Last week, we focused solely on Parx Park because of their extravaganza of racing. But in this weekend’s Horse Racing Race of the Week it was a lot more difficult to choose a key race being there are a blockbuster amount of big races being run, in New York and California, as final prep races for the Breeders Cup, which is now just some six weeks away. After much deliberation, I chose the 2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, which is the highlighted race on the card that is dubbed “Super Saturday”, as the race drew quite a contentious field in Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, upset winner of the Woodward Stakes Alpha, the speedy and game Cross Traffic, Flat Out, who will be trying for a three peat in this race and Kentucky Derby winner Orb all entered in the 1 1/4 miles classic.
With such tremendous racing on both coasts, (Santa Anita and Belmont show no less that five….count them…five Grade 1 races a piece) I’ll try and touch on the all races and not bore you with a long drawn-out introduction.
I’ll start at Santa Anita and race #5, which is the Chandelier Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for 2yo fillies. Of the 10 Grade: 1’s I mentioned a minute ago, this is one of the top 3 or 4 races that really grabbed my attention. She’s a Tiger, who is already a two time stakes winner while showing just four career starts, will take on seven others including the highly regarded Awesome Baby, who although disappointed in her last, could still be dangerous in here and is one third of a three headed monster being sent out by trainer Bob Baffert.
Race: 6 is the Rodeo Drive Stakes at 1 1/4 miles for filly and mare turf runners. Marketing Mix, who on a lot of people’s list is the leading older female turf runner in the country, will take six others including the stretch running Lady of Shamrock and Tiz Flirtatious, who has never been off the board in now 10 careers turf starts. Although Marketing Mix owns a recent decision over these two, she was defeated in her last race (The Beverley D at Arlington) and she might be very well be vulnerable come Saturday.
Race: 7, the FrontRunner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for the two year old colts and geldings, looks very intriguing to me. Tamarando, who used an enormous late run to win his last (The Del-Mar Futurity) at seven furlongs, will try to stretch out another 1 ½ furlongs in this one. Tamarando was ninth on the turn for home and fifth at the eighth pole, yet was able to get up to win by half a length. The dark brown colt by Bertrando will be looking for his third win in this his fifth career start and, more importantly, his first win on the traditional dirt surface.
He will have his work cut out for him as he will be facing 10 other juveniles including Dance With Fate and Can the Man, second and third, respectively, in the Del Mar Futurity.
Skipping race 8 on the card and moving on to race 9 is the Zenyatta Stakes for three year old and up fillies and mares. Entered in the mile and a sixteenth race is 2012 two year old champion Beholder, the talented gray Joyful Victory, who is coming off a huge win (7 1/2 length) in the Molly Pitcher at Delaware Park, Include Me Out, a multiple grade I winner who was third in last year’s Breeders Cup Distaff and Authenticity, who ships in from the East Coast. Another multiple stakes winner, this mare was last seen chasing the amazing Royal Delta around the Saratoga oval when she finished second to her in the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign.
The last race you should take note of at Santa Anita on Saturday is the Awesome Again Stakes at 1 1/8 miles for the older males. With Game On Dude riding a six race winning streak and taking the day off, the two big guns in this race are the speedy Paynter, who’s miraculous comeback has sputtered a bit with recent back to back defeats and the hulking Mucho Macho Man, who will both be looking to punch their tickets for the Breeders Cup Classic. A total of 10 were entered and I see several with outside shots of winning including, Chief Havoc, Holy Lute, and Jeronimo.
Back on the east coast, Belmont Park will open the first of their five Grade: 1 events with nothing short of a bang in the fifth race, the Beldame Invitational at 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares. Simply put, this might be the most exciting race all weekend as two time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta will take on probably already 2013 three year old champion filly Princess of Sylmar.
Princess of Sylmar is coming off three consecutive impressive come from behind wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama Stakes.
Royal Delta is…well…Royal Delta as the now 5 year old Empire Maker mare is coming into this race off a win in the Aug 25 Personal Ensign (by 4 ½ lengths) and a blow-out win (10 ¾ lengths) in the July 20 Delaware Handicap
Royal Delta has been installed as the 3-5 favorite on the morning line, while Princess of Sylmar is listed the 2-1 second choice.
Race: 6 is the Kelso Handicap and features the return of Graydar, who was one of the leading older males in the country before an injury to his left front ankle (and subsequent surgery) sidelined him for several months.
Assuming Graydar, who won the Feb. 9 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and then followed that up with a win in the March 3 New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds, is ready he should win this easily as only Jackson Bend (a fast closing second in the Forego in his last), Hymn Book (3 starts, 3 seconds in 2013) and South American import Brujo de Olleros (an over 6 length winner in his last) appear to be his main rivals.
Race: 7 is the Vosburgh Handicap at 6 furlongs for sprinters. It’s a wide open race for sure but I like Forty Tales (although I don’t like him breaking from the #1 hole) to bounce back off his recent, rough trip, defeat in this race. That being said, it won’t be an easy task as Strapping Groom (Forty Tales conqueror in his last), multiple stakes winner Justin Phillip, Bahamian Squall and Gentlemen’s Bet, the 2-3 finishers in the Grade: 1 Alfred Vanderbilt this past summer and speedy The Lumber Guy, are all scheduled to start.
Race: 8 is the Flower Bowl Invitational at 1 1/4 miles over the turf for the fillies and mares.
A red hot Laughing will be a prohibitive favorite and rightfully so after her back to back wire to wire scores at Saratoga, but I do see three who are capable of pulling off an upset.
Tannery was charging hard, late at the end of the Sword Dancer (vs. males) in her last and merits respect off that effort alone, White Rose has only been off the board once in eight lifetime starts and Qushchi also possesses some closing speed and if Laughing is pushed too hard early, this one could be coming late.
Race: 9 is the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational for the older male turf runners at 1 1/2 miles over the widener turf course. A field of 10 will go post-ward and…good grief…where do I start with this one?
The way I see it, no less than half the field has a legitimate chance to win it. Big Blue Kitten has won four of his last five and appears to be the one to beat but Boisterious (albeit it appears he’s gone off form a bit lately) is a Grade: 1 winner and loves this turf course, King Kreesa has top notch early speed and was last seen fighting the awesome Wise Dan tooth and nail down the stretch in the Fourstardave at Saratoga, Little Mike is trying to bounce back to last years tremendous form and Real Solution, who closed like a rocket and missed winning the prestigious Arlington Million by a head in his last, all appear to have a good chance of winning.
Belmont Park – Saturday, September 28, 2013
Race 10 – 5:49 PM
Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational Stakes (Grade I)
For Three Year Olds and Upward
One and One Quarter Miles
|1||1||Ron the Greek||6/H||L||J Lezcano||126||W I Mott||
|2||2||Orb||3/C||L||J Castellano||122||C R McGaughey||
|3||3||Last Gunfighter||4/C||L||R Maragh||126||C C Brown||
|4||4||Vitoria Olimpica||4/C||L||I Ortiz, Jr.||126||T A Pletcher||
|5||5||Alpha||4/C||L||J Bravo||126||K P McLaughlin||
|6||6||Flat Out||7/H||L||J Alvarado||126||W I Mott||
|7||7||Palace Malice||3/C||L||M E Smith||122||T A Pletcher||
|8||8||Cross Traffic||4/C||L||J R Velazquez||126||T A Pletcher||
Analysis: (In Post Position Order, Selections Below)
PP#1- Ron the Greek– this now six year old is at the mercy of the pace with his big late running style. The good news is he should have a quick pace to close into, but the bad news is he’s seems to have lost half a step this year (Still only one win in six tries and that one win was back in January) and he was beaten handily in his last two races by three horses (Cross Traffic, Alpha and Flat Out) that all of whom are entered again in this race.
PP#2- Orb– After five consecutive impressive come from behind wins earlier in the year, this good looking colt by Malibu Moon was flat in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes’.
He was then was given a freshening and came back to run well in the Travers (He came from off the pace to actually put his head in front at the quarter pole but was outrun by Will Take Charge and Moreno down the lane).
“I thought he ran a really big race in the Travers,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “I think he has moved forward since then. He’s better now than he was in the Travers and he’ll have to be.”
Yes he did Mr. McGaughey… and although he does have a license to run well on Saturday, I still think this year’s Kentucky Derby winner may have peaked out in the winter and spring.
Lastly, albeit he’s been working steady and strong at Fair Hill (back to back five furlong moves in 1:01 flat), rival trainer Todd Pletcher hit the nail right on the head when he said: “You have to be a very good 3-year-old to beat older horses, particularly in this running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which looks to be a strong one.”
No doubt Orb is a good three year old, but good enough to win this? I doubt it…he’ll need a wicked early pace, a clean trip and a little luck to pull it off.
PP#3- Last Gunfighter– sleeper alert?…this colt by the good looking First Samurai has never been off the board in 12 career starts including winning an eye popping seven of his last eight races while showing triple digit speed figures in his last four in a row.
Distance won’t be a problem but the step up in company may…
“He seems to be training great,” trainer Chad Brown said. “It’s a tall task, with such a solid field, and he’s going to have to come with his best to even be a factor. But it’s not out of the question for him to do that. He seems to bring his “A” game every time I run him.”…outside shot here.
PP#4-Vitoria Olimpica– is 4 for 8 in his career (mostly in Brazil, where he did win a Grade:1 stakes race) and did win his prep race for this (The Alydar Stakes at Saratoga) in game fashion while scoring at not so bad 97 speed figure in the process.
Even still, I can’t play him… if he wins; it’ll be considered an enormous upset….pass.
PP#5- Alpha– what in world happened in the Woodward? I mean, after running 6 consecutive disappointing races (dating back over a year), this colt by Bernardini takes the early lead over a sloppy Saratoga surface and never looked back. He scored by a diminishing head (to Flat Out) at almost 8-1 odds (on paper, it looked as though he should have been 25-1).
So what’s with the sudden reversal in form? Did he all of sudden bounce back into top form or did the slop move him up? How does he go from running his last four speed figures (in order) of 86, 50, 95 and 96 to …POW!…a 109?
That, readers, looks like a classic case of a “freak” performance that will not be duplicated on Saturday. Bet him at your own risk, but I’m going to toss him out.
PP#6- Flat Out– the first thing that jumps out at you is the 5 for 6 career record over the Belmont surface (can you say the horse for the course?). The second thing is that this now seven year old tries for his third straight win in this race.
“I think it’s great a horse that can participate in it three times in a row,” said trainer Bill Mott. “It’s a testament to the horse’s durability and class. He seems to handle the track well, which definitely is part of it. I also think there probably are a lot of factors that go into it, including that he comes into form at that time of year.”
His last two races have been barn-burners with a 2 ¼ length tally in the Suburban Handicap ( July 6) where he ran nine furlongs in a sizzling 1:46.2 before coming second to Alpha in the aforementioned Woodward where he was closing fast on the outside to miss by a head.
“I wouldn’t say he could run much better than he ran at Saratoga (The Woodward) last time,” Mott added. “That was an awfully good race.”
Yes it was Mr. Mott….this horse, who has now banked over $3 million, merits respect in any betting scenario.
PP#7- Palace Malice– Belmont and Jim Dandy Stakes’ winner by Curlin really appears to be coming into his own based on his last three races and their respective speed figures.
Dating back to June 8, he won the Belmont Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths (98 speed figure), then came back and won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga (107 speed figure).
He was then entered in the Travers but that race was nothing short of a nightmare for him. He stumbled badly at the start and quickly found himself in an unfamiliar position (eighth in a nine horse field).
Jockey Mike Smith calmly weaved his way thru traffic but was forced to fan five wide on the turn for home.
Let me go ahead and tell you, this colt had every reason in the world to spit out the bit and finish in a different zip code as the others but he didn’t…..if fact, he was beaten less than a length for all the money in perhaps one of the best performances I’ve seen all year.
“Considering the stumble at the start and the slow fractions on top of that, you can certainly argue he ran the best race in the Travers,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Palace Malice….yes Mr. Pletcher…that’s a very good point.
“I would say it’s a very strong renewal (of the JCGC),” said Pletcher. “It’s a tall order for everybody in there, really. Palace Malice’s year started in January at Gulfstream and at the end of September he still seems to be doing great. If anything, I think he’s improved with the time. He’s a May foal and he seems to get better and stronger as we go along and seems to thrive on the action and the training in between. I’ve been very, very pleased with the way he’s held up physically and mentally.”
“To me, it looks like he’s put on weight since the Travers,” Pletcher added. “He’s trained very well, seems to love the action, and is getting better and better.”
Indeed, I saw this colt’s last work for this race (a half mile in :49.3) and he was a handful thru the last 2 ½ or 3 furlongs…. big threat to win it.
PP#8- Cross Traffic– let me tell you, this is one amazing gray horse. The accolades start with running a mile in 1:32.4 and a 116 speed figure in just his third career start (mind-boggling stuff) and end with a career record of 5-3-2-0.
“It’s very rare that you see a horse that can accomplish as much as he has so early in his career, just as Graydar has, winning the Donn Handicap in his fourth career start. For Cross Traffic to be able to make his debut at four and win the Whitney in August and almost win the Met Mile in May speaks volumes how talented he is” ..trainer Todd Pletcher said.
There are things that I know (and a ton more that I don’t) and I know this horse will be on the early lead. I also know for him to be successful he must not, under any circumstances, get hooked in an early speed duel with either Alpha or long-shot Vitoria Olimpica because I did not like the way he finished (albeit winning) the Whitney Handicap in his last.
In the Whitney, he “swerved” at the sixteenth pole (a sign of fatigue) and although trainer Todd Pletcher doesn’t think the 10 furlong distance will be a problem:
“At the end of the Westchester and the Met Mile, if you look past the wire he was back in front and still galloped out pretty strongly,” Pletcher said. “That gave us confidence that going a mile and an eighth would be in his scope. We’ll have to see about the mile and a quarter, but everything that he’s shown us indicates that it shouldn’t be a problem.”
The fact still remains that, as blessed as he is with talent and raw speed, he’ll have to go an eighth of a mile longer than he’s ever been before, under the most weight he’s ever carried before and against a star studded field. That, readers, could be a recipe for disaster.
1) Flat Out
2) Cross Traffic
3) Palace Malice
Record: 17-45 = 39%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces:
**** 2012 Breeders Cup Classic winner Fort Larned will have his last prep before attempting a BC Classic title defense at his home base of Churchill Down on Saturday in the first edition of the $175,000 Homecoming Classic Stakes. The 1 1/8-mile race will be contested as the seventh on the card with a scheduled post time of 9:05 p.m.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said the chance for Fort Larned to race at his home track rather than ship to New York for the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at BelmontPark on the same day made the Homecoming an attractive option.
“Our goal is to try and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic again,” Wilkes said. “We want to do what we feel is right for the horse. We keep him here and run him a mile and an eighth. He’s on his track with a one-race ship. Otherwise I’m going to ship to Belmont and ship back again”.
“It just fit into our plans to run him here. If we didn’t have the September Meet and didn’t have this race, we would have gone to the Jockey Club.”
Amongst others, Fort Larned will be facing last year’s dead-heat Travers Stakes winner Golden Ticket and 2011 Stephen Foster winner Pool Play, who enters off a third-place finish in the Greenwood Cup Stakes Sept. 2 at ParxPark. I do expect Fort Larned to cruise in this race.
**** Al Stall Jr., trainer of multiple graded stakes winner Departing, said the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby at RemingtonPark on Sept. 29 will be the last start of the season for his good looking gelding.
The 3-year-old by War Front will be making his eighth start of 2013 in the 1 1/8-mile race on Sunday, and looks to add the Oklahoma Derby to a Résumé ‘that includes the West Virginia Derby (by 8 ¾), Illinois Derby (by 3 ¼), and, most recently, the Super Derby (by 4).
“This will be his last start of the year,” Stall said this past Tuesday. “He’s a gelding, and if he’s good enough to be considered for the Breeders’ Cup as a 3-year-old, he’s good enough to be in it as a 4-year-old.”
Departing has a record of six wins and a third from eight starts, with earnings of $1,379,500.
“He won his first three starts and was third in the Louisiana Derby, so it’s not like this is a big surprise that he’s competitive in the second-tier derbies,” Stall said.
Departing’s final work for the year, and for this race wass at Louisiana Downs, going four furlongs in :48 2/5.
“We left him down there because it’s an easy ship from Louisiana Downs to Oklahoma City, and the climates are pretty much the same,” Stall said. “Shipping from there is quite a bit easier, and the plane that was supposed to go to Oklahoma from here actually fell through again, so if we’d brought him back here he would have had a much longer ship to deal with.”
Stall added that Departing will return to Kentucky after the Oklahoma Derby and could then be turned out locally or in South Carolina. He also said he believes Departing will “continue to improve at 4 and as a 5-year-old and maybe a 6-year-old, don’t forget about that.”
**** Richard’s Kid, a two-time winner of the Pacific Classic, has been retired from racing with a leg injury.
The announcement was posted on trainer Doug O’Neill’s Facebook page.
“It is with regret that we announce the retirement of multiple graded stakes winner, Richard’s Kid. Richard’s Kid has been retired due to a slight tendon tear … It has been a pleasure to have such an incredible gentleman of a horse in our barn. We wish him well in his next career at stud…. Plans to be determined at a later date.”
The now 8-year-old won back to back runnings of the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar in 2009-10 and was third in last year’s edition behind Dullahan and Game On Dude.
The horse was previously trained by Bob Baffert until he was sold and transferred to O’Neill’s barn prior to last year’s Pacific Classic.
Richard’s Kid finishes his racing career with 12 wins in 47 starts for $2,482,259.
**** Shanghai Bobby, the champion 2-year-old male of 2012, won his first start off nearly a six-month layoff this past week at BelmontPark.
The 3-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday took the $100,000 Aljamin, an overnight stakes, by a neck while making his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher since a fifth in the March 30
“You’re always concerned when you haven’t run a horse in (six) months, champion 2-year-old, and all of that,” Pletcher said. “We felt like we had him ready enough and he showed up and ran his race.”
Shanghai Bobby will be considered for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile.
“He ran really well off the layoff,” Pletcher said. “I thought he ran well enough today to put us in the mix for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or the Dirt Mile, but we’ll see how he bounces out of it.”
John Velazquez was in the saddle for the first time and, together, they went off as the 3-5 favorite.
“It was the first time (John Velazquez) has ridden him. I cautioned him before the race that Shanghai Bobby kind of has a tendency to wait when he makes the lead,” Pletcher said. “He was trying to time it and not get there too soon, and not cut it too close, either.
Shanghai Bobby completed the 6 1/2 furlong sprint in 1:15.3.
“It was my first time riding him” Velasquez said, “But I had watched his previous races, and what he does is get to the lead and wait. I didn’t want to make a premature move and get to the lead too quickly; then, I waited too long and it took him a long time to get going,” Velazquez added. “Finally, when he got to the lead, he started waiting again. His gallop out was really good. He’s a tough horse to read.”
****….aaaaaaand finally in the occasional “This has nothing to do with Horse Racing” section, I read where 86 year old Lawrence Loeffler, from La Pine, Oregon shot (and killed) his 83 year old wife Betty once in the neck and once in the head with a .25 caliber pistol for “screwing the ketchup lid on too tightly”….wow…seriously?