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Mike Watchmaker: 2011 Breeders' Cup analysis
Breeders' Cup Friday
SECRET CIRCLE romped in his first two starts, earning Beyer Figures that make him the fastest in this race. Moreover, his victory last time out in the Jack Goodman was enlightening because it came on dirt, and it proved that he doesn’t need the early lead to be effective; likely winner at a short price. BLACKY THE BULL comes off only a maiden victory, but he received a Beyer that is competitive with the rest of this field, and showed he can close, an asset in a field with several horses who like to be on or near the pace. SUM OF THE PARTS turned in his best race since his big fig maiden win over the track last spring when second last time out; seems set for a peak effort. I’m not crazy about the crew coming out of the Nashua, but at least Nashua winner VEXOR showed that he’s not a need-the-lead type.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
STOPSHOPPINGMARIA was no match for My Miss Aurelia when second in the Frizette, but My Miss Aurelia enters this Breeders’ Cup as the best 2-year-old filly in the nation. Stopshoppingmaria is the only one in this field who has already earned a triple-digit Beyer, having done so in a romp two back. And while it is true that this Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of More Than Ready has not yet raced on turf, it should be noted that Pletcher won this race last year with a daughter of More Than Ready, More Than Real. ELUSIVE KATE is looking for her fifth straight win, and is the one to beat off her dominant Group 1 score most recently. SOMALI LEMONADE impressed winning the Jessamine in good time and is logical, but drew poorly. STEPHANIE’S KITTEN was beaten in the Natalma by two others in here, but she’s a better filly now off her strong Alcibiades victory last out.
SWITCH is approaching this race differently than she did when second in it last year. This time, she got a sprint tightener beforehand in the TCA stakes, in which she ran well finishing a close third even if she was the beaten favorite. I like that Switch was sprint-sharpened, and now stretches out to a good distance for her. TANDA has shown signs of regaining top form, and note that in her only career dirt start in last year’s Acorn, she was tons the best finishing third after a terrible trip, and racing against an inside bias; chance at a price. TURBULENT DESCENT dominated the Test, and was flattered when the runner up came back to wallop older females in a Grade 2 stakes. But while the three month layoff for Turbulent Descent was by design, I’m uncomfortable with it. MUSICAL ROMANCE ran well on synthetic recently and now moves back to dirt, which she is even better on.
MY MISS AURELIA proved she has courage when she won the Adirondack two starts back after being under pressure every step of the way, and showed she can dominate when she won the Frizette last time out in a knockout performance, running faster than the highly regarded Union Rags did winning the Champagne one race later. This will be My Miss Aurelia’s first start around two turns, but it shouldn’t be a problem as she is bred for it. GRACE HALL won the Spinaway two back, proving her quality, and then cruised in a soft two turn prep for this last time; the main danger. QUESTING’S three starts in England were all good. What makes her intriguing here is that she ran that well with a pedigree that is decidedly American, and dirt, oriented. WEEMISSFRANKIE handled dirt winning the Oak Leaf, the only major two turn prep for this, and should not be overlooked.
Off decisive victories in the Beverly D. and Flower Bowl, STACELITA is clearly the best grass mare in the U. S. right now. She does face some very capable European competition here, but wasn’t long ago that she was based in Europe, and her back Euro form is better than the more current Euro form of her main rivals. And while Stacelita did finish behind Announce at Longchamp in June, Stacelita was coming off a six month layoff that day. MISTY FOR ME might have needed her last after a brief freshening and would be a handful if able to run back to her huge score over the top class Midday two starts back. NAHRAIN AND ANNOUNCE were only a nose apart in a Group 1 most recently, but Nahrain had a big trouble line in that race, and with just four career starts, she has the higher ceiling of the two.
ROYAL DELTA was not disgraced losing to Havre de Grace in the Beldame, a race that for her was really a prep for this, anyway. Royal Delta stretches back out to two turns, at which she does her best work, and should get a lively pace to stalk from mid-range. ULTRA BLEND was aided by a hot pace when a sharp second in the Lady’s Secret, but she’ll get a good pace set up again here, and she always fires. I sense that IT’S TRICKY, a soundly beaten second in her last two, has tailed off from her peak form, but she’s going to sit a nice trip here just off a pace battle and should be in the mix. PLUM PRETTY, winner of the Kentucky Oaks over this track, was explosive winning the Cotillion most recently. But some think she was helped there by a speed bias, and she’s subject to pace pressure here from Ask the Moon.
Breeders' Cup Saturday
CEASE has been a revelation since switching to dirt, and though the Hawthorne Gold Cup he comes out of wasn’t the strongest Breeders’ Cup prep of the year, he ran very well finishing a close third considering he had previously won only an entry-level allowance race. We have seen the best of what everyone else in this race can do, but Cease still has lots of room for improvement, and seems the type who will run all day. BRIGANTIN has only raced on turf, but was third in two even longer Group 1 races this year in Europe, where the quality of marathon racing just has to be better than ours. A. U. MINER was going well at the finish when fifth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup off a 2 1-2 month layoff and should be tighter this time; obvious. BIRDRUN finished sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup off the same layoff and can also improve.
FARRAAJ has yet to finish worse than second, including a good try in his group stakes debut last time out at Newmarket. He appears to be effective from anywhere on the track, and what I find intriguing is how well bet he’s been in every start. That, in fact, was the deciding factor in a race where I wanted to go with a Euro shipper. CASPAR NETSCHER has already had more starts at 2 (nine) than many Europeans have in a lifetime, but he was beaten only a length in a 16 horse Group 1 last time. STATE OF PLAY’S victory in the With Anticipation in his most recent start got a big boost when Dullahan, the third place finisher, came back to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. But that win was two months ago, and he drew an awful outside post. WROTE was an okay third in his group stakes debut last time; can certainly improve.
APRIORITY’S poor finish last time out in the Vosburgh is best ignored as he was compromised by early trouble and a speed favoring track. And he might have been short off a three month layoff in his loss two back. Apriority’s form before that was very good, and he could sit a perfect trip here stalking a pace disputed by Big Drama, Euroears, and Giant Ryan; taken to upset. BIG DRAMA won this race last year en route to a divisional championship, but his campaign this year has been strange: disappearing for eight months after an incredible performance, returning with only a workman-like win, and then missing his final prep due to illness; too many questions for my liking. JACKSON BEND wants more distance, which is why it was a shock he didn’t go in the Dirt Mile; in tremendous form, however. AMAZOMBIE was perfectly set up in the Ancient Title, but could get another favorable set up here.
CARACORTADO is not a five furlong horse. He prefers more distance than what he gets in this race. But what Caracortado is, is a legitimate Grade 1 performer – he has come within a couple of feet of winning two of them in his career – and the same cannot be said for any other member of this field. He has a powerful late kick on turf, and a lively early pace here could set the stage for him getting up in time. HAVELOCK has won stakes in his last three turf sprint starts, and his score in the Woodford last time out was his best effort yet. CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE won this race last year, and an improved third in his most recent start suggests he is approaching top form again; dangerous. CAMP VICTORY flopped at odds-on in the Morvich, but he can rebound given his excellent prior form on both the main track and grass.
In a race that came up a little softer than expected, WILBURN is the pick. Granted, Wilburn got a sweet rail trip when he won the Indiana Derby most recently, but he’s a rapidly improving 3-year-old who is looking for his fourth straight score, and he might get another great trip here stalking a hot pace. TRAPPE SHOT was compromised by a speed bias in the Vosburgh last time out. He earned big Beyers prior to that, albeit against questionable company, but he also could get a good off-the-pace trip here. I didn’t like the way THE FACTOR caved at 2-5 after an early speed duel in the Ancient Title last time, and while he is a better horse than that, he might get hooked early by Tapizar this time. CALEB’S POSSE stretched back out unsuccessfully in the Indiana Derby, but his two sprint outings before that were top notch; might well be a natural one-turn miler.
SEA MOON might not sport the flashiest Euro lines here, but what he does have over some of the more well-established European invaders is a higher upside. Sea Moon was making only the fifth start of his career when third as the favorite in the St. Leger most recently, a race in which he has a big trouble line, and showed great potential winning his first two starts this year. It was a minor surprise that MIDDAY, winner of the 2009 F&M Turf and a narrowly beaten second in that race last year, opted for this event. Then again, she has made three starts this year against males and has proven very competitive against them. Being competitive against males is also no issue for SARAFINA, whose form prior to a disappointing run in the Arc was stellar; will be formidable if she hasn’t lost her edge. ST NICHOLAS ABBEY beat Midday last June and is not out of this.
UNION RAGS was miles the best winning stakes in his last two, and no other member of this field has earned a pair of Beyers that equal the two he received in those romps. It is true that this will be his first start around two turns, but his pedigree and versatility in terms of running style suggest a route will be no problem. DRILL was no match for Creative Cause at odds on in the Norfolk, but a projected livelier pace this time will be to his benefit. CREATIVE CAUSE was clearly best in the Norfolk even if he had an easy trip prompting a slow pace. The pace will be stronger this time, but Creative Cause can still be effective coming from a little farther back. DULLAHAN got his maiden win in the Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack, and is better now than when he tried dirt at the start of his career; stretch threat.
BYWORD’S overall form this year might seem notch below Goldikova’s, and maybe also Strong Suit’s. But he is in season-best form at this time, having beaten the subsequent Group 1 Champion Stakes winner in his most recent start. Byword was a Group 1 winner last year, when he also ran Goldikova to a close decision; taken to upset. Truth be told, I am pulling for GOLDIKOVA to win this race for a fourth straight year because it’s unimaginable to me that another horse will ever approach such a Breeders’ Cup feat. Goldikova does seem to have lost a step, but even if she has, she could still simply be much the best. GIO PONTI was second to Goldikova in this last year and repeats the same prep pattern this year; might have also lost a step, though. STRONG SUIT is another sharp Euro shipper, but a mile might be just outside his best distance range.
FLAT OUT’S two big wins this year – the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban – did come at Belmont Park, but he is much more than a one track horse. He ran well finishing second in the Woodward and Whitney at Saratoga, and even his sixth on the dead rail in the Foster on this track was okay. Flat Out was beaten by Havre de Grace in the Woodward, but the additional furlong could be the equalizer. SO YOU THINK proved to be top class pretty much everywhere in the world, except here. He will be formidable if he handles dirt, which his connections believe he will. HAVRE DE GRACE, outstanding all year, already proved she can beat males when she won the Woodward; tough to take a strong stand against. UNCLE MO is brilliant, but is also a huge question mark at this distance. Moreover, Game On Dude and To Honor and Serve won’t let him get loose early.
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