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

September 1st 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Looming Armageddon at Breeders’ Cup Classic

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

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

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

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

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

–Michael

 

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