10/09/2011 11:00AM

Thoughts On The Latest Saturday Breeders' Cup Preps

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Let’s talk about Super Saturday, Part 2:

BELMONT PARK

                Jamaica – I still don’t understand how this race rates a Grade 1 ranking. It never was a major destination for 3-year-old turf horses, and it has no direct link to any Breeders’ Cup race, or Eclipse Award division. And I doubt this paceless procession, won in sleepy, front running style by the modest English shipper Western Aristocrat, will have much of an impact on future stakes of any real importance.

                Frizette – Yeah, now we’re talking. I was suprised at the difference in odds between the even money Stopshoppingmaria and the 2-1 My Miss Aurelia. I know that Stopshoppingmaria stumbled at the start (though not severely) when beaten by My Miss Aurelia when they both made their debuts opening day at Saratoga. And I know that Stopshoppingmaria earned a field-best 101 Beyer Figure when she came back with an impressive maiden romp. But My Miss Aurelia came back to win the Grade 2 Adirondack, and did so while being under pressure every step of the way. Well, it turns out the disparity in odds did indeed reflect a difference in ability between these two fillies, at least currently. The only thing is, it was the other way around, as My Miss Aurelia just ran off through the stretch to trounce Stopshoppingmaria. You can talk all you want about Stopshippingmaria breaking a half-step slow Saturday. The fact is, she simply isn’t in My Miss Aurelia’s league right now.

                Champagne – Well, I guess Union Rags doesn’t need the sort of sloppy track he had when he won the Saratoga Special in his last start. Union Rags was full of run on the far turn, and it was obvious that the only question with just over a quarter of a mile to go was how much he would win by. After a few anxious moments in upper stretch when he tried to find clear racing room, Union Rags proceeded to blow this field away, and leave no doubt whatsoever that he is clearly the best 2-year-old male in the country at this moment.

KEENELAND

                Woodford – He might not be the flashiest turf sprinter around, but right now, Havelock might be the most dangerous. With a strong late run, Havelock proved clearly best here, and has now won three stakes from his last three turf sprint starts.

                TCA – On a personal note, I really, really wish this race was six furlongs and a jump, because I needed Musical Romance, who just missed catching Holiday for Kitten, an undeniable horse for course on Keeneland’s Polytrack. But the real story here, even in defeat, was Switch. Switch may have only finished third at 4-5. But she was up against it cutting back sharply in distance to six furlongs and breaking from way outside, which locked her into a wide trip. I think this sprint sharpener set up Switch beautifully for the Breeders’ Cup F&M Sprint, which is run at a seven furlong distance that she’s better at, anyway.

                First Lady – This race had a few mares who did not fire their best shots (Daveron, C. S. Silk, Theyskens’ Theory) and a couple who seem past their once-formidable peaks (Wasted Tears, Gypsy’s Warning). That said, I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, Never Retreat, who has had a busy and productive year. This was her 10th start of the season, and her fifth graded stakes victory.

                Breeders’ Futurity – The way this race unfolded early with a very fast pace, there was no doubt that it had to fall apart late. So with that in mind, Majestic City deserves credit for his runner up performance. Majestic City (who is sprint-bred both sides being by City Zip out of a Meadowlake mare) was close to the fast pace, and yet was only caught in the late stages. On the other hand, the fact that Dullahan, a maiden turf specialist who also had trouble on the first turn, got up to win, and Optimizer, another turf specialist, rallied to be a clear third, does not speak well for the chances of this being a serious prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Juvenile Turf? Better chance.

                Shadwell Turf Mile – It appears the concerns over Gio Ponti’s decline were premature, as he made up 2 ½ lengths in a final quarter mile run in 23.26 seconds to win this race for a second straight year, and add weight to the belief that he’s just been spinning his wheels not focusing on being a miler. And while I don’t pay much attention anymore to earnings because purses can fluctuate so wildly, it is an achievement well worth noting that by virtue of this score, Gio Ponti has passed the $6 million mark in career earnings. Irish invader Zoffany was the big disappointment here, as he never even so much as lifted a hoof. It seems he’s more Viscount Nelson than Cape Blanco or Treasure Beach.

SANTA ANITA

                Ancient Title – On paper, it seemed like the only horse who could possibly run early with the Bob Baffert-trained 2-5 favorite, The Factor, was the Baffert-trained Irrefutable, and you knew that wasn’t ever going to happen. So it was a shock to see the 45-1 Sirocco Strike battle The Factor through early splits of 21.27 and 43.80, and set this race up to be won with a looping off-the-pace move by the always honest Amazombie. I have no idea where Sirocco Strike came up with that speed. He had never shown anywhere near that kind of zip in his eight prior starts, and he was taking blinkers off, which usually takes a little speed out of horses and allows them to settle. You can debate all day the ethics of using a horse as a public battering ram the way it appears Sirocco Strike was used. All I know is, this was not the kind of race The Factor needed going into the Breeders’ Cup, and it hurts his status.

                Oak Tree Mile – Jockey Martin Garcia, who failed with The Factor, won this race with Jeranimo by stealing a march on the field in upper stretch, quickly opening a clear advantage that the odds-on Mr. Commons couldn’t quite make up. Mr. Commons ran another good race finishing second. But since Jeranimo had lost six straight and is a Grade 2 horse on his best day, it’s hard envisioning this being a meaningful Breeders’ Cup Mile prep.

HAWTHORNE

                Hawthorne Gold Cup – Speaking of races unlikely to have major Breeders’ Cup impact, here’s one. Favored Giant Oak had a wide trip, but he didn’t run well, finishing fifth. Rule just can’t go 10 furlongs and he finished a weary seventh. Headache outstayed the rest to cap a huge couple of days for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Earlier in the day, they won the TCA with Holiday for Kitten, and on Friday, they won Keeneland’s Grade 1 Alcibiades with Stephanie’s Kitten. But if there is a horse out of this race I would want for down the road, it’s Cease. Cease, stepping up off a entry-level allowance win at Saratoga, finished third, beaten a half length, after running hard every step of the way. He’s been a revelation since switching to dirt, but I think next year is when he’ll be best positioned to make some noise.