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

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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

California Chrome shines in the Pacific Classic. Songbird makes it 10 in a row. Where do they rank among the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time?

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August 21st 2016

When American Pharoah was retired last fall, there was concern how the sport would maintain interest moving forward in 2016 after losing such a huge star that brought so many new fans to the sport. Exactly, how would the sport fare in the post-American Pharoah hangover?

Well folks, the sport of thoroughbred horse racing is alive and doing extremely well thanks to a rehabilitated and rejuvenated California Chrome and the emergence of the star filly Songbird. Both are ranked in the Top 25 racehorses in the world by Longines and the two dominated their competition yesterday. And they both answered a few questions skeptics may have had about them along the way.

First, Songbird put her undefeated record on the line and faced a new challenge since she had never raced further than a 9 furlongs (1 1/8th mile). How well would she stretch out to the Classic distance of 10 furlongs (1 1/4 mile)? Although her winning time of 2 minutes, 3 seconds flat wasn’t astonishing, she answered that question beautifully, winning the Alabama Stakes (shown below) by 7 lengths. 10 career starts, 10 wins.

Then California Chrome faced the deepest, most talented field he has seen this year in the Pacific Classic. A rematch with Dortmund who battled him so well in the San Diego Handicap and the reigning Pacific Classic champion in Beholder. And to make the challenge greater, he drew the dreaded rail for the race. If Chrome has a weakness, it was running inside of horses. But he got out of gate quickly and proceeded to wire the field, winning easily by 5 lengths. He received a Beyer Speed Figure of 113 for the effort.


Greatest Racing Thoroughbreds

Now the question becomes, where does California Chrome rank among the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time? And does Songbird’s undefeated mark put her in the discussion of greatest thoroughbreds?

With Songbird’s undefeated record after 10 starts and how she dominates her competition, it is time to entertain the thought that Songbird might be one of the Top 100 race thoroughbreds of all-time and one of the Top 10 filly/mares of all-time. There have been many great fillies and mares in North American horse racing and especially in the last 50 years: Zenyatta, Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Susan’s Girl, Rags to Riches, Winning Colors, Rachel Alexandra, Azeri, Genuine Risk, Lady’s Secret, etc.

All I can say is that Songbird really needs to win the Cotillion Stakes next month at PARX and finish out the year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to cement her position in the discussion of greatest filly/mares of all-time. Then a big win against the boys. She wasn’t able to compete in the Kentucky Oaks due to developing a fever and she lacks that one big signature win. She will race as a 4 year-old and probably face the boys at one point along the way next year.

With a win in the Cotillion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, that would make her undefeated after 12 starts. For comparison purposes, Personal Ensign retired undefeated with 13 wins and had a win against the boys in the Whitney Handicap and a Breeders’ Cup Distaff championship on her resume. Personal Ensign was ranked 48th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century by Blood Horse magazine in 2000. 

So Songbird has got more work to do. It looks like she will face the Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia in the Cotillion. And perhaps Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as her trainer Richard Mandella is leaning that way after her 2nd place performance in the Pacific Classic.

Now on to California Chrome and where he ranks. I feel that he is easily Top 30 all-time, probably Top 20. He currently ranks as the all-time leader for North American racehorses in earnings at $13.25 Million dollars. As a comparison, I think he compares most favorably to Cigar who was ranked 18th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century by Blood Horse. In 1996, Cigar retired as the North American all-time leader in earnings at nearly $10 million dollars ($9,999,815). This would equate to over $15 Million in today dollars.

In order to elevate California Chrome into the Top 15 and to cement his position in the Top 20, I think he needs to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic or next year’s Pegasus World Cup. A Breeders’ Cup Classic win would push him over the $16 million mark in winnings. And he will then have wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Hollywood Derby (turf race), Dubai World Cup, Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic on his resume.

In conclusion, I think we have been really blessed to watch these two horses compete this year. And a big KUDOS to Art and Alan Sherman for the job they have done training and rehabilitating California Chrome. The sport really needed a resurgent Chrome.

–Michael

 

2016 Pacific Classic Preview – California Chrome vs. Beholder vs. Dortmund. Updated Breeders Cup Classic Contender Rankings

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August 17th 2016 – Updated August 20th 

If you have followed my Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings the past couple of months, a special treat is in store for you this coming Saturday evening. An unexpected “Clash of the Titans” at Del Mar in the Pacific Classic that matches California Chrome, Dortmund and Beholder. Need I say more? Below is the starting field and it resembles a Breeders’ Cup Classic Lite. The winner gets an automatic entry into The Classic.

Note that 6 of my Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders are entered. And the 3 year-old Desormeaux brothers colt Dalmore is a potential “board-hitter” after producing a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start at Santa Anita Park in the Affirmed Stakes (shown below). He didn’t have the most perfect trip, was forced wide and showed a willingness to battle and fight for a win.

Dalmore’s sire Colonel John won the Travers Stakes in 2008 and then finished 6th in a 12 horse field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year as a 3 year-0ld. Colonel John finished 5th as a 4 year-old in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This is a good horse and his winning time in the 1 1/16th mile Affirmed Stakes was 1:40.84, the same time California Chrome had in the 1 1/16th mile San Diego Handicap. And he will race 6 pounds ligther than Chrome.

Dalmore is very unlikely to win in this heavy-hitter older talented field but you should consider him for you exotic bets and you could be seeing a new star for next season. He may be, at this stage, a better dry fast track runner from the Desormeaux brothers stable than Exaggerator. At least at 8 1/2 furlongs. We will see how well he stretches out to 10 furlongs.

Here are the post-positions and morning line odds:

The Pacific Classic – 1 1/4th Mile – Saturday August 20th – Race #9 at Del Mar – Post-Time: 8:15 PM CST. Televised by TVG.

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. California Chrome (124) – Espinoza/Sherman – 8/5
2. Hoppertunity (124) – Pratt/Baffert – 8/1
3. War Story (124) – Mejas/Greenman – 30/1
4. Hard Aces (124) – Gonzalez/Sadler – 15/1
5. Win the Space (124) – Talamo/Papaprodromou – 15/1
6. Imperative (124) – Arroyo/Baltas – 20/1
7. Beholder (119) – Stevens/Mandella – 7/2
8. Dortmund (124) – Bejarano/Baffert – 5/2
9. Dalmore (118) – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 20-1

My prediction: I think California Chrome wins a hardly contested battle against Dortmund and the surprise new shooter Dalmore. War Story will finish last. Imperative will finish 7th or 8th. What happens in between is guesswork with this good of a field and much of this depends on what type of performance we see from Beholder. If she is healthy and 100% ready to rumble, she can win this race.

Hoppertunity‘s streak of finishing 4th or better in every graded stakes race of his career could be in jeopardy. Hard Aces is a closer and he should get the early speed his style is looking for. Win the Space will have to race with 6 more pounds than he had to in the San Diego Handicap and he never really challenged California Chrome or Dortmund in that race. Ultimately, this is a better “sit back and watch” race rather than one to bet on.  But if you nail a few of the “unexpecteds” (anybody beats Chrome, the 20-1 Dalmore wins or finishes 2nd) this could be very nice payday.

Also, there is a Cross-Country Pick 4 today between Saratoga and Del Mar. Here are my X-Country Pick 4 Picks: Race #1 Fourstardave Handicap (2-6-8–Grand Arch, Ring Weekend, Tourist), Race #2 Alabama Stakes (6–Songbird), Race #3 Del Mar Handicap (4-8–Metaboss-Ashleyluvsugar), Race #4 Pacific Classic (1-7–California Chrome, Beholder). $1 bet would cost $12. If you like a longshot and a potential huge payout, put Dalmore #8 into your Race #4 for $4 more dollars.


Breeders’ Cup Classic

As I said in my last blog, I don’t think the 2016 Kentucky Derby class has any serious threats yet to win “The Classic” this year. 3 year-olds have won the Breeders Cup Classic only 9 times in 32 runnings of the race. That is only 28%. I think an older horse will win it this year. But we have a few months more to go and these young horses can make huge strides as the year goes on. Exaggerator appears to the best of this 2016 3 year-old class.

Beyer Speed Figures

One thing to keep 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 three 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 103 (Exaggerator, Nyquist and Arrogate).

Updated Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

1)  California Chrome – He’s undefeated in four starts in 2016. With his Dubai World Cup win in March, he became the all-time North American leader in race earnings with $12.5 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. He is expected to be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup next January. Next Start: The Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 22 Starts 13-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 5 Starts  3-1-1-0
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
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic

2) 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: William Buick
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

3) Melatonin– 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 this coming weekend 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) Dortmund Despite Dortmund’s impressive battle with California Chrome in the San Diego Handicap, he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. However, Dortmund has only raced once at the Classic distance of a miler and a quarter. That came in the 2015 Kentucky Derby where he finished 3rd behind American Pharoah and Firing Line. Next Start: The Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 11 Starts 8-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2

Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st>1st–>2nd
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: 2:03.50 (calculated) –  2015 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

5) Effinex – His 4th place finish in the Whitney Stakes was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe he needs to skip a start. He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has two wins in the Oaklawn Handicap and the Stephen Foster. 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

6) Exaggerator The Slopmeister. With wins in the Santa Anita Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational (shown below), Exaggerator has probably moved ahead of Nyquist as the best 3-year-0ld colt in 2016. Next Start:  The Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 27th. Then onto the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5th with roughly the same layoff as American Pharoah had. 

Career: 13 Starts 6-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>11th–>1st
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

7) Beholder Her lost to Stellar Wind in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes was a surprise since she hadn’t lost a race in over 2 years.  Her time and Beyer Speed Figure in this year’s Clement L. Hirsh was higher than last year’s. However, one big difference, she didn’t have to battle for the win in the 2015 edition where she won by 7 lengths. I think 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. But she has been training well at Del Mar the past two weeks, so maybe she will bounce back into form. Next Start: She will defend her title in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 23 Starts 17-4-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>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

8) Win the Space  A third place finish behind California Chrome and Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap was probably an expected result. However, I thought he ran more competitively in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita. Perhaps he prefers 10 furlongs or the Santa Anita track surface? Or Gary Stevens as his rider? We will see soon. Next Start: The Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 12 Starts 3-1-3-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts 0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: George Papaprodromou
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  2:00.03 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 

9) Nyquist  – It should be plain as day after the Haskell Invitational that Nyquist just doesn’t like wet, sloppy 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 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) Hoppertunity – He finished 4th in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert admitted before the race that he wasn’t sure that he had him completely ready. Previous to this start, he finished 3rd (and just a neck from 2nd) in the Dubai World Cup. He is extremely consistent and probably would finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field because he has never finished below 4th place in a graded stakes race. Next Start: The Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 20 Starts 5-6-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-2
Last 3 starts: 1st>3rd–>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

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. He competed in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and had a disappointing 9th place finish. 6 of his career 10 wins have come at the 1 1/16th mile distance. Next Start: Unknown.

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: 109 – 2015 Salvator Mile Stakes

12) Hard Aces – Still competitive as a 6 year-old, he won the Cougar II Handicap (shown below) a couple of weekends ago. He finished 6th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic after qualifying with a win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He is a closer and performs best when the opening fractions are fast. And he is running well this year at Santa Anita–producing a 2nd place finish in both the Santa Anita Handicap and California Stakes to go with his most recent 3rd place finish in the Gold Cup race. The 105 Beyer he received in the Gold Cup was a career best. He will throw a clunker in along the way and is not an early Vegas favorite to win The Classic but he has “hit the board” potential if the race sets up well for his closing style. Next Start: The Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 20th.

Career: 33 Starts 9-6-5-3  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  1-1-1-1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Hard Spun
Trainer: John Sadler 
Jockey: Mario Pino
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.15 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

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:

August 20th – Pacific Classic – Del Mar – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG
August 27th – Travers Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000 – NBC
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

* – 3 year olds only


–Michael

Whitney Stakes Preview–Another “Win and You’re In” Breeders Cup Classic race. Plus Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings

challenge

August 3rd 2016 – Updated August 4th 2016

Below are the post-positions for the upcoming Whitney Stakes (aka Whitney Handicap) this Saturday evening at Saratoga. This is another “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and it will be televised on Fox Sports 2. Frosted will be the race favorite at 4/5 odds. He is well-deserving race favorite after coming off a track record and 123 Beyer Speed Figure performance in the Met Mile back in June.

Effinex will be the next betting favorite at 7/2 odds. However, note that Effinex did not run very well at Saratoga at this same distance (1 1/8th mile) last year in the Woodward Stakes where he finished 4th.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Comfort is probably the next best bet to hit the board. He has won both of his starts in 2016 at 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile) and produced a great time of 1:40.76 and 105 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start in the State Dinner Stakes (shown below).

Noble Bird produced a 110 Beyer Speed Figure back in May in the 1 3/16th mile Pimlico Special but finished a disappointing 6th place in his next start–the Met Mile. He also had a poor performance in last year’s Whitney Handicap where he finished in last place. Upstart has been hit or miss this year in 3 starts: 1st in the Razorback Handicap, 5th in the Oaklawn Handicap and 3rd in the Met Mile.

El Kabeir has been less stellar this year with two 7th place finishes and a 4th place finish in his last start–the Stephen Foster Handicap.

The Whitney Stakes – 1 1/8th Mile – Saturday August 6th – Race #10 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 5:18 PM CST. Televised by Fox Sports 2

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. El Kabeir (117) – Santana/Terranova – 20/1
2. Comfort (117) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 8/1
3. Upstart (119) – Ortiz/Violette – 10/1
4. Frosted (124) – Rosario/McLaughlin – 3/5
5. Noble Bird (124) – Leparoux/Casse – 10/1
6. Effinex (124) – Smith/Jerkens – 7/2

My Prediction: I think Frosted can be beaten, he has a 2nd and 3rd place finish at Saratoga in last year’s Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes respectively. Then he had a subpar 5th place finish earlier in the year at Meydan in the Dubai World Cup. Effinex has proven that he can rise up to the occasion and win some big races. But I just can’t bet against Frosted after that Met Mile performance. I really like Effinex, I just don’t think 1 1/8th mile and the Saratoga track is his best combination.

So here is my predicted order of finish: 1st-Frosted, 2nd-Comfort, 3rd-Effinex, 4th-Upstart, 5th-Noble Bird and 6th-El Kabeir.


Updated Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

Overall, I don’t think the 2016 Kentucky Derby class has any serious threats yet to pull off a win in “The Classic” as a 3 year-old like American Pharoah did last year and Bayern the year before. An interesting stat: 3 year-olds have won the Breeders Cup Classic 9 times in 32 runnings of the race. That is only 28%. I think an older horse will win it this year. But we have a few months more to go and these young horses can make huge strides as the year goes on. Exaggerator appears to the best of this 2016 3 year-old class.

1)  California Chrome – He’s undefeated in four starts in 2016. With his Dubai World Cup win in March, he became the all-time North American leader in race earnings with $12.5 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. He is expected to be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup next January. But his next start appears to be another showdown at Del Mar on August 20th in the Pacific Classic vs Dortmund.

Career: 22 Starts 13-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 5 Starts  3-1-1-0
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
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic

2) Frosted  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. So now the question becomes, should he be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or The Classic? He was always viewed as a horse who liked distance and never a “miler” prior to his stunning performance in the Met Mile. His next start will be in this Satuerday’s Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on August 6th.

Career: 16 Starts 5-6-1-2    Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>1st
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: William Buick
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

3) Melatonin– 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. His next start is undetermined since he has battled a persistent illness but it appears that he is being targeted for the Awesome Again Stakes 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) Effinex – He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has a 3rd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, a win in the Oaklawn Handicap, a head-scratching 6th place finish in the Stephen Foster but bounced back with a big win in the Suburban Handicap (shown below). His next start will be this Saturday’s Whitney Stakes August 6th.

Career: 24 Starts 9-2-4-3   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1

Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>6th–>1st
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

5) Dortmund Despite Dortmund’s impressive battle with the #1 ranked horse in the world in the San Diego Handicap, he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. However, Dortmund has only raced once at the Classic distance of a miler and a quarter. That came in the 2015 Kentucky Derby where he finished 3rd behind American Pharoah and Firing Line. His next start may be a rematch vs California Chrome in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar August 20th.

Career: 11 Starts 8-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st>1st–>2nd
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: 2:03.50 (calculated) –  2015 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

6) Exaggerator The Slopmeister! With wins in the Santa Anita Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Haskell Invitational (shown below), Exaggerator has probably moved ahead of Nyquist as the best 3-year-0ld colt in 2016. His future plans appear to be the Travers Stakes on August 27th and then onto the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5th with roughly the same layoff as American Pharoah had. I think this horse’s future is very bright and would love to see him entered into a high profile turf race.

Career: 13 Starts 6-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>11th–>1st
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

7) Beholder Her lost to Stellar Wind in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes was surprising as she hadn’t lost a race since June 2014.  Maybe she has slipped a bit from her 2015 form? Her time and Beyer Speed Figure this year was higher in the Clement L. Hirsch than last year. Then 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 entry into this year’s TVG Pacific Classic is now questionable according to recent reports.

Career: 23 Starts 17-4-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10

Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>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

8) Win the Space  A third place finish behind California Chrome and Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap was probably par for the course but I thought he ran a better in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita. No word yet on where his next start will come but I imagine it will be at Santa Anita or Del Mar.

Career: 12 Starts 3-1-3-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts 0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: George Papaprodromou
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  2:00.03 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 

9) Nyquist  – It should be plain as day after the Haskell Invitational that Nyquist just doesn’t like wet, sloppy 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. 

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) Hoppertunity – He finished 4th in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert admitted before the race that he wasn’t sure that he had him completely ready. Previous to this start, he finished 3rd (and just a neck from 2nd) in the Dubai World Cup. He is extremely consistent and probably would finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field because he has never finished below 4th place in a graded stakes race. He was pegged to start in either the San Diego or Cougar II Handicap races at Del Mar a few weekends ago but spiked a fever and was scratched from both races.

Career: 20 Starts 5-6-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-2
Last 3 starts: 1st>3rd–>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

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. He competed in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and had a disappointing 9th place finish. 6 of his career 10 wins have come at the 1 1/16th mile distance. So one wonders if he is better suited to for the 1 1/8th mile Pegasus World Cup than the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

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: 109 – 2015 Salvator Mile Stakes

12) Hard Aces – Still competitive as a 6 year-old, he won the Cougar II Handicap (shown below) a couple of weekends ago. He finished 6th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic after qualifying with a win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He is a closer and performs best when the opening fractions are fast. And he is running well this year at Santa Anita–producing a 2nd place finish in both the Santa Anita Handicap and California Stakes to go with his most recent 3rd place finish in the Gold Cup race. The 105 Beyer he received in the Gold Cup was a career best. He will throw a clunker in along the way and is not an early Vegas favorite to win The Classic but he has “hit the board” potential if the race sets up well for his closing style.

Career: 33 Starts 9-6-5-3  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  1-1-1-1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Hard Spun
Trainer: John Sadler 
Jockey: Mario Pino
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.15 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita


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

August 6th – Whitney Handicap – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000 – Fox Sports 2
August 20th – Pacific Classic – Del Mar – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG
August 27th – Travers Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000 – NBC
September 3rd – Woodward Stakes – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000 – NBCSN
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

* – 3 year olds only


–Michael

A July Spectacular! Triple Crown Rematch Weekend. Plus updated Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings

July 27th 2016 – Updated July 30th 2016 1 PM CST

Usually July is a slow, dull month for the sport horse racing and it has been evident in previous year’s blog statistics. However, this year July has been one of the most exciting summer months for the sport in recent memory. And it is about to go out like a huge Fourth of July fireworks finale this weekend.

Last weekend, the California Chrome vs Dortmund battle in the San Diego Handicap proved to be one of the best horse races of the year thus far. With California Chrome’s win in the San Diego Handicap, he received the top Beyer Speed Figure (111) of the year for dirt races longer than one mile. And Dortmund received a 110 Beyer Speed Figure, the best of his career and tied for 2nd best this year for dirt races longer than one mile.

Then Carina Mia gave the sensational filly Songbird her best battle to date in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga (shown below). She received her career best Beyer Speed Figure (101) with the win. Songbird has now won nine straight races and drawing comparisons to the Queen of Thoroughbreds Zenyatta.


Triple Crown Rematches

This weekend, we will have two big rematches from this year’s Triple Crown races. An exciting Belmont Stakes rematch of Creator and Destin in the Jim Dandy Stakes on Saturday July 30th. Remember that Creator edged Destin at the wire by a nose. Mohaymen will also be entered so the Jim Dandy Stakes will live up to its name. 

Jim Dandy Stakes – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #10 at Saratoga – Post-Time: Saturday July 30th 5:18 PM CST – Fox Sports 2

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Creator (123) – I. Ortiz/Asmussen – 3-1  
2. Laoban (117) – J.Ortiz/Guillot – 20-1
3. Mohaymen (121) – Alvarado/McLaughlin – 9-5
4. Destin (121) – Castellano/Pletcher – 2-1
5. Governor Malibu (117) – Rosario/Clement – 9-2
6. Race Me Home (117) – Saez/Romans – 15-1

Handicapping Advice:  Saratoga’s track surface seems to adversely affect some horses and very few of the horses in this field have much experience on it. Mohaymen hasn’t raced since the Kentucky Derby in early May, so knows how he will respond after a lengthy layoff. Creator and Race Me Home are both closers who depend on fast opening fractions that I am not sure either will get. In a small field of six horses, I suspect that they will be closer to the lead pack. Laoban has yet to win a race in 7 starts. Really, any of the other five horses in the field could win this race. With no clear favorite, the exotic bets should pay out nice. I am leaning towards Destin as the race winner. And I have a sneaky feeling that Dale Romans’ Race Me Home will surprise and be in the mix at the end. 

Then how about a Nyquist vs Exaggerator rematch in the Haskell Invitational on Sunday? Throw in Gun Runner into the mix and a 60% chance of rain and you’ve got potential for more great drama. The winner gets an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Haskell Invitational – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #12 at Monmouth Park – Post-Time: Sunday July 31st 4:47 PM CST –  NBC

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Nyquist (122) – I. Ortiz/ONeill – 6-5
2. Sunny Ridge (118) – Juarez/Servis – 20-1
3. Awesome Slew (118) – Lopez/Plesa – 15-1
4. Gun Runner (118) – Geroux/Asmussen– 4-1
5. American Freedom (118) – Bejarano/Baffert – 3-1
6. Exaggerator (122) – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 5-2

Handicapping Advice: I think Nyquist wins this one so long as he gets a dry track. If it rains and the track is sloppy, then I like Exaggerator. Gun Runner should be in the mix in either scenario and remember how well he battled Nyquist through 9 furlongs in the Kentucky Derby. American Freedom has won his last two starts in the Sir Barton Stakes and the Iowa Derby. Sunny Ridge hasn’t raced since his 4th place finish in the Withers Stakes back in March. Awesome Slew is probably overmatched in this field.

And for good measure, there will two other horses racing this weekend that are in my Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings: Beholder in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Saturday (Post-Time 7:33 PM CST) and Bradester in the Monmouth Cup on Sunday (Post-Time 2:29 PM CST).

So four horses in my Top 12 Breeders Cup Contender rankings (listed below) will be in action. 

As far as being major contenders in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 3 year-old class of 2016 really needs crank it up a notch to catch up with the older horses. Their times and Beyer Speed Figures are lagging behind. Perhaps this is the weekend we see this crop make huge gains. 


Updated Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders:

1)  California Chrome – He’s undefeated in four starts in 2016. With his Dubai World Cup win in March, he became the all-time North American leader in race earnings with $12.5 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. He is expected to be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup next January. But his next start appears to be another showdown at Del Mar on August 20th in the Pacific Classic vs Beholder and Dortmund.

Career: 22 Starts 13-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 5 Starts  3-1-1-0
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
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic

2) Frosted  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. So now the question becomes, should he be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or The Classic? He was always viewed as a horse who like distance and never a “miler” prior to his stunning performance in the Met Mile. His next start appears to be in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on August 6th.

Career: 16 Starts 5-6-1-2    Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>1st
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: William Buick
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

3) Melatonin– 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. His next start will likely be in the Pacific Classic on August 20th but that has not been confirmed.

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 After a stunning performance in the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic (shown below), she was #1 in many Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings last year. Beholder was entered in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic but was unfortunately scratched due to a fever. After a long layoff, she bounced back with an impressive win in the Adoration Stakes. But her last effort, although a win in the Vanity Stakes, may indicate that she has slipped a bit off her 2015 form because she seemed to labor to produce a winning of 1:35.97 in this one mile race. Her next start will come in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar this Saturday July 31st.

Career: 22 Starts 17-3-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10

Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
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) Effinex – He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has a 3rd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, a win in the Oaklawn Handicap, a head-scratching 6th place finish in the Stephen Foster but bounced back with a big win in the Suburban Handicap (shown below). His next start appears to be in the Whitney Handicap August 6th.

Career: 24 Starts 9-2-4-3   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>6th–>1st
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

6) Dortmund Despite Dortmund’s impressive battle with the #1 ranked horse in the world in the San Diego Handicap, I put him 6th in my rankings because he still needs to prove himself beyond 9 furlongs. He has the pedigree for distance. His sire Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby. However, Dortmund has only raced once at the Classic distance of a miler and a quarter. That came in the 2015 Kentucky Derby where he finished 3rd behind American Pharoah and Firing Line. His next start may be a rematch vs California Chrome in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar August 20th.

Career: 11 Starts 8-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  0-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st>1st–>2nd
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: 2:03.50 (calculated) –  2015 Kentucky Derby
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2015 Kentucky Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 –2016 San Diego Handicap

7) Nyquist  – The 2016 Kentucky Derby winner missed the Belmont Stakes due to spiking a fever shortly after the Preakness Stakes. He will be an entry in the Haskell Invitational on July 31st.

Career: 9 Starts 8-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
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

8) Exaggerator His disappointing 11th place finish in the Belmont Stakes was a head-scratcher. Trainer Keith Desormeaux believes that Exaggerator didn’t take well to the sandy Belmont surface. His future plans originally was to start in the Jim Dandy Stakes on July 30th as a prep race for the Travers Stakes on August 27th. But he supposedly was training well and the Desormeaux brothers were hinting at skipping the Jim Dandy. But surprise, surprise, he will be entered in the Haskell Invitational vs Nyquist on July 31st.

Career: 12 Starts 5-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>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

9) Win the Space  A third place finish behind California Chrome and Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap was probably par for the course but I thought he ran a better in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita. 

Career: 12 Starts 3-1-3-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts 0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: George Papaprodromou
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  2:00.03 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 

10) Hoppertunity – He finished 4th in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert admitted before the race that he wasn’t sure that he had him completely ready. Previous to this start, he finished 3rd (and just a neck from 2nd) in the Dubai World Cup. He is extremely consistent and probably would finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field because he has never finished below 4th place in a graded stakes race. He was pegged to start in either the San Diego or Cougar II Handicap races at Del Mar this past weekend but spiked a fever and was scratched from both races.

Career: 20 Starts 5-6-4-4   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-2
Last 3 starts: 1st>3rd–>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

11) Hard Aces – Still competitive as a 6 year-old, he won the Cougar II Handicap this past Sunday (shown below). He finished 6th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic after qualifying with a win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He is a closer and performs best when the opening fractions are fast. And he is running well this year at Santa Anita–producing a 2nd place finish in both the Santa Anita Handicap and California Stakes to go with his most recent 3rd place finish in the Gold Cup race. The 105 Beyer he received in the Gold Cup was a career best. He will throw a clunker in along the way and is not an early Vegas favorite to win The Classic but he has “hit the board” potential if the race sets up well for his closing style.

Career: 33 Starts 9-6-5-3  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  1-1-1-1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Hard Spun
Trainer: John Sadler 
Jockey: Mario Pino
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.15 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

12) Bradester* – Although he has never raced beyond 1 1/8th mile, Bradester has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a win in the Stephen Foster Handicap. He is 2-for-2 in 2016. He competed in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and had a disappointing 9th place finish. 5 of his career 9 wins have come at the 1 1/16th mile distance. So one wonders if he is better suited to for the 1 1/8th mile Pegasus World Cup than the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 23 Starts 9-6-2-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 0 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 9th>1st>1st
Sire: Lion Heart
Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A (Estimate from Stephen Foster projected out: 2:01.53)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2015 Salvator Mile Stakes


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

July 30th – Jim Dandy Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000
July 31st – Haskell Invitational* – Monmouth Park – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC
August 6th – Whitney Handicap – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000
August 20th – Pacific Classic – Del Mar – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000
August 27th – Travers Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000 – NBC
September 3rd – Woodward Stakes – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000 – NBCSN
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

* – 3 year olds only


–Michael

California Chrome wins a thriller in the San Diego Handicap and proves why he’s the best in the world

July 23rd 2016

Those in attendance today at the “Turf by the Surf” witnessed one of the best horse races of the year thus far. The 2016 San Diego Handicap was easily the best horse race we have seen in the older horse division. But probably more importantly, they witnessed vintage California Chrome. Just like fine wine, California Chrome keeps getting better and better with age.

In my previous blog, I thought an upset was in store. Dortmund had been unbeatable through races under 9 furlongs and had the more favorable starting position. But I acknowledged that California Chrome was undoubtedly the best racehorse in the world even if Longines World’s Best Racehorse voters were on vacation on several levels in their last poll. And California Chrome proved today that he is the best racehorse in the world in active training. This wasn’t Chrome’s most ideal distance but he overcame and displayed a fight that we had never seen before. See race video below.


If you are Bob Baffert, you’ve got to be pleased with the effort Dortmund put out. Many thought this was a huge task for Dortmund coming off an 8 month layoff to try to beat the best horse in active training in the world.

If you watch the replay, Dortmund had a narrow lead after one mile, both horses battled down the stretch. Dortmund looked prime to win “on the bob” about 10-15 yards from the finish line but California Chrome pushed forward and won by a 1/2 length at the wire. Dortmund’s career fastest time through 8 1/2 furlongs was 1:40.86 (2014 Los Alamitos Futurity). California Chrome beat Dortmund with a winning time of 1:40.84.. It was a thrilling race and we should expect to see these two great horses to meet up again in the future. It appears that it will be in the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar with Beholder. That will be an absolute barn burner.

–Michael

 

Upset Alert! 2016 San Diego Handicap Preview and Analysis

July 22nd 2016 – Updated July 23rd 2016 1 PM CST

When trainer Art Sherman pointed California Chrome for the San Diego Handicap a few months ago, he probably never envisioned the competition he would face for a prep race with a $200,000 purse. Not that $200,000 isn’t a nice chunk of change, but I don’t think California Chrome has raced for a smaller purse since early in his 3 year-old campaign in 2014. But this race isn’t about the dough, it’s about beating the best. The disheartening thing is, I feel rather strongly that the #1 ranked horse in the world on dirt will be upset in the San Diego Handicap this evening.

And before I delve into why, I want to use a slightly worn Obamaism and say LET ME BE CLEAR–California Chrome is the best horse in the world in active training on any surface. Longines came out with their most recent World’s Best Racehorse Rankings a few weeks back which you can see by clicking HERE.

Surprisingly in these rankings, a Japanese turf horse named “A Shin Hikari” (Gesundheit!) still ranked above California Chrome–the Dubai World Cup winner–after throwing a clunker 6th place finish in his last race in June at Ascot in the Prince of Wales Stakes. When I saw this, it was a true WTF moment as in What The Frankel? You’ve gotta be kidding me, were the voters heavy into their summer vacation and distracted when they cast their vote?

The San Diego Handicap will also feature the three Hall of Fame jockeys–Victor Espinoza, Mike Smith, Gary Stevens–and a future Hall of Famer in Martin Garcia on mounts in the same race. Specifically, Victor on Chrome,  Gary on Dortmund, Mike on Win the Space and Martin on Crittenden.

But as Clint Eastwood said in a scene from A Fistful of Dollars “Get three coffins ready.” <insert Vibraslap sound here> One is coming out on top in this shootout at the Turf by the Surf. And I don’t think it will be California Chrome.

So who are the real contenders? First, this race is 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile). Here are the three best times at this distance for horses in this field: California Chrome-1:40.59 (March 2014 in the San Felipe Stakes), Dortmund-1:40.86 (December 2014 in the Los Alamitos Futurity) and Win the Space-1:41.55 (May 2016 at Santa Anita).

Hard Aces and Soi Phet were scratched in favor of racing in Del Mar races on Sunday.

So here is my projected order of finish: 1) Dortmund (by a nose), 2) California Chrome, 3) Win the Space, 4) Follow Me Crev and 5) Crittenden.

Why do I think Dortmund will emerge victorious?

  1. Dortmund has never lost a race that was 1 1/8th mile or less. He’s 8 for 8.
  2. Dortmund drew the more favorable starting spot on the inside with post #2. Hard Aces (who drew the rail) was scratched in favor of running in the Cougar II. Now Dortmund will have plenty of room to work with along the rail and have to travel the least distance for the win. Not that it will be a huge advantage in a five horse field but every little bit helps.
  3. Dortmund will be carrying 5 pounds less than the California Chrome in this handicapped field. In theory, this is good for at least a one length advantage on Chrome. I am not a huge believer in the weight theory, but when you are trying to beat the World’s best, once again, every little bit helps.
  4. California Chrome is coming off a 4 month layoff vs Dortmund’s nearly 8 month layoff. Not much of a difference in the grand scheme.
  5. Dortmund was originally supposed to come back in late spring after suffering a slight quarter crack that kept him out of the Clark Handicap last December. However, trainer Bob Baffert said Dortmund wasn’t training well and so gave him more rest and pushed back his return date. Baffert is a great trainer and he knows what is a stake with this outstanding progeny of Big Brown. So if Baffert has entered Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap, be assured–he’s ready.
  6. Dortmund is a fighter, go back and review his battles with Firing Line in the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert B. Lewis Stakes. And remember that Dortmund set a track record at Los Alamitos at this same 1 1/16th mile distance as a 2 year-old in the Los Al (see video below). He is now a well rested 4 year old with low miles. Do I have to remind you what Frosted did at the Met Mile last month? Dortmund finished ahead of Frosted in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

This is Dortmund’s distance and time to shine. Too bad this race won’t be viewed by a larger audience on NBC than on TVG. It will be an absolute shootout and must-see TV.

Below are the post-positions and morning line odds. Note that the morning line odds were changed due to the two scratches. California Chrome went from 4-5 to 3-5, Dortmund went from 2-1 to 7-5 and Win the Space went from 8-1 to 6-1.


San Diego Handicap – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #9 at Del Mar – Post-Time: Saturday July 23rd 8:03 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Hard Aces (118) – Gonzalez/Sadler – 8-1  SCRATCHED
2. Dortmund (121) – Stevens/Baffert – 7-5
3. Soi Phet (115) – Desormeaux/Powell – 12-1    SCRATCHED
4. Crittenden (114) – Garcia/Harty – 20-1
5. Follow Me Crev (116) – Quinonez/Cerin – 20-1
6. California Chrome (126) – Espinoza/Sherman – 3-5
7. Win the Space (116) – Smith/Papaprodromou – 6-1

–Michael

California Chrome and Dortmund set to clash in the upcoming San Diego Handicap. Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings

July 17th 2016 – Updated July 21st 2016

California Chrome is at the Del Mar Fairgrounds working out in preparation for the San Diego Handicap this coming Saturday July 23rd. His most recent workout is shown below. 

Although the San Diego Handicap only carries a $200,000 purse, California Chrome will receive some stiff competition. Below is the starting field, post-positions and the mornign line odds.

San Diego Handicap – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #9 at Del Mar – Post-Time: Saturday July 23rd 8:10 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer
1. Hard Aces (118) – Gonzalez/Sadler – 8-1
2. Dortmund (121) – Stevens/Baffert – 2-1
3. Soi Phet (115) – Desormeaux/Powell – 12-1
4. Crittenden (114) – Garcia/Harty – 20-1
5. Follow Me Crev (116) – Quinonez/Cerin – 20-1
6. California Chrome (126) – Espinoza/Sherman – 4-5
7. Win the Space (116) – Smith/Papaprodromou – 8-1

Chrome’s stiffest competition may come from Dortmund who has won 8 out of 10 career starts and was originally in my 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic watch list. However, Dortmund hasn’t raced since November 28th of last year. He may be a bit rusty coming off a long layoff but will have Gary Stevens as his jockey instead of Martin Garcia.

I will post a blog by Friday analyzing the race. Below is my updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings.


Updated Top 12 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders:

1)  California Chrome – With his Dubai World Cup win in March, he became the all-time leader in race earnings with $12.5 million dollars. He is expected to be an entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup next January. He is training extremely well and is set to return to racing in the San Diego Handicap.

Career: 21 Starts 12-3-1-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 5 Starts  3-1-1-0
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
Career Beyer Speed Figure: 113 – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic

2) Frosted  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. So now the question becomes, should he be entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or The Classic? He was always viewed as a horse who like distance and never a “miler” prior to his stunning performance in the Met Mile. His next start appears to be in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on August 6th.

Career: 16 Starts 5-6-1-2  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-0-1-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>1st
Sire: Tapit
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: William Buick
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

3) Melatonin– 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. 

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 After a stunning performance in the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic (shown below), she was #1 in many Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings last year. Beholder was entered in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic but was unfortunately scratched due to a fever. After a long layoff, she bounced back with an impressive win in the Adoration Stakes. But her last effort, although a win in the Vanity Stakes, may indicate that she has slipped a bit off her 2015 form because she seemed to labor to produce a winning of 1:35.97 in this one mile race. Her next start will come in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on July 31st.

Career: 22 Starts 17-3-0-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 10

Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
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) Effinex – He finished 2nd to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. For 2016, he has a 3rd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, a win in the Oaklawn Handicap, a head-scratching 6th place finish in the Stephen Foster but bounced back with a big win in the Suburban Handicap (shown below).

Career: 24 Starts 9-2-4-3  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 7 Starts  3-1-2-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>6th–>1st
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

6) Nyquist  – The 2016 Kentucky Derby winner missed the Belmont Stakes due to spiking a fever shortly after the Preakness Stakes. He is doing fine, back in training and probably will be an entry in the Haskell Invitational on July 31st.

Career: 9 Starts 8-0-1-0  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 5
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  1-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
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

7) Exaggerator His disappointing 11th place finish in the Belmont Stakes was a head-scratcher. Trainer Keith Desormeaux believes that Exaggerator didn’t take well to the sandy Belmont surface. His future plans are the Jim Dandy Stakes on July 30th as a prep race for the Travers Stakes on August 27th. But since he excels on a sloppy, off-track, I would love to see him entered in a turf race because usually these type of horses make great turf runners. And his closer style would fit well there too.

Career: 12 Starts 5-3-1-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Start  0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>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

8) Win the Space  He has bounced between dirt and turf and finally has found a home on dirt. His 2nd place Gold Cup performance proved that this 4 year-old colt was a diamond in the rough and is extremely talented. He produced a 2 minute mile and a quarter (very uncommon) and did so in 90 degree heat. In his start previous to the Gold Cup, he produced a lightning quick 8 1/2 furlong (1 1/16th mile) time of 1:41.55 as a closer. But in the Gold Cup race, Gary Stevens pressed him up on the pace and it paid off. So he proved that he is versatile in running style as well as fast. 

Career: 11 Starts 3-1-2-0  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts 0-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Pulpit
Trainer: George Papaprodromou
Jockey: Gary Stevens (2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time:  2:00.03 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 107 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 

9) Hoppertunity – He finished 4th in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert admitted before the race that he wasn’t sure that he had him completely ready. Previous to this start, he finished 3rd (and just a neck from 2nd) in the Dubai World Cup. He is extremely consistent and probably would finish in the top 4 in any race no matter the talent in the field because he has never finished below 4th place in a graded stakes race. 

Career: 20 Starts 5-6-4-4 Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-1-2
Last 3 starts: 1st>3rd–>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

10) Mubtaahij His 2nd place finish in the Dubai World Cup was a surprise performance for this enigmatic 4 year old colt who has yet to win a Grade 1 stakes race on US soil. He was transferred to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin for his US campaign in April. He opened up his US racing campaign in 2016 with a 3rd place finish in the Suburban Handicap.

Career: 13 Starts 4-2-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 4 Starts  0-1-2-0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Dubawi
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin (2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Christophe Soumillon
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.28 (calculated) – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 101 – 2016 Suburban Handicap
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 101 – 2016 Suburban Handicap

11) Bradester* – Although he has never raced beyond 1 1/8th mile, Bradester has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a win in the Stephen Foster Handicap. He is 2-for-2 in 2016. He competed in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and had a disappointing 9th place finish. 5 of his career 9 wins have come at the 1 1/16th mile distance. So one wonders if he is better suited to for the 1 1/8th mile Pegasus World Cup than the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 23 Starts 9-6-2-1  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 0 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 9th>1st>1st
Sire: Lion Heart
Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A (Estimate from Stephen Foster projected out: 2:01.53)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 109 – 2015 Salvator Mile Stakes

12) Hard Aces – Still competitive as a 6 year-old. He finished 6th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic after qualifying with a win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He is a closer and performs best when the opening fractions are fast. And he is running well this year at Santa Anita–producing a 2nd place finish in both the Santa Anita Handicap and California Stakes to go with his most recent 3rd place finish in the Gold Cup race. The 105 Beyer he received in the Gold Cup was a career best. He will throw a clunker in along the way and is not an early Vegas favorite to win The Classic but he has “hit the board” potential if the race sets up well for his closing style.

Career: 32 Starts 8-6-5-3  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 6 Starts  1-1-1-1
Last 3 starts: 7th>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Hard Spun
Trainer: John Sadler 
Jockey: Mario Pino
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.15 (calculated) – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita 
Best Beyer in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 105 – 2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita


Dropping out of my Top 12 rankings:

Songbird – Songbird drops out of my rankings, not due to performance reasons, but due to the fact that her ownership no plans to race her against the boys this year. Right now, she is being pointed towards the Breeders’ Cup Distaff this fall. She is expected to be an entry in the 1 1/4 mile Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on August 20th. A great performance in that race may change their minds but it appears to be highly unlikely. The good news, they do plan on her racing next year. And if she performs well, they will probably take a shot at the boys somewhere along the way. Her next start will come in the 1 1/8th mile Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on Sunday July 24th.

Career: 8 Starts 8-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 4
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 0 Starts  0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Medaglia d’Oro
Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009, 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Best 1 1/4 Mile Time:  N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 99 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies

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

July 23rd – San Diego Handicap – Del Mar – 1 1/16th Mile – Purse: $200,000
July 30th – Jim Dandy Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000
July 31st – Haskell Invitational* – Monmouth Park – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC
August 6th – Whitney Handicap – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000
August 20th – Pacific Classic – Del Mar – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000
August 27th – Travers Stakes* – Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,250,000 – NBC
September 3rd – Woodward Stakes – Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000 – NBCSN
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

* – 3 year olds only


–Michael

American Pharoah’s half-brother “Classic Empire” – 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Watch?

July 12th 2016

The month of July is way too early to come up with next year’s Kentucky Derby favorite or even a contender list for that matter. At least, that is my opinion because the majority of the most recent Kentucky Derby winners didn’t make their race debut until the months of August or September. The exception being California Chrome who first raced in April of his 2 year-old campaign. However, when a 2 year-old with a great pedigree and an excellent trainer behind him displays great promise on the race track, it gets my attention.

That is what happened 10 days ago at Churchill Downs when the 2 year-old Mark Casse-trained colt Classic Empire won the 6 furlong Bashford Manor Stakes (shown below).


Classic Empire is a half -brother to Triple Crown and Grand Slam Champion American Pharoah, both sharing the same sire Pioneerof the Nile. He also would be a third cousin to American Pharoah on his dam’s side since they both have the same great grandsire Storm Cat. So he essentially shares 5/8ths the same genes as American Pharoah.

But genes aside, we all know in horse racing that it takes more than genetics. Many exciting progeny have bombed or never made it to the race track. Here is what peaked my interest and gets me mildly me excited about Classic Empire. He has two wins in two starts. Classic Empire’s winning time of 1:09.39 was the 2nd fastest time in the 26 years that the Bashford Manor Stakes has been a graded stakes race. And Classic Empire received a 87 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest thus far for any 2 year-old colt or filly at a distance of 6 furlongs or longer.

His win in the Bashford Manor Stakes was a Grade 3 stakes race. And shall I add that he overcame the dreaded rail in this race and displayed great maturity navigating through traffic? At this point in their careers, he is way ahead of his half-brother American Pharoah who didn’t make his race debut during his 2 year old campaign until August and didn’t win his first race until the Del Mar Futurity in September.

And when you watch the replay above, how Classic Empire blew through the field coming down the stretch to nip Recruiting Ready at the wire–he looked quite “Pharoahish” doing so–it is very obvious to me that this colt will like longer distances. Just how long, we don’t know but he has one of the top trainers–and arguably the hottest trainer right now–in Mark Casse.

Always viewed as a great trainer, Mark Casse has gained worldwide attention the past 8 months for what he has done with Tepin and Catch a Glimpse on the turf side. Tepin is viewed as the 2nd best North American racehorse this year in polls behind California Chrome. And on dirt, Casse’s Noble Bird won the Stephen Foster last year and Noble Bird’s 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the Pimlico Special back in May is still the top Beyer Speed Figure in 2016 for races longer than one mile.

It is way too early to draw conclusions on Classic Empire’s future or make too many comparisons to his famous half-brother. He may flame out like so many other promising 2 year-olds do along the way.

But for now, Classic Empire has to be on everyone’s radar and at the very minimum, viewed as a 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contender this fall.

–Michael

 

2016 Suburban Handicap Preview and Race Analysis

Kelso – Suburban Handicap Winner 1961

July 8th 2016 – UPDATED 7/9/16

Coming this Saturday afternoon on NBC are two very intriguing races in the Suburban Handicap and the “Win You’re In” Belmont Oaks featuring the young filly turf star Catch a Glimpse. She beat the boys in her last start in the Penn Mile and that field included Kentucky Derby runner Oscar Nominated. NBC’s Saturday race coverage at Belmont Park spans and hour and half from 3:30 PM to 5 PM CST.

The Suburban Handicap was inaugurated in 1884 and has been won by some of greatest thoroughbreds in the history of the sport such as Kelso, Dr Fagar, Forego and Tom Fool. This year’s Suburban Handicap offers a $500, 000 purse and has the most depth of older division horse race run this year outside of the Dubai World Cup.

It features a match-up between 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Runner-up Effinex and the 2016 Dubai World Cup Runner-up in Mubtaahij. Other notable entries include Noble Bird (winner of last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap and this year’s Pimlico Special with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure), Shaman Ghost (winner of last year’s Queen’s Plate Stakes and this year’s Brooklyn Invitational), Eagle who is an extremely consistent horse who has hit the board in all 10 of his career starts at distances 1 1/16th mile or greater and Samraat a 2014 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes runner.

The Suburban Handicap – 1 1/4th Mile – Race #9 at Belmont Park – Post-Time: 4:13 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Noble Bird (117) – Leparoux/Casse – 4-1  (SCRATCHED)
2. Mubtaahij (118) I.Ortiz/McLaughlin – 7-2
3. Shaman Ghost (120) – Rosario/Jerkins – 5-1
4. Eagle (119)Hernandez/Howard – 5-1
5. Effinex (122) – Smith/Jerkens – 5-2
6. Turco Bravo (116) – Castellano/Contessa – 20/1
7. Samraat (115) – J.Ortuz/Violette – 12-1
8. Tapin Mojo (109) – Franco/Chatterpaul – 50/1

Handicapping Advice: Remember in 2014 when a $2 Superfecta in the Suburban Handicap paid out $94,277? It is not going to happen this year. That was an 11 horse field. This one is an 8 horse field with no promising longshots. So I wouldn’t plunk down big money on this race as I don’t expect very big payouts across the board. There is really no clear-cut race favorite that you can depend upon. I think as many as four horses have the potential to win this race (Effinex, Mubtaahij, Eagle and Shaman Ghost). I hit a 50 cent Superfecta in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita a few weeks ago that paid out $945.15. That was due to the 24-1 longshot Win the Space hitting the board in 2nd place. As I said earlier, I don’t like the longshots in this race.

**Noble Bird was scratched and expected to be a pacesetter in this race.

Effinex is coming off a disappointing 6th place finish 3 weeks ago in the Stephen Foster Handicap. This was in part due to getting out of the gates poorly and getting shuffled wide. He also had a different jockey in Gary Stevens and Mike Smith seems to have better chemistry with trainer Jimmy Jerkins’ temperamental horse.

Mubtaahij has been enigmatic throughout his career but picks up Kiaran McLaughlin as a trainer for his US campaign. He finished 2nd in the Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome, narrowly edging out Hoppertunity who finished 3rd. This was a 2000 Meter race which is 38 feet shorter than 1 1/4 mile. If Hoppertunity had another 38 feet to work with, I feel he would finished 2nd and Mubtaahij 3rd. See below

Shaman Ghost has hit the board in each of his last 7 starts and is coming off a convincing win and a career high Beyer Speed Figure of 99 obtained in the Brooklyn Invitational at Belmont Park (shown below). Could he be prime for a breakout race? He is the son of Ghostzapper, the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who was an extremely fast late-bloomer whose celerity produced some of the most eye-popping Beyer Speed Figures ever recorded. The jury is still out if this 4 year-old colt is a chip off the old blocks but his sire started turning heads at the end of his 3 year-old campaign in sprint races.

Samraat is a smallish horse who finished 5th in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. But historically his best distance has been 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile). 

Eagle has never raced further than 1 1/8th mile but I have little concern that he can go the distance. He is by far the most consistent horse in this field but he is somewhat like Hoppertunity–extremely consistent but rarely hits the wire first. I will note that Eagle has finished ahead of Noble Bird in 2 races this year already–the Ben Ali and Alysheba Stakes

And finally Turco Bravo and Tapin Mojo. They are 20-1 and 50-1 for a reason. Turco Bravo is a 7 year old Gelding who seems to like a mile and a half distance. Tapin Mojo hasn’t raced in a year and I feel that he  really needed a prep race before tackling this deep of a field.

Summary: Effinex gets reunited with jockey Mike Smith, so I expect Effinex to be back on form. Whether it is good enough to win, we will see. Mubtaahij is coming off a significant layoff and it takes a couple races for him to hit his stride. Could this race be the one where “The Eagle has landed?” Quite possibly. However, Effinex is the type of horse that as soon as you give up on him, he bounces back like he did in the Oaklawn Handicap to beat new rival Melatonin whom he lost to in the Santa Anita Handicap. Effinex likes the Belmont. Mike Smith is the best jockey in this race.

If I had to guess the exact finishing order in this race based upon talent, recent performance history and where these horses are in training, I think they would finish like this: 1) Effinex, 2) Eagle, 3) Shaman Ghost, 4) Mubtaahij, 5) Samraat, 6) Turco Bravo and 7) Tapin Mojo.

Right now, I like a 50 cent Superfecta 3,4,5 over, 2,3,4,5 over 2,3,4,5,7 over 2,3,6,7 which would cost $32.50.

–Michael