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Dave Litfin: 2011 Breeders' Cup analysis
By Dave Litfin
Breeders' Cup Friday
SECRET CIRCLE sold for 33 times Eddington’s stud fee in March, and it’s easy to see why after a pair of blowout wins on dirt and synthetic with standout 97 Beyer Figures; hard to go past in the inaugural running. SEEKER is the only other entrant with a competitive figure, although it was earned with a loose lead in the slop and is sandwiched by a pair of lesser efforts; might have to gun from the rail into a pace dispute with TRINNIBERG and the hard-to-gauge HOLDIN BULLETS. VEXOR could trip out nicely from outside, as he did wearing down Trinniberg in the Nashua.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
ELUSIVE KATE has won four in a row overseas with steadily improving Racing Post Ratings, while showing versatility in terms of placement during the running; filly she beat at Longchamp last out was second in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud in her prior start. DEAR LAVINIA was purchased after her recent win by Bobby Flay, who won this race last year with newly-acquired More Than Real; stock rose when French Fifteen, who beat her two back, garnered a Group 1 victory last Sunday. STEPHANIE’S KITTEN packs a strong kick and is improving with every start; along with DAYATTHESPA, she comes out of the Natalma, as did More Than Real. SOMALI LEMONADE must work out a trip from brutal post, but has experience with big fields.
FILLY & MARE SPRINT
TURBULENT DESCENT has run on dirt four times, each race faster than the preceding one, capped by a comprehensive score in the Test – her third win from as many starts at seven furlongs; the main concern is the three-month layoff. SWITCH was making up ground late vs. MUSICAL ROMANCE in prep for this; dual Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs finished a clear second in this race a year ago, almost always gets a share. TANDA has had only one dirt race, that being a horror trip when probably best in the Acorn Stakes as a 3-year-old; consistent filly has trained well since the Sen. Ken Maddy, trainer 37% turf to dirt. GOLDEN MYSTERY is 2 for 2 off a trainer change, earning peak figures; may grab the lead at a price.
CANDREA won her first two starts in promising fashion, including two-turn stake going seven furlongs at Fairplex, then won a pace battle but was run down late in the Oak Leaf by WEEMISSFRANKIE; $340k March purchase came out of that race to post some sharp works, and got the more favorable post draw for the rematch. MY MISS AURELIA showed gameness under fire when pinned on rail through long stretch drive in Adirondack, then controlled the pace taking Frizette as much the best; undefeated filly is fastest of these so far. GRACE HALL capitalized on an anti-speed track in the Spinaway; comes up to this nicely after getting easy route prep at her home base. NORTHERN PASSION must’ve shown something on dirt to have fetched $220k at Ocala sale; nice late run to beat 11 rivals when stretched out in Natalma.
FILLY & MARE TURF
NAHRAIN lacked room repeatedly, found room and quickened to the lead, held off ANNOUNCE and then survived an inquiry to remain unbeaten in the Prix de l’Opera – a remarkable performance considering it was just her fourth start and first in top-class company; first-time Lasix. Announce has won or placed all starts except for two on soft ground; Juddmonte homebred makes first start outside of France, consistent and classy filly holds a decision over STACELITA. The latter handled DUBAWAI HEIGHTS with a perfect trip in the Beverly D, and was arguably more impressive when wide every step in the Flower Bowl – although runner-up DISTORTED LEGACY has never won on turf, and third finisher DYNASLEW hasn’t won in over a year. MISTY FOR ME is a multiple Group 1 winner including lengthy triumph in June over Midday, who won this race in 2009 and will run in the Turf on Saturday.
ROYAL DELTA was using the Beldame as a bridge to this race, in much the same way she used the Coaching Club American Oaks as a steppingstone to her impressive victory over PLUM PRETTY and IT’S TRICKY in the Alabama, in which she drew off despite losing focus briefly in midstretch; get the feeling her best is yet to come. Plum Pretty has the benefit of winning experience on a big-race day at Churchill in the Ky. Oaks, and comes off a Cotillion blowout in stakes-record time; the key will be how much pace pressure she gets from It’s Tricky and especially ASK THE MOON, who may simply be a Saratoga horse for course. PACHATTACK held stubbornly for second in the Personal Ensign while making her first start on dirt; good effort from tough post in the Spinster.
Breeders' Cup Saturday
BIRDRUN was never going to beat Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but did a good job of pressing the pace for his entrymate, while at the same time receiving an ideal prep for his main objective this fall; may control the pace in much the same way he did in wiring the Brooklyn. CEASE nearly parlayed maiden and first-level allowance wins during the second half of Saratoga into a Grade 2 score in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, in which he held on determinedly after a long drive; wet track a major plus. ELDAAFER won this race last year; although no match for Birdrun in the Brooklyn, he may be coming back to his best form if last week’s bullet work is a reliable indicator.
It may be a case of that’s all she WROTE for this field if this European invader keeps improving, as he has each time out in Ireland and England according to the Racing Post Ratings; first-time Lasix after a less-than-ideal trip in the Royal Lodge Stakes. FARRAJ figures very close with the top pick after finishing no worse than second in four races overseas, the last three coming in a span of less than four weeks; been solidly backed from the outset. FANTASTIC SONG trailed early after tucking in from post 10, then unleashed a strong late run to nail subsequent Bourbon Staes winner ANIMAL SPIRITS in debut; wide all the way on a boggy course as the favorite in the Pilgrim, exceptional turf family on the dam’s side. MAJESTIC CITY owns all the best figures, albeit on synthetic tracks and primarily in sprints; Oct. 22 turf bullet begs attention.
After being inactive for most of the year since a 120 Beyer in the Mr. Prospector, with the exception of what was essentially a public workout at Calder two months ago, it’s difficult to say what BIG DRAMA will do in defense of his title; there is precedent for something like this, however, as Midnight Lute’s only 2008 start prior to his second straight Sprint win was an off-the-board finish in the Pat O’Brien. EUROEARS needs to be involved early, so his wipeout at the break of the Vosburgh is a complete toss; has his work cut out for him with GIANT RYAN, who out-broke him in the Vosburgh, drawn right outside. AMAZOMBIE is the rare horse that wins on turf, dirt and synthetic; Ancient Title winner is a photo finish away from being unbeaten on dirt.
REGALLY READY returned to form wiring the Nearctic over favored Euro Bated Breath, and now returns to a Churchill course over which he has won both previous starts with triple-digit Beyers; can set or stalk the pace as the situation warrants. HAVELOCK has won his last four turf sprints, including a couple at the expense of COUNTRY DAY, and probably wants firm ground for his best chance; huge late run to get past PERFECT OFFICER in the Woodford. CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE is marooned out in post 14, but the defending champ loves this course, and has trained well since a fast finish for third in the Turf Monster –a race he won from post 11 in 2009, and won again last year. CARACORTADO was re-routed to this a few weeks ago; Del Mar Mile winner classes up, but question is whether he has enough real estate to work with here.
CALEB’S POSSE was a flat third behind WILBURN and SHACKLEFORD in the Indiana Derby at 1 1/16 miles, but that effort looks very much like his Iowa Derby, after which he turned back for victories in the Amsterdam and King’s Bishop with potent late runs; taken to rebound with a switch back to Rajiv Maragh. TRAPPE SHOT was able to run 105 Beyers at seven furlongs and 1 1/1/6 miles in back-to-back starts at 3, so a one-turn mile may suit him nicely; best race this year was True North stalking a comparatively moderate pace and finishing strongly – the type of situation he may get here after chasing 44-and-change splits recently. JERSEY TOWN is the lone graded stakes winner at a mile, and his only try at that distance since last fall’s Cigar Mile came on a sealed muddy track; very dangerous at a big price.
SEA MOON was hemmed in along the rail repeatedly in the St. Leger, and finished strongly when some running room finally materialized way too late; Juddmonte homebred earned a big Racing Post Rating for Voltigeur Stakes romp, first-time Lasix. SARAFINA and ST NICOLAS ABBEY have consistently earned virtually identical ratings overseas in top company, and were just a half-length apart in the Arc de Triomphe most recently; they are must-uses in exotics, in a race that should be dominated by the foreign contingent. MIDDAY was a neck away from a second straight F&M Turf win last year, and has had another solid campaign in Europe this season, including runner-up finishes to St Nicolas Abbey and stablemate Twice Over, a $3.7 million earner.
UNION RAGS withstood an intense multi-horse pace battle from the rail in the Saratoga Special, swerving out greenly (likely eyeing a bright infield matrix board on a dark and gloomy day) but then righting himself with a strong finish; had to stop and start repeatedly in the Champagne, before striding away powerfully. DRILL showed high promise winning two close decisions at Del Mar, the second despite being bumped and rider losing whip; didn’t get much pace to run at when unable to catch CREATIVE CAUSE at 3-5 in the Norfolk, but there’s a lot more speed in this match-up, and blinkers off (45%) is a huge winningg angle for Bob Baffert. TAKE CHARGE LADY is among a large handful never to have raced on dirt, but the A. P. Indy colt should like it, as his sire was a Horse of the Year, and his dam earned $2.4 million on it.
Already an immortal, GOLDIKOVA has won three straight renewals of the Mile, the last two from posts 10 & 11, and she ought to be in line for a ground-saving trip from the rail this time; while she has lost three of five starts this year, her Racing Post Ratings have been in the mid-120s for the most part, just as they have been every year since 2008. BYWORD came within a half-length of beating Goldikova in the 2010 Prix d’Ispahan; for whatever reason, he didn’t run his race when fifth behind that mare in the same race this year, but he bounced back to win three weeks later, and won his prep for this despite trouble at Lonchamp. GIO PONTI and COURAGEOUS CAT, second to the top pick in the last two Miles, are clearly the best of the U.S. challengers, unless JERANIMO and/or MR. COMMONS can prove the Oak Tree Mile figure wasn’t a fluke.
FLAT OUT was beaten fair and square by HAVRE DE GRACE in the Woodward, but it’s exceedingly difficult for horses with his late-running style to win 1 1/8-mile stakes at Saratoga unless a pace meltdown occurs, and the fractions that day were not inordinately fast. Flat Out and Havre de Grace both came back to post impressive victories in the mud on Gold Cup Day, but with more ground to work with, and coming off some outstanding training over the Churchill strip, Flat Out is taken to reverse the decision. TO HONOR AND SERVE took a while to come back to form this year, but did so in a big way when stretched back out for his last two races, including Pa. Derby win by measured margin over Belmont Stakes winner RULER ON ICE and Travers runner-up RATTLESNAKE BRIDGE; after slightly surpassing his juvenile top Beyer from the Remsen, he may be sitting on a breakthrough performance. UNCLE MO is a brilliant talent, but has only been as far as 1 1/8 miles once, and enjoyed easy leads in both wins at 3, in front as far as he goes.
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