09/09/2012 12:31PM

Breeders' Cup Musings; Saturday Stakes Thoughts

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The shrinking annual foal crop has impacted all facets of the game, not the least of which the top end. If you take a look around, you have to wonder how some of this year’s Breeders’ Cup races, which are now less than eight weeks away, will have a gate full of worthy participants.

This is not a new development. The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf, a $3 million race, went with only seven starters, a cringe-worthy moment we would still be gossiping about if it had not been completely overshadowed by the Blame-Zenyatta drama that took place in the Classic in the very next race.

While we still have some very nice horses in training, we unfortunately have no Blames or Zenyattas around this year to help compensate for lack of quality depth in many divisions, if not outright lack of quality.

Let’s take a long term peek at the Classic division. Right now, there is a nice core of older horses consisting of Game On Dude, Ron the Greek, Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, To Honor and Serve, Flat Out, Richard’s Kid, and maybe Alternation. But unlike in past years, this year’s Classic won’t get much, if any, help from the 3-year-old division. There is Alpha, and his Travers dead-heat partner Golden Ticket, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a welcome late surge from Fed Biz. But really, how many must-have Classic horses are we talking about here? Eight? Nine?

Then, you have to think about how the Classic might cannibalize the Dirt Mile (which might cannibalize the Sprint), and even the Marathon.

The U.S. Turf division has some quality at the top providing Acclamation proves healthy enough to join Point of Entry and Little Mike, but there is little depth. Our Filly and Mare Turf division, however, is really wanting. Both of these Breeders’ Cup races will rely even more greatly than usual on European participation. But how many Euro horses do you really expect to see in each race. It could be tough work getting the field size of either race into double digits.

The Filly and Mare Classic (c’mon, isn’t that a miles better name than Ladies’ Classic? And isn’t it consistent with Filly and Mare Sprint and Filly and Mare Turf?) is very strong at the top with last year’s winner Royal Delta and It’s Tricky joined by the exciting 3-year-olds Questing and Potesta. But, with no offense to Include Me Out and Love and Pride, who else do you have to have in this race? Who else would really want to run against that quartet?

You also have to ask who would want to run against Groupie Doll in the Filly and Mare Sprint (I know Turbulent Descent is out there) after her powerful comeback in the Presque isle Downs Masters Saturday evening. It looked to me that Groupie Doll was just out to knock the rust off in what was her first start since her brilliant score in the Humana Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Yet she completely dominated, and the scary thing for her opposition is, she now looks primed to take a big step forward in the Breeders’ Cup.

There was another noteworthy sprint performance Saturday, that being the victory by Sean Avery in the overnight Affiliate Stakes at Belmont Park in his first start after a 13 month absence due to a bowed tendon. Sean Avery whipped a salty, if abbreviated field to at least submit his name to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint discussion. And don’t get too hung up on Sean Avery’s preliminary Beyer of only 92 because his final time of 1:11.46 had to be compromised by a fierce headwind in the stretch during the first part of the Belmont opening day card.

That strong headwind was part of a weird vibe at Belmont Saturday. There was a tornado watch for the area all day. In fact, in the morning there were tornado touchdowns in nearby Queens and Brooklyn, and that wasn’t even supposed to be associated with the worst past of the weather that was predicted (and which, fortunately, never really materialized). That, combined with the two opening day stakes (the Bowling Green was the other) being run as the third and fourth races on the card, the inevitable Saratoga hangover, and a couple of wild results made for a strange opening day.

Finally, that was a nice score by Bourbon Courage in the Super Derby, but he has to do more for me to think he could steal a page from the Caleb’s Posse playbook and take the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Bourbon Courage is a nice colt who still has lots of room to improve, but he isn’t anywhere near where Caleb’s Posse was at this time last year.

Update, Sunday, 1:29 pm - I would have to think that after another sensational victory in Sunday's Meadow Star Stakes at Belmont, Dreaming of Julia has frightened off at least a few marginal aspirants for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Rightly so. This filly is a total monster, and for my money, by far the best seen in her division so far this year. That's saying something, because I think there is a lot of real talent in the 2-year-old filly division.

John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Well written piece. There are few more prep, but with potential entrants falling by the wayside in droves it does look a bit thin. While on the subject the two year old races are more like NW1X or NW2X allowance races and offer 7 figure purses...seems like awaste of money..just about all these entrants would be thrilled to run for half. Take the saved dollars and cut the silly admission prices by 25 % and make a serious contribution to the disabled jockeys fund with the rest.
Keith More than 1 year ago
I fail to understand how you can discuss possible contenders in the 10f Classic and not mention Dullahan among the three year olds, Mike. Sure i know the rap that he deoesn't run well on dirt, and I think that is absurd. Surely his 3rd in the KY Derby just 1&1/2 lengths off (and closing) of departed from the field Derby and Preskness winner I'll Have Another, who was a real candidate to be the first 3 yr old to win the Triple Crown before his retirment to injury prepping for the Belmont Stakes says Dullahan can handle dirt. And now, after blowing out the track record at 10f in the Pacific Classic against older, on poly, he certainly should get respect at the distance. And this past Sunday he came back from that effort, and the cross country flights, and put in a bullet sub :48 4f best of 29 at Churchill on the Main, his third straight bullet work on the surface. That signifiies to me that this still improving 3 year old is far from done with his exploits yet. I'd back him on Belmont's surface for the Jockey Gold Cup, and on Santa Anita Dirt too, but of couse, I've backed him from his BC Juvenile, and forgive his Belmont and Haskel showings as being simply off form efforts not totally unexpected from his 10f Derby run in early Spring off a two race prep.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Here is my opinion on Dullahan, who, for context, I picked in the Derby: Dullahan is just not as good on dirt as he is on synthetic or even turf, and this year's Classic is on dirt. His dirt performances in the Belmont and Haskell were poor, and his third in the Derby was more a function of a pace collapse, and a unique CD surface. Many horseplayers feel, and I have come to agree, that turf and synthetic horses do better on CD dirt than any other dirt surface around.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Dullahan is a nice horse, but not top class by any stretch of the imagination. As has been pointed out below, the Breeders' Cup is now a pale, watered-down shadow of its former self...due to the incomprehensible greed and incompetence of those who run it. John Gaines would be rolling over in his grave, if he saw what has happened to his great creation.
Yuwipi More than 1 year ago
"incomprehensible greed and incompetence" - just to good for a thumbs up.
jayemesssam More than 1 year ago
As the owner of Include Me Out, offense taken. So little respect for a filly who has won two Grade I's this year and who's best races are on Santa Anita.
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
Right on! You tell 'em Sam!
Tom Coughlin More than 1 year ago
Mike... if the BC had stuck with the seven original races plus the BC F M Turf, there would be no issue with field size.
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
And perhaps the turf sprint. Otherwise all the new races have made the BC so much less appealing of an event. Let's go back to one great day with 8 or 7 championship races!
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
AMEN
jg777 More than 1 year ago
Just bet Baffert on dirt and the Euro's on turf. I can only hope for more over bet American turf horses, especially the 2 year olds. 11-1 on Wrote last year was the gift of the weekend in the Juvenile Turf!
W.G. More than 1 year ago
What about Dullahan, who is now expected to run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park? He wins that and the BC Turf and he's likely the three year old champion for 2012 over I'll Have Another with four Grade 1 wins and three against older horses at 1 1/4 Miles or greater in that scenario. That to me could make him three year old champ and Horse of the Year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He has to win a race on dirt, and that looks as it is not his forte.
John Pisiona More than 1 year ago
That's a lot to win. Seems like your a fan of would you would like to happen.
R D B More than 1 year ago
anyone heard whats going on with paynter????????
Robert Walton More than 1 year ago
For the Classic, it may be all about Baffert--Game On Dude, or even Fed Biz or Take Control (a real possible sleeper). Also, Dullahan might keep improving. Too bad Frankel won't come over.
Richard More than 1 year ago
If you watch the video of the very beginning of Saturday’s Belmont Race 4 when they show a side view of the gate in the Affiliate S., you can see how hard the wind was blowing which you do not see in Race 3, The Bowling Green S. I knew Sean Avery would put in a good performance but did not feel there was value in both races; especially with the scratching of Sam Sparkle making the Affiliate a four horse field. Sean Avery had the highest stakes beyer speed figure of 112 in the Vanderbuilt at Saratoga last year. The 8-1 odds of Bonbaguia in the Bowling Green S., and the 7-1 odds of Zero Rate Policy in the Affiliate S. is what made them pay a little. If Crossbow in the Affiliate S. would have come in the money the $1.00 exacta would probably have paid $6.00.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
I noticed the wind when they showed the horses loading for the Affiliate Stakes and you could tell there must have been a heckuva headwind coming up the stretch. Like I said before, I've never seen a last quarter mile that slow in a race of that caliber. Incredible.
Infinity More than 1 year ago
The BC screwed up, ONE DAY of Racing with limited races made the fields FULL. They saturated the market, diluted it and hence smaller fields. BC Marathon--Come on man, who cares. Girls verses boys provided nice prices. The BC TURF used to get 14 starters!!!!!!
Joe More than 1 year ago
I agree abd think how many horses the Breeders Cup Mile takes out of the Breeders Cup Sprint. The Breeders Cup Juevenile Turf dos the same thin,