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Friday Breeders' Cup race analysis
Analysis of Friday's Breeders' Cup races by DRF handicappers Byron King, Dave Litfin, Mike Watchmaker, and Mike Welsch.
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT
VENTURA held her own against some of North America's elite turf milers in finishing second in the Woodbine Mile, and is now back with her own gender, racing seven furlongs on a synthetic track. Under similar conditions, she won the Grade 2 Madison at Keeneland in the spring, and she seems a much stronger filly now than she was earlier in the year. INTANGAROO has won three Grade 1 races this year at this distance of seven furlongs - the Santa Monica, the Humana Distaff, and the Ballerina - and yet she looms a mild longshot in part due to not having run better than a 93 Beyer Speed Figure on a synthetic track. That noted, the pace of this race should set up her rally. INDIAN BLESSING has been unstoppable racing seven furlongs or less, but was all out to last in her lone synthetic start when edging Golden Doc A by a head in the Santa Ynez earlier in the year.
VENTURA repeats "turf to synthetic" switch that produced stirring late charge to victory in Madison second time in U.S.; good effort prepping vs. males in Woodbine Mile, beat older males on Polytrack overseas last fall. INTANGAROO has won three Grade 1, seven-furlong races on dirt and synthetic this year, the last two while giving weight; deep closer gets hotly contested pace to come after. INDIAN BLESSING may go favored, but as Bob Baffert would be the first to tell you, it's folly in a race on synthetics to take a short price on 3-year-old fillies based on brilliant efforts on dirt.
INDIAN BLESSING has become a total monster since she focused on sprinting and learned to rate. No member of this field can claim a series of Beyer Speed Figures like her last three of 109, 110, and 110. And while her one attempt on a synthetic track - a narrow win in the Santa Ynez early this year - was not one of her best races, she is a vastly superior performer now. ZAFTIG is the only member of this field to have out-Beyered the pick. She earned a 113 when she whipped Indian Blessing in the Acorn last June. She hasn't raced since, and the pick is better now, but Zaftig is scary despite the layoff. INTANGAROO showed what she can do when she gets a hot pace to rally into when she upset Hystericalady in the Humana Distaff and won the Ballerina. Ventura's last three were very good, and she won't be thrown by the switch from turf to synthetic.
VENTURA has run well on synthetic tracks in the past and couldn't be coming into the race any sharper off a second-place finish against the boys over yielding turf in the Woodbine Mile. Looked good working here last weekend and should get the perfect pace setup turning back to seven furlongs. Figures to get first run over INTANGAROO, who has taken advantage of rapid pace scenarios to win three Grade 1's this season. Has yet to race over Pro-Ride, but is a proven commodity over synthetic surfaces and especially at the seven-furlong distance of the F&M Sprint. INDIAN BLESSING has learned to rate nicely since turning back to sprints this summer in New York and seemed to handle the local track well enough in her most recent work. A worthy favorite, but perhaps worth trying to beat at a price.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
C KARMA won the Grade 3 Natalma in her turf debut, blowing past LARAGH, the likely favorite for this race. Because that victory came over soft turf, the public appears likely to view her win as somewhat phony. Don't make that mistake. This filly is the real deal. Laragh, fifth in the Natalma, freaked in the Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, posting an 89 Beyer over firm ground, easily the best turf figure in the race. Her speed makes her dangerous, but she returns on short rest and could bounce off a career-best performance. BEYOND OUR REACH showed promise in three starts overseas, while twice competing in Group 1 company. She ran into traffic problems in finishing ninth in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket Oct. 3 and can perform better with a clean trip.
CONSEQUENCE impressed when unveiled on good turf at Saratoga, and the recent Miss Grillo off a six-week break served as a good bridge to this main objective; timid vote. LARAGH comes back on short rest after wiring the Jessamine in first try over firm turf and earning a big figure; bounce candidate. C KARMA was game winning Natalma through prolonged drive (as Laragh faded); vastly improved in three starts on Lasix.
With the European contingent in here being as uninspiring as their North American counterparts, I'm taking a shot with SUGAR MOM. Sugar Mom has never run on turf, but she is 3 for 3 since changing barns and moving to synthetic. And the way she has improved on synthetic, culminating with a win last time out in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies, combined with the fact that she is from a mare who was a multiple stakes winner on turf, suggests she can successfully switch to grass. SAUCEY EVENING is dangerous off her very recent California Cup Juvenile Fillies win and the fact that she won at first asking on turf. C KARMA's win in the Natalma got a big boost when Laragh, who caved in that race, came back to romp in the Jessamine. Laragh's front-running win in the Jessamine was a vast improvement, but it will be much harder to wire this field.
CONSEQUENCE ran a big race in defeat when stretching out over yielding turf in the Miss Grillo, and the manner in which she's trained here this week suggests she's capable of moving well forward off that effort, especially over what has been a very firm course. SAUCEY EVENING overcame a slow start and relatively soft pace to post a last-to-first win in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies over Pro-Ride, but obviously is a proven commodity on grass as well. Zipped nicely over the local course with blinkers on earlier in the week. Must secure decent early position from tough outside post. RENDA has never run on grass but worked extremely well around the dogs over the Calder inner earlier this summer and is on top of her game now. Should trip out nicely chasing speedy Laragh. The latter looms an obvious choice if loose on the lead as expected, but must not bounce returning off a big effort on just two weeks' rest.
STARDOM BOUND unleashed powerful stretch rallies to win the Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf Stakes - with the latter victory coming over this Pro-Ride surface. Further aiding her cause, she should receive a hot pace to set up her closing kick. European invader PURSUIT OF GLORY finished third in Group 1 company on turf in the Cheveley Park Stakes, which followed a six-length romp over Polytrack in her preceding start. She has the bloodlines to suggest she should adapt to U.S. racing. SKY DIVA is perfect in two starts, having won in the slop first time out and over a fast track in winning the Frizette at Belmont. She is an unknown at racing over a synthetic track, but has trained over the Tapeta surface at Fair Hill.
SKY DIVA remains unclassified after two starts on fast and wet dirt, but won both starts freakishly and has trained on synthetic at Fair Hill; no telling how good. C.S. SILK improved 17 Beyer points second out, and stepped forward by another eight points wiring the Arlington-Washington Lassie through lickity-split pace; training sharply. DREAM EMPRESS prevailed gamely for maiden win on turf with Lasix added, returned six weeks later with much-best score in Alcibiades on Polytrack; needs to work out a trip from tough post.
STARDOM BOUND showed the same devastating late kick she used two starts back to dominate the one-turn Del Mar Debutante when she romped last time out in the Oak Leaf. And the fact that Stardom Bound won the Oak Leaf at the same distance on the same surface as this race might even be more critical this year in this first Breeders' Cup run on a synthetic track. SKY DIVA had almost as little difficulty crushing a decent field in the Frizette as she did when she humiliated three maidens at Delaware Park in her only other start. She might get first jump on the pick, and should be at home on synthetic as she has trained at Fair Hill. PURSUIT OF GLORY earned a good Racing Post rating when she was a close third most recently in a Group 1 at Newmarket, and she won easily on Polytrack in Ireland before that. Doremidfasollatido can contend off her solid Matron win.
BLACK MAGIC MAMA was no match for STARDOM BOUND in the Oak Leaf but gets a significant switch in posts while eligible to improve off her two-turn debut, when she was hung about six paths wide entering the stretch before flattening out in the final furlong. Worked well for this outing here over the weekend. Should offer some real value behind odds-on Stardom Bound, who is the logical choice after circling field and drawing off to easy win over this surface in the Oak Leaf. DREAM EMPRESS another who should benefit from expected pace scenario with Be Smart, C.S. Silk, and Palacio de Amor likely to knock out some legit fractions. A Grade 1 winner and already proven around two turns.
FILLY AND MARE TURF
MAURALAKANA lacked her customary acceleration over yielding ground in the Flower Bowl, finishing second, but should return to peak form over firm turf. This summer she won the New York Handicap at this distance and the Beverly D. at 1 3/16 miles, and her familiarity with racing this distance gives her an edge over FOREVER TOGETHER, who has never raced farther than 1 1/8 miles. The latter was ultra impressive in winning the First Lady at Keeneland last month, running down a loose-on-the-lead Precious Kitten. Despite being a late runner, she can be effective from behind a fast or slow pace. HALFWAY TO HEAVEN won three Group 1 races overseas this year, including in her lone start at today's distance of 1 1/4 miles in the Nassau Stakes.
There's a question about the distance for FOREVER TOGETHER, but five turf starts make it clear she prefers firm turf, and she's very likely to get that kind of footing after inhaling some nice mares at a mile three weeks ago; besides, when was the last time you saw a filly trained by "Long John" Sheppard come up short? HALFWAY TO HEAVEN has won Group 1 stakes in England and Ireland on firm or "good-to-firm" ground while displaying good tactical speed; has developed a knack for winning close decisions. MAURALAKANA may be "over the top" after a busy spring-summer campaign, followed by a regression in the Flower Bowl off the bench; didn't show much on this course in '07 Yellow Ribbon.
FOREVER TOGETHER has mastered top company lately. She played Precious Kitten's game going a mile last time out in the First Lady and won going away. And three starts back, she produced a final eighth of a mile in close to 11 seconds to get up in the Diana over Dynaforce, who later beat Mauralakana in the Flower Bowl. Her big finish in the Diana tells me Forever Together can be just as effective at this longer distance. MAURALAKANA had her win streak stopped at four in the Flower Bowl, but she didn't like the deep going as much as Dynaforce did, and off footing is not a concern here. HALFWAY TO HEAVEN isn't the strongest European invader this race has ever seen, but she did win three Group 1 races in her last four starts. Wait a While loves this turf course, but she had to work hard in the Yellow Ribbon to deny Vacare, who is not a 10 furlong horse.
WAIT A WHILE surely a horse for the course and couldn't be coming into this race any sharper or training any better than she has here this past week. Should sit well-placed behind speedy trio of Dynaforce, Folk Opera, and Halfway to Heaven. May have to outkick MAURALAKANA, who also appears to be coming up to this race at her best if her efforts during training hours here the past few days are any indication. Had four-race win streak snapped over a yielding course at Belmont. Distance no obstacle. Looking for her to rebound from that last setback with a huge performance. SEALY HILL exits the best race of her life, this distance, in the E.P. Taylor when she missed by less than two lengths behind wire-to-wire winner Folk Opera. Appears to have maintained her good form since arriving locally. Will offer some value in this spot.
MUSIC NOTE is 4 for 5 this year as a 3-year-old, with her lone defeat being a head loss to Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell in the Alabama. She has yet to face older mares or race over a synthetic track - inexperience that will fatten her price, particularly with the public pounding the unbeaten ZENYATTA. Music Note is bred to like a synthetic track, being by a high-class all-weather sire in A.P. Indy. Zenyatta has yet to lose in eight starts, and is proven over the Pro-Ride surface, having won the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita Sept. 27 in a gallop. She is brilliant but chalky. GINGER PUNCH, the defending champion, has done the bulk of her running on dirt, but performed well over Polytrack at Keeneland in two starts earlier in her career. She won an allowance race there two years ago by 6 1/2 lengths and was second in the Grade 2 Madison at Keeneland when returning from a layoff and making her stakes debut.
CARRIAGE TRAIL wouldn't exactly be the first Distaff (ahem, Ladies Classic) winner for Shug McGaughey, and clearly moves up on synthetics - at least that has been the case at Keeneland; sharp now, will be square price. ZENYATTA needs no introduction at 8 for 8, but lone start at 1 1/8 miles resulted in less-than-stellar Beyer fig, and the long-striding filly has a big target on her back from the inside; no cinch at odds-on. COCOA BEACH was impressive getting the best of defending champ Ginger Punch at level weights in Beldame; 8 for 9 vs. her own sex, the lone defeat in Dubai when poorly positioned off a long layoff.
The undefeated ZENYATTA is the most likely winner from all of this year's Breeders' Cup races. Her domination of Hystericalady last time out in the Lady's Secret was an absolutely brilliant performance. Hystericalady, a first-rate mare herself, was at the top of her game and in complete control of a soft pace, and Zenyatta still had her for lunch. The fact that this outing came over the track only makes Zenyatta look ever more difficult to beat. MUSIC NOTE might be coming out of short fields in New York, but she is only Proud Spell's head in the Alabama away from being the undisputed top 3-year-old filly in the country. GINGER PUNCH was no match for Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom. But she is an honorable champion and will be able to sit her preferred stalking trip. If Hystericalady couldn't give Zenyatta a fight in the Lady's Secret, she never will.
ZENYATTA's race to lose. Has done nothing wrong during her amazing career and seems to be improving with every start. Need only repeat her last pair to remain perfect. Looking at the bin Suroor pair to have the best chance of springing the upset. COCOA BEACH couldn't have looked any sharper training over the surface this weekend and is another who seems to be peaking at the right time. Lone loss at the distance came against males. MUSIC NOTE has been dominant against her own age group but for a slight glitch going 10 furlongs in the Alabama, and has also made a good appearance in the morning here during the past week.