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'Analysis & Wagering Strategies'
Handicapping with Jeff Siegel
Jeff Siegel’s “Five Takeaways”
From the week concluding October 24, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – Two runaway maiden-breaking juveniles received plenty of buzz over the weekend, one at Santa Anita, the other at Gulfstream Park. On the West Coast on Friday, Messier graduated by six and one-half lengths in a six-furlong sprint that was clocked in 1:10.26 and was assigned a Beyer speed figure of 82. The following day in South Florida, Simplification annihilated his competition by 16 and three-quarter lengths in 1:09.81 and earning a Beyer number of 92.
Remarkably, both found a way to get themselves beat in their first career start, but they left nothing to the imagination in their second afternoon appearance, both winning like legitimate candidates for races leading up to and including next spring’s classics.
To simply look at the charts of the two races, one could conclude that Simplification is the better prospect of the two. He ran faster, got a better number, and produced a superior winning margin. However, nothing could be further than the truth.
Yes, Simplification might be a very nice colt.
Messier, well, he’s in different stratosphere.
After racing greenly in his debut at Los Alamitos in June and finishing second at 50 cents on the dollar (“all my fault,” said trainer Bob Baffert), the son of Empire Maker was given almost four months off to mentally and physically grow up, and upon his return – this time as the 2/5 public choice – the $470,000 Fasig-Tipton Select sale yearling purchase did more than just perform to his press clippings.
He mocked the competition. He embarrassed them. He taunted them. Think Clay in the ring after his knockdown of Liston.
As for the actual race, Messier veered in a bit leaving the gate but quickly displayed Tesla-like acceleration to settle into a pace-stalking position and was content to idle in that spot until the field folded into the far turn. At that point, jockey Flavian Prat lightened his grip ever so slightly and suddenly Baffert’s colt quickened instantaneously to open two lengths on the stunned early pacesetter Godsend within in a sixteenth of a mile. Heading into the stretch, the race was over; the only the question was how much piling on Messier would be allowed to do.
Realizing that the winner’s purse would be the same whether the margin of victory was six lengths or 16, Prat glanced over his shoulder, saw no danger if he saw anything at all, and then took another stout hold of the colt inside the furlong pole, only permitting his mount to trot home. There was no gallop out; Messier could have stopped and turned around before reaching the clubhouse turn if he and his rider felt like showboating even more.
Of course, handicappers who evaluate performance by doing nothing more than glancing at a result chart or a number on a graph may not have been impressed. They’ll tell us that the difference between a victory accomplished while being ridden out to the wire and one in which the winner is eased up to a walk often is infinitesimal.
Not this time.
Obviously, Messier could have run considerably faster, won by many more lengths, and earned a much higher speed figure if Prat had him allowed to do so. The belief in what this colt can do, not just what the raw data says he did, is why Baffert appears to feel the same about Messier’s potential at a similar stage as he did in recent years with prospects such as Authentic, Charlatan, Nadal, Medina Spirit, and Life Is Good.
American Pharoah and Justify? Let’s not quite go there until Messier wins his first stakes race
That might be in his next start, perhaps during the fall Del Mar season in a race like the $100,000 7F Bob Hope S.-G3 over seven furlongs at Del Mar Nov. 14, though the more important end-of-the-year goal remains the $200,000 8.5F Los Alamitos Futurity-G2 Dec. 11, a race Baffert has won seven times in a row. Next year is next year, and there will be various obstacles Baffert will need to deal with regarding Kentucky Derby points and eligibility. But for now, the dreams that entice owners and trainers to participate at the sport’s highest level are alive and most certainly tangible.
2 – On the first day in October, Simplification was 7-1 in an all-weather five and one-half furlong maiden special weight sprint for juveniles at Gulfstream Park. The son of North America’s leading second-crop stallion Not This Time checked in fifth, beaten less than four lengths, in a debut that was decidedly underwhelming. But as is quite common with two-year-old colts and fillies between their first and second starts, his light switch apparently came on, and in his next start the Antonio Sano-trained colt produced a massive forward move, just as the bettors, who had knocked him down to the 9/5 favorite, expected he would.
A colt that originally was a $50,000 Keeneland November weanling purchase, Simplification wasn’t particularly quick leaving the gate but displayed enough early speed to be within a half-length of the leader along the rail entering the turn. By the time the field hit the quarter pole, he had taken control by a length and one-half, and with nothing emerging from behind it was clear a decisive victory was inevitable. Yes, the winning margin was significant, the number was strong, and the pedigree suggests that added distance won’t be a problem. Also, the switch from Tapeta to dirt clearly made him happy. All of that is good.
But here’s the difference between Messier and Simplification. The former displayed a high degree of acceleration and athleticism in his victory. He traveled like a top-class prospect and only had to burn a very small portion of his reserve energy in victory.
In contrast, Simplification was ridden hard to the wire while doing his absolute best. He was clearly all out. And he never changed leads.
Take the time to view the two races. Maybe you’ll see things differently. Or maybe not.
3 – We were disappointed but certainly not surprised to read that Essential Quality will be retired to stud at the end of this year. The Godolphin colt will make what we assume will be his final career start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 at Del Mar a week from Saturday. If he wins that race (his first against older horses), the 3-year-old son of Tapit will leave with a significantly enhanced reputation of having won six of seven career starts (he was fourth in the Kentucky Derby-G1) and will be a unanimous (or close to it) winner in voting for Horse of the Year.
Honestly, we’re not quite sure how good Essential Quality is or was. Yes, on resume he appears top class. But up until this point, there seems to be a few things missing in his past performance chart, like a blazingly fast race, a monster speed figure, a blowout win, something, anything, to register more than just a blip on our proverbial goose bump scale. It’s entirely possible we’re underestimating him. But in handicapping the Classic, we’ll be picking against him.
4 – When it comes to the Breeders’ Cup or any Triple Crown race, jockeys must look after number one (trainers do, too, for that matter). Flavian Prat had to decide whether to “Fly United” for his main California guy Richard Mandella in the Breeders’ Cup Turf or retain the mount on the New York-based Domestic Spending, whose upside clearly is superior to the veteran West Coast stalwart. The Chad Brown-trained gelding’s three recent outings include victories in two Grade 1’s and a narrow defeat in the Mr. D. Stakes-G1 (formerly the Arlington Million) last time out. Prat was aboard in all three of those outings.
It probably took Prat and his agent all of five seconds to choose Domestic Spending even though the United/Prat combo dates back 17 consecutive races. Of course, Prat would have liked to have ridden both horses in the BC Turf. In our experience, only the loveable Angel Cordero, Jr. consistently was able to pull off that trick (ride two or more horses in the same race), but that’s an entirely different story.
5 – Here’s a colt worth wagering on next time. Kawhi Me a River, a lightly raced son of Kantharos trained by John Terranova, broke his maiden with authority sprinting on grass at Belmont Park two runs back and was impressive enough in doing so to warrant a serious look right back in the Carle Place S. over seven furlongs on turf on Saturday. There is no doubt this talented 3-year-old colt would have won if not for self-inflicted trouble. As it was, he still managed to finish fourth, beaten just a length and one-quarter, behind the pacesetting Rustler.
For whatever reason, Kawhi Me a River swerved out badly while racing wide and in the clear as the field approached the far turn. The colt fell back and was fanned out widest of all when attempting to rally from the top of the stretch. But rather than flatten out, he was relentless in the final furlong, keeping to his task and closing the gap resolutely before simply running out of room. This was just his fourth lifetime start and the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old surely can win a good race somewhere down the road, if not sooner. He just needs to focus.
From the week concluding October 17, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – We have to admit that we’ve never been totally sold on Medina Spirit, even after his still-to-be-confirmed victory in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. We always thought that, sure, he’s a very nice colt, always tries hard, but not close to the same talent level of trainer Bob Baffert’s other six Derby winners, perhaps in the War Emblem ballpark, but nothing more. We even cold-watered his recent dominant five length romp in the Awesome Again S.-G1, his first try against older horses, which we attributed mostly to his unchallenged role as the controlling speed over a biased Santa Anita main track that promoted his style. Truth is, Medina Spirit has yet to win any race in which he wasn’t on the lead virtually gate to wire, and he’ll almost certainly be relegated to a stalker’s role in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, what with Knicks Go ticketed for the same race.
Medina Spirit had issues during the summer that kept him away from competition and curtailed his development for almost four months, and his comeback victory in the listed Shared Belief S. at Del Mar in mid-August, while game, was pretty blah by our standards. We had one other nagging problem with Medina Spirit. Top horses are supposed to train like top horses. Medina Spirit never did, and in fact often got outworked.
He was going to be an absolute “bet against” for us in the Classic.
But we witnessed an entirely different colt last Friday when he breezed in company with the decent multiple black-type winner Ax Man. Medina Spirit, who had made hard work of it to stay even with his usual training mate in most of their previous team drills, this time toyed with the older gelding, never taking a deep breath while galloping out full of run in a drill clocked in a rapid :59 2/5. He looked sharp. Focused. Ready. View Medina Spirit Workout Video
From a visual standpoint, it was the best we’ve ever seen him work. So, we’ve softened our stance and, dare we say, changed our mind. On Breeders’ Cup Day, Medina Spirit will be on our ticket. Prominently.
2 – The 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf comes up too quickly, and there’s always next year anyway, but the way the Irish-bred 3-year-old filly Shantisara obliterated her foes by five easy lengths in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup-G1 at Keeneland last Saturday stamps her as trainer Chad Brown’s next star in a division that he’s dominated for years. After finishing second in her U.S. debut in a listed stakes at Monmouth Park last June, the modestly bred filly has reeled off three successive wins, each with a better speed figure than her previous outing. Her four U.S. Beyer numbers, beginning with the most recent, are 99-93-87-72.
Remarkably, Shantisara could have been claimed for slightly more than $25,000 last November in her second career start when she won a modest all-weather race in Chantilly at 10-1, after which she ran three times over synthetic surfaces in the French provinces, winning once. There was nothing in her European form that would suggest she’d be even remotely this good, but of course all of that was pre-Chad Brown. She’s proven to be equally effective at a middle distance or over a marathon trip, and her tactical speed and instant acceleration make her a push-button ride for regular pilot F. Prat. It’ll be interesting to see how dominant she might become next year.
3 – A good two-year-old can emerge from any circuit on a moment’s notice and we may have seen a couple of under-the-radar types last Saturday at Delaware Park in the listed $50,000 Rocky Run Stakes. Cooke Creek (Uncle Mo) and Affable Monarch (Arrogate), both impressive debut winners last month, were the headliners over a dirt track that was labeled fast but was in actuality wet and sealed. It was Cooke Creek who remained perfect after gamely holding off his chief rival by a diminishing half-length, with the pair well-clear of the rest. The assigned Beyer speed figure of 66 hardly makes them leaders in the division but both colts appear to have enough quality to go on and win a decent race or two down the road.
To our eyes, Affable Monarch may be the one with a bit more upside, especially as his gains additional experience, and maturity. The Colt Neck Stables homebred created a highly-favorable impression sprinting at Monmouth Park last month when displaying sharp acceleration through the lane to win going away by more than six lengths, and although his rally-wide bid fell short over a slick surface he may not have grabbed, the Jorge Duarte, Jr.-trained juvenile lost nothing in defeat. He’s clearly the most promising runner from Arrogate’s first crop that we’ve seen to date and appears to be a strong colt with plenty of scope. If he’s progresses at anywhere near the same rate as his champion sire – who didn’t make it to the races until the spring of his 3-year-old season – this colt might become somebody next winter.
4 – On paper, the second on Saturday at Santa Anita looked like a salty race, a five runner seven furlong allowance sprint that that would eventually be won in a photo by the veteran state-bred former stakes winner Positivity, who bravely fought off the lightly-raced and improving 3-year-old colt Escape Route.
Behind these two were The Great One, fourth beaten just over four lengths to Medina Spirit and Rock Your World in the Shared Belief S. in his last start, and Nolo Contesto, who back in the day defeated Omaha Beach on the square before finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby-G1.
We assumed the race, clocked in a rapid 1:21 4/5, would earn a big number, so we weren’t surprised to learn that the Beyer speed figure came up 97, a career top for both horses. The result also reaffirmed our belief that the fastest horse in America is the unbeaten Tapit colt named Flightline, who, despite being geared down in the final furlong absolutely destroyed both Escape Route (by 12 and three-quarter lengths) and Positivity (14 and one-half lengths) in a similar race last month at Del Mar.
Unbeaten, untested, and never extended in two starts, Flightline won’t be participating in this Year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Instead, he’s scheduled to reappear opening day, Dec. 26, in the Malibu S.-G1, a race restricted to 3-year-olds. We’ll trust the Racing Office to entice enough brave souls to make the race go.
5 – In the Sunday Santa Anita opener, trainer Phil D’Amato (that’s Dah-MATO, not DEE-amato) had two live entrants in the six furlong maiden special weight turf sprint for fillies and mares. Tony Ann, a close third in a similar race at Del Mar in late August, was crushed on the tote (she left at 4/5 but was lower through most of the wagering) while Irish import Annaghlasa was cold on the board, hovering around 7-1 before closing at 5-1, a point above her morning line.
Tote watches assumed that Tony Ann was “supposed” to win. The “other” D’Amato? Not so much.
Indeed, Tony Ann galloped home by almost four lengths, fully justifying her favorite’s role. Annaghlasa was never knocked about in what we assume was a nice, educational introduction to North American racing, winding up nine lengths behind in fourth. But galloping out past clubhouse turn, who was in front? Yes, it was her, the “other” D’Amato.
Might want to try her next time when she stretches out to a mile on grass vs. similar maidens.
From the week concluding October 11, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – We’ve always been suspicious of absurdly high speed figures earned at Saratoga. We’re not saying some of these numbers were necessarily incorrect or inaccurate, only that they are rarely repeated. Three times in recent weeks big figure winners flopped at short-prices in their next start after earning monster Beyer numbers at the Spa in their previous outing. New York honks always seem to take the bait, but the successful player must remain suspicious until these figs can be confirmed as a true indicator of a horse’s high-end ability.
On October 2, Beau Liam was the ridiculously over bet favorite at 50 cents on the dollar in the Ack Ack S.-G3 after earning Beyer numbers of 107 and 106 in his previous two starts at Saratoga, both allowance races. Despite a perfect trip, the Liam’s Map colt couldn’t deliver the goods, winding up second to the hard-knocking stakes-proven journeyman older horse Plainsman. Beau Liam was assigned a Beyer number of 98.
On Saturday in the Vosburgh S.-G1 at Belmont Park, Baby Yoda, he of the Dr. Fageresque 114 Beyer speed figure earned in a first-level Saratoga allowance sprint win the previous month, apparently “bounced” (do figure guys still use that term?) when winding up third of four behind Flattering Sea, beaten more than seven lengths. He was assigned a Beyer number of 84. That’s 20 points less than his out-of-whack Saratoga speed figure. The ex-$10,000 maiden claimer did have a bit of early trouble. But not 20 points worth.
Finally, there is the case of Classic Causeway, a runaway Saratoga maiden sprint winner last month and the earner of a powerful Beyer speed figure of 90. Yes, he was visually impressive in victory, though after reading some of the praises heaped upon him leading into the Breeders’ Futurity-G1 at Keeneland last Saturday we would have thought he was next coming of American Pharoah. Once again, a huge figure accomplished at Saratoga – one that earned him the favorite’s role at 9/5 – proved unreliable as the Giant’s Causeway colt quickly got over from his outside draw to make the running without undue pressure, set fairly quick but what shouldn’t have been too-fast-for-the-level early fractions, and then came up empty when pressure was applied. Classic Causeway wound up a faltering third, beaten just under five lengths. His Beyer number shrunk to 73, a 17 point drop off from his apparently inflated maiden victory.
These are just three recent examples, but we could point out so many more. It’s something to remember next year when evaluating big figure Saratoga winners. Gotta be careful.
2 – The winner of the Breeders’ Futurity turned out to be Rattle N Roll (8-1), a middle distance maiden winner at Churchill Downs in his third career start with a very modest 69 Beyer speed figure but with a developing pattern that signaled the likelihood of continued improvement with distance and experience. From the first crop of Curlin’s Cigar Mile S.-G1 winning son Connect, the $200,000 Saratoga yearling purchase never had a straw in his path when rallying outside from mid-pack to register the four length victory. Though the assigned Beyer figure of 81 won’t scare anybody, the Ken McPeek-trained colt did it the way we liked, and though he’ll be facing competition with faster figures (mostly earned in sprint races) at Del Mar he has to be considered a legitimate threat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1 based if nothing else on his proven ability around two-turns.
3 – Golden Pal, winner of the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf and expected to be a major player in this year’s BC Turf Sprint-G1, won his final prep for that race over the weekend at Keeneland at 50 cents on the dollar when capturing the Woodford S.-G2 by more than two lengths. However, as the race unfolded, it seemed more likely that he wouldn’t even finish in the frame, because after breaking well and quickly establishing the pace, he appeared off the bridle and in deep water after being engaged at the quarter pole. The same scenario unfolded in his previous start in late August overseas at York as the second choice in the Nunthorpe S.-G1. In that five furlong straightaway dash, the son of Uncle Mo buckled under pressure and crossed the wire a weak and fading seventh of 14. It appeared the same result was about to happen.
However, this time the Wesley Ward-trained 3-year-old found extra and drew clear, but his victory, assigned a demoralizing (and eight points less than his career top) 88 Beyer speed figure against weaker competition than he’ll see at Del Mar, makes you wonder if he should be a “bet-against” on Breeders’ Cup Day. To his advantage will be the abbreviated trip of five furlongs (dictated by the course layout), the extremely firm course, and the short run in from the top of the stretch to the wire, so the conditions certainly will suit. But, as of today, we’re planning to look elsewhere.
4 – If you were asked to name the top 2021 North American based turf runner heading into the Breeders’ Cup, could you? Whether you’re restricting the discussion to the middle-distance division, to those that compete at marathon distances, or simply combining the two groups into one big mediocre package, it’s readily apparent that the regular participants in the traditional grass Grade-1 events for older horses on both coasts have been thoroughly uninspiring throughout the year.
In the final two major Grade-1 races for grass specialists prior to the Breeders’ Cup over the weekend, the first two finishers of the Keeneland Turf Mile, In Love and Tell Your Daddy, were 12-1 and 29-1 respectively in a race in which the 6/5 favorite, last year’s BC Mile-G1 winner Order of Australia, failed to show up with anything close to his best and checked in a no-excuse dead last. Meanwhile, in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic-G1 at Belmont Park, Rockemperor (15-1) and Serve the King (14-1) wound up first and second, as the 9/5 favorite Gufo, a nice horse on his best day but nothing more, couldn’t sustain his premature move into a crawling pace and, after hitting the front entering the stretch, lost his steam to wind up a well-beaten third.
Having been assigned the Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 as “my race” to handicap for the 2021 Xpressbet Wagering Guide, I will make it easy on myself by circling the pre-entered runners flying in from Europe and restricting my analysis that group.
5 – Letruska was 40 cents on the dollar to win the Spinster S.-G1 at Keeneland on Sunday and did what she’s pretty much done all year, that is, find a field without much early speed, take control early, and then dominate gate to wire. Her Beyer numbers dating back from her most recent victory are 101, 101, 102, 103, and 102, strong and consistent to be sure but not overwhelming dominant. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from her, especially in races in which the pace flow allows her to obtain her coveted roll as the controlling speed.
Only twice in her 16 starts since arriving from Mexico has the 5-year-old mare not been able to secure the lead at the first call, and both times she was beaten, in the 2020 Ballerina S.-G2 over seven furlongs (sat second early, faded to fifth) and the 2021 Azeri S.-G2 at Oaklawn Park in March (stalked in third, then missed by a head when second Shedaresthedevil).
The Del Mar main track can be anything management wants it to be. We’ve seen it speed favoring, anti-rail, and pro-rally-wide closer, and it can change from day to day. Whether or not Latruska’s preferred style will be compromised on Breeders’ Cup day may not be known until early in the card on the first Saturday in November. She has been thoroughly genuine and dependable throughout her magnificent career, victorious in 17 of 22 career starts, but we’re nagged by the thought that the daughter of Super Saver could be vulnerable if somebody’s rabbit goes after her early or the track bias, if any exists, plays against her style.
From the week concluding October 3, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – During the first three days of the Santa Anita fall meeting, it was – and it’s been this way for a few years now – quite difficult to make up an appreciable amount of ground on the main track. Runners that were not always squarely in contention had little chance to hit the board, much less win. For example, there were seven dirt sprints carded on opening weekend, and only one horse, California Street, came from farther back than three and one-half lengths to win, and he did so in a six-runner extended (seven furlong) sprint as the 7/5 favorite. Likewise, pace setters/pressers absolutely dominated in the six main track route races that were carded. Each winner was either on the lead or no farther than a half-length behind the pacesetter from the second call to the finish. Mid-pack or deep closers? They had no chance
The Santa Anita dirt strip continues to play noticeably sluggish and slower compared to most of the other major North American main venues like Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Gulfstream Park. Contrary to popular belief, a deeper surface doesn’t hinder speed; in fact, it’s the late-runners, unlike their turf counterparts who can quicken on a dime, that simply spin their wheels trying to accelerate. Unless the handicapper can project a far faster set of early fractions than is par for the level, he might as well toss out any horse that is likely to be five lengths or more off the pacesetter at any stage of the race.
2 – Because early/pressing speed was so dominate, the player must examine the results of the major dirt track Breeders’ Cup prep races in Arcadia with a fair degree of skepticism. Ain’t Easy won the Chandelier S.-G1 with a perfect pace-stalking, rail-skimming journey, while Corniche, sent hard from the bell to take advantage of his coveted rail post position, wired the field in the American Pharoah S.-G1 in a race that was pretty much decided at the seven-eighths pole. In the Awesome Again S.-G1, Medina Spirit was able to establish the lead entering the clubhouse turn, and given how the track was playing, who didn’t suspect the race was over at that point?
In the six furlong California Sprint Championship, late-runners Flagstaff and C Z Rocket never had a look once Dr. Schivel, broken right rein and all, was quick enough to establish the pace from his rail post during the opening quarter mile. Ce Cee did advance from a bit farther back to win the Chillingworth S.-G2 over seven furlongs – she was third of five, four lengths off the dueling leaders at the half mile pole – but did what she was supposed to do when easily sweeping on by at 20 cents on the dollar. And, in the Zenyatta S.-G2, Private Mission was always part of the pace to the far turn, took control when ready, and was never threatened thereafter in a race in which the field was spread far down the track like the final furlong of the Grand National at Aintree.
Perceived bias notwithstanding, a strong case could be made that the best horse finished first in each of those races. But in evaluating each winning performance, the handicapper cannot overreact. Over a distinctly different surface and layout at Del Mar at the end of the month, the form may not hold. There will be no silver platters.
3 – The two pivotal races last weekend in the 2-year-old division were the aforementioned American Pharoah S.-G1 at Santa Anita and the Champagne S.-G1 at Belmont Park. The favorites won both races by daylight but did so with pristine trips, so we’re not totally convinced that there’s a massive amount of improvement in either one of them. As the field straightened for home in the Champagne, pace-stalking Jack Christopher already had disposed of the Hopeful S.-G1 winner Gunite and appeared headed for a double-digit victory, though the official margin turned out to be a diminishing two and three-quarter lengths for a son of Munnings, who clearly is extremely talented but is no slam dunk to improve around two turns
The colt that really caught our eye, runner-up Commandperformance, was a rallying second sprinting at Saratoga in his debut and certainly moved forward when staying on nicely to be seven clear of the rest. He’s not a blaster, more of a grinder, but as a son of Union Rags from the deep-closing stakes-placed Tapit mare Smitten he gives every indication that he’ll improve with distance and experience. For whatever it’s worth, Commandperformance galloped out past the winner, so the Todd Pletcher-trained colt has the makings of a wise-guy horse in the four weeks leading up to Breeders’ Cup day.
4 – Whereas Jack Christopher improved from a 92 to a 93 Beyer speed figure (both excellent numbers), Corniche’s fig sunk from his suspiciously high 98 in his debut to a far less brilliant but certainly solid 86 in the American Pharoah S. Front-running trips often produce inflated ratings, which is why Corniche, even in victory, didn’t score particularly high on the goose-bump scale. We’ll find out down the road whether this son of Quality Road is a need-the-lead type, but we suspect there will be no experimenting on Breeders’ Cup day. He will be sent from the bell and then deal with whatever engages him early.
Pappacap did what he could to finish second to Corniche, but this was already his fourth career start, so room for significant improvement may be somewhat restricted. That said, the Mark Casse-trained colt was a stakes winner sprinting at Del Mar during the summer meeting, and in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he will be given the role of a closer over a main track with a projected race flow that will promote his style, so his connections have a right to be hopeful that the son of Gun Runner can step forward.
5 – The three main Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 prep races over the weekend all were won in gate-to-wire fashion, with Knicks Go enjoying a stroll in the park on the front end to capture the Lukas Classic S.-G3 at 10 cents on the dollar at Churchill Downs (104 Beyer); Art Collector (107 Beyer) taking full advantage of a similar easy trip in the Woodward S.-G1 to hold sway over Maxfield, and Medina Spirit (107 Beyer) gaining control of the racetrack soon after the start and then toying with his older rivals in the Awesome Again S.-G1. Knicks Go is a committed front runner and won’t back down on Breeders’ Cup day; Medina Spirit also is clearly most effective on the pace but may be relegated to a stalker’s role; and Art Collector, who isn’t as quick as the other two, projects to settle in the second flight and then launch his bid from there.
Meanwhile, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie will have dead aim on all three of them and licking their chops when the pressure is turned on. Should be a fun race.
From the week concluding September 26, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – With his somewhat controversial victory in the Pennsylvania Derby-G1 behind him, Hot Rod Charlie now will step out of his comfort zone (3-year-olds) and set his sights on the big boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 at Del Mar Oct. 30. Don’t underestimate him. After earning a career-top Beyer speed figure (111) last weekend, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt has become highly-competitive on pure numbers compared with the best in the older division, and with further development likely and an ideal stalking style for the Classic’s 10-furlong journey the son of Oxbow has a legitimate chance to win North America’s richest race and perhaps steal an Eclipse Award from division leader Essential Quality and maybe even secure Horse of the Year honors, as well.
Channeling his inner Angel Cordero, Jr., jockey Flavian Prat was, to put it kindly, somewhat aggressive aboard Hot Rod Charlie (again), bullying Midnight Bourbon (again) by allowing ‘Charlie to drift out and intimate his main rival as the field entered the lane. Aware that the inside paths are usually slower and deeper through the stretch at Parx, Prat wanted to secure better footing, and if his premeditated tactics came at the expense of Steve Asmussen’s colt, all the better. Unlike the incident at Monmouth Park in the Haskell S.-G1 in which Prat carelessly shut off Midnight Bourbon in mid-stretch that caused a spill and led to ‘Charlie’s disqualification, the rider’s strategy on Saturday was accomplished with specific purpose. Yes, there was an inquiry and a claim of foul, but the results stood. Really, It could have gone either way.
2 – Asmussen was furious when the stewards failed to take action in the Pennsylvania Derby, but the manner in which Jackie’s Warrior toyed with four thoroughly outclassed older rivals in the Gallant Bob S.-G2 earlier in the day certainly soften the disappointment. The son of Maclean’s Music will enter the B.C. Sprint-G1 as a strong favorite following his career-top 110 Beyer speed figure victory by nearly seven lengths despite merely coasting to the wire, and while there was nothing of note behind him this brilliantly-fast sophomore colt will bring to Del Mar a resume that shows eight wins from nine one-turn career outings and numbers that have risen in each of his last six starts.
As exceptionally quick as Jackie’s Warrior can be, he’s always been quite handy and tractable. Assuming the Del Mar main track isn’t blatantly biased against the inside lanes (as it was when the Breeders’ Cup was last staged there in 2017) and Jackie’s Warrior lands a decent draw, he’s sure to be one of the shortest priced favorites on the card.
3 – Gamine certainly will be a heavy favorite to defend her B.C. Filly & Mare Sprint title – a career record of nine wins from 10 starts pretty much guarantees she’ll be odds-on – but Bella Sofia may offer some genuine competition. Her victory on Sunday at Belmont Park in the Gallant Bloom S.-G2 served as an ideal springboard to what surely will be her toughest task yet but the rags-to-riches $20,000 2020 OBS June sale purchase has won her last three starts by a combined 14 lengths and wasn’t fully extended in any of those outings.
Similar to Jackie’s Warrior, the Rudy Rodriguez-trained filly is an easy ride. She can win on the lead or settle and pounce, and her Test S.-G1 score two runs back over the Breeders’ Cup seven furlong trip was her most impressive performance in her four-wins-in-five-starts career. She’s not yet where she needs to be to defeat Gamine, but she keeps getting faster so we’ll watching her workouts closely see how much of a forward move she might be able to produce five weeks down the road.
4 – Another legitimate short-priced favorite has emerged in the B.C. Dirt Mile-G1 following the stroll-in-the-park afternoon workout by Life Is Good in the Kelso H.-G2 at Belmont Park on Saturday. The victory from three hopelessly overmatched rivals over the one-turn mile produced “only” a 99 Beyer speed figure, eight points lower than his career top, but the Todd Pletcher-trained colt never took a deep breath while brushing aside any worries that he might “bounce” following his hard, taxing, gut-wrenching neck defeat to Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S.-G1 four weeks previous at Saratoga in what was his first start since exiting the Derby trail in mid-March.
A nine-length debut winner in his only previous outing over the quirky Del Mar main track and a two-time graded stakes winner around two turns last winter, the son of Into Mischief was ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz, Jr., who we assume will retain the mount (Mike Smith had been Life Is Good’s regular pilot up util then). The screws certainly weren’t tightened on Saturday; Pletcher has plenty of time to do that before heading to California.
5 – The Breeders’ Cup will be without Europe’s top 3-year-old, St Mark’s Basilica. So will the rest of the racing world following the announcement yesterday – as predicted in this space a few weeks ago – that the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt has been sent home to prepare for stud duty at Coolmore to fill the void left by the deceased Galileo despite being at the peak of his form with several fall options still available. The “lads” are saying that the colt was injured in early August when he threw a front shoe during training that struck him in a hind leg, but he did win the Champions S.-G1 from BC Turf heroine Tarnawa after the “incident.” Let’s just say we’re skeptical.
A son of the highly-successful Siyouni from a mare by Galileo, St Mark’s Basilica, has everything a top European stallion prospect needs to possess, namely superior pedigree and conformation, precocity, class, brilliance, and multiple Classic wins on his resume. So, an argument can be made that he had nothing left to prove. Now that, we can buy.
From the week concluding September 19, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – One of the most valued handicapping resources offered to members of xpressbet.com is the access to race replays from every major European venue, and most of the minor ones, as well. Certainly, on pure form, it was easy to project Walton Street as the highly-likely winner of the Canadian International at Woodbine on Saturday but viewing his races on the website earlier this year in Dubai that featured a Grade-2 victory with a career-top 122 Timeform rating and then a very respectable fourth in the Sheema Classic-G1 behind Mishriff helped build the confidence needed for the player to take the veteran gelding at a short price.
With tactical speed that always produces a clean journey, the Charles Appleby-trained son of Cape Cross gelding made short work of his outclassed North American-based rivals while being assigned a Breeders’ Cup Turf quality Beyer speed figure of 110 (by comparison, Tarnawa earned a 109 in last year’s BC Turf). Godolphin is loaded in the division, but it would appear that Walton Street’s pace-stalking style is made to order for the tight Del Mar turf course, so it surely would be nice to see him at Del Mar on the last Saturday in October.
2 – The continued to success of the Europeans in valuable grass stakes races in the U.S. and in Canada was never more evident than this past weekend. Ten minutes after Walton Street’s dominating victory, Appleby sent out the rapidly-developing 3-year-old Yibir to win the Jockey Club Derby Invitational-G1 at Belmont Park, and once again it was the video replay of his recent victory in the Great Voltigeur S.-G2 that made him an exceptional gamble at 7/2. Just as he had done at York last month, the son of Dubawi was off slowly and trailed the field while just galloping along for the 10 furlongs of the mile and one-half trip. As the field approached the top of the lane, jockey Jamie Spencer asked for run and the Godolphin homebred produced a startling turn of foot to go from last of seven to hit the front in less than a furlong before drawing clear in a mockingly display of superiority.
True speed figures in these long-distance races are difficult to calculate due to the variance of pace, but it should be noted that while Yibir earned “only” a 97 Beyer figure the posted final half mile split in the 12-furlong affair was :46.73. According to the chart, the winner was five lengths behind the leader at that stage and then rallied widest of wall. When it comes to these types of races, it not how fast you run, it’s how fast you run when your asked to run. Yibir looks very much like the goods.
3 – The Appleby yard still had plenty of ammunition left for two more Grade-1 events Sunday at Woodbine. In the Natalma Stakes – a race named for the dam of the immortal Canadian racehorse and Northern Dancer – the fresh-off-the-lane the twice listed stakes-placed Wild Beauty left her previous form behind when rallying from last of 10 to secure a thoroughly convincing victory under Frankie Dettori by more than two lengths. For comparison’s sake, the race that was assigned an excellent 89 Beyer speed figure, whereas the win by Aunt Pearl in the 2020 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf earned a 91. As a daughter of Frankel, her best surely is yet to come, and it she returns for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, she will be hard to beat.
A half hour after Wild Beauty’s success, the Appleby-trained Albahr, a once-beaten winner of his previous three outings in England including a listed stakes, handled a moderate field in the Summer S.-G1. The Dubawi gelding earned a less-than-flashy Beyer number of 82 but displayed plenty of quality after doing himself no favors when breaking poorly. That said, he’s not close to the best Godolphin may choose to send to the BC Juvenile Turf, a scary thought, indeed, for North American-based hopefuls.
4 – Hidden Connection, from the first crop of Curlin’s Cigar Mile-G1 winning son Connect, certainly was visually pleasing in her seven lengths-plus debut maiden win at Colonial Downs. But it’s the second career start that often provides a much truer picture of a young runner’s potential. Would Hidden Connections verify the promise she displayed last month in the 8.5 furlong Pocahontas S.-G3 at Churchill Downs on Saturday, or would she be exposed for having beaten modest competition? The bettors believed, knocking her down to the 9/5, and the Bret Calhoun-trained filly never provided any worries in a nine length romp that appeared as dominant to the eye as it appears on paper. She’s only the second stakes winner to appear in the first four generations of her female family, so let’s give credit to her young sire, who stands at Lane’s End and looks like he’s going to make it.
Despite the extended margin of victory, Hidden Connection earned “only” an 87 Beyer speed figure, a very good number to be sure but just three points higher than her maiden win in Virginia. It seems to this observer that the Beyer boys may have lowballed by a few points each of the four route races on the program. According to the Equibase, Hidden Connection’s second race rated eight points stronger than her debut.
5 – The juvenile colts also had their chance to shine on Saturday but scored low on the goose-bump scale. In Kentucky, Major General (9/2), an all-out Saratoga maiden debut winner last month, remained undefeated when registering a neck victory over 37-1 Indian Downs shipper Tough to Tame to win the Iroquois S.-G3, but despite slightly quicker early splits wound up running 1.10 seconds slower than Hidden Connection on the same program. Even money favorite Stellar Tap, a smart debut winner at the Spa, faded under pressure, wound up fifth, and clearly isn’t what his connections were hoping he’d be. This race will not produce the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner.
At Los Alamitos, trainer Bob Baffert finished one-two Saturday in the four-runner restricted Capote Stakes with Enbarr outlasting Montebello by a length. The former, beaten in a photo in his debut by subsequent Del Mar Futurity winner S.-G1 Pinehurst, earned a 78 Beyer number, two points better than the fig assigned to Major General but couldn’t have gotten a better trip if he had paid for it. Montebello, a well-beaten runner-up in a New York-bred stakes at Saratoga after a narrow maiden debut win at Del Mar, has yet to master the art of changing leads and won’t reach whatever ceiling he may have until he does.
Meanwhile, Baffert’s participation on Breeders’ Cup Day is in jeopardy after it was announced on Saturday that the Breeders’ Cup Board has begun a review process over the trainer’s five failed drug tests within 365 days that dates back to May 2020. According to its rules, Breeders’ Cup Limited “reserves the right to refuse pre-entry or entry of any horse, in BCL’s sole discretion.” Stay tuned.
From the week concluding September 12, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – Best race from last week weekend occurred at Leopardstown in Ireland, where St Mark’s Basilica, after veering right and carrying out Tarnawa about eight lanes in the final quarter of a mile, survived a stewards’ inquiry (there was no contact) to win the Irish Champions S.-G1 by three-quarters of a length while reaffirming his standing as Europe’s top-ranked three-year-old. Believed to be most effective at a mile and one-quarter but perhaps a bit suspect if tried at 12 furlongs, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt nonetheless would be a lovely addition to the Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 lineup at Del Mar in November, but from what we can gather it’s highly unlikely that such a trip will occur event though his latest victory carried with it an automatic berth through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
In fact, local observers have speculated in the days since the race that we may have seen the last of St Mark’s Basilica, which would be a shame. Winner of the Dewhurst S.-G1 as a 2-year-old, the son of Siyoun had been successful in the French 2000 Guineas-G1, French Derby-G1, and Eclipse S.-G1 prior to Irish Champions S.-G1 success, thus accomplishing more than enough to fill the void at Coolmore left by the loss of Galileo.
“He’s just an exceptional horse,” said O’Brien. “We’re so lucky to have him, and it’s to keep him safe now and have him go off to stud, which is going to be very exciting for us all.”
2 – Tarnawa lost nothing in defeat. An excellent case can be made that she should have been moved up via disqualification (Ryan Moore, aboard St Mark’s Basilica, received a one-day ban for his ride and reportedly apologized to Tarnawa’s rider, Colin Keane) but there are no plans to appeal and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner will now be pointed for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp Sunday, Oct. 3, according to trainer Dermot Weld. Tarnawa certainly will be among the major contenders in that race; whether or not she returns to the States to defend her Breeders’ Cup Turf crown remains to be seen.
But even if she doesn’t make the trip, there will be, as usual, several other high-class European-based performers that will be considered, most of whom will have stronger credentials than any of the candidates the home team will be able to offer up.
3 – Top performance on closing weekend at Kentucky Downs may have come courtesy of the undefeated (in two starts) Koala Princess, a runaway debut maiden winner on the front end at Monmouth Park last month and then even more visually impressive when rallying from eighth of 11 under expert handling by Joel Rosario to capture the $500,000 Ainsworth Stakes over six and one-half furlongs. A 2-year-old Runnymeade Farm homebred daughter of More Than Ready trained by Arnaud Delacour, Koala Princess has lovely, easy action but can accelerate on a dime, and thus should certainly be as effective if not more so around two turns.
There will be talented Europeans in the field, of course, but as of now her connections have to feel good about their chances in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies turf. She’s certainly the best among the North American ranks in the division that we’ve seen so far.
Meanwhile, all-sources handle at a six-day Kentucky Downs meet was $74,088,532, far exceeding the record of $59.8 million set last year. A single-day handle record of $20,849,967 also was established Saturday when there was no major racing in New York (Belmont Park re-opens this Thursday) or Southern California (Santa Anita’s fall meeting begins Friday, Oct. 1). The significance of this blossoming boutique meeting will continue in years to come as it solidifies its mid-September spot on the national racing calendar.
4 – Last year we strongly suggested – not that we thought anybody in management would listen – that Santa Anita consider restructuring its main track to grass, and its grass course to synthetic, a drastic change to be sure but one that most assuredly would produce a long term positive effect on field size and mutuel handle. According to our theory, a horse’s career likely would be extended if allowed to consistently compete over a more forgiving surface that in most cases would produce a slower, softer pace and one that would lend itself to more contentious racing and a much more exciting product. Additionally, many lower end horses that are incapable of being competitive on dirt at or near the bottom claiming ranks ($8,000 in Southern California) still could earn a living at those same levels on grass, if such races could be carded over a widened course that would allow for several rail settings.
Turns out that Santa Anita management has met me half way. Though a Woodbine-type transition apparently wasn’t practical structurally or financially, the condition book covering the first 10 days of the fall season lists 89 races (not including extras), of which 48 have been written for grass, a percentage that lands just shy of 54 percent. And, last week it was revealed that sprint racing will resume over the popular Hillside Turf Course at Santa Anita during the upcoming fall season to compliment one-turn races on the flat that began last year and have been extremely well-received by the horsemen and horseplayers.
5 – We clicked on bloodhorse.com to read a summary of the opening day’s key results at the Keeneland Sales. The headline read: “Keeneland Summer Sale Opener a Sign of Strength.” Hey, good news! But in the second paragraph, the story stated that the median price was $325,000, down from $330,000 in 2020, and that the buy-back rate was 39.1%, up from 36.2% from last year. Furthermore, combined with the 45 hips that were withdrawn, there were 106 yearlings of the 201 catalogued that were not sold. That’s 52.7%.
If these figures truly represent, “strength,” okay with me.
From the week concluding September 6, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper & analyst
1 – Did we see the winner of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile S.-G1 in the Hopeful S.-G1 or Del Mar Futurity-G1 on Labor day? Don’t think so. Let’s do this chronologically and discuss the Saratoga race first. Heavily-favored (3/5) Wit stumbled badly at the start, was needlessly rushed to make up much of the lost ground into the teeth of a torrid :44 2/5 opening half while advancing to be with range at the quarter pole, was understandably spent, yet bravely still managed to save second money, almost six lengths behind the surprising (11-1) winner Gunite. As a son of the notorious one-turn specialist Practical Joke, Wit can’t be expected to be better (or at least as good) routing than sprinting and though the poor start certainly cost him his best chance, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt appears destined to be very much like his old man. We’d have to think his connections will look next at the Champagne S.-G1 Oct. 2 at Belmont Park. It’s a one-turn mile, and for now that’ll probably be his limit.
Conversely, Gunite, from the first crop of the champion racehorse and spectacular freshman sire Gun Runner, should run on. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt took heat and came away when asked, though it helped that the field contained no effective closers, except for High Oak, who had easily handled Gunite in the Saratoga Special last month. But after looking like a serious threat approaching the quarter pole, High Oak flattened out like the proverbial pancake. To his credit, Gunite has never taken a backward move, showing the following Beyer speed figure progression: 83-81-73-54-43. That’s the pattern you love to see in a 2-year-old, or any horse, for that matter.
2 – Pinehurst was supposed to be the “other” Bob Baffert-trained colt in the Del Mar Futurity-G1. The son of Twirling Candy, a half-length debut maiden winner last month, was handed the front end when nothing else was sent, and after cruising to the lead while always in hand easily shrugged off the stalking contingent that included his 3/5 stable mate Murray (who was awful and tossed in the towel after a half mile) to draw clear in the lane and win without a challenge. The performance didn’t score highly on the goose-bump scale or with the Beyer boys (79), either.
Don’t get us wrong, we like Pinehurst, he’s genuine. But the most promising 2-year-olds we saw out of this barn during the summer meeting were two sons of Quality Road, Corniche (see below), and Rhetoric, third (but moved up to second via disqualification) in his debut August 21. The Futurity came up too quickly for the latter, but we’d expect to see him reappear over a distance of ground either in a maiden race or perhaps even in the American Pharoah S.-G1 at Santa Anita on opening day of the fall season, Friday, Oct. 1.
3 – Trainer John Sadler would rather not discuss the Santa Anita Sprint Championship-G1 or Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 as a possible next start for Flightline, arguably the fastest, most gifted racehorse he’s trained since the filly Melair in the mid-1980’s. After breaking his maiden in April at Santa Anita by more than 13 lengths with a 105 Beyer speed figure, the son of Tapit was sidelined by a foot abscess, according to a report in Daily Racing Form. Purchased as a yearling for $1 million, the 3-year-old colt returned in a first-level allowance race Sunday at Del Mar and romped again, this time by 12 and three-quarters lengths (eased up late), getting the six furlongs in 1:08 flat, a clocking that translates into a Beyer mark of 114. The thing is, this colt is smart, sensible, and tractable, which is why we’re convinced he’ll get at least a mile and perhaps even a bit farther in due time.
Sadler did mention the seven furlong Malibu S.-G1 for 3-year-olds on opening day in December at Santa Anita as a long range goal, but you’d have to think he’ll run somewhere before then. The veteran trainer knows how to handle a top class horse – he designed a masterful plan with Accelerate to win the 2019 BC Classic-G1 – and he realizes Flightline brings more pressure and responsibility than any other colt he’s ever trained, because with his pedigree, flawless conformation and raw, natural ability, Flightline has the potential to be worth millions at stud. So, the plan, whatever it turns out to be, has to be perfect.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: There are 62 (not a typo) yearlings by Gun Runner entered in the Keeneland September Sales, which begins next week. They won’t be cheap, at least the ones that can walk in a straight line. In addition to Gunite, the freshman Candy Ride stallion also was represented by Saturday’s Spinaway S.-G1 winner Echo Zulu, an authoritative four length winner that garnered a legitimately strong 90 Beyer speed figure. We’re not convinced Echo Zulu will be quite as effective around two turns, but for now she’s easily the current leader in the juvenile filly division
Flightline wasn’t the only sprinter to earn a stratospheric 114 Beyer over the weekend. Baby Yoda, as 3-year-old Prospective gelding that debuted in a maiden $10,000 claimer in May at Pimlico, won a first-level allowance sprint for trainer Bill Mott at the Spa on Saturday, pressing the pace to the head of the lane and drawing clear by more than four lengths while running six and one-half furlongs in 1:14 1/5. This represented a 21 point improvement over the 93 he was assigned in a one and one-quarter length starter’s allowance victory in his previous start in July. Andy Beyer, himself, penned a story in the DRF three days later defending the accuracy of the ridiculously high number. It’ll be interesting to see if Baby Yoda will be able duplicate the figure next time (doubt it) or come back to earth (likely) in his next start, whenever it might be.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: Much more impressive visually and simply faster on the track than Pinehurst was his stable mate Corniche, a colt purchased for $1.5 million at Keeneland last year that debuted on Saturday at 50 cents on the dollar following a series of American Pharoah-type workouts. In what almost certainly will prove to be a highly productive race, Corniche went about his business without taking a deep breath, winning by more than four lengths in a sizzling 1:03 flat while covering the final sixteenth of a mile on the lead in less than six seconds.. The Beyer speed figure of 98 makes him the fastest 2-year-old in North America, and his dam (Wasted Tears) was a multiple graded stakes winner going long on grass, so you wouldn’t think extra distance will be any kind of issue. It won’t be.
On the opposite side of the hype spectrum is Grace Adler. A win by more than 11 lengths by an unbeaten (in two starts) $700,000 2-year-old daughter of Curlin filly trained by Baffert in the seven furlong Del Mar Debutante-G1 should produce at least some buzz. But it hasn’t. The victory, in a somewhat slow 1:23 3/5 with a final three furlong split of :39 2/5 produced a thoroughly uninspiring 74 Beyer speed figure that may even be a bit inflated due to the mild rally-wide track bias that the winner, from her cozy outside draw, took full advantage of. Much like Baffert’s Debutante winner from last year, Princess Noor, who was far less impressive on the clock than she was through the binoculars, Grace Adler still has much to prove, though she still may turn out to be pretty good. Remember, Curlin runners get better with both age and distance, and she will have a home field advantage of sorts in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
From the Week Concluding August 29, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – The victory by Essential Quality in the Travers S.-G1 clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division but his connections now have their sights on the Horse of the Year, and rightfully so, though there are still doubts among many form analysts as to how good he really is. A five-time winner from six starts in 2021 – his only defeat suffered when fourth (beaten a length) in the Kentucky Derby – the son of Tapit always seems to make hard work of it when winning, very much unlike, say, American Pharoah, who would blow his opposition out of the water during his spectacular campaign in 2015. The margins of victory in his most recent five wins are a cumulative two and one-half lengths, which brings into question whether he’s a colt that just does only what’s required or whether he’s simply beating a less than average lot of 3-year-olds and will get exposed when facing older horses, such as current kingpin (and his Brad Cox-trained stable mate) Knicks Go, whose Beyer numbers in the Cornhusker S.-G3 (113) and the Whitney S.-G1 (111) are clearly faster and more impressive.
Those concerns aside, there is nothing to prevent Essential Quality from stepping up his game during the fall, as many quality 3-year-olds will do. We know he can handle any distance or surface (wet or dry), and because of his versatility and handiness he almost always works out a clean trip. He’s also relentless under pressure. As the Travers unfolded, you suspected it may take Essential Quality a while to get by the easy front-running Midnight Bourbon, but in our mind at least there was never any doubt that he would. His Byer fig of 107 was two points less than his career top in the Belmont Stakes (109), so if you’re a handicapper enslaved by speed figures you’re probably fairly confident that he’ll get exposed eventually. We’re not so sure about that.
2 – Medina Spirit handed Essential Quality his only defeat in the Run for the Roses but two weeks later put up no resistance in the Preakness S.-G1 when challenged by Rombauer, fading to third, beaten more than five lengths. Given most of the summer off, Medina Spirit returned to winning form in the listed eight furlong Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday, setting good fractions and then holding off the stalking Rock Your World, the colt he had chased home in the Santa Anita Derby-G1. The length-and-one-quarter score earned a 100 Beyer speed figure, which is very nice number in the spring but is just decent at this time of the year for a 3-year-old.
The two may hook up again in the Pennsylvania Derby-G1 Sept. 25. Medina Spirit is a very good colt and, at least for now, he’s still the Kentucky Derby winner. But he’s not Essential Quality. As for Rock Your World, it’s understandable his connections want him to remain on dirt and with his own age group until the big purse money runs out, but we remain convinced he’ll eventually prove better on grass.
3 – Life Is Good had his unbeaten streak snapped in his fourth career start when missing by a neck to the high class 3-year-old sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkins Memorial S.-G1 on Travers Day but the son of Into Mischief, away since suffering an injury in March that cost him a chance to participate in the Spring Classics, returned as well as he left, and that’s pretty much all trainer Todd Pletcher was hoping to see. What happens next? Life Is Good was twice a stakes winner around two turns at Santa Anita last winter so the decision as to which direction to take him – either back him up to a sprint or stretch him out to a mile – will have to be made.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 as the year-end goal makes the most sense. As for the B. C. Classic, we’re not sure a mile and one-quarter will ever be his best trip, and there just isn’t enough time to lay a proper foundation, anyway. In due time the son of Into Mischief might stay 10 furlongs, especially next year when he’s stronger and more seasoned, but when a colt is this talented and has so much potential you have to do right by him. The long range goal should be to keep him sound and healthy, let him properly develop, and then see what kind of fantastic 4-year-old he can become.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Though they may be somewhat disadvantaged for having to travel to the West Coast for Breeders’ Cup, North America’s best sprinters reside in the East this year, specifically in Steve Asmussen’s barn, and it would not be surprising to see them dominate the division throughout the remainder of 2021. First, there’s the aforementioned Jackie’s Warrior, winner of seven of eight career starts around one turn, though it must be noted that 3-year-olds have won only nine of 37 previous BC Sprints, . Then there’s unbeaten and brilliant fast sophomore Beau Liam, who though clearly untested, is every bit as fast on pure figures as the much more accomplished stablemate. His second level six length allowance romp on Saturday received a 107 Beyer figure, identical to Jackie’s Warrior. Asmussen’s third high class sprinter, the 4-year-old Yaupon, overcame a mugging by Firenze Fire to win the Forego S.-G1 , though his Beyer figure (103) didn’t quite match up with his younger stable mates.
Earlier on the Saturday program, Jack Christopher, who had trained well enough to make our “Clocker’s Prime and Ready List” several weeks ago, finally got to the races and did what gamblers expected, blowing out a good field at even money almost nine lengths while earning a spectacular 92 Beyer speed figure. The son of Munnings from a half-sister to Street Boss is bred strictly to sprint, but he’s such a good mover that he might eventually run a bit far than he’s supposed to.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar – It’s not like Ginobili was never a pretty decent prospect – he finished second (beaten less than a length) to undefeated Nadal in the 2020 San Vicente S.-G2 at Santa Anita – but his last two races have left his previous lifetime form far behind, and his victory on Saturday in the Pat O’Brien S.-G2 over seven furlongs earned him a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-G1 that will be contested over the same track that has showcased his rapid recent rise to stardom. Prior to earning a pair of triple-digit Beyer figures that also featured a nearly 10 length romp in a first-level allowance main track miler in July, the son of Munnings owned a career top Beyer of 90 (in the San Vicente) from 11 previous starts. But those races came before trainer Richard Baltas decided to equip the gelding with blinkers. Whether or not the addition of the hood, a return to Del Mar (where he had defeated Honor A. P. in a maiden race as a 2-year-old), or something else less apparent contributed to his sudden emergence, the fact is he’s now a viable Breeders’ Cup candidate and will have a home court advantage in November that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Electric Ride, yet another graduate of our “Clocker’s Primed and Ready List,” was somewhat ignored on the tote (9/2) when debuting in the Saturday opener in a race that included a few other hot prospects, but it was the daughter of Daredevil (Swiss Skydiver, Shedaresthedevil, etc.) who aired by nearly nine lengths after being taken in hand and coasting home in the final sixteenth of a mile. The John Sadler-trained juvenile, a $250,000 OBS April sale purchase, earned a strong 85 Beyer speed figure that perhaps due to the ease of the victory doesn’t quite do her justice.
From the Week Concluding August 22, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – The career past performance chart of Malathaat makes for a very impressive resume. Six wins from seven starts including last weekend’s Alabama S.-G1, with her only defeat occurring by a short head in the C.C.A. Oaks-G1. Earnings of more than $1.5 million. Three Grade-1 wins from her last four starts, an accomplishment that already has clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old filly division with another month of summer and an entire fall of competition still remaining. Hall of Fame credentials, right?
But there is something about her – perhaps her good but certainly not over-the-moon speed figures, the lack of signature win over a signature rival, her grinding style, the smallish margins of her victories and the hard work required of them – that perplexes racing analysts. How good, really, is Malathaat? Yes, the best of her crop, for sure. But how does she stack up with the older fillies and mares that she will face in what now has been disclosed as her next start, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1 on the first Saturday in November at Del Mar?
My take? She will be dangerous. Very dangerous.
In a division that is led most certainly by Letruska – she a winner of five of her last six starts (with three triple-digit Beyer figures) – Malathaat still needs to improve to reach the top, but as a 3-year-old, and by Curlin, whose best runners almost always improve with age, the T. Pletcher-trained filly from A. P. Indy’s Frizette-G1 winning daughter Dreaming of Julia has every right to be better in November than she is in August. She’ll be fresh. She won’t be short. And in a race that in projecting ahead should have plenty of pace challengers, Malathaat will have every chance to do then what she did last Saturday.
2 – The victory by Tripoli in the Pacific Classic-G1 wasn’t surprising if for no other reason than the Southern California older male division has taken turns beating each other throughout the year, and apparently, last Saturday, it was his turn. Over a racetrack that was extremely kind to speed and the inside lanes, the 10-furlong main track event presented Tizamagician with a golden opportunity as the controlling speed, and as the field hit the midpoint of the far turn he appeared destined for victory. But when the R. Mandella-trained colt tried to put distance between himself and the stalkers, he couldn’t shrug off the ground-saving Tripoli, who simply overpowered his main foe enroute to his first ever stakes win and career top Beyer speed figure of 104.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 will be staged over this same track and distance, and Tripoli, a son of Kitten’s Joy who by rights shouldn’t even like dirt, now must be considered a legitimate threat, though at this stage he’s nowhere near Knicks Go on resume or speed figures, not to mention the John Gosden’s Mishriff, the Saudi Cup winner who has been described by his trainer as the “ideal mile and one-quarter horse.” But give Tripoli his due. He’s gotten better. Needs to do more, yes, but there’s still time.
3 – It was the fictional character Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez) who said in White Men Can’t Jump, “sometimes when you win, you lose, and sometimes when you lose you win.” Not sure how high Rhetoric can jump but he would have needed to leap over both Forbidden Kingdom and Kamui to win the Saturday fourth race at Del Mar after being blocked, bumped, and shut off in the final sixteenth of the abbreviated sprint for maiden juveniles. Eventually, he passed the wire behind those two when missing by only half-length, so he lost, technically. The bettors lost, and, yes, they really lost, even though the Quality Road colt from terrific Grade-1 winner Hard Not to Like eventually was moved up to second. But you know who also lost but who really, really won? Trainer Bob Baffert, and the colt’s multi-ownership connections, because in defeat they came away knowing they had the best colt in the race, a colt who in no way shape or form wants to sprint, and a colt which, like most Baffert youngsters, seems certain to get better with every subsequent race and every added furlong.
Baffert can run him back vs. maidens over a mile, or he might just wait to stretch him out in the American Pharoah S.-G1 during the fall Santa Anita meeting and, assuming he wins (he will) use that race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. We’ve seen some nice 2-year-olds so far this summer, both at Del Mar and Saratoga. But if you’re talking “down the road,” my future bet goes to Rhetoric.
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Trainer Wesley Ward had the Skidmore Stakes for 2-year-olds on Friday pretty much covered no matter what surface the race ended up being contested on. Kaufymaker was turf only, but when the race was switched to dirt, she came out, and her main track-only stable mate Averly Jane came in. The daughter of Midshipman didn’t waste any breath running alone, annihilating her foes by more than seven lengths in a rapid 1:03.79, earning a powerful 86 Beyer in the process. Now undefeated in three starts by a combined 19 lengths with wins on good, sloppy, and fast ground, she was a mere $35,000 yearling purchase bred by the University of Kentucky. Her bankroll has risen to $193,140. She will be earning more.
First place runaway maiden winner of the week goes to the debuting Todd Pletcher-trained colt My Prankster, who embarrassed what we thought was a good maiden field by 10 lengths on Saturday in 1:16.27. The Beyer speed figure was 92. Fast. A $600,000 Fasig-Tipton Select yearling purchase by Into Mischief, he’s a from My Wandy’s Girl, a champion race mare imported from Puerto Rico who won several good sprint stakes racing mostly on the Maryland circuit seven or eight years ago.
Second place runaway maiden winner of the week is Makin My Move, a John Kimmel-trained daughter of Carpe Diem who toyed with state bred fillies in the Friday second race, winning by more than 12 lengths in 1:10.92. The final time translates into 71 Beyer speed figure, which doesn’t make her Ruffian, but still is pretty good for two-year-old New York-bred filly. Carpe Diem has been on the soft side so far as a sire but Keeneland shoppers looking to spend in the teens could do worse.
5 – The weekly Wash from Del Mar– No trainer was colder than Phil D’Amato during the first two weeks of racing at Del Mar and no trainer has been hotter since at the seaside oval. D’Amato, best known for turning modest, inexpensive English and Irish imports into stakes performances (hello, Going Global), finally received the opportunity to train a fancy Kentucky-bred two-year-old and guess what, he can do that, too. Ain’t Easy, a $400,000 Keeneland yearling by Into Mischief from a young group-stakes placed Australian mare, received no wagering action despite the presence of Joel Rosario in the saddle and a 59 4/54 local gate drill. Fooled me. She settled in mid-pack early but then accelerated like a good filly to win by more than five lengths in 1:04.65 in the Saturday opener. Visually, she was better than her assigned 73 Beyer number, and while we know the Into Mischiefs can do anything, this filly’s female family is mostly quality speed, so it’ll be interesting to see how far she wants to go. We’re saying at least a mile, no problem.
Because he wears four bandages and has had to be stopped and started on a couple of times in the last 18 months, Mo Forza doesn’t really resonate as one of North America’s most durable (and best) turf milers, but his winning performance in the Del Mar Mile-G2 on Saturday in his first outing in almost 11 months was thoroughly gratifying to his owners, and trainer Peter Miller. A winner of this same race last year off a long layoff, the son of Uncle Mo now has captured seven of 13 career starts, and if he can get to the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 in November over this same course and distance in peak form, well, let’s just say the Europeans better not bring their second stringers.
From the Week Concluding August 15, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, Xpressbet.com handicapper and analyst
1 – After Bolshoi Ballet flopped in the Saratoga Invitational Derby-G1 Aug. 7, winding up a no-excuse fourth at even money behind fellow Irish shipper, the 21-1 long shot State of Rest, the plausible explanation was that he had “Euro-bounced” after being so impressive in his previous cross-Atlantic foray when winning the Belmont Derby-G1 in early June. Had Bolshoi Ballet done what was expected and win again, there would have been fewer doubters that Santa Barbara, for the same connections, would be able to repeat her thoroughly dominating victory in her U.S. debut, the Belmont Oaks Invitational-G1, when she returned for the Beverly D. S.-G1 at Arlington Park on Saturday. Didn’t happen. Inside the furlong pole, Santa Barbara roared past Mean Mary (who had her chances greatly compromised after breaking through the gate prior to the start) to win as impressively as she had done at Belmont Park. The 3-year-old daughter of Camelot seems highly-likely to return to the States for a third time to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar.
Last week we opined that the late-developing War Like Goddess had become the best long distance North American based turf filly following her visually stunning victory in the Glens Falls S.-G2 at Saratoga. We’ll stick with that because the younger Santa Barbara technically isn’t North American based – she does her training at Aidan O’Brien’s yard in Ireland – but in a division that is often far less glamorous that some of the others, this impeding collision between these two exceptional fillies is something to really look forward to.
2 – What was Got Stormy doing in the Grade-1 Fourstardave Handicap, anyway? Yeah, she won it two years ago, but wasn’t she far past her prime, having finished off the board in three of her last four starts, with a low-rated Grade-3 victory against moderate fillies and mares sandwiched in between? Isn’t she better sprinting? That’s what we thought. That’s what many of the serious bettors believed, who let her go at 12-1. Glad to be wrong (preferred the runner-up Set Piece, who flew home but too late, I’ll live with it). Her winning 103 Beyer speed figure equaled the number she earned when second to Halladay in this race last year, so we can safely assume that the now 6-year-old mare, a winner of 12 races from 30 career starts while consistently facing the best males and females North America, really hasn’t lost too many steps after all, and that’s a credit to the newly enshrined Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, who’s had her for all but her first two races.
She’ll face the boys again in the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Del Mar (she won the Matriarch S.-G1 there in 2019) but before that probably have a prep, maybe sprinting next month at Kentucky Downs. We’ll probably wind up trying to beat her again on Championship day in November but a big part of us will rooting for her, nonetheless.
3 – We don’t second guess the Southern California stewards very often. Actually, we almost always agree with their decisions. Not so with their ruling to disqualify Next Revolt from first to fourth in the Thursday fifth race at Del Mar. Under Flavian Prat, the gelding came over a half lane – okay, perhaps a bit more – entering the stretch on the already faltering Invictatatus, forcing that one to check and briefly steady. Invictatatus was never, ever, ever going to win or finish second (he wound up being beaten 10 lengths), but a case could be made that he may have been able to salvage third money, even though the incident happened more than a furlong before the wire. Next Revolt’s owners (that’s who I identify with) lost a winner’s purse of $16,800 while the handicappers (not me) who correctly tabbed the original first place finisher at 9/2 got nothing, not to mention the bettors who played the race correctly in rolling exotics and got knocked out, too.
Yes, Prat was careless, give him days (they did), but horse players should be part of the equation, too – and we’re not referring to the ones that got kissed in, but those who played the race properly and deserved to be rewarded. In these situations, you have to have your priorities in order. In adjudicating an inquiry or a foul claim, and it’s a close call, shouldn’t the judges consider who would be wronged the most? In this case, would it be the owner of the much-the-best original winner and those that correctly played him? Or the owner of the badly beaten “fouled” horse who lost $1,680 (the difference in purse money from third to fourth) and the show bettors who got $2.80 after their horse got moved up?
4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: Sunday’s first race winner Silipo, a 2-year-old by Candy Ride making his debut for a $40,000 tag, did what was required in registering a more than three length win in a modest 1:06.13 and was claimed by Bruce Brown. In watching the gelding’s action, the old L.A. Ram split end Crazy Legs Hirsch suddenly popped into my mind. Wisconsin Badger fans are aware that Crazy Legs has been rated the 94th best player in NFL history by The Athletic. . .Street Vendor rallied from eighth to second into the teeth of slow splits in the Sunday second when debuting going long on the turf for Todd Pletcher. The Nyquist colt brought $500,000 as a yearling. He’s not worth it just yet. Soon, maybe. . .Really believed hot recent maiden winner Ducale would come right back on the raise in the Saturday eighth but the Twirling Candy colt flipped in the paddock and had to be scratched. If he’d run, it’s highly unlikely he would have challenged Speaker’s Corner. In his first start since beating Caddo River in a 2-year-old maiden race last October, the Street Sense colt returned better than he left for trainer Bill Mott, winning by more than five lengths in 1:22.29, which translates to a 101 Beyer Speed figure. He may be the late developing 3-year-old star we’ve been waiting for all summer.
Most of the time it’s better to believe what you see, not what you read. Grade-1 winner Simply Ravishing, beaten more than 19 lengths as the favorite in the Ashland S.-G1 at Keeneland in her sophomore debut, returned in the Thursday third, the Saratoga Dew Handicap. The assistant trainer was quoted in the DRF about how ready she was, how terrific she had trained. We went to the xbtv.com website to watch one of her recent works. She looked awful. Dead on the board and not even favored, she wound up last of five, beaten 23 lengths, by Dancing Kiki. . .Two-year-old maidens who win at six furlongs on this track and go faster than 1:11 have done something noteworthy. Key Point, a New York-bred son of Into Mischief, ran 1:10.89 as a debut winner in the Thursday fifth, but didn’t really figure out what was required of him until the final sixteenth, at the which time he apparently realized the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. Yeah, we like his chances in state bred stakes, but his connections may have larger goals in mind.
5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: The Steve Miyadi-trained Saul’s Call looked like he was worth the money when he blew out a juvenile maiden $50,000 field by more than six lengths on Sunday. At least one trainer thought so, but the claim was voided by the state veterinarian. Sometimes, it works the other way. Later that same day in the fourth race, Big Well was claimed for $20,000 but finished last. That claim was voided, too. . .Does anybody in California do better with European imports than trainer Phil D’Amato? Keep in mind that these aren’t proven stakes winners he’s getting, more like modest handicappers. His 2-year-old filly Helen’s Well had a prior run earlier this year at some track called Rosscommon in Ireland (she finished fourth), made her U.S. debut in the Saturday fifth, and after walking out of the gate rallied with purpose to score as miles best like a filly who’ll certainly return in stakes company next time out.
While we’re on the subject of juvenile fillies running long on the lawn, you can never be sure what you’ll see in a maiden California-bred event. Most of the time you won’t see much. Not so in the Thursday fourth race when Dendera and Eleuthera left the others far behind, with the latter particularly impressive in her second place finish in her debut for trainer Ben Cecil. The Square Eddie filly was given far too much to do in a poorly timed ride but finished full of run to be a distant second while preserving her maiden status that will provide additional experience next time, assuming, of course, they run her back vs. maidens. She’s owned by Paul Reddam. . .Claim of the week was made by Ryan Hanson, who took English-bred gelding Barristan The Bold on the big class drop for $32,000 from Friday’s second race. Finished third, should have galloped.