07/10/2011 12:10PM

Hollywood Gold Cup, Man o' War, and Other Stakes Thoughts


Impressions of some of Saturday’s big stakes events:

Twirling Candy might still be the most talented older male in the nation. In fact, I believe he is. But how talented Twirling Candy might be is secondary if he can’t get the American classic distance of a mile and a quarter. And right now, Twirling Candy can’t get a mile and a quarter.

Twirling Candy couldn’t get 1 ¼ miles last March as the 1-2 favorite in the Big Cap in his first career attempt at the distance. I’m sure there will be those who will ask, “How do you know that, what with the way Twirling Candy was banged around in the Big Cap stretch run?” Twirling Candy was knocked around in the stretch of the Big Cap. But in my opinion, he was a beaten horse when that all happened.

There was no such ambiguity in the Hollywood Gold Cup. As the even money favorite, Twirling Candy had an absolutely perfect trip stalking Game On Dude’s reasonable pace. But not only was Twirling Candy unable to ever get by Game On Dude, he was outkicked late by First Dude, who got up to narrowly win after being put in an all-out drive above the quarter pole.

Given the way Twirling Candy has handled nine furlongs with such aplomb – in the Californian and Strub, for example – it is surprising that he has been found wanting at 10 furlongs on occasions when he was expected to win. Then again, these things shouldn’t surprise. The world is full of formidable milers who couldn’t win at 1 1/8 miles unless they got part of the trip in a van. The chasm between nine and 10 furlongs is plenty big, too, although at times, it is easy to forget that.

This is not to say that Twirling Candy will never get a mile and a quarter. With racing experience and development, and maybe at the right track against the right field, he might. But for all his talent, and there is a lot of it, Twirling Candy is in a pickle right now. His inability to win the Hollywood Gold Cup relinquished his hold on a very soft handicap division, and it raises the question of whether there is any reason to expect he’ll do any better going 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs in November in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Or, for that matter, if Twirling Candy should even be pointed to that race.

As for First Dude, I was one of only many last year to chase this colt repeatedly, only to suffer endless frustration watching him often come close without closing the deal. So I find it slightly amazing that with the Hollywood Gold Cup, First Dude has now won three straight, including two straight stakes (he won the Alysheba at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks Day). It is incredible that something so basic, yet so fundamental, as a change in running style from speed horse to closer could turn First Dude from counterfeit also-ran to frequent winner. Yet that is precisely what’s happened.

Cape Blanco, who won two major Group 1 races in Ireland last year, was much the best winning the Man o’ War at Belmont Park in his U.S. debut. But I have to wonder given how out of form Cape Blanco was in his two most recent outings in Europe if his decisive score Saturday didn’t merely underscore how weak U.S. turf form this year. I also wonder if Gio Ponti, who finished second in his attempt to win a third straight Man o’ War shouldn’t, at this stage of his career, focus solely on mile races. That’s the direction he took last fall, and it worked well for him then.

Speaking of mile races, that’s precisely what Wasted Tears should return to after she chucked it in the stretch of the Modesty Handicap at Arlington. It was well worth taking the shot Saturday to see if Wasted Tears would stretch out to 1 3/16 miles, but now her connections know.

Nice job by St. John’s River to just get up in the Delaware Oaks, rallying from well back into a slow pace. The form of the Kentucky Oaks, in which St. John’s River narrowly missed to Plum Pretty, has certainly held up.

And while on the subject of just getting up, how about Sassy Image in the Princess Rooney at Calder? Sassy Image looked like Life At Ten in the Ladies’ Classic with the way she dropped back and lost complete contact with the Princess Rooney field down the backstretch, and she was still about six lengths behind the next to last horse turning for home. But Sassy Image somehow managed to get there, and she now clearly ranks as the top female sprinter in the country.

Terri Z More than 1 year ago
Sassy Image is a very special horse. In the paddock, at Calder RC, her eyes were popping out; she was pumped up and bright. She is a big and powerfully built chestnut mare and she has some lineage. Interesting, that she and Shackleford are descendents of Terlingua, they are both spicy like their great-grand dam. And they have the same will and fight in them as their great-great grandsire, Secretariat. And they share the same trainer, Dale Romans. She was the last horse and lagged 20 lengths behind the rest of the field. And then she was coming around the bend with the great Mike Smith as her rider. It was an unforgettable Zenyatta moment as she caught up to and beat Musical Romance by a nose at the wire. And unlike Zenyatta's races, which lasted 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 miles, the Princess Rooney Stakes was only for 6 furlongs; that's a lot of distance to make up at the end of the race. Kudos to the great mare and all of her connections. And a special thanks to the awesome Mike Smith. Incidentally, Sassy Image had throat surgery either this year or last and then won 2 stakes prior to the Princess Rooney. I think that this race needs to be under consideration for race of the year. I wonder if Mike Smith will be riding Sassy Image in the Ballerina, at Saratoga, and at the Breeders Cup. Smith and the Romans brothers were really celebrating after that amazing rally.
Game1s More than 1 year ago
One horse that hasn't gotten any mention, but has the epitome of heart, is Giant Ryan. I placed him on my watch list as a 2yo precisely because of his heart. He doesn't have the prettiest motion or imposing stature, and I realize he didn't receive a huge number, which may or may not be accurate, but if you watched Irrefutable in this race he looked unbeatable throughout, the announcer certainly didn't expect him to get beat. Irrefutable got it all his own way, and he was going straight and strong down the stretch, but when Giant Ryan decides he wants something his will seems to exact whatever action is necessary from his legs, and watching him nail the seemingly home-free Irrefutable was priceless. I love him for what he has become, and what he still might become, regardless of his physical limitations, whatever they may be.
George C More than 1 year ago
The American turf division is so weak this year its a joke. The Euros are going to have a field day at Churchill next fall and probably win every turf race.
Bill Daly More than 1 year ago
Chris Vignoe: My thoughts exactly. Not really an overlay.
Machine More than 1 year ago
When % is used for to inform the bettors of the trainers record in the USA it would be far better if we were given the # in {GR#1} {GR#2}{GR#3] overnight etc. Many times we hear talking heads tell us how bad the figures are for shippers,foreign horses etc but that is all meaningless if it is not broken and explained to the bettors . Drf please note this could provide the bett or with more factual info. ? what is Todd Pletcher's % in GR # 1 in 2011. Thank you Steve Christ for giving us a lot Stats on YTD GR#1 recently.
Illini Griff More than 1 year ago
Twirling Candy is this years version of Quality Road. Both were killers at 7/8ths to a mile. Both were very effective at 1 1/8th. And both were unable to win at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. If I were John Sadler, you would never see this horse race again past 9 furlongs...
John Pisiona More than 1 year ago
I'm still trying to get an explanation as to why T/C was not taken down in the Del Mar Derby
william Deuel, Jr More than 1 year ago
TC really ran pretty well, just came up a little short. Rosario wanted to wait a little bit longer to move but was forced to use some horse to maintain his position going into the far turn, thus he came up a neck short. He did give some weight and that will change in the next race and the blinkers off are getting him to relax. He has a ton of talent, a real quick turn of foot and he will turn the tables in the pacific classic.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
. . .. I see it more like Owen .. hard to say T-Candy can't do 10f .. only beaten a neck and giving weight doing 10f in 2:01 ..? The trick is in wondering if any of them can do 10f hauling 126 in 2:01 ..? I'd suggest more of the story gets told when we see the Del Cap .. and the Big Girls throw-down again.. They'll be hauling about what they would in the BC C ..
Alberto Reyes More than 1 year ago
About Cape Blanco and the US turf male division. First, it's amazing that the Belmont public let an Irish Derby and Champion winner, who had handled Workhorse in the Dante and in the King George, and had already finished ahead of Gio Ponti in Dubai, go off at 3-1. Thanks NY bettors! Second, only in the US a former $35.000 claimer gives 3 pounds to a Derby winner in a G1 race. Thanks, US condition book writers! Third, Cape Blanco was not so off-form as it appeared on paper. I was at Ascot for the Queen Anne (his last race before the Man O'War), and he simply was not going to match strides with the best milers on the planet, Canford Cliff and Goldikova. Jamie Spencer judiciously packed up and went home with him three furlongs out. Back to the top: any Irish, English or French G1 winner will make mincemeat of any current US male turf runner. As for the females, I was also present, and very sorry, when More Than Real, was next to last at Ascot. Yes, the ground, I know. Nevertheless...