Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Breeders' Cup 2012: Wednesday

Groupie Doll
Photo by Terri Cage
I found it difficult to sleep my first night in California. The next morning, I would venture to the Great Race Place, or Santa Anita Park, for the first time in my life. I would take in the sights and sounds of the 2012 Breeders' Cup, my eyes scanning over the dozens of horses preparing for the world championships. I was like a young child on Christmas morning, my eyes wide open before my alarm clock sounded.

My mother and I, through the fog, arrived at Clocker's Corner in the wee hours of the morning, fog covering the track as the sound of hooves and snorts of horses came from the track. Before I knew it, My Miss Aurelia galloped before me, followed by a whirlwind of majestic Thoroughbreds preparing for the Breeders' Cup.

Due to an expedition to a couple of farms (which will likely be featured in time) nearly three hours south of Santa Anita after morning workouts, I had little time to prepare the many videos I took this morning. Below are a few that I selected to share for tonight; I will post more shortly. Trust me, there are many more!

Stay tuned! There is much more to share!

EXTRA: Super Ninety Nine, who is simply just a maiden special weight winner, looked spectacular this morning for trainer Bob Baffert. He greatly resembled Euroears, a former Baffert trainee. It will be interesting to see how he performs in the Juvenile Sprint on Friday.


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Animal Kingdom

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Awesome Feather

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Executiveprivilege

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Game On Dude

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Musical Romance

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My Miss Aurelia

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Richard's Kid

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Ron the Greek

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Shackleford

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Super Ninety Nine

Monday, October 29, 2012

Breeders' Cup 2012: Anticipation

By Mary Cage

As I eagerly anticipate my departure to Santa Anita for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, I reminisce upon my pair of expeditions to the two-day event that attracts a plethora of the most elite Thoroughbred racehorses in the world. Both of the Breeders’ Cups I have been to were beneath the esteemed Twin Spires in a magical land most people refer to as Churchill Downs. Without a doubt, I will miss the beautiful bluegrass and Churchill Downs, but I am certainly enthusiastic about my first expedition to the Great Race Place, a racetrack enriched with history that has been graced with some of the greatest racehorses of all-time, including my personal favorite, Zenyatta, as well as some of my favorites from the early days, such as Citation and Seabiscuit.

For the past two years, I have gazed across the track in the mornings as some of the best equine athletes in the world milled to and fro, sporting Breeders’ Cup saddle towels. Days later, I have watched them compete in some of the most challenging, renowned races on the planet. Seeing the world’s best Thoroughbreds is an incomparable experience – the kind that will forever be among my absolute greatest memories. And within hours, I will only be adding to those memories.

My eyes will focus upon the superstars of the Sport of Kings: Wise DanRoyal DeltaGame On DudeAwesome Feather, Groupie Doll, My Miss AureliaMucho Macho Man, Shanghai Bobby, Questing, Executiveprivilege, Point of Entry, and so many more. It's safe to say that I am profoundly excited. In less than two days, my heart will soar as my eyes take in the sights of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. I, for one, cannot wait! And don’t worry, I will keep you all updated!

Drosselmeyer prior to winning the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic
Photo by Terri Cage

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic


The Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) has provided us with some of the greatest moments in horse racing. With twenty-eight grand renewals of this race behind us, each with its own story, it may be difficult to choose the greatest Classic ever run. This only endorses the greatness of this race, which is one of my favorite races in the sport. This year’s edition is sure to be compelling, assembling some of the best Thoroughbred athletes in the world.

Game On Dude
Game On Dude
Photo by Mary Cage

A horse that came within 1 ½ lengths of winning last year’s Classic, Game On Dude began 2012 with a 5 ¼-length victory in the San Antonio Stakes (GII) prior to shipping to Dubai for the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup (GI). However, the race – in which Game On Dude finished twelfth – can be thrown out, as the campaign Game On Dude has formed since then has been arguably the best of any main track-based older male in the nation.

His return to American racing came in the Californian Stakes (GII) at Hollywood Park, in which Game On Dude annihilated a small field by 7 ¼ lengths in a good final time of 1:48.01 for nine furlongs over the cushion track, which – though a synthetic surface – is quite similar to dirt. This served as the perfect set-up for the Hollywood Gold Cup (GI), a race in which Game On Dude had been defeated by a scant margin by stablemate First Dude the previous year. But it was clear that 2012 was his year to shine.

Rating just off the pace set by Spud Spivens, Game On Dude took the lead as the five-eighths pole neared, drawing away and continuing to lead until the end of the ten-furlong race, capturing the race by 1 ½ lengths. Game On Dude looked to continue his winning streak next out in California’s richest race, the Pacific Classic Stakes (GI) at Del Mar. It is no secret that Game On Dude does not have an affinity for Del Mar’s synthetic surface, as in this very race in 2011, Game On Dude ran a distant fourth. He experienced a more successful outing in the Pacific Classic this time around, though his series of consecutive victories culminated. After somewhat of a poor start, Game On Dude settled just off the pace prior to taking the lead as the half-mile marker approached. He appeared to be home-free around the far turn and even at the top of the stretch, but the dual grade one-winning
Dullahan – whose only wins have come on the synthetic – closed on his outside, catching him in the final strides as Game On Dude’s rider – Chantal Sutherland – lost a rein. Dullahan surpassed Game On Dude by a half-length, setting a new track record. Chantal Sutherland would never ride Game On Dude again.

“The Dude” made his final start before the Breeders’ Cup in the Awesome Again Stakes (GI) at Santa Anita – a stakes that had been renamed after his sire, but had been labeled as the Goodwood a year prior when Game On Dude captured the race over Awesome Gem. Yet again, Game On Dude came away with a win, being ridden by Rafael Bejarano on race day for just the second time. With ease, Game On Dude coasted to a 3 ¼-length win.

As his name suggests, Game On Dude is as game as they come and has put together a spectacular campaign this year. It is obvious that this gelding loves the Santa Anita surface, as he has never lost in five starts over the Arcadia, California track. Furthermore, Game On Dude has been training in tremendous style for the Breeders’ Cup, of course preparing over the Santa Anita oval. He seems to be in great condition and with his clear love for the surface, his evident talent, and his undeniable consistency, Game On Dude will be incredibly difficult to defeat.

Mucho Macho Man

One of just three horses that contested in all three races of the 2011 Triple Crown, Mucho Macho Man was sidelined following the prestigious series, returning in November to easily capture on allowance optional claiming event at Aqueduct. He made his return to stakes company in January in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes at Gulfstream Park, in which the son of Macho Uno settled off the leader prior to coasting to a 1 ½-length triumph.

Mucho Macho Man’s first try against graded company since the Belmont Stakes (GI) came in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII), in which the tall, lanky individual stalked the pace in the early stages before pouncing to a narrow lead near the quarter pole, never looking back from that point forward as he edged clear to an effortless 2-length victory.

Mucho Macho Man suffered his first defeat of the season in the Alysheba Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs on
Kentucky Oaks day. Rating off the pace as he raced three paths off the rail, Mucho Macho Man appeared to be a strong threat for the win as the horses rounded the far turn. However, he lacked the needed kick and finished third behind Wise Dan’s half-brother Successful Dan, and Fort Larned.

A return to New York resulted in a return to the winner’s circle for Mucho Macho Man. With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard for the first time, the long-limbed bay went to post in the Suburban Handicap (GII) at Belmont Park. After breaking on top, Mucho Macho Man settled just off the brisk pace set by Trickmeister, appearing very comfortable beneath Smith. Around the far turn, Mucho Macho Man loomed on Trickmeister’s outside, striking to the lead as the field turned for home. Mucho Macho Man then kicked clear, easily drawing off to an easy 2 ½-length with a final time just over one second off Secretariat’s nine-furlong track record.

Mucho Macho Man appeared set for his first grade one victory as his initial opportunity for such a triumph neared in the Woodward Stakes (GI) at Saratoga on the first day of September. Following a bump at the start, Mucho Macho Man was left slightly behind in the early stages of the race, but began to inch closer to the lead around the far turn. Smith maneuvered the horse to the inside to allow less ground to be covered, but guided Mucho Macho Man to the outside near the three-sixteenths marker. Mucho Macho Man accelerated, becoming even with To Honor and Serve in late stretch and seemed as if he would surge to victory, but with smart race-riding, To Honor and Serve’s jockey, John Velazquez, permitted his mount to drift out, thus forcing Mucho Macho Man to go wide and cover more ground. As a result, Mucho Macho Man ran out of real estate, falling a neck short.

Mucho Macho Man should not be knocked for losing his final prep race for the Classic. After all, the past two Classic victors did not achieve a win in the race that served as their last rep race for the Breeders’ Cup. Moreover, Mucho Macho Man further proved the heart he possesses when he strove to conquer To Honor and Serve. He has been incredibly consistent this year, never finishing out of the money despite the fact that he has performed at four different tracks in 2012. This also insinuates that, though Mucho Macho Man has never contested over Santa Anita’s surface, he will take to the track, as he has performed well over each track he has competed at this year. It will be no easy undertaking to face the Santa Anita monster, Game On Dude, but Mucho Macho Man has the power, the talent, and the heart to do so and should be viewed as one of the very top competitors in the Classic, especially considered the series of bullet works he has fired.

Flat Out

Following a win in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (GI), Flat Out went off as the favorite in the 2011 rendition of the Classic, in which he finished fifth. Then trained by Charles “Scooter” Dickey, Flat Out was transferred to Bill Mott – who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) and Classic – following a string of three more losses. His first start for Mott resulted in a runner-up finish in the Monmouth Cup Stakes (GII), which preceded a third-place outcome in the Whitney Handicap (GI) at Saratoga.

In the Whitney, Flat Out raced wide throughout, going widest as he entered the stretch. The son of Flatter turned for home six-wide, attempting to chase Fort Larned alongside Ron the Greek as the horses raced towards the wire. But time ran out and Flat Out was left in a photo finish with Ron the Greek, finishing third.
Flat Out
Photo by Mary Cage

Flat Out revisited the stage on which his greatest victory had occurred, the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, to attempt to become the first horse since Curlin to win back-to-back runnings of the prestigious race. He did just that. Settling off the front-running contingent, Flat Out sat in a comfortable position mid-pack, rating several lengths off the lead. He began to inch closer to the leaders around the far turn, making an imposing rally on the outside as the field turned for home. As Stay Thirsty fought to maintain the lead, Flat Out loomed on the outside at the top of the stretch as Fort Larned struggled to keep up. Flat Out grinded out the victory, passing Stay Thirsty in the final strides in a good final time of 2:01.44 for ten furlongs.

It cannot be denied that Flat Out is a Belmont specialist, but he is capable of performing well at other tracks, having won at two others and finished in the money at seven tracks altogether. Having seen him finish a very fast-closing second in the 2011 Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII) despite going a distance shorter than what he typically prefers, I can attest to the fact that Flat Out is able to take to tracks other than Belmont. Moreover, if anyone knows how to prepare a horse for a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, it’s Bill Mott.

Richard’s Kid

In 2009 and 2010, Richard’s Kid was among the best handicap horses in California. However, he traveled to Dubai after his 2010 campaign and did not return until this year. He was never successful in Dubai, never finishing better than fourth in his five outings there.

Richard’s Kid’s return to American racing was a very successful one; he romped in the Prove It Stakes at Hollywood Park, setting a new track record for eleven furlongs. A month later, he revisited grade one company, taking on Game On Dude – who was his stablemate at the time – in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Richard’s Kid settled at the back of the pack as the field raced past the stands for the first time prior to finding a place in the penultimate position of the field around the initial turn. Gradually, Richard’s Kid inched closer to the front as the race proceeded, rallying impressively but being unable to catch Game On Dude, who won by 1 ½ lengths.

Richard’s Kid found his way back to the winner’s circle in the Cougar II Handicap (GIII) at Del Mar, in which Richard’s Kid yet again set a new track record – this time for twelve furlongs. His next start was his first for Leandro Mora, who took over Doug O’Neill’s training duties during the Derby-winning trainer’s suspension. This start came in the Pacific Classic, in which the seven-year-old horse yet again faced Game On Dude. Though Dullahan captured the victory, Richard’s Kid again finished behind Game On Dude, closing willingly along the inside but failing to catch the leaders.

Going to post in the Awesome Again Stakes next out for his final prep race for the Classic, Richard’s Kid again moved from the back of the pack, closing remarkably around the far turn. However, he had too much ground to make up and had to settle for third, but the rally he made was rather stunning.

Richard’s Kid may very well be underestimated going into the Classic. He is a Southern California pro and therefore should not have a problem with the surface come race day. Nonetheless, he has failed to keep up with Game On Dude and will have to run the best race of his life in order to win, though I do expect for him to run well.

Ron the Greek

After Ron the Greek’s triumph in the LeComte Stakes (GIII) in January 2010, the son of Full Mandate did not enter the winner’s enclosure until November 2011 when he won the Sunny and Mild Stakes at Aqueduct by 5 lengths in his second start for Bill Mott. Following another ungraded stakes win at Aqueduct, Ron the Greek commenced 2012 with a runner-up finish behind Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

Ron the Greek then shipped west for the Santa Anita Handicap (GI), a race over the same track and distance over which the Classic will be run. After a slightly sluggish break, Ron the Greek settled among the closers in the strung out thirteen-horse field, progressively making up ground as the Thoroughbreds traveled down the backstretch. Rallying around the final turn, Ron the Greek made up much ground to loom on the outside of the leaders as the horses rounded the curve and galloped into the stretch. Ron the Greek then kicked clear, loping to an easy 3 ½-length victory.  

After a game runner-up finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII), Ron the Greek prevailed by a head over the brilliant Wise Dan in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs. He then crossed the wire in second again, chasing Fort Larned in the stretch of the Whitney after experiencing a horribly wide journey.

Ron the Greek looked to return to the winner’s circle in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he was rather flat throughout the ten-furlong race, finishing sixth. But it must be taken into consideration that this was just his second start at Belmont and in his only previous performance over Big Sandy, he had been beaten by 3 lengths. Perhaps Belmont is simply a track Ron the Greek does not have much of an affinity for, but it's clear that the Bill Mott trainee relishes the surface at Santa Anita and therefore has an edge over several of his rivals in the Classic. In addition, Ron the Greek has been among the best older horses in the nation this year and should not be ostracized when considering top competitors in the Classic.

Fort Larned

“The horse that finished fourth in a handicap with a purse of $30,000 at Tampa Bay Downs on February 4 will be one of the top contenders in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

Who would believe that statement? Most people wouldn’t. But then that horse – Fort Larned – transformed. A month later, the colt won the Challenger Stakes – a race in which 2011 Classic winner Drosselmeyer had commenced his Classic-winning campaign with a fourth-place finish. Fort Larned then shipped to Gulfstream Park, where he coasted to a 2 ½-length track record-breaking victory in the mile and three-sixteenth Skip Away Stakes (GIII).

On Oaks Day at Churchill Downs, Fort Larned went to post in the Alysheba Stakes, in which he participated in the front-running group prior to striking to the lead around the far turn. He appeared home-free for the first half of the stretch, leaving Mucho Macho Man behind, but was overtaken by Successful Dan in the late stages of the race.

Following a poor trip, Fort Larned faded to finish last in the Foster, but rebounded with an easy win in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII), in which he attained an uncontested lead. He formed a winning streak by taking the Whitney at Saratoga, traveling rather wide while settling just off the leaders. Fort Larned struck to the lead around the far turn, kicking clear at the top of the stretch and drawing away. However, the closers – Ron the Greek and Flat Out in particular – chased after him, cutting into his lead, though Fort Larned managed to capture the race by 1 ¼ lengths.

In his first ten-furlong try, Fort Larned was sent off as the third choice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and rather than setting or disputing the pace, the son of E Dubai settled just behind the front-running cluster. Rallying around the far turn, Fort Larned drew even with Stay Thirsty, but began to flatten out at the top of the stretch. As Flat Out loomed on his outside in mid-stretch, Fort Larned began to visibly weaken and, in the end, was left 5 ½ lengths behind Flat Out and Stay Thirsty.

Fort Larned, though he won at a mile and three-sixteenths, appears to have distance limitations. He is certainly a talented, gutsy horse, but how he will fare against an assembly of the best handicap horses in the nation going ten furlongs is questionable. He has proven to be a classy horse and should not be ignored, but I do not envision Fort Larned garnering a victory in the Classic.


This is Game On Dude’s race to lose, but the spectacular gelding will have to be at his best in order to defeat the likes of Mucho Macho Man and the other horses featured in this post. The Mile and the Ladies’ Classic have been heralded as the most exciting races of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, but the Classic should not be excluded from the discussion of 2012’s greatest Breeders’ Cup contests. As always, the ten-furlong challenge will feature a clash of Thoroughbred titans as these remarkable horses battle it out for an exciting end to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile

By Mary Cage

Goldikova, three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner
Photo by Mary Cage
Since 2008, the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) has been dominated by the great mare Goldikova, despite the fact that she was not victorious in last year’s edition, crossing the wire in a valiant third after controversy in the stretch. Typically, we would expect for the first edition after the era of Goldikova to be dry and uninspiring, but this year’s Mile is shaping up to be one of the most exciting races of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Among the horses entered to run is the horse considered by many to be the best in North America, a brilliant horse emerging from the shadow of the legendary Frankel, a talented filly following in the footsteps of none other than Goldikova, and last year’s Kentucky Derby victor.

Wise Dan

Entering the Breeders’ Cup off of a brilliant three-race winning streak that includes two grade one victories, this handsome chestnut gelding looks to be an intimidating force in the penultimate Breeders’ Cup event of 2012. Wise Dan concluded his 2011 campaign – in which he began to remarkably improve late in the season – with a win in the Clark Handicap (GI) over a nine-furlong journey on Churchill Downs’ dirt oval.

He commenced 2012 with a 10 ½-length romp over Keeneland’s synthetic track in the nine-furlong Ben Ali Stakes (GIII), setting a new track record prior to falling a head short behind Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) contender Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) over Churchill’s dirt. But that photo finish marked the only defeat Wise Dan has suffered this year.

The brilliant gelding returned to the turf – a surface over which he had not raced since a fourth-place finish in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (GI) – in the Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga. In the one-mile contest, the son of Wiseman’s Ferry overcame an array of trouble – including a yielding turf course and hitting the gate at the start – galloped to a 5-length victory. A month later, Wise Dan recorded his initial grade one victory of the season, overpowering eight rivals to take the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (GI) by an impressive 3 ¼ lengths. Three weeks later came his paid workout in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes at Keeneland, which resulted in an effortless 2 ¼-length triumph.

Despite the contingent of talented Thoroughbred titans lining up to face Wise Dan in the Mile, it is difficult to imagine this brilliant specimen suffering a defeat.  He has proven to be among the best horses in the world this year and has been traveling along a continuous road of improvement. He has his work cut out for him, but Wise Dan will take on all rivals with his intimidating prowess and will not give up without a fight.

Excelebration

With a race record marred due to the disadvantage of being born in the same year as the great Frankel, Excelebration possesses many losses that could be victories had he not had to face the legendary Sir Henry Cecil trainee. The son of Exceed and Excel began 2012 with an easy win in the Big Bad Bob Gladness Stakes (GIII) over soft going at the Curragh. In his next two outings, however, the four-year-old faced Frankel, finishing second to him on both occasions in a pair of separate group ones.

Excelebration escaped from the shadow of Frankel next out in the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard (GI), racing one mile over good going at Deauville to defeat the high-rated miler Cityscape by 1 ¼ lengths. A half hour before the final start of Frankel’s career, Excelebration again conquered Cityscape – who had just returned from Canada, where he’d been trounced by Wise Dan. This time, Excelebration left Cityscape 3 lengths behind to take the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (GI) at Ascot.

Excelebration – who has come within 2 ¼ lengths of Frankel – will be very intimidating in the Mile. One of the best milers in the world, it will be interesting to see how this Irish-bred colt fares against Wise Dan. Both horses have conquered Cityscape, but what lies in store for them on November 3?

Moonlight Cloud

Trained by Freddy Head – the same man who not only trained Goldikova to three Mile victories, but rode the great mare Miesque to a pair of triumphs in the Mile – this George Strawbridge-owned filly began her 2012 campaign in June, capturing the Prix du Palais-Royal (GIII) by two lengths. Then she really made a scene. In Black Caviar’s first start outside of Australia, the undefeated mare traveled to Royal Ascot for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (GI). In her closest call yet, Black Caviar conquered the race by just a head. Who was the Thoroughbred that came within inches of defeating of the Wonder from Down Under? Moonlight Cloud.

Following a romp in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (GI), Moonlight Cloud finished fourth behind Excelebration and Cityscape at Deauville. She returned to her winning ways next out, however, defeating Farhh – who finished second to Frankel on two occasions – by a head in the Qatar Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (GI). This was the same race Goldikova won prior to her first triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Having been defeated by Excelebration before – as well as Cityscape, who was defeated by both Excelebration and Wise Dan – it appears to be difficult for Moonlight Cloud to overtake these superstars. But if anyone knows how to prepare a horse for the Mile, it’s Freddy Head. After all, this is a talented, group one-winning filly with the talent to be a competitive rival at the Breeders’ Cup.

Animal Kingdom

This colt is without a doubt a gifted athlete. He is, after all, a Kentucky Derby winner, having conquered the 2011 Run for the Roses. However, as a result of recurring injury, Animal Kingdom has only started once since his Triple Crown adventures. That one start, however, was an easy victory going a mile and one-sixteenth over the turf.

This win came in February of this year in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. By an effortless two lengths, the champion colt defeated two graded stakes-placed runners and a multiple black-type winner. Though a very capable colt, it will be very difficult for Animal Kingdom to come off a long layoff in a race in which he will have to face some of the best horses in the world. However, as a classic-winning champion trained by one of the best conditioners in the nation, Animal Kingdom will pose as an imposing threat in the Mile. Another thing Animal Kingdom has on his side is history: Da Hoss won the 1998 Mile for his second victory in the Breeders’ Cup race despite having raced only once that year.

Obviously

An Irish-bred gelding, Obviously has made the majority of his starts in southern California. Though talented, he began 2012 on a rather average note, but has rounded into top form. Beginning the year with several decent finishes in allowance and ungraded stakes events, including two victories, Obviously made his graded stakes debut in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (GII), in which he held off Mr. Commons by a nose.

Aside from the talented Joe Talamo, the best thing Obviously has going for him is a win with the same conditions as the Breeders’ Cup Mile: a one-mile journey over Santa Anita’s turf course. This came in his victory in the Arroyo Seco Mile Stakes (GII). Altogether, however, this gelding has faced rather weak fields throughout his career compared to the top competitors in this race. Though one of the top entrants in this race, I do not envision him capturing the win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Little Mike

Despite the win-lose-win pattern Little Mike has strung together this year, I do not picture him winning the Mile. Nonetheless, he is a hard-trying, gifted horse with three wins already to his credit this year, including two grade ones, one of which is the renowned Arlington Million Stakes (GI).

I view his last race, a fifth-place finish in the mile and one-half Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI), as one through which a line can be drawn. It was a stamina test for this gelding, who is suited to distances below twelve furlongs, as well as a taxing journey over a yielding turf course. I feel Little Mike will much rather prefer the one-mile distance of this event. Nonetheless, he has a difficult task ahead.



Jeranimo

A horse that has raced many times at Santa Anita, Jeranimo only has one win this year, but has not finished worse than fourth in any of his five starts in 2012. That lone victory came in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI) at Hollywood Park, in which he won by 1 ¼ lengths. He has been rather consistent this year and though I do not expect for him to find the winner’s circle on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, for him to run well would not be shocking.

Mr. Commons

A son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, Mr. Commons has not scored a victory since February. However, that came in the Arcadia Stakes (GII), which is a one-mile event over Santa Anita’s turf course. The colt – whose worst finish this year was a fourth in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI) – has never finished out of the money over Santa Anita’s turf course, clearly having an affinity for the grass oval at the Arcadia, California track. This will be a difficult test for him, but I certainly have faith that he will run well.

The Breeders’ Cup Mile truly appears to be one of the best races of this year’s Breeders’ Cup and is unquestionably one of the races I am most looking forward to. I view Wise Dan as the most intimidating contender, though Excelebration does serve as a great threat for the brilliant gelding. Moonlight Cloud and Animal Kingdom round out the horses I view as the top four contenders, but this is altogether a very tough field. Goldikova will be missed, but this year’s Mile will surely be an exciting contest.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 2012 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic

By Mary Cage

Ask any racing fan what race they view as the most competitive of this year’s Breeders’ Cup and there is a very good chance that their answer will be the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). Featuring a field loaded with fillies and mares – including three champions that already have Breeders’ Cup triumphs to their credit – ready for the fight of their lives, this race could go down in the history books as one of the greatest Breeders’ Cup races to ever be run.

Royal Delta
Royal Delta
Photo by Terri Cage

The reigning victress of the Ladies’ Classic, Royal Delta began 2012 on a sour note, being soundly defeated in a graded stakes at Gulfstream prior to suffering a difficult journey and loss in the
Dubai World Cup (GI). However, she returned to the United States with a flourish, running away with the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs by 8 lengths. Following a hard-fought victory in the Delaware Handicap (GII), Royal Delta finished second to Love and Pride in the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, resurging in the final stages of the race despite appearing seemingly done.

But next out, the champion proved her dominance. In the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI), a race in which she’d been left in the wake of eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace last year, Royal Delta crushed the field – which included the grade one-winning It’s Tricky – by an astounding 9 ½ lengths. Treating the race like an everyday gallop, Royal Delta was kept under wraps by Mike Smith in the stretch.

When Royal Delta brings her A-game, the champion appears invincible. As the defending champion of the Ladies’ Classic, this is her race to lose and though she has never started over Santa Anita’s surface, she has a huge advantage with Mike Smith aboard. Without a doubt, she will have her work cut out for her amongst such remarkable opponents, but if she’s on her best game, Royal Delta will be difficult to beat.

Awesome Feather

One of three previous Breeders’ Cup champions in this race, Awesome Feather conquered the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs. Plagued by injuries, this undefeated filly has only raced four times since then. Altogether, Awesome Feather has captured these four victories by a combined 24 ¼ lengths.
Awesome Feather
Photo by Terri Cage

Awesome Feather’s only graded stakes victory among her four outings since her Breeders’ Cup triumph came in the Gazelle Stakes (GI) at Aqueduct last November, in which she defeated a field that included Love and Pride by 5 ¼ lengths. Following a dominant victory in the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff Stakes, Awesome Feather was sidelined again, but returned in September in the Nasty Storm Stakes at Belmont. In stunning fashion, the Chad Brown trainee ran her flawless record to ten victories en route to a jaw-dropping 11 ¼-length romp in an impressive final time of 1:33.47 for one mile.

Over the past two years, Awesome Feather has been very lightly raced and has only contested against grade one company once. However, there is a certainly quality to this filly that makes her a very dangerous competitor: her sheer brilliance. I believe we do not yet know just how good Awesome Feather is.

My Miss Aurelia

A filly I have followed since her maiden, My Miss Aurelia is another undefeated champion entered in the Ladies’ Classic. Winner of last year’s Juvenile Fillies, My Miss Aurelia was sidelined due to injury following her spectacular win under the Twin Spires last November and, like Awesome Feather, has only been seen a handful of times since then. In fact, My Miss Aurelia has only raced twice since being crowned Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, having returned to the races this August.
My Miss Aurelia
Photo by Terri Cage

That return came in the Mandys Gold Stakes at Saratoga, which My Miss Aurelia won by 3 lengths going six furlongs. Next out, she faced Questing – who was coming off two spectacular grade one victories at the Spa – in the Cotillion Stakes (GI) at Parx. In a stirring stretch battle, My Miss Aurelia prevailed by a head to keep her undefeated record intact.

My Miss Aurelia is one of the most talented horses I have seen firsthand and I find it very impressive that she was able to reel in Questing in her second race after a layoff, though she did not carry as much weight. It is worrisome that My Miss Aurelia is entering the Breeders’ Cup off of such a tough race that was just her second since her return, but the filly appears to be in great condition. Another worry is that perhaps the nine-furlong distance of the Ladies’ Classic is a bit too far for her. However, this is My Miss Aurelia and I will never doubt her talent. It will be interesting to see how she fares against this star-studded field.

Questing

This Kiaran McLaughlin trainee began her career in the United Kingdom and following a fifth-place finish in last year’s Juvenile Fillies, Questing began her sophomore campaign with mediocre performances in allowance optional claiming events prior to an easy breakthrough win at that level.
Questing
Photo by Terri Cage

But then we saw the filly she had transformed into. Questing dived back into the grade one pool with a splash, galloping to an easy 4 ¼-length victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) at Saratoga despite drifting out in the stretch. Proving that this was no fluke, Questing annihilated rivals next out in the Alabama Stakes (GI), running erratically in the stretch yet again but capturing the race by an imposing 9 lengths in an impressive final time of 2:01.29 for ten furlongs.

Questing fell a head short to My Miss Aurelia in her successive start, the Cotillion Stakes. Rather than setting the pace as she had in her past two victories, Questing settled off the leader and while carrying seven pounds less than My Miss Aurelia, she missed by a head after a gutsy stretch duel.

It seems that Questing has been forgotten since her winning streak was snapped, but this filly should certainly not be erased from memory. She is absolutely brilliant and can use her speed as a deadly weapon. As a filly with both speed and stamina, Questing will play a large role in the outcome of the Ladies’ Classic.

Love and Pride

A daughter of the great A.P. Indy, Love and Pride commenced 2012 on the right note, dominating a stakes at Aqueduct by 7 lengths. Following three defeats in graded company – two of which were runner-up finishes – Love and Pride broke through with her first graded stakes victory, winning the Obeah Stakes (GIII) by nearly two lengths over Tiz Miz Sue, who would give Royal Delta a run for her money next out in the Delaware Handicap. However, Love and Pride crossed the wire fourth in the “Del Cap.”

But she avenged that loss with her first grade one victory in her subsequent race, defeating Royal Delta by a half-length in the Personal Ensign Handicap (GI). However, it must be pointed out that Royal Delta was carrying ten pounds more than Love and Pride, who then shipped west for a trip around Santa Anita’s dirt oval, easily winning the Zenyatta Stakes (GI) by 3 ¼ lengths after setting the pace.

Love and Pride seems to be underestimated by many, but I give her a good chance in this race. After all, she is a dual grade one winner with a victory at Santa Anita already under her belt. However, the Ladies’ Classic will be a very tall task for her and she will have to pull out all the stops to secure a victory.

Include Me Out

Arguably the best female Thoroughbred on the West Coast this year, Include Me Out won her first three starts in 2012 – all of which came in graded stakes. Not only did one of these triumphs include a romp in the Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes (GI), but two of these victories came at Santa Anita.

After finishing second in the Vanity Handicap (GI) at Hollywood Park, Include Me Out displayed her determination with a conquest of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) at Del Mar prior running third in the Zenyatta. But this loss should not be held against her, as Include Me Out has been tremendously consistent this year and has plenty of experience over the dirt track at Santa Anita. Despite the fact that she will be facing three champions and several other brilliant fillies and mares, Include Me Out should not be ignored.

Grace Hall

One of the best two-year-old fillies in the nation last year, Grace Hall’s final start as a two-year-old resulted in a second-place finish behind My Miss Aurelia in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Following a narrow loss in her 2012 debut, Grace Hall romped in the Gulfstream Oaks (GII) in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks (GI), in which she finished third.

Grace Hall did not race for two months after the Kentucky Oaks, but returned with an easy win in the Delaware Oaks (GII). However, the filly finished fifth as the beaten favorite in the Alabama, crossing the wire 31 lengths behind Questing. But she then reverted to her dominant winning ways, capturing the Indiana Oaks (GII) by 5 ¾ lengths.

Grace Hall is certainly among the best in her division, but when pitted against the very best, she has failed to turn in her best performance. She is undoubtedly a gifted athlete capable of tremendous performances, but I do not believe she will win the Ladies’ Classic.


The Ladies’ Classic certainly has a plethora of suspense and excitement surrounding it, offering one of the best fields of the entire 2012 Breeders’ Cup. I can envision many outcomes to this race, as it has gathered one of the best groups I have ever seen in a Breeders’ Cup event. I will give the nod to Royal Delta, but certainly would not be surprised to see Awesome Feather, My Miss Aurelia, or Questing enter the winner’s enclosure following this race. In addition, I am expecting good performances from Love and Pride and Include Me Out and certainly will not forget about Grace Hall. Regardless of how this race plays out, I am surely looking forward to it and will revel in the presence of these spectacular fillies.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Breeders' Cup Divisional Rankings 10/24/12

By Mary Cage

Countdown to­­ Breeders’ Cup: Days!

Can you believe it? Just over a week remains until the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. I, for one, am excited beyond belief! This is likely my final Breeders’ Cup Divisional Rankings post of 2012, though that does not mean my selections are finalized in this post. I look forward to sharing with you all my experience at the Breeders’ Cup next week!

Below is my sixth edition (and likely last) of my divisional rankings for all 2012 Breeders’ Cup races (as of October 24). Instead of a normal Monday posting, this post was delayed due to the pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup being released today.
Photo by Terri Cage


Juvenile Sprint
1. Beholder
2. Merit Man
3. Ceiling Kitty
4. South Floyd
5. Super Ninety Nine


Marathon
1. Worth Repeating
2. Fame and Glory
3. Not Abroad
4. Eldaafer
5. Calidoscopio
Also: Commander, Juniper Pass


Juvenile Fillies Turf
1. Sky Lantern
2. Spring Venture
3. Watsdachances
4. Kitten’s Point
5. Waterway Run
Also: Moonwalk


Juvenile Fillies
1. Executiveprivilege
3. Spring in the Air
5. Broken Spell


Filly & Mare Turf
1. The Fugue
2. Zagora
3. Nahrain                 
4. Marketing Mix
5. I’m a Dreamer
Also: Ridasiyna, Lady of Shamrock In Lingerie


Ladies’ Classic
4. Questing
5. Love and Pride
Also: Include Me Out, Grace Hall


Juvenile Turf
1. Artigiano
2. Balance the Books
3. Joha
5. Brown Almighty
Also: Dundonnell, George Vancouver, Know More


Filly & Mare Sprint
1. Groupie Doll
2. Contested
3. Dust and Diamonds
4. Musical Romance
5. Turbulent Descent
Also: Switch


Dirt Mile
3. Nonios
4. Rail Trip
5. John Scott


Turf Sprint
1. Unbridled’s Note
2. Bridgetown
3. California Flag
4. Great Mills
5. Next Question
Also: Chosen Miracle


Juvenile
1. Shanghai Bobby
2. Power Broker
3. Fortify
5. Title Contender


Turf
1. Point of Entry
2. St. Nicholas Abbey
3. Shareta
4. Slim Shadey
5. Trailblazer


Sprint
1. Capital Account
2. Coil
3. Emcee
4. Amazombie
5. The Lumber Guy
Also: Poseidon’s Warrior, Hamazing Destiny, Justin Phillip


Mile
1. 
Wise Dan
2. Excelebration
3. Moonlight Cloud
5. Obviously
Also: Little Mike, Jeranimo, Mr. Commons

Classic
5. Ron the Greek
Also: Fort Larned

The excitement is almost too much to take! No matter the outcome of these races, I know that experiencing the Breeders’ Cup firsthand yet again will be a tremendous experience and I can’t wait to share it with all of you! Stay tuned!