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Breeders' Cup Clocker: Union Rags, Goldikova look ready to run big
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There were Breeders’ Cup towels everywhere on the racetrack Thursday at Churchill Downs, not surprising with the first of the two Cup cards little more than 24 hours away. Unfortunately, rain began falling shortly before 9:30 a.m., closing the turf course and forcing the connections of nearly a dozen Breeders’ Cup runners to call an unexpected audible most notably Sea Moon (Turf), who was scheduled to work six furlongs on the grass.
Activity was pretty much limited to routine gallops, although there were some blowouts down the lane, including Amazombie, who went three-eighths in 39 seconds for the Sprint, Questing (Juvenile Fillies), and Perfect Shirl (Filly and Mare Turf). Among the horses making the most favorable impressions were Uncle Mo, Finale, Creative Cause, Union Rags, Alpha, Goldikova, Gio Ponti, Turallure, Drosselmeyer, Somali Lemonade, Announce, Ask the Moon, and Plum Pretty.
The following are my impressions of some of the horses I have been able to watch train over the past 12 days in preparation for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card.
Birdrun was overshadowed a bit by stablemate Drosselmeyer when the pair worked in company last Saturday but is doing well in his own right and may prove the one to catch breaking from the rail.
Pleasant Prince still has me in shock from watching him work three-eighths in 33.09 over Keeneland’s Polytrack. Has never raced beyond 1 1/4 miles.
Cease worked a very easy half on Monday but has looked good during routine morning gallops and has come a long way in a short time since winning his maiden here in July. Another who must answer the distance question.
Eldaafer has done little more than gallop since arriving from Monmouth Park off a bullet work. Must respect the defending champ.
A. U. Miner has had some good mornings and some not-so-good mornings this week. Distance not the issue but getting mixed signals here.
Fantastic Song: Like all of trainer Chad Brown’s Breeders’ Cup runners, he has made a very good appearance during morning gallops since arriving from New York but might not like the turf course if it has too much give in it.
Shkspeare Shaliyah has been a handful in the mornings and while his one local work over the course was slow it was also deceivingly good as the Pilgrim winner flew home his final quarter in 23.25 seconds under little encouragement before galloping out strongly into the turn.
Coalport did not finish or gallop out particularly well when urged down the stretch over the turf in his final prep on Sunday.
Finale is a big, black beast of a 2-year-old, who rivals Union Rags in the looks department among juveniles competing here this week. Worked in company and held his own with Grade 1-winning stablemate Sidney’s Candy over local turf last weekend but must overcome very difficult post.
Euroears: I only saw his works on video but what I saw was extremely impressive and he seems to have bounced out of those lightning-fast drills well from the appearance he has made following his arrival from the West Coast.
Giant Ryan had me expecting to see something a little sharper than his easy 48.76 half-mile work 10 days out from the race and he has been a little lackluster in recent gallops, but he does know one thing and that’s how to win.
Aikenite went fast but struggled a bit to keep pace with allowance filly Shared Heart, who finished about a neck the best both at the wire and the end of gallop out when the pair worked in company over the weekend.
Jackson Bend has done little more than gallop since arriving from Saratoga but nothing to knock from what I have seen this week. A major player in his current form.
Force Freeze: Ditto the comment on Jackson Bend. I haven’t seen much of him but do respect his chances immensely at an even bigger price.
Amazombie blew out willingly enough on Thursday. Another key player in wide-open mix.
Big Drama, the defending Sprint champ, has improved with each successive work over the past month,. His easy half-mile maintenance drill with strong gallop out here on Oct. 31 was visually more impressive than that five-eighths bullet at Calder nine days earlier.
Apriority has been overshadowed by Big Drama but doing very nicely in his own right since shipping up from Calder. Not a particularly strong work horse and no match for Big Drama when the pair breezed in company on Oct. 22.
Grand Adventure finished strong (23.32 final quarter) without need of urging in final prep over the local course.
Holiday for Kitten looked better in her next-to-last prep over Keeneland turf than in her final local drill but is perfect over the local course.
Broken Dreams blew out a fast three furlongs on the grass but was under pressure to finish on Wednesday.
Great Attack was not real sharp in either of his last two grass works, both here and at Keeneland one week earlier.
Regally Ready: This turf specialist had his final maintenance prep on the dirt, finishing with interest without need of encouragement. Perfect over the course, looks ready for another big one.
Rapport was rank early and appeared to bobble a time or two but did finish nicely enough when testing the turf prepping for her grass debut.
Havelock looked good for a grass horse working on the dirt in nothing more than an easy maintenance run on Oct. 30.
Country Day looked okay zipping through a final quarter in 23.14 while posting a bullet drill over the grass on Oct. 30 although he didn’t gallop out as strong as some of the others who breezed over the course that same morning.
Chamberlain Bridge, the defending Turf Sprint champ, gave every indication he’s the one to beat again following an eye- catching drill on Oct. 29 in which he flew down the lane in 22.69 while never asked by his rider, stretching out beautifully over what was still a somewhat boggy course at the time. Just a question of whether he can overcome a terrible post.
The Factor: I haven’t had much opportunity to see him here but his last work from Santa Anita appeared pretty special on tape. May not look back if allowed to relax long enough on the lead.
Shackleford has improved tremendously over the past week, following a fast and very sharp five-furlong work last weekend with several powerful gallops. Breaking from between a pair of speedsters, he will likely have to prove his ability to rate and win from off the pace.
Tapizar pulled hard wanting to show his abundant speed during his final maintenance work. Decision of whether to go early or take back off The Factor will be key to the ultimate outcome of this event.
Wilburn went along effortlessly in little more than an open gallop during his final blowout for the Dirt Mile. An improving 3-year-old who gives every indication he’s maintaining his top form.
Irrefutable worked fast but under a fair amount of pressure through the final furlong here last weekend while also switching back to his left lead nearing the wire.
Caleb’s Posse was under a bit of encouragement to finish up blowing out a half on Oct. 30, did not gallop out as strong as expected but demands respect if the pace gets too hot.
Trappe Shot did all his major work for this at Belmont Park and since arriving from New York has galloped in front wraps, which may not be significant. His best probably beats these but he is a question mark at the distance.
Sarafina broke away from the pack, did her own thing on Thursday when open galloping for the second consecutive morning and appears in good form for her U.S. debut.
Sea Moon broke out of the gate, pulled up quickly, and then had a scheduled six-furlong turf work aborted after the turf course was shut down by rain on Thursday, which probably won’t help the cause considering he has not started in 11 weeks.
Midday is a smallish mare who has not made a great visible impression before either of her previous Breeders’ Cup appearances yet owns a win and a second in the Filly and Mare Turf. She really hasn’t looked any different this week and facing a trifle tougher task the third time around.
Take Charge Indy is perfect over artificial surfaces but looked good working three-eighths in 35.20 while hugging the rail like a veteran in the second of two local drills over dirt. Might just prove even better on the main.
Dullahan turned in just an average work over the main track while leaning in slightly nearing the wire and gives the impression, considering his action, that he might be better suited to turf.
Hansen has done all his major preparations at the training center but displayed a high level of energy during a couple of very appealing gallops since shipping over to the big track earlier this week.
Prospective ran away from an overmatched partner albeit under a strong hand ride through the final furlong of his last work and has consistently made a favorable appearance throughout the past week.
Creative Cause: I didn’t get my first real look at this colt until Thursday and he gave a very positive initial impression galloping strong and appearing to be very happy over the local surface.
Alpha is a lightly raced but well-bred colt who seems to be doing well since shipping in from New York on Tuesday but must break better than in the Champagne.
Union Rags is a powerful-looking colt who has shown the maturity of an older horse in his three previous starts. Undefeated youngster couldn’t be doing any better, it’s his race to lose.
Fort Loudon, the king of south Florida, doesn’t seem to have the numbers to compete with most of these but he has trained as well as anybody this week.
Optimizer remained on his left lead blowing out a quarter-mile down the stretch on Tuesday and does not move quite as smooth as many of the others during routine morning gallops.
Goldikova has displayed a higher energy level this week than in the days leading up to her three previous Cup wins, if memory serves, which is not good news for the others. She was particularly sharp open galloping over the main track on Thursday. Bet against at your own risk.
Courageous Cat is undoubtedly one of the lookers of this year’s Breeders’ Cup during his morning gallops. His final work over the grass was just average at best but overall he is hard to knock from what I have seen during the past two weeks.
Gio Ponti got to really stretch his legs over the local strip for the first time on Thursday and looked great, far better in my opinion than in the days leading up to his second-place finish in the 2010 Mile.
Court Vision was hard used through the stretch of a fast 1:01.70 move over the turf course on Monday, getting several cracks of the whip to finish but was unable to sustain that same momentum galloping out into the turn.
Sidney’s Candy has always been a very good work horse and did receive the bullet for his 49.82 half over the turf on Sunday but was unable to pull away from 2-year-old workmate Finale albeit while going in hand.
Turallure, a vastly improved colt, was extremely impressive over the Keeneland turf on Oct. 24, completing his final quarter- mile around the dogs in 22.93 despite beginning the five-furlong drill at a rapid pace. Galloped out strong, bounced back with some nice gallops over the main track at Churchill Downs but must overcome a bad post.
Flat Out has worked as well as anybody coming into the Cup. Jockey Club Gold Cup winner was simply fabulous working a bullet half in 46 and change on his own last Saturday before turning in a super gallop out reminiscent of Street Sense less than a week prior to winning the 2007 Derby.
Drosselmeyer couldn’t have had a better two weeks leading up to the Cup, capped off with a near-perfect five-furlong work in company with Birdrun on Saturday. He subsequently bounced out of that drill with another series of huge gallops and may offer the best value in the main event.
Ruler On Ice: Hard to fault from the little I have seen of him during a series of gallops this week in company with stablemate Nacho Friend.
Rattlesnake Bridge does not appear as comfortable over the local strip as some of the others in this field but there’s little doubt where you will find him during the race with Calvin Borel aboard.
Game On Dude has turned in a couple of average looking gallops since his arrival from the West Coast with his pace presence a big key to the Classic.
Stay Thirsty has really improved as the week progressed. Travers winner worked a strong five furlongs on Sunday and bounced right back with a couple of terrific looking gallops.
Havre de Grace: I would rate her final two works, both here and at Keeneland, average at best and the distance remains a bit of a question mark although I do have tremendous respect for her connections.
Uncle Mo was somewhat lackluster, compared to his lofty standards, in his lone local work as he just didn’t seem to have the same pop at the end that I saw this past summer at Saratoga, although the drill did take place over a racetrack that was on the loose side at the time. He rebounded with a couple of powerful, immensely impressive gallops on Wednesday and Thursday indicating he should bring his “A” game into the race, although his ability to stay 10 furlongs in this company remains the key issue.
To Honor and Serve has been on the muscle for the entire two weeks I have been here and he was hitting on all cylinders in his final work. Expect his best yet on Saturday.