10/16/2016 10:58AM

Watchmaker: Great talent ready to step in for Tepin and Lady Eli


Tepin is tremendous, and Lady Eli is sensational, but neither will remain on the racetrack forever. Tepin will be 6 next year, and Lady Eli is scheduled to be sold at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale (along with Stellar Wind, to mention another notable), so who knows what the future might hold?

The good news is that lots of talent is coming up. That was evident in the group of 3-year-old fillies in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. Heck, if you want to take a long-term view, you could even find solace in the impressive score by the 2-year-old grass filly La Coronel last Wednesday in Keeneland’s Jessamine Stakes.

Before the QE II was even run, Time and Motion had made a compelling case to be the ranking 3-year-old turf filly in the country with her victory over Catch a Glimpse in the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga. Until the Lake Placid, Catch a Glimpse was the top turf female of her generation off her 8 for 8 record on grass, which included important wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Penn Mile over males, and the Belmont Oaks.

But Time and Motion was just plain better than Catch a Glimpse in the Lake Placid, overcoming her rival’s enormous tactical pace advantage to prevail officially by a neck, a margin that did not do her performance justice.

Time and Motion didn’t win the QE II by a lot, either – she was but a head the best in a three-way photo – but again, this was a margin that didn’t entirely reflect her actual performance.

You could see countless stretch duels over the course of decades and learn enough from them to know that when Time and Motion and Hawksmoor, the lone European invader in the QE II, hooked up in deep stretch, it never REALLY looked like Time and Motion was going to get there. You know what I mean: You see enough stretch battles, you get to know before the wire comes the look of the horse who will win.

For me, Time and Motion never had THAT look through the stretch Saturday in her battle with Hawksmoor, and that doesn’t even address the late threat she faced from Harmonize’s last-seconds charge from the outside. So Time and Motion somehow finding a way to get her head down first speaks volumes about her sheer will to win, which is a most appealing characteristic when coupled with her obvious ability.

But Harmonize and Hawksmoor deserve high marks, too. Harmonize, whom I always considered to be no worse than the third- or fourth-best 3-year-old turf filly in the country, came within inches of snaring a second straight Grade 1 victory in the QE II. In her last start, she got up just in time to win the Del Mar Oaks. Harmonize is clearly better now than she was earlier in the season – no surprise for a 3-year-old who is given a chance at such a career arc – and there is no reason to think her best races aren’t still in front of her.

And as for Hawksmoor, she was somewhat overlooked in the QE II as being a legitimate Group 2- and near Group 1-level performer in Europe, but she was game as can be.

The obvious disappointments in the QE II were On Leave, who finished fourth in her pursuit of a fifth straight win, and Catch a Glimpse, who tired after setting the pace under pressure from Hawksmoor to finish seventh of eight.

On Leave did not run her best race Saturday, so it would be a mistake to conclude she can’t win at this level. On Leave was the most inexperienced member of the QE II field; she was still a maiden when the calendar flipped to June. On Leave has made tremendous progress, and there is zero reason to think her progression won’t continue once she gets a chance to catch her breath.

Catch a Glimpse might have been displaced at the top of this group before Saturday, but she was and is still a force, so her effort wasn’t even close to a representative performance. Everyone knows Catch a Glimpse can do much better. Still, this is a two-way street. Folks who are quick to say a horse can do much better after that horse turns in a clunker should also be willing to concede that a horse isn’t always as good as he or she looks when they win or run well.

The other stakes race of note Saturday was the Futurity at Belmont, won by Theory. Theory, you might remember, is the Gemologist colt who was immensely impressive winning his debut at Saratoga, was subsequently stopped on, and was then put back in training after being treated for a minor foot bruise.

This context is important because, on the surface, Theory’s Futurity win wasn’t a “wow” performance. He did win by 3 1/2 lengths, which is ample. The other side of the coin is, he beat Star Empire by just 3 1/2 lengths, the Star Empire who came into the Futurity off a career-best Beyer Figure of only 70 earned in a distant third-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

I’m thinking Theory was simply rusty Saturday. The Futurity was, after all, his first start in 2 1/2 months, and the rust factor would explain why he had to be nudged on to stay close to the pacesetter, and why he really didn’t put the Futurity away until fairly late. I also think Theory’s next start, as long as it is sensible, will tell us a lot about him.

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