I generally avoid trying to handicap 2 year-old races since they are often inconsistent. However, I really like two horses in this field: Not This Time and Blame Will.

Dale Roman’s Not This Time ran a sub 1:36 mile at Ellis Park back on August 12th. He won by 10 lengths with a winning time of 1:35.99. Consider that American Pharoah’s first recorded mile time came in the 1 1/16th mile 2014 FrontRunner Stakes where he ran the mile in 1:35.77 and a 1:41.95 final time.

D. Wayne Lukas’s Blame Will earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start at Saratoga. He was purchased as a yearling for $600,000, so there are high expectations for this colt. His sire Blame won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

If this is run on a dry, fast track, I expect the winning time to be 1:42 to 1:43 range. Below are the post-positions, jockeys and morning line odds:

The Iroquois Stakes – 1 1/16th Mile – Saturday September 17th – Race #8 at Churchill Downs – Post-Time: 5:59 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post Horse/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Lookin At Lee – Castellano/Asmussen – 6-1
2. Honor Thy Father Lucky – Lanerie/McPeek – 8-1    
3. Skinflint – Castanon/Kobiskie – 20-1
4. Thirstforlife – Geroux/Casse – 7-2 
5. Blame Will – Saez/Lukas – 4-1
6. Just Move On (118) – Valdiva/Byrne – 10-1
7. Recruiting Ready (118) – Stevens/DePaz – 3-1
8. Not This Time (118) – Albarado/Romans – 4-1  


–Michael

2017 Kentucky Derby Watch List – Klimt leads the pack

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

September 8th 2016 

It is that time of year again. In less than two weeks the Kentucky Derby prep season officially kicks off with the points-paying Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday September 17th. Last year around this same time, I made Nyquist my way too early Kentucky Derby favorite (SEE) and he went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

I am not ready to anoint any 2 year-old colt this title yet. There is no colt that really seems to be the near slam dunk like we had in Nyquist last year. And at this point in time, this year’s crop is better than last year’s when looking at times and Beyer Speed Figures. And it also appears to be better than the 2 year-old class that featured Shared Belief and California Chrome. Shared Belief and Chrome’s class took off more towards the end of that prep season. So there is a lot to look forward to in the future.

Right now, the leader of the pack is Klimt. Klimt’s time of 1.21.80  in the Del Mar Futurity was nearly a second and a half faster than Nyquist’s time (1:23.28) in the same race last year. And Klimt’s time was just 0.32 seconds off American Pharoah’s time of 1:21.48 in the 2014 Del Mat Futurity. That is roughly two lengths slower but the Del Mar track had a faster synthetic surface when American Pharoah raced there in 2014.

While I think Klimt is the best 2 year-old colt thus far, this is a very competitive and talented crop. Klimt has one of the best trainers in the world in Bob Baffert. He looks the part of a First Saturday in May contender but I am not completely sold on his pedigree past 9 furlongs.

Evaluating 2 year-olds at this stage is very difficult. Two year olds are like teenagers and can be very inconsistent. A few are late-bloomers that plod along with mediocre results and then boom, the light turns on and they take off when the race distances start increasing.

Most of these horses have only competed in races 5 to 7 furlongs and they may be dominant at these distances but have issues stretching out past a mile. And some of the best pedigree horses can be big flops or never make it to the racetrack. Sometimes the acorn does fall far away from the tree. Then there are horses like California Chrome who didn’t have an impressive pedigree but turned out to be arguably one of the Top 20 thoroughbreds of all-time.

Historically, odds are that the 2017 Kentucky Derby has already raced somewhere at a North America track. So below is my list of horses to keep an eye on in the coming months leading up to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sentient Jet Juvenile race on November 5th.

2017 Kentucky Derby Prospects

Klimt  Owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert–the same combination that produced Bayern and Dortmund. Klimt’s sire Quality Road won the Florida Derby, Met Mile, Donn Handicap, Woodward Stakes. Quality Road suffered two quarter cracks that prevented him from competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Next Start: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Quality Road
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:21.802016 Del Mar Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Del Mar Futurity

Straight Fire – He finished 2nd in the Del Mar Futurity behind Klimt. Owned by Jim Rome’s group, Straight Fire is giving Jungle Racing hope that they may have a horse close to Shared Belief’s talent. Straight Fire’s average Beyer Speed Figure in 3 starts is 90. This is the highest average Beyer Speed Figure of any 2 year-old thus far. I am not completely sold on his pedigree. His sire Dominus had moderate success , winning only one Grade 1 race (Dwyer Stakes) before switching to turf. But you’ve got to like what the Desormeaux brothers have done with him thus far. Next Start: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 1-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Dominus
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux (1998, 2000 & 2008 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time:  N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:22.48 (calculated) – 2016 Del Mar Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98Del Mar MSW 8/6/16

Classic Empire – American Pharoah’s half-brother. He dumped his jockey Irad Ortiz Jr shortly after leaving the gate in the Hopeful Stakes. Both the horse and jockey are OK. It was rumored that he was examined after the race and may have been suffering from a case of mild lameness. Next Race: The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on October 8th.

Career: 3 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>DNF
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr & Julien Leparoux
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.39 – 2016 Bashford Manor Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 87 – 2016 Bashford Manor Stakes

Not This Time At Ellis Park, he produced a sub 1:36 in a mile race in his last start. So he is way ahead of schedule. Dale Romans is very high on this Giant’s Causeway colt who reminds him of his half-brother Brody’s Cause. He is also Liam’s Map half-brother, the two sharing the same dam (mother) in Miss Macy Sue. Next Start: The Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 17th.

Career: 2 Starts 1-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: N/A–>5th–>1st
Sire: Giant’s Causeway
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 1 Mile Time: 1:35.99 – 2016 Ellis Park MSW 8/12/16

Syndergaard  This Todd Pletcher-trainee has an average Beyer Speed Figure in 2 starts 0f 88. I am concerned that he will like distance. His sire Majesticperfection was a sprinter that didn’t race until he was 4 years old but won 5 out of 6 sprint races. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 2 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: N/A–>1st–>1st
Sire: Majesticperfection
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:10.05 –2016 Funny Cide Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90 – 2016 Funny Cide Stakes

Three Rules – He has owned the 2 year-old races at Gulfstream Park thus far. His sire Gone Astray never raced further than 9 furlongs and his biggest win was the 2009 Pennsylvania Derby. Next Start: The Florida Sire in Reality Stakes at Gulfstream Park on October 1st.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Gone Astray
Trainer: Jose Pinchin
Jockey: Cornelio Velasquez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.49 – 2016 Florida Dr Fagar Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.89 – 2016 Florida Sire Affirmed Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Florida Dr Fagar Stakes

Practical Joke The Chad Brown-trained winner of the Hopeful Stakes. The son of Into Mischief, I have some pedigree concerns and especially beyond 9 furlongs. Next Start: The Champagne Stakes at Belmont on October 8th.

Career: 2 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: N/A–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:10.02 – Saratoga MSW 8/6/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.39 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 85 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes

Theory Another promising Todd Pletcher-trained colt from WinStar Farm. Theory won in his debut at Saratoga and produced an 85 Beyer Speed Figure. His sire Gemologist went undefeated in five starts heading into the 2012 Kentucky Derby where he finished 16th. Next Start: Unknown at this time. His last published workout was at Saratoga August 20th.

Career: 1 Starts 1-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Sire: Gemologist (Finished 16th in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.80 – Saratoga MSW 7/30/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 85 – Saratoga MSW 7/30/16

Royal Copy – He lost the Hopeful Stakes by a neck under a hand ride as his jockey Luis Saez who lost his whip near the start. His sire Bodemeister won the Arkansas Derby and finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 4 Starts 1-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.43 (calculated) –2016 Hopeful Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 84 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes

Blame Will – Another promising D.Wayne Lukas colt. He earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start at Saratoga. Before this, he finished 3rd in a turf race. He is a big ticket horse with expectations. He was purchased as a yearling for $600,000. His sire Blame won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 3 Starts 1-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Blame (2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.87 – Saratoga MSW 8/20/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 88 – Saratoga MSW 8/20/16

In addition to the above horses, Bob Baffert always seems to produce a top 3 year old every year. And his barn appears to be loaded again this year with other great prospects such as: Big Gray Rocket (Sire: Tapit), Cairo Healer (Sire: Giant’s Causeway) and another half-brother to American Pharoah Irish Freedom (Sire: Pioneerof the Nile). All three of these colts have broke their maiden.

Especially keep an eye on any 2 year-old that jockey Mike Smith chooses to ride. A Hall of Fame jockey, Mike magically seems to find his way on some of the best horses. If he didn’t make the sign of the cross before entering the starting gate each race, I would think he had sold his soul to the devil to end up on Songbird and Arrogate.


Here are the “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Sentient Jet):

Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs – September 17th on TVG
FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita – October 1st on NBC Sports Network
Champagne Stakes at Belmont – October 8th on TVG
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland – October 8th on NBC


–Michael

Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

bcsantaanita_2016logo-657x1081

September 6th 2016

After the Woodward Stakes this past Saturday, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic contender picture has come more into focus and now appears to be a two horse battle between California Chrome and Arrogate. However, we still have three key remaining races (shown below) that can spring new challengers. The “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Classic races are in bold font. 

September 24th – Pennsylvania Derby – PARX – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG
October 1st – Awesome Again Stakes – Santa Anita – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $300,000 – NBCSN
October 8th – Jockey Gold Cup – Belmont Park – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC

And now onto the rankings. Bradester drops out due to a poor performance (8th place finish) in the Woodward Stakes. He will likely be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Las Vegas Dirt Mile.

Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

1)  California Chrome* – He’s undefeated in five starts in 2016. The all-time North American leader in race earnings with $13.25 million dollars. His win in the Pacific Classic was arguably the best performance of his career. Next Start:  The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita October 1st.

Career: 23 Starts 14-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 6
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  4-1-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Lucky Pulpit  
Trainer: Art Sherman 
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.93 (calculated) – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic

2) Arrogate – There is no doubt that Bob Baffert has a star colt in Arrogate who set a Travers Stakes and Saratoga track record (1:59.36) for a 1 1/4 mile race. His final quarter mile fraction was 23.84. American Pharoah’s final fraction in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was 24.60. Here are the best career final fractions of his competition in mile and a quarter races: California Chrome 24.44 2016 Pacific Classic, Melatonin 24.27 2016 Gold Cup race at Santa Anita, Beholder  24.65 2015 Pacific Classic. Arrogate will get a 4 pound advantage over California Chrome and older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I just need more than one great performance to elevate him higher over Chrome who is undefeated in 2016. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will get that. Next Start: Bob Baffert indicated that he is going to train Arrogate up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic like he did with American Pharoah. 

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Unbridled’s Song
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009 & 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.362016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 122 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1222016 Travers Stakes

3) Melatonin–  The Rodney Dangerfield of thoroughbreds because he gets no respect. At the Classic distance of a miler and a quarter, he is undefeated in two starts and has an average Beyer Speed Figure of 108. The surprise winner of the 2016 Santa Anita Handicap. He proved his Big ‘Cap performance was no fluke by finishing 2nd behind Effinex in the Oaklawn Handicap and completing the Big ‘Cap-Gold Cup Double. His win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita assures him a spot in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is trained by David Hofmans who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1996 with Alphabet Soup. He was originally pegged to start in the Pacific Classic but he wasn’t entered due to coming off a persistent illness. Next Start: The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 13 Starts 5-3-3-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  2-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>1st
Sire: Kodiak Kowboy
Trainer: David Hofmans (1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Joe Talamo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  1:59.79 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

4) Beholder Her 2nd place finish in the Pacific Classic was a commendable performance. However, she has slipped a bit off of her 2015 form where she had the stunning performance in the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic (shown below) that put her #1 in many Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings last year. Her trainer Richard Mandella said that he may opt for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff instead of The Classic. Until this decision is made, Beholder will stay in my rankings. Next Start:  The Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.

Career: 24 Starts 17-5-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Henny Hughes
Trainer: Richard Mandella (2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.772015 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic

5) Dortmund Nice performances in the San Diego Handicap (2nd) and Pacific Classic (3rd), but he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The rumor mill suggests that he might be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over The Classic. if Beholder and Dortmund are entered in The Classic, Gary Stevens will most likely be Beholder’s rider. Next Start: The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 12 Starts 8-1-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Big Brown
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.29 (calculated) –  2016 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

6) Effinex – His 4th place finish in the Whitney Stakes was a disappointment. He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has two wins in the Oaklawn and Suburban Handicaps. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained 5 year old can be enigmatic at times and prone to get off to bad starts (see 2016 Stephen Foster Handicap). But then he can bounce back with a nice performance like he had in the Suburban Handicap in July. Jockey Mike Smith seems to get the best out of him but Smith will ride Arrogate in The Classic. Next Start: The Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 25 Starts 9-2-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 6th–>1st–>4th
Sire: Mineshaft
Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens 
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009, 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.04 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic

7) Hoppertunity – He kept his streak alive of finishing 4th or better in every graded stakes race in his career with a 4th place finish in the Pacific Classic. He is extremely consistent and you get the feeling that he would probably finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field. Next Start:  Unknown but probably the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 21 Starts 5-6-4-5   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-3
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>4th–>4th
Sire: Any Given Saturday
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.16 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 104 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 108 – 2016 San Antonio Stakes

8) Mubtaahij – Mubtaahij moves back into my Top 12 because this once enigmatic colt has been a fairly consistent in his last three starts. He finished 2nd in the Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome, 3rd in the Suburban Handicap and finished 2nd in a photo finish for the win in the Woodward Stakes. He appears to be a rail-runner which limits his options down the stretch and he has yet to win a Grade 1 stakes race. Next Start: The Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 14 Starts 4-3-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 3 Starts  0-1-1-0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>2nd
Sire: Dubawi
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr
Best 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.28 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 99 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 106 – 2016 Woodward Stakes

9) Frosted  Frosted falls down six spots after his disappointing Woodward performance. Note he is ranked below Mubtaahij who has finished ahead of him in their last two starts. In 2015, Frosted finished ahead of Mubtaahij in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. The Tapit gray colt has set two track records thus far as a 4 year old and has qualified for both the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I think he would be better suited for the Dirt Mile. He set the track record in the 124th running of the Metropolitan Handicap with a time of 1:32.73 that resulted in the highest Beyer Speed Figure (123) of his career and the highest of any thoroughbred thus far in 2016. As he has stretched out past a mile, his Beyer Speed Figures have declined (107 in the Whitney Stakes and 105 in the Woodward Stakes). Next Start: He will train up to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Career: 18 Starts 6-6-2-2    Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.05 (calculated) – 2015 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 123 2016 Metropolitan Handicap

10) Nyquist  – Not a good “off-track” runner as we witnessed from him in the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational. Nyquist likes dry, fast tracks. The 2016 Kentucky Derby winner needs a big win down the road if he wants to win the 2016 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male of the Year award. Next Start:  The Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on September 24th.

Career: 10 Starts 8-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd–>4th
Sire: Uncle Mo  
Trainer: Doug O’Neill 
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.31 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby

11) Exaggerator The Slopmeister. It is now evident after his disappointing finishes in the Belmont and Travers Stakes that Exaggerator is highly dependent on a fast pace and a sloppy track. With wins in the Santa Anita Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational (shown below), Exaggerator is in the mix for an Eclipse award for the best 3-year-0ld colt in 2016. But he needs a great dry track performance somewhere down the line. Next Start: He is a rumored entry against Nyquist and Gun Runner in the Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on September 24th.

Career: 14 Starts 6-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 11th–>1st–>11th
Sire: Curlin (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.51 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Santa Anita Derby

12) Gun Runner  – The Louisiana Derby winner. He has achieved two 3rd finishes in two of the major 1 1/4 miles races for 3 year-olds in the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes. And he received his best Beyer Speed Figure of his career (102) in the Travers Stakes. I like the upward trend and this is Steve Asmussen’s best Classic contender after Creator bombed out in the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. Some may want to insert American Freedom in this spot but Baffert has Arrogate, Dortmund and Hoppertunity as BCC contenders. Next Start: The Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on September 24th.

Career: 9 Starts 5-0-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>3rd
Sire: Candy Ride  
Trainer: Steve Asmussen (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Florent Geroux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:02.03 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes

–Michael

Labor Day Special – 2016 Hopeful Stakes and Del Mar Futurity Previews. 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Watch

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

September 5th 2016

The 2017 Kentucky Derby contender watch officially kicks off today with two very presitigious races for 2 year old colts on the Derby trail. The Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga dates back to 1903 and has been won by some of the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time: Man o’War, Secretariat, Native Dancer and Affirmed. The Del Mar Futurity was first run in 1948 and the last two winners (Nyquist and American Pharoah) went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Below are post-position draws, weights, jockeys and morning line odds.

The Hopeful Stakes – 7 Furlongs – Monday September 5th – Race #10 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 4:44 PM CST. Televised by Fox Sports 2

Post Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Everybodyluvsrudy (116) – Arroyo/Rodriguez – 20-1
2. Practical Joke (118) – J.Ortiz/Brown – 3-1    
3. Runaway Lute (122) – Santana/Contessa – 9-2  
4. Bitumen (122) – Castellano/Kenneally – 2-1 
5. Royal Copy (118) – Saez/Lukas – 8-1
6. Classic Empire (120) – I.Ortiz/Casse – 5-2 
7. Pretty Boy Flash (116) – Velazquez/Asmussen – 15-1

Race Commentary: This race appears to be an interesting battle between American Pharoah’s half-brother Classic Empire, Bitumen, Practical Joke and Runaway Lute. Classic Empire, Bitumen and Runaway Lute are all are undefeated in two starts. Here are the top Beyer Speed Figures achieved by this group: Classic Empire 87, Bitumen 86, Practical Joke 83.

Classic Empire has proven to be the fastest in this field through 6 furlongs. I think he will be the fastest through 7 furlongs. My projected race winner: Classic Empire. Superfecta pick 6 over 2,4 over 2,4 over 3,5.


The Del Mar Futurity – 7 Furlongs – Monday September 5th – Race #5 at Del Mar – Post-Time: 6:03 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Chasing Aces (120) – Baze/Miller – 9-5
2. Straight Fire (120) – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 8-5    
3. Midnight Pleasure (120) – Garcia/Ruis – 10-1  
4. Vegas Itch (118) – Theriot/Papaprodromou – 20-1 
5. Dynamic Ruler (118) – Prat/Belvoir – 20-1
6. Klimt (123) – Bejarano/Baffert – 2-1 

Race Commentary: This field has no undefeated horses but has higher Beyer Speed Figures as a group than the Hopeful Stakes field. Chasing Aces achieved a Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) of 101 in a 5 furlong race at Del Mar in mid July. This is the highest BSF achieved by a 2 year-old this year. Straight Fire is owned by Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing and has produced Beyer Speed Figures of 98 and 87. 

The Bob Baffert trained Klimt produced an 82 BSF in a 6 1/2 furlong race at Del Mar on August 13th. There is a lot of inside speed in this race with Chasing Aces and Straight Fire in post-positions 1 and 2. This may play in favor of Bob Baffert’s Klimt. I like a 2-6 (Straight Fire, Klimt) Boxed Exacta.

–Michael

2016 Woodward Stakes Preview and the looming Armageddon in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

September 1st 2016

Horse racing is very much a “What have you done for me lately” sport. California Chrome and Arrogate have laid down gauntlet with great performances the past few weekends, raising the bar for the looming Armageddon this fall in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It’s the Met Mile record holder Frosted’s turn to impress us once more, to assure us that this is more than a two horse battle. Frosted is the 1/2 odds favorite in the upcoming Woodward Stakes this Saturday at Saratoga. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network between 4-5 PM CST.

Last month, Frosted won the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga by two lengths with a time of 1:47.77 (107 Beyer Speed Figure). It was a nice win but somewhat disappointing coming off his 123 Beyer Speed Figure and track record (1:32.73) that he set in the Metropolitan Mile (aka Met Mile) back in June.

The Woodward Stakes is the same 9 furlong (1 1/8th Mile) distance as The Whitney. For Frosted, any time higher than 1:47 flat on a dry, fast track should be viewed as a disappointment. I really think he needs to run in the mid 1:46 range to be still considered a huge threat to beat California Chrome and now Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The track record for the Whitney Stakes is 1:46.64 set in 2007 by Lawyer Ron. The Woodward Stakes track record is 1:45.80 and is shared by two horses: Forego (1976) and Dispersal (1990).

The Tapit gray colt’s biggest opponent in this race will be himself and time.

The Woodward Stakes – 1 1/8th Mile – Saturday September 3rd – Race #10 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 4:46 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network

Post Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Shaman Ghost (120) – Castellano/Jerkens – 12-1
2. Breaking Lucky (120) – Contrejas/Baker – 20-1    
3. Frosted (124) – Rosario/McLaughlin – 1-2  
4. Bradester (122) – Bravo/Kenneally – 6-1 
5. Catholic Cowboy (118) – Saez/Zito – 20-1
6. Samraat (118) – J.Ortiz/Violette – 10-1
7. Tale of Verve (118) – Velazquez/Stewart – 30-1
8. Tapin Mojo (118) – Franco/Chatterpaul – 50-1  
9. Mubtaahij (118) – I.Ortiz/McLaughlin- 5-1

My Prediction: Frosted draws a favorable inside post but has early speed next to him in Bradester. I don’t think this one will be close. The real battle will be for 2nd place between Bradester, Samraat and Mubtaahij. My projected order of finish: 1) Frosted, 2) Bradester, 3) Samraat, 4) Mubtaahij, 5) Shaman Ghost, 6) Tale of Verve, 8) Catholic Cowboy, 9) Tapin Mojo


Looming Armageddon at Breeders’ Cup Classic

Unless Frosted dazzle’s us in the Woodward, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic appears to be two horse show between California Chroma and Arrogate. One thing that I want to address is this willingness to discount Arrogate’s recent performance in the Travers Stakes. Sure, Arrogate could be a “flash in the pan,” never capable of replicating his awesome feat last Saturday where he set Travers Stakes and Saratoga track record with a time of 1:59.36 in a mile and a quarter race.

Don’t be so foolish enough to not believe Arrogate is a huge threat to California Chrome in the BCC. Arrogate drew the rail in the Travers. Yes, he had a near perfect trip. But remember that he had never raced further than 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile) and what I thought he would do, he didn’t. I thought he would have to get out into the lead early to avoid getting hemmed in along the rail and then he would tire and fade down the stretch in the final furlong.

Arrogate did exactly what I thought he would do early on (get off to a good start and take the lead early) but then he did something few horses can do. And that is run final quarter mile fraction that was almost as fast as the fast opening fraction he laid down. Arrogate’s opening quarter mile fraction was 23.61. His final quarter mile fraction was 23.84!

Show me one horse still in active training that can run a final quarter-mile fraction that fast in a 10 furlong (1 1/4 mile) race. Guess what? You can’t. American Pharoah’s final fraction in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was 24.60. California Chrome’s best final fraction is 24.44 accomplished in the Pacific Classic a couple of weekends ago. Melatonin did a 24.27 in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita back in June. Beholder did a 24.65 in the 2015 Pacific Classic.

Arrogate may never be able to replicate his performance in the Travers Stakes, fair enough. But all he would have to do is be close and he may have the Breeders’ Classic field covered. I’m in the camp that it is easier to accomplish something you’ve accomplished before than to accomplish something you have never accomplished.

–Michael

 

Arrogate dominates the Travers Stakes with a new track record. Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings

August 30th 2016

Just when I was lamenting the fact that this year’s 3 year-old crop was slow when looking at their Beyer Speed Figures… and that none posed a huge threat to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic…enter the Bob Baffert-trained late-bloomer Arrogate. He stunned the Saratoga crowd this past Saturday with a performance that spectators are still buzzing about (shown below). He received a 122 Beyer Speed Figure for this incredible effort. The highest Beyer Speed Figure ever earned by a 3 year-old is 124 set by Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989.

Arrogate won by 13 1/2 lengths and his winning time of 1:59.36 set a Travers Stakes record and Saratoga track record for a mile and a quarter. The previous record for the Travers at 1 1/4 mile distance was 2 minutes flat. Saratoga is one of the oldest horse racing venues in North America and has never been considered a “fast track”.

Spectacular Bid holds the world record on dirt for a 1 1/4 mile at 1:57.80 but he accomplished this feat as a 4 year-old. For 3 year-olds, a horse named Quack holds the world record on dirt for 1 1/4th mile at 1:58.20 set in the 1972 Hollywood Gold Cup race.

Just when I thought California Chrome was a virtual lock to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate muddies up the picture with a freakish performance. And if he draws an inside post, it could toast for Chrome in The Classic. Below is my updated Breeders’ Cup contender rankings:

Updated Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

1)  California Chrome* – He’s undefeated in five starts in 2016. The all-time North American leader in race earnings with $13.25 million dollars. In the San Diego Handicap, California Chrome displayed a fight that we have never seen before since he has usually won with ease. His win in the Pacific Classic was arguably the best performance of his career. Next Start:  The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita October 1st.

Career: 23 Starts 14-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 6
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  4-1-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Lucky Pulpit  
Trainer: Art Sherman 
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.93 (calculated) – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic & 2016 Pacific Classic

2) Arrogate – He lands at #2 in my rankings despite the fact that he has produced a mile and a quarter time faster than any other active horse on dirt. However, color me a slight bit skeptical until he can replicate anything close to his Travers Stakes performance. As a 3 year-old, Albert the Great ran a 1:59.24 mile and a quarter in the 2000 Jockey Club Gold Cup race and finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year. Then he finished 3rd in the BCC the following year. There is no doubt that Bob Baffert has a star colt in Arrogate and he will get a 4 pound advantage over Chrome and Frosted in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I just need more than one awesome performance to elevate him higher. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will get that. Next Start: Bob Baffert indicated that he is going to train Arrogate up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic like he did with American Pharoah. Although I think Arrogate would benefit from another start before The Classic, it is hard to argue with a strategy of one of the top trainers in the world.

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Unbridled’s Song
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009 & 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.362016 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 122 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1222016 Travers Stakes

3) Frosted  With his win in the Whitney Stakes, he received a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. He has set two track records thus far as a 4 year old. The first came at Meydan in the 1900 meter Al Maktoum Challenge in February. His most recent came in the 124th running of the Metropolitan Handicap with a time of 1:32.73 that resulted in the highest Beyer Speed Figure (123) of his career and the highest of any thoroughbred thus far in 2016. Next Start: the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on September 3rd. Then he will train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 17 Starts 6-6-1-2    Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 5th–>1st–>1st
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.05 (calculated) – 2015 Travers Stakes
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 123 2016 Metropolitan Handicap

4) Melatonin–  He is undefeated at a mile and a quarter. He is a legitimate threat to California Chrome. The surprise winner of the 2016 Santa Anita Handicap. He proved his Big ‘Cap performance was no fluke by finishing 2nd behind Effinex in the Oaklawn Handicap and completing the Big ‘Cap-Gold Cup Double. His win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita assures him a spot in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is trained by David Hofmans who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1996 with Alphabet Soup. He was originally pegged to start in the Pacific Classic but he wasn’t entered due to coming off a persistent illness. Next Start: The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 13 Starts 5-3-3-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  2-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>1st
Sire: Kodiak Kowboy
Trainer: David Hofmans (1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Joe Talamo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  1:59.79 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

5) Beholder Her 2nd place finish in the Pacific Classic was a commendable performance. However, she has slipped a bit off of her 2015 form where she had the stunning performance in the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic (shown below) that put her #1 in many Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings last year. Her trainer Richard Mandella said that he may opt for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff instead of The Classic. Next Start:  The Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.

Career: 24 Starts 17-5-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Henny Hughes
Trainer: Richard Mandella (2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.772015 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 114 – 2015 Pacific Classic

6) Dortmund Nice performances in the San Diego Handicap (2nd) and Pacific Classic (3rd), but he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The rumor mill suggests that he might be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over The Classic. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 12 Starts 8-1-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Big Brown
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.29 (calculated) –  2016 Pacific Classic
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

7) Effinex – His 4th place finish in the Whitney Stakes was a bit of a disappointment. He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has two wins in the Oaklawn Handicap and the Suburban Handicap. Next Start: Unknown but I am guessing the Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 25 Starts 9-2-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 6th–>1st–>4th
Sire: Mineshaft
Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens 
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009, 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.04 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Career Best Beyer Speed: 112 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic

8) Hoppertunity – He kept his streak alive of finishing 4th or better in every graded stakes race in his career with a 4th place finish in the Pacific Classic. He is extremely consistent and probably would finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field. Next Start:  Unknown but probably the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 21 Starts 5-6-4-5   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-3
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>4th–>4th
Sire: Any Given Saturday
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014 & 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.16 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 104 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 108 – 2016 San Antonio Stakes

9) Nyquist  – The 2016 Kentucky Derby winner needs a big win down the road if he wants to win the 2016 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male of the Year award. Next Start:  The most recent news is that Nyquist will stay at San Luis Rey Downs through the entire month of August and is being pointed towards the Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on September 24th.

Career: 10 Starts 8-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd–>4th
Sire: Uncle Mo  
Trainer: Doug O’Neill 
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.31 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Kentucky Derby

10) Exaggerator The Slopmeister. It is now evident after his disappointing finishes in the Belmont and Travers Stakes that Exaggerator is highly dependent on a fast pace and a sloppy track. With wins in the Santa Anita Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational (shown below), Exaggerator is in the mix for an Eclipse award for the best 3-year-0ld colt in 2016. But he needs a great dry track performance somewhere down the line. Next Start: Unknown but he has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 14 Starts 6-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 11th–>1st–>11th
Sire: Curlin (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:01.51 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – 2016 Santa Anita Derby

11) Bradester* With his most recent win in the Monmouth Cup, Bradester now has won three races in three starts in 2016. Although he has never raced beyond 1 1/8th mile, Bradester qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his win in the Stephen Foster Handicap. It appears that he is being pointed towards the Breeders’ Cup Mile rather than The Classic. He finished a disappointing 9th in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. 6 of his career 10 wins have come at the 1 1/16th mile distance. Next Start: Woodward Stakes at Saratoga September 3rd.

Career: 24 Starts 10-6-2-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 0 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st>1st–>1st
Sire: Lion Heart
Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A 
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1092015 Salvator Mile Stakes

12) Gun Runner  – The Louisiana Derby winner. He has achieved two 3rd finishes in two of the major 1 1/4 miles races for 3 year-olds in the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes. And he received his best Beyer Speed Figure of his career (102) in the Travers Stakes. I like the upward trend and this is Steve Asmussen’s best Classic contender after Creator bombed out in the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. Some may want to insert American Freedom in this spot but Baffert has Arrogate, Dortmund and Hoppertunity as BCC contenders. Next Start: The Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on September 24th.

Career: 9 Starts 5-0-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Start  0-0-2-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>3rd
Sire: Candy Ride  
Trainer: Steve Asmussen (2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Florent Geroux 
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 2:02.03 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Travers Stakes

Note: Horses who have qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic have an asterisk next to their name.


Below are the key upcoming races with “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Classic races in bold font:

September 3rd – Woodward Stakes – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000 – NBCSN
September 24th – Pennsylvania Derby – PARX – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG
October 1st – Awesome Again Stakes – Santa Anita – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $300,000 – NBCSN
October 8th – Jockey Gold Cup – Belmont Park – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC
*****

November 5th – Breeders’ Cup Classic – Santa Anita  – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $6,000,000 – NBC


I will have a Woodward Stakes preview by Friday evening September 2nd. Then another updated Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings list by Tuesday evening September 5th. After that, I will focus on the 2 year-old 2017 Kentucky Derby class for which I like Classic Empire, Straight Fire and Klimt thus far.

–Michael

2016 Travers Stakes Preview – Will Exaggerator prevail at the Graveyard of Champions?

2016-travers-stakes-lapel-pin-silver-metal-2

August 24th 2016 – Updated 8/26/16 (see below)

Coming this Saturday on NBC is the 147th running of the Travers Stakes for 3 year-olds. Consider the history of this race at the hallowed grounds of Saratoga. It was first run in 1864 when Abraham Lincoln was President. That was seven score and twelve years ago. It was once viewed as the fourth leg of the Triple Crown. It seems to produce upsets or controversy. Most notably in 1930 when the Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox was upset by the 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy. More fresh on everyour minds was last year when Keen Ice shocked the Saratoga crowd by beating American Pharoah.

Then there was the Affirmed vs Alydar showdown in 1978 that resulted in Affirmed being disqualified by a foul. To date, the only Triple Crown winner to ever win the Travers Stakes was Whirlaway in 1941.

There is no Triple Crown winner this year to test the Saratoga racing gods but we do have a number of horses in this field that competed in this year’s Triple Crown races:

Exaggerator – Preakness Stakes winner, 2nd in the Kentucky Derby, 11th in the Belmont Stakes
Creator – Belmont Stakes winner, 13th in the Kentucky Derby
Destin – 2nd in the Belmont Stakes, 6th in the Kentucky Derby
Gun Runner – 3rd in the Kentucky Derby 
Governo Malibu – 4th in the Belmont Stakes
My Man Sam – 11th in the Kentucky Derby
Majesto – 18th in the Kentucky Derby
Laoban – the surprise Jim Dandy Stakes winner who finished 6th in the Preakness
Forever d’Oro – 13th in the Belmont Stakes

Plus some late bloomers like the Curlin Stakes winner Connect, Bob Baffert’s Iowa Derby winner American Freedom who finished 2nd to Exaggerator in the Haskell Invitational and Bob Baffert’s other promising colt–Arrogate–who produced a 103 Beyer Speed Figure at Santa Anita Park in June.

Then there’s the once promising Chad Brown colt Gift Box who was sidelined during the Derby trail season due to illness. He gave Connect a real battle in the Curlin Stakes. And the 50-1 odds horse Anaximandros. I think his name means longshot in Latin.

Here are the post-positions, riders and morning line odds:

The Travers Stakes – 1 1/4th Mile – Saturday August 27th – Race #11 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 4:44 PM CST. Televised by NBC

Post Horse/(Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Arrogate – Smith/Baffert – 10-1
2. American Freedom – Bejarano/Baffert – 6-1
3. My Man Sam – Franco/Brown – 20-1
4. Governor Malibu – Rosario/Clement – 12-1
5. Forever d’Oro – Saez/Stewart – 30-1
6. Anaximandros – Reyes/Yakakov – 50-1
7. Exaggerator – Desormeax/Desormeax – 3-1
8. Destin – Castellano/Pletcher – 10-1
9. Gift Box – Alvarado/Brown- 12-1
10. Connect – Velazquez/Brown – 4-1
11. Majesto – Santana/Delgato – 30-1   SCRATCHED
12. Creator – Ortiz Jr./Asmussen – 15-1
13. Laoban – Ortiz/Guillot – 15-1
14. Gun Runner – Geroux/Asmussen – 10-1

My Prediction: This will be an interesting race. Exaggerator is the class of the field. He has won before at Saratoga as a 2 year old. He has a good starting position in the middle of pack. It would be hard to bet against him here but why would this year be any different for a race that typically springs upsets? Especially when there is no rain in the forecast. This race is very hard to handicap since a few of these horses, and some very promising ones like Connect, have yet to race 10 furlongs. And those who raced in the Kentucky Derby may have significantly improved by now. This race’s exotic bets should payout nice if you are lucky enough to hit one. 

Here are the Top Beyer Speed Figures for horses in this field at races longer than one mile

Arrogate              SA           24 Jun   1 1/16M         103
Exaggerator       SA           09 Apr   1 1/8M           103
Connect               SAR        29 Jul     1 1/8M           101
Exaggerator       CD          07 May 1 1/4M            101
Exaggerator       MTH      31 Jul     1 1/8M            101
Exaggerator       PIM        21 May 1 3/16M           101
Laoban                 SAR       30 Jul  1 1/8M               101
Destin                  TAM      12 Mar  1 1/16M           100

This is why I would lean towards picking Exaggerator (The Slopmeister) to win this race even on a dry track surface. Connect and American Freedom are probably good bets to finish in the superfecta. After that, it depends on which Gun Runner, Creator and Destin shows up. Arrogate is hurt by drawing the rail. I have no magic crystal ball for this one folks. Good luck and happy viewing!

Update! 8/26/16

One thing I noticed in my research tonight is how the top 3 finishers in Jim Dandy Stakes fared in the Travers Stakes the past 4 years. The Jim Dandy Stakes is a 9 furlong (1 1/8th mile) race that is a prep race for the Travers.

2015 – Frosted finished 2nd in the Jim Dandy and 3rd in the Travers
2014 – Wicked Strong and Tonalist finished 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and then 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Travers.
2013 – Will Take Charge finished 2nd in the Jim Dandy and won the Travers
2012 – Alpha and Neck ‘n Neck finished 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and tied in a dead heat in the Travers.

The Top 3 finishers in this year’s Jim Dandy Stakes were: 1) Laoban, 2) Governor Malibu and 3) Destin. So if you are looking for horses to put into your superfecta bets, it would be a good idea to include one or two of these horses. Of the three, Governor Malibu seems to be the safest bet of the three to hit the board based on his career history.

Two horses that I wouldn’t put in my superfectas are: Anaximandros and My Man Sam. Majesto has been scratched. Forever d’Oro is the only longshot that might have a chance to hit the board. He is a half-brother to Songbird but he has yet to run like it. He crapped out in the Belmont Stakes but moved up well in the Curlin Stakes to finish 3rd.

As I stated earlier, this will be an interesting race. Sort of a mini Kentucky Derby. Since the Haskell Invitational was a wet race, which some horses don’t run well in, we could see a return to form for a horse like Gun Runner. But I am not convinced he likes a mile and a quarter.

–Michael