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Conditions likely to favor Europeans
The Breeders' Cup Future Wager pool this weekend for the features many European-trained horses, and no wonder. European trainers are pleased to have the Cup at Arlington Park this year, as the cool weather that is almost a certainty for the Chicago area on the last weekend of October plays right into their hands.
The good chance of a bit of give in the ground, rain being common in Chicago in the fall, is another factor the Europeans generally welcome.
As the site of the Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat Stakes, Arlington is well known to many European trainers, so the foreign invaders will not be running into anything new on Cup Day. Expect to see a foreign team at Arlington that is just as strong as the one that raced at Belmont last year, when Europeans won three Cup races and narrowly missed a fourth.
Twenty-eight of the 69 horses listed on this weekend's Future Wager are trained in Europe, so it behooves players to get a handle on their ability.
Turf: Sakhee still rates
In spite of not having run in a turf race since winning the Arc last October, Sakhee still rates as the world's best grass horse. But because he hasn't raced since March, questions are being asked about his overall condition. We will know more after his run at Deauville Saturday in the Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Biron, a 1 1/4-mile race for 4-year-olds and up who have not won a Group 1 race this year. If he wins, a bet on him for the Turf would be in order. If he fails, tread very carefully. Scratched from the King George due to the good-to-firm ground, Sakhee may now prefer softer going.
Grandera is another who deserves respect, but his so-so fifth in the King George two weeks ago makes him suspect going 1 1/2 miles. However, there is no doubt that he loves firm ground. Golan and Nayef are two who must be given every consideration, Golan especially. He won the King George off an eight-month layoff and appears to be the most improved 4-year-old in Europe. King George runner-up Nayef will probably forsake 10 furlongs in favor of 12 furlongs from this point on. There is little to choose between the two, except that Golan would make it to Arlington a fresher horse.
Just beneath them come firm-ground specialists Bandari and Zindabad. Bandari's Epsom Derby flop could be attributed to the softish ground, but his big wins in the Lingfield Derby Trial and the Gordon Stakes may have been the result of weak opposition. Zindabad makes a nice dark horse, but he rates a cut below Europe's best 12-furlong types.
The victories of High Chaparral in the Epsom and Irish derbies point him out as the best 3-year-old in the world at the Turf distance, but he does not appear to be as accomplished as Sinndar or Galileo. A prep for the Arc and the Arc itself are next on the dance card for a horse who goes on all surfaces but probably prefers it soft.
His stablemate Hawk Wing was second in the Epsom Derby but has been penciled in for 1 1/4-mile races by trainer Aidan O'Brien. Like many others at Ballydoyle right now, he has been sidelined by a virus but is expected to be fully fit before autumn.
French Derby winner Sulamani looks like value at this stage. Trainer Pascal Bary announced the Turf as Sulamani's ultimate objective immediately after the French Derby. He beat the undefeated Act One and subsequent Grand Prix de Paris winner Khalkevi that day and goes on any kind of ground. The Prix Niel on Sept. 15 will be his Arc prep.
Field players might be buying into Next Desert and Salve Regina, first and second in the German Derby, as well as Italian Derby winner Rakti, purchased by Gary Tanaka for a future American campaign.
Mile: Beware of Keltos
Two European horses stand out in the Mile. Rock of Gibraltar is the name on everyone's lips by dint of his six straight Group 1 triumphs, the last four at a mile. He is fully deserving of his 6-1 morning line favoritism but Keltos is the one to beware. His 132 for winning the Lockinge Stakes is the highest Timeform rating awarded this year. He is expected to use the Prix Jacques le Marois on Aug. 18 and the Prix du Moulin on Sept. 8 as preps for his announced objective, the Mile.
Noverre, seventh in last year's Mile, was soundly beaten by Keltos and Rock of Gibraltar in his last two, so there is little value there. No Excuse Needed is a Group 2 type. The improved Sophisticat is not in Keltos's league. Neither is Bach, but Landseer looks dangerous, if a step behind stablemate Rock of Gibraltar.
Field players would be getting the fast-improving filly Tashawak. The winner of the Group 2 Falmouth Stakes, she could challenge Keltos in the Jacques le Marois.
Filly and Mare Turf: Islington offers value
Banks Hill has been rerouted from 1 1/4-mile Group 1's to the Jacques le Marois. This doesn't mean she will not defend her Filly and Mare Turf title, but she has yet to reproduce her best form this year. It would, however, be dangerous to write her off. Aquarelliste is another who has not quite lived up to her billing. She will use the Prix Foy as her Arc prep but is not certain to be at Arlington as she apparently dislikes left-handed tracks.
Islington is the value play. A firm-ground specialist, she thrashed a good field in the Nassau Stakes and is perfectly suited to 1 1/4 miles. She may go in the 1 1/2-mile Yorkshire Oaks, but the Prix de l'Opera on Oct. 6 could be her Cup prep.
Undefeated English Oaks winner Kazzia may also go in the Yorkshire Oaks, but she is aiming for the 1 3/4-mile St. Leger Stakes on Sept. 14. A cut back to 10 furlongs after that would be asking a lot.
French Oaks winner Bright Sky could be this year's version of Banks Hill, but Quarter Moon always seems to find a way to lose and prefers soft ground. Terre a Terre would be a major threat if she wins a scheduled fall return.
Field players might get Ana Marie, always close to Bright Sky, and Turtle Bow, the winner of five of her last six, including a Group 2 mile and a Group 3 at 1 5/16 miles.