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.