California Chrome–Awesome Again! Updated 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

bcsantaanita_2016logo-657x1081

 

October 4th 2016

One thing that the Awesome Again Stakes (shown below) proved this past Saturday is that California Chrome is sharp and still the horse to beat in Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won so handily that Victor Espinoza coasted home in the last half furlong. He received a 112 Beyer Speed Figure for the performance which is just one point shy of his career best Beyer Speed Figure of 113.

In my Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings below, I have removed Dortmund and Beholder as both appear to be better fits for other Breeders Cup races. For Dortmund, the Dirt Mile since he has lost to California Chrome three consecutive times. For Beholder, the Distaff since she was once again beaten by Stellar Wind. If you aren’t beating the Ladies, you’re not going to have a serious chance against California Chrome and the new upstart Arrogate.

There is one last “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic coming up this Saturday October 8th at Belmont Park–the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It is expected to feature Effinex, Hoppertunity, Mubtaahij and Shaman Ghost. I will preview this race in my next blog on Thursday evening.

2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

The Big Three – West Coast Triumvirate

1)  California Chrome* – He’s now undefeated in six starts in 2016. The all-time North American leader in race earnings with $13.4 million dollars. He is currently ranked #1 in Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings (SEE). His win in the Pacific Classic was arguably the best performance of his career. Next Start:  The  Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Saturday November 5th.

Career: 24 Starts 15-3-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 7
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:  The  Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Saturday November 5th.

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:  The  Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Saturday November 5th.

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) Frosted  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:  The  Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Saturday November 5th.

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

5) 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 Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on October 8th.

Career: 21 Starts 5-6-4-5   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 5 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

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

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 – Updated October 1st 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  SCRATCHED
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  SCRATCHED
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. Especially with the two scratches.


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

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

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

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