09/29/2013 10:58AM

Super Saturday Notes


There is a lot to touch on. Let's take it by track.

Belmont Park, where it was still favorable to be toward the inside, but where the main track played more fairly that it had all meet:

Princess of Sylmar's decisive victory over two-time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta in the Beldame was just a terrific performance, one that, with all due respect to Beholder (who also beat older opponents later Saturday in the Zenyatta at Santa Anita), should settle the 3-year-old filly championship. Lets not forget that Princess of Sylmar beat Beholder on the square in the Kentucky Oaks the one time they met.

The Beldame, like the 10 other Grade 1 and 2 events on Saturday, was a Win and You're In race for the Breeders Cup. When the bonuses for that program are factored in, it would cost Princess of Sylmar's connections $90,000 to supplement to the Breeders Cup Distaff, and that $90K would make her Breeders' Cup eligible for the rest of her career. The Breeders' Cup door was left open by Princess of Sylmar's connections after the Beldame, and given how fairly the main track at Santa Anita played Friday and Saturday (unlike last fall, when it was decidedly speed-favoring), it is something to think about. But Princess of Sylmar's people also stress how much of a priority it is to them to have her at her best next year at 4, and they remain consistent that their filly will not go to the Breeders' Cup if they feel the trip will compromise that goal.

As for Royal Delta, she obviously did not run one of her best races Saturday. What other people say about her does seem true. For such a tremendously talented horse, she does throw in a little more than her share of duds.

Yes, I know Graydar was returning from a six-month injury-related absence in the Kelso, and at a one mile distance that can be tricky off such layoffs. Nevertheless, his Kelso win left me cold. Graydar walked on the early lead given the speed of the track (23.41 and 47.11), and he had to work hard to turn back overnight and marginal graded stakes horses.

Private Zone, winner of the Vosburgh and now a huge threat for the Breeders' Cup Sprint in a division begging for someone to step up, is an interesting horse. Private Zone likes to wait on his opposition when he's on the lead, and the vast majority of horses with that trait simply dont want to win, and prefer finishing second or third. But Private Zone is different. He waits on horses, and then comes back to beat them, as he showed Saturday.

Can't take anything away from Laughing, who made it four graded stakes wins this year from as many starts with her front-running win in the Flower Bowl. But man, she must be living right. Laughing literally walked on the lead Saturday, and the Flower Bowl was the third straight race in which she capitalized on a highly favorable set up. Laughing is not Breeders' Cup eligible, and her connections pretty much ruled out supplementing to the Filly & Mare Turf, noting this mare is a bad shipper.

As it seems to be the case with every other "wise guy" out there, Little Mike seems to take enormous pleasure in tormenting me, which he did again in his narrow decision in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. But as much as he might drive us crazy, Little Mike deserves great credit for being versatile enough to alter his approach to fit Saturday's pace set up, and successfully revert to a rating style. But I do think Big Blue Kitten would have won had his momentum not been slowed briefly in upper stretch when splitting horses. And as for Real Solution, yes, he lost meaningful ground with his wide sweep on the far turn, but that was quite a hang job.

Like others, I'm struggling to know what to make of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. What do you make of Cross Traffic, who had a disastrous start, but who never moved a muscle after it? What to you make of Orb, who never moved a muscle, and didn't have the excuse of a bad start? What do you make of the flat performance from Flat Out? And what to you do with Ron the Greek going forward? Obviously, he has a big race in him, as he showed Saturday. But he is also wildly unpredictable.

For me, the one thing that might linger from this Gold Cup is it was only days earlier that Ron the Greek was just as likely to run in the Kelso as he was in the big race of the day. The fact that there was even a decision to be made between the two races says something.

Santa Anita, where it was nice to see an even main track:

Where are California's good 2-year-olds? She's a Tiger is a nice, game filly, and it goes without saying she has the potential to develop as she gets older. But right now, She's a Tiger has her limitations, as evidenced by the fact that she couldn't hold off the unheralded Secret Compass late in the Chandelier. And it has to be noted that Fascinating finished within a length of Secret Compass and Shes a Tiger, and she is still looking for her maiden win after four starts.

I admit I had my doubts as to whether Tiz Flirtatious could kick late in the 1 1-4 mile Rodeo Drive the way she has in shorter races. But those doubts proved unfounded, Tiz Flirtatious got the money, and her connections deserve credit for the way they have patiently developed this California-bred mare. Still, I'm starting to wonder if Marketing Mix is quite the same horse she used to be. Marketing Mix was only beaten a head by Tiz Flirtatious Saturday, but after the trip she had, Marketing Mix had no excuse to lose.

Given my thoughts on the Chandelier, all I need to say about the Frontrunner is this: Bondholder, who was winless in four prior starts, scored as much the best, but ran the same 8.5 mile distance 11 one-hundredths of a second slower than the fillies went in the Chandelier.

Beholder is really, really good, and she will be tough in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, no matter who shows up. People can infer all they want that Beholder got a break in the Zenyatta when Joyful Victory didnt go after her hard in the early running. The fact is, Beholder is simply much faster early than Joyful Victory, and Beholder was going to have the early lead Saturday, no matter what.

Would faster early fractions in the Zenyatta have taken some starch out of Beholder late? Of course they would have. But let's not forget that while Authenticity got to within 1 1-4 lengths of Beholder at the finish in a game effort, Beholder won while being asked for considerably less than her best.

Mucho Macho Man, who signaled he wasn't done yet with his better-than-it-looks-on-paper third in the Whitney, got his first Grade 1 victory in the Awesome Again, and it was a long overdue Grade 1 score given how well he has operated at this level the last three years. It certainly meant little on Saturday, because he won in a romp, but I do think its worth noting the front bandages that were off Mucho Macho Man in the Whitney were back on in the Awesome Again.

Paynter's second in the Awesome Again was a curious effort. It seemed to me that Paynter lost focus, or something, on the far turn, and was unable to keep up while Mucho Macho Man was making what would be the decisive move. But Paynter seemed to get back into it in the stretch. Maybe he was only picking up the pieces, but I liked the way Paynter finished to be easily second best.

Churchill Downs:

It would be understandable if you were at first less than impressed with the victory by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in the Homecoming Classic. I know that was how I felt, at first. Fort Larned seemed to tire visibly late, and certainly slowed down against the clock late. He had to work harder than a 1-5 shot should, especially one who got back to his best loose-on-the-lead trip.

But Fort Larned's performance got better for me after thinking about it a bit. Fort Larned did set a solid pace, and it was highly unlikely he was jacked up for this spot. No one knows yet what the pace scenario in this Breeders' Cup Classic will be, and that is important to a free-running horse like Fort Larned. But in the end, I think the Homecoming Classic will serve its purpose, and be a prep Fort Larned can significantly improve on.