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Super Saturday's Breeders' Cup Implications
Let's take a morning after look at Super Saturday's stakes races and what each race's Breeders' Cup implications might be. We'll break it down by track.
Vosburgh - I questioned the decision to cut Girolamo back to a six furlong distance at which he had never raced since he is bred, looks, and acts like a middle distance horse. But Girolamo's connections were right, and he scored decisively. Granted, this wasn't the best Vosburgh field ever assembled, but given the current unsettled nature of the sprint division, there is no reason to think that Girolamo can't be a force in the BC Sprint.
Flower Bowl - Let's be honest, this race was all about who could and could not handle the footing, which, by the way, seemed far more like soft than the yielding posted. Winner and runner up Ave and Changing Skies are just not true Grade 1 horses no matter what this result says, and it is unlikely this race will have a major impact on the BC Filly & Mare Turf unless identical footing prevails at Churchill Downs and a bunch of other horses don't run their races.
Beldame - I did not expect Life At Ten to rate just off the pace as effectively as she did here, but she did. And that she did makes this arguably the best of her five wins this year, and puts her right in the mix of a now wide open BC Ladies' Classic.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational - Although this race was more formful than the Flower Bowl, like the Flower Bowl, the footing for this race confuses what real meaning it might have in a Breeders' Cup sense. And while winner Winchester and runner up Paddy O'Prado are nice horses, they are not world beaters. As such, they will be in trouble in Louisville unless all the good Europeans stay home.
Jockey Club Gold Cup - Blame caught Battle Plan despite having a slow pace to run at in the Foster, and he caught Quality Road in the Whitney under similar circumstances, so it was a big surprise that he couldn't catch the lesser Haynesfield here. Good luck to Haynesfield in the BC Classic. Let's see how he handles top class pace pressure when Quality Road runs at him. As for Blame, he'll be better going two turns in the Breeders' Cup. But his loss here probably means that Zenyatta, who was already favorite for the Classsic, will now be a stronger favorite.
OAK TREE AT HOLLYWOOD
Norfolk - Jaycito, the winner, was much the best here. But how strong could this race really have been when Jaycito, a maiden going in, prevails after racing four wide around the track and under heavy, heavy pressure in the stretch, besting a colt in J P's Gusto who while California's most accomplished juvenile going in was always a huge question mark going two turns? Beyond the whole synthetic-to-dirt thing, the initial sense is this race won't be the key prep for the BC Juvenile. Not by a longshot.
Lady's Secret - I have always resisted the temptation to attach human characteristics to race horses. But after watching her just get there in time again in this race to make it 19 for 19, could it be that Zenyatta really does know where the finish line is, and now does only what is required to get there first? Either way, this race has meaning for the Classic (and ironically not the Ladies Classic) because Zenyatta will certainly be the favorite for the Classic.
Yellow Ribbon - It was a surprise to see Gypsy's Warning make the pace here. It was no surprise, given the weakness of the California female turf division, that a stranger won this. That stranger, Hibaayeb, was a Group 1 winner last year. But she has been so far below that level for most of this year that it is hard not to think that a European like Midday won't have her for breakfast in Louisville.
Goodwood - You want to cut this race additional slack because the winner, Richard's Kid, seems to always be unfairly underrated. This was his third Grade 1 win since moving West in the summer of last year. But in truth, it is hard to make a case that this race will have major impact on the Classic. Richard's Kid just got up after getting a dream run on the rail. Runner up Crown of Thorns probably doesn't want to be on the pace as he was here, but he still really didn't stay the nine furlongs, and the Classic is a furlong longer. And Twirling Candy might not have controlled the early pace like he figured to on paper, but he was totally exposed as something less than the second coming.
Indiana Oaks - Always a Princess was a very promising 2-year-old last year, and after a belated start to her 3-year-old campaign, a decisive victory here made her 2 for 2 this season. Her final time was only one-fifth of a second slower than top 3-year-old male Lookin At Lucky needed to win the Indiana Derby in the next race, although it should be noted that the pace Always a Princess set in the Indiana Oaks was much slower than the pace posted in the Indiana Derby. In any case, Always a Princess is certainly an intriguing late addition to the Ladies' Classic picture.
Indiana Derby - Yes, it is true that the field Lookin At Lucky beat here was not strong. It is also true that after a fast pace, this race slowed up considerably late, which helped Lookin At Lucky rally from last. But in his defense, not many, if any, horses won in the slop at Hoosier Saturday from as far back as Lookin At Lucky did. In the end, this was a nice return from an illness that kept Lookin At Lucky sidelined since the Haskell. This was also a very nice prep for the Classic that he almost certainly will improve on. As an aside, it's too bad we all couldn't have locked in that 5-2 that Lookin At Lucky was on the morning line. He paid $2.80.
Fitz Dixson Cotillion - We knew going in that while Blind Luck was an extremely good filly, she was not unbeatable. We also knew going in that Havre de Grace finished only a nose and a neck behind Blind Luck in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama. Still, even when Havre de Grace had that big lead in midstretch here, I thought Blind Luck was going to catch her, and was a little disappointed in Blind Luck that she didn't. Blind Luck remains the leading 3-year-old filly in the country, but now she is at best only a tepid favorite for the Ladies' Classic. By the way, if Havre de Grace was named for the town in Maryland, then the pronunciation of "Havruh de Grace" is correct. But if she was named after the old Maryland race track, then the correct pronunciation is "Havruh duh Graw."
Hawthorne Gold Cup - With the distance of this race being the same as the distance of the Classic, you would think this race would be a stepping stone to the Classic. Not this time, I would think. To his credit, Redding Colliery had to go fast early to outrun a bunch of other speed horses, all of whom wound up being beaten (and I'm only exagerrating a little here) a million lengths. But Hawthorne is a speed favoring track. And that combined with a final quarter in a slow 27.10 seconds along with the reluctant to win Giant Oak being the main one running at you means Redding Colliery should really be looking at the BC Dirt Mile.
I appreciate Mr. Watchmaker's informed analysis and attention to the game's finer nuances. I think he's able to see shades of gray, which enables him to successfully modulate between a broad perspective and more specific analysis without needless and annoying partisanship. Also, I enjoyed his reader's feedback and felt compelled to offer my own. I felt bad for Blind Luck as I felt she was going to get the worst of it at the moment the weight assignments were unveiled. If she was racing against Havre De Grace at equal weights, I think she wins by a small margin as she did in her previous outings. I give major kudos to her connections for not even mentioning the weight disparity when she lost, but saying they lost 'fair and square.' Nevertheless, I still think Blind Luck constitutes the logical favorite in the Ladies Classic at 9F. That extra 1/2 furlong is what she, like Zenyatta, is always screaming for when they hunt down their opponents. And what can you say about Zenyatta, she truly looked dead in the water against Switch (who beat Blind Luck by over a length on 6/6 by slowing the pace to a crawl and getting a jump on her). As mentioned by other posters, Zenyatta is a truly remarkable and intelligent horse. I've bet against her on a few occasions, and each time I'm happy I've lost. Like Andy Beyer, I thought she was hopeless before the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic and even chuckled at the 5/2 M/L. My error was putting too much stock in speed figs for synthetic surfaces, where only a handful of horses have exceeded a 110 BSF. Also, I should have taken into consideration her track record at Del Mar for 8.5 F, which still stands after four complete seasons of racing. My only concern is that age might get the better of Zenyatta in the Classic. At 6.6 years of age, she's really going to be up against it, especially since she has to ship in from California. It's hard to enough to win, especially given the historical trend of females rarely winning the biggest events in US racing. Like usual, I won't bet her to win, and I'll be hoping she proves me wrong. At least I'll have a few valuable souveniers if she wins, as I plan on buying a dozen $2 tickets. She should like the longer distance and long home stretch, but I suspect a few other horses will offer more value. That's not to say that she can't win; she certainly appears (to me) to have as legitimate a chance as any of her fellow contenders, but that's the problem-she's not a lock by any means. I think 4-1 would be reasonable from a betting standpoint. Zenyatta is the only horse who ever put tears in my eyes, and she's reinvigorated my love for horseracing. I wish her the best; she's a champion to me irrespective of the outcome at Churchill Downs. A few other quick observations: What happened to Twirling Candy? Wow, that was an unexpected flop. I think he defeats his talent by being unruly and generally neurotic. If his handlers could get him to settle down he might be something special, I certainly haven't counted him out based on one race. And how about Richard's Kid. He went from a 95 Beyer Fig in the Pacific Classic to a 105 BSF in the Goodwood. These ratings help illustrate some of the pitfalls in putting too much stock in Beyers for synthetic surfaces. It seems that synthetic (and turf) horses travel closer together and thus winners get punished while losers get inflated ratings. Lookin at Lucky looks like a dangerous contender whose form is culminating at the right time . He looked impressive and demonstrated his typical determination (even if the competition was suspect). I'm expecting a huge run from him in the Classic along with Zenyatta. Rail Trip's performance was lackluster to say the least. It's hard to know if it was his feet or the surface change (or some other hidden variable). Perhaps more surprising was Blame's mediocre performance. I thought he would have made a much more compelling run at Haynesfield (who looked very impressive). I actually have never thought much of Paddy O Prado, rightly or wrongly, and scored with a bet on Winchester. You can make excuses for Paddy (12 furlongs, track conditions) but he's probably hopeless against the classy Europeans. I'm hoping Sidney's Candy can move forward off his incredible turf debut in the La Jolla Handicap, where he set a new track record. However, it's probably a little too much to ask for him to compete with the best Europeans (i.e. Goldikova). But his sensational performance does offer some measure of hope. Jeffrey
Gary C, What Goldikova has done this year and in her career is in no way on par with Zenyatta. Goldikova's campaigns are far superior to anything Zenyatta has done. This is obviously not the fault of the horse( she HAS won every race they have put her in), but the connections. Her consistency, especially being a closer, should be admired. However, when comparing her campaign to Goldikova, Zenyatta has won 1 unresticted race. She has left califonia 3 times in 3 years (and one was a scratch due to a sloppy track) as of today. Goldikova has won 11 group/grade 1 races and 7 vs males. She will be coming to the Breeders Cup from Europe for the third time ! That would be roughly equivalent to Zenyatta going to the Dubai World Cup the past 3 years. However, she wasn't even seriously considered once. It is truly a shame, because there is no doubt in my mind she could have won multiple World Cups along with her ladies classic and classic victories. Maybe she would have missed out on a couple lady's secrets or vanity's, but her greatness would never be left to debate.
Of course Zenyatta knows where the wire is. The ability to learn one's job and how to do it correctly, and even enjoy it, is not the exclusive purview of human beings. Anyone who has ever spent any time around animals knows that. And yes, she does what she has to do to get her job done. You can clearly see in the replays that the second she passes Switch, up fly the ears, and she eases up right at the wire. She not only knows her job but does it with what I can only describe, after seeing it in person several times, as glee.
No mention of Goldikova's great race over the weekend. About time you begin to figure in the impact of the major European's in more specifics to give the analysis more meaning. I think what Goldikova is doing is on par with Zenyatta considering one horse is going everywhere and racing against open company and regardless of what anyone says Zenyatta's, she is being very carefully handeled to be mentioned with the all time great colts.
I'll never confuse Haynesfield with Mr. Fantasy again...That was impressive and I would give him credit instead of downgrading Blame too much. If you like Blame in the Classic surely his loss will help your odds, because a win may have made him the favorite. You wouldn't want Blame to be all out to run a 108 BSF right after his last tough effort and the task at hand November 6th right around the corner anyway. Paddy O' Prado faced pretty much the same conditions that Gio Ponti did last year, running on super soft, super taxing turf at Belmont. Then he went 8 wide and moved too early, allowing Winchester to run him down. Like Gio Ponti last year this one race is leading many to think Paddy O Prado can't get the distance. I like what I saw from Paddy O' Prado and will forgive the loss especially if the turf is firm for the Turf Classic. Paddy's loss Saturday could double his value in the Breeders' Cup.
I would give Blind Luck additional slack because she did have to carry 10 lbs more than Havre de Grace in the Cotillion. Of the many favorites that lost this weekend, Blind Luck was most valiant and her defeat a tougher beat because of those 10 lbs. What makes her performance even more special is that she was able to close at least 3 lengths the final sixteenth even though Havre de Grace ran the final sixteenth in 6 seconds flat. That means Blind Luck ran her personal final sixteenth in a shade over 5 seconds. In my opinion, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are the horses to beat in the Distaff, with Life at Ten my 3rd choice. I am a big fan of Blind Luck and admire her ability to travel and always run her race. But her closing style can leave her vulnerable; she has lost 5 times the past 2 years, although she never loses by much. Interestingly, her biggest loss was to Switch in the Hollywood Oaks. In the 8.5 furlong Hollywood Oaks, Switch was able to stalk slow fractions, get the jump on Blind Luck on the far turn, and then hold steady to win by 1.25 lengths. Switch, running the same distance over the same surface, ran an even stronger race in the Lady's Secret than in the H.Oaks. In the Lady's Secret, Switch ran the final sixteenth in a sharp 6 seconds, yet it still wasn't good enough to beat Zenyatta.
Mike, while I agree with most of your comments I think it is unfair to say that Jaycito will not have any impact on the juvenile championship. It was only his third race and first route try and he raced 4 wide the whole way. He could improve dramatically in a very short time. Also I feel that almost every two year old colt that is considered a major player come breeders cup day has many many question marks with either soundness or pedigree for the distance. Keep up the good work.
I'm not surprised Blame got beat. he was lucky to win his last two races. In the Foster he beat a horse who broke his leg in the race and the time was slower than the fillies that day. In the Whitney, he won by a nostril when not only was Quality Road giving him 5 pounds, it was not one of JR's stellar rides. And please don't talk about the pace because Al Stall was extremely confident saying pace didn't matter because if the pace was slow he would be close to it and if it was fast he could be farther back. After the race however he complained, comparing it to Blames Super Derby. My poinion is and always was that Blame was a bit overrated, somewhat like the jock who has been riding him. Is there really anyone out there who thinks he can come home faster than Queen Z?
Well, you never know, the turf at Churchill could very well be deep and heavy for the BC, so maybe the horses exiting all these turf races at Belmont will do well. We will see who shows up from Europe. Last week I read that Blind Luck had been considered for the Lady's Secret instead of the Cotillion, and I really wish she had run there instead. I still think Zenyatta would have won, bur how exciting would it have been to have two such deep closers facing off in that race? This further reinforces the argument that Zenyatta can't help it if she faces less than stellar field sometimes; if the top 3-year old filly in the country, whose connections have been more than willing to ship her all over the country to run ends up ducking her, then how can anyone expect others to step up? I love them both and it would have been a real thrill. I have developed quite an admiration for Redding Colliery; he may not be great but he is very good, and honest. However, I do agree that a mile and a quarter is at the outside edge of his ability and that he would make a great choice for the Dirt Mile. He is a stout type of horse that could do well on CD's surface, especially if it ends up being wet.