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Keeneland's Impact on the Breeders' Cup

by Jeremy Plonk

October 9, 2017

Despite what people on the internet may lead you to believe, you can’t know everything, even with Google, Alexa and Siri. They’re fine friends when you want to know the weather is Bismarck or how many ounces there are in 14 gallons. But they don’t help much when it comes to who will win Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup bonanza of 13 stakes.

Be honest with yourself and what you do know. Have you followed the 2-year-olds closely? Are you a connoisseur of international racing? Do you know the Classic contenders’ PPs without even peeking? Now is the time to assess exactly what you know and what you do best. The Breeders’ Cup is fast approaching and most all of the major players have finished preparations.

For me, I follow Keeneland and the 3-year-old picture as close as it can be followed. So my strongest opinions have to come out of those two areas. It doesn’t mean I need to be a homer and back those horses I follow. A strong “against” opinion might be what’s best-needed in some divisions, sending you elsewhere to beat under-laid horses.

On the flipside, international racing and US turf racing are among my weaker links. That said, it’s tough any year for me to formulate any big feel for the Turf. The Mile is a bit more focused for me with races like the Shadwell Mile and Woodbine Mile very strong on my radar throughout the prep season. But admittedly I’m throwing spaghetti against the wall against the Europeans. Thankfully, the US runners have had more success in the Mile than most manage to recall and we seem to patently overbet the Euros in that division. Maybe that’s why I like it more than the Turf and have had a bit more success. Still, any Breeders’ Cup race with green involved in the footing probably won’t be my best suit.

Keeneland’s Fall Stars weekend just wrapped and here are my impressions of what you may or may not want to do with its alumni come Breeders’ Cup time. My favorite trait in a horseplayer is one who knows his or her strengths and weaknesses. Try putting that to use for yourself.

Friday: Phoenix Stakes

The top 4 in this race all ran very strong races as track-record holder Limousine Liberal came rolling with a 23-and-change final quarter-mile and couldn’t make up the difference against Whitmore and Awesome Banner, who simply didn’t stop. Threefiveindia also ran a sneaky-good race trying to make up ground. The clock didn’t dazzle in 1:09.90, but this was insanely slower the first half-mile than any of the other three Phoenix editions since Kee went back to dirt. These horses came home fast and since it wasn’t dead-set taxing the entire trip, it could wind up being a perfect prep that doesn’t knock them out on the 4-week turnaround. True, they’re not California speed, and Roy H did ship east to win Belmont’s big sprint in June. But Whitmore and Ron Moquett come to Del Mar with a fighting chance.

Friday: Alcibiades Stakes

The lack of real Saratoga influence in the gate makes you wonder exactly what Mark Casse’s filly Heavenly Love beat, but she sure did it with style. She perched perfectly in second, was able to slow the pace and actually re-break, a trait horses older than her often can’t do. The fourth-quarter went about 2 lengths faster than the third in a 2-turn 2YO race, a rarity even with a slower pace. She’s by Malibu Moon and out of Oxley’s multiple G1-placed juvenile filly of 1999 Darling My Darling. Kenny McPeek’s runner-up Princess Warrior is lightly raced but a talent, too. Heavenly Love looks to be the contender to give California’s Moonshine Memories her stiffest test. 

Saturday: Woodford Stakes

Disregard this race and any impact it would have on the Turf Sprint. It was a strangely run even in which a longshot bomb opened up a huge lead and faded, and another longshot sitting second inherited the lead and … before you knew it … the race was over. Bucchero would be 50-1 in the BC Turf Sprint, and veterans Hogy and Mongolian Saturday didn’t do anything here to make you think they’re blitzing 5F at Del Mar.

Saturday: TCA Stakes

The incredible 5-year run of TCA Stakes alumni winning the F&M Sprint at the Breeders’ Cup (2009-’13) is one of the championship event’s all-time great notes/stats. But it’s been a while since Judy the Beauty and company. Finley’sluckycharm was an overwhelming favorite against a pretty soft field, but one that did have a lot of apparent pace pressure. She showed a new dimension relaxing and finishing, something jockey Brian Hernandez mentioned she had been doing in the morning. I’m still leery she’s as good as her record indicates, but the new-found TCA versatility could come in handy at Del Mar.

Saturday: First Lady Stakes

Zipessa has been a cut below the best G1 horses, but a steady performer who often was pace-dependent. She showed more patience in the First Lady and could benefit by the F&M Turf being just 1-1/8 miles this year at Del Mar. Still, I don’t think she did enough in this performance to put her on the big stage as one of the main contenders. She did beat a good field here in Dickinson, Dona Bruja, Roca Roja, etc. and earned the right to see where she stacks up now. Zipessa should get over a short-cropped turf course like Del Mar well given her turn of foot and natural speed.

Saturday: Breeders Futurity

While there were things not to like about the Breeders Futurity in terms of times and the tragic breakdown of front-running Ten City, 4-length winner Free Drop Billy visually looked like the goods in a commanding performance. The well-bred Union Rags colt looks like Dale Romans’ next long-winded, late-running hope on next year’s Triple Crown trail. But given he was quick enough to threaten late in the 7-furlong Hopeful sprinting at Saratoga prior, it tells us that Free Drop Billy has some brilliance about him when needed. Aside from Bolt d’Oro in California, who else impresses you in the Juvenile division? He outfinished eventual Champagne winner Firenze Fire in their head-to-head matchup at the Spa.

Saturday: Shadwell Turf Mile

Suedois was pre-entered in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but did not compete. Now he looks like a Mile player after this Win & You’re In score in that division. He made up 4 lengths in the final quarter-mile when finishing in the upper 22s to get the victory over front-end bandit Heart to Heart. Disappointments here included defending champ Miss Temple City with a flat effort that may be her career finale, and Mondialiste just doesn’t seem the same horse that won the Woodbine Mile a year ago. Heart to Heart would have a hard time shaking off the California speed out west, but Suedois would seem to fit pretty well if he gets over the short-cropped turf the same way he did at Keeneland.

Sunday: Bourbon Stakes

Off-the-turf because of excessive rain, the Bourbon lost its automatic qualifying status from the Juvenile Turf. Flameaway was game in victory rallying outside Tap Daddy and Tigers Rule. Tap Daddy may have been best, impeded late by a drifting Tigers Rule in a 3-way scrum to the wire. Flameaway is by Scat Daddy and given Casse’s hand in the 2-year-old ranks lacking a premiere Juvenile contender, you could see him cross-entering both the Juvy and Juvenile Turf and taking the temperature of the field and perhaps how this horse trains on the surface out west. Tap Daddy also figures prominent in either division. Either of these could be overlooked some because of the off conditions and sluggish time of the Bourbon. They’re probably both better off in the Juvenile Turf. 

Sunday: Spinster Stakes

This year’s Grade 1 Keeneland fall fixture lacked a star in the gate and was run over moshpit conditions. While Romantic Vision has become the best she’s ever been in recent months, the Locust Grove-Spinster double doesn’t look like nearly enough to contend the best in New York and California. I won’t be surprised if Rusty Arnold bypasses the Distaff and aims at the rich and much easier Falls City at home at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving week. Runner-up Martini Glass is a former $16,000 maiden claimer who this year has run second in the G1 DelCap to Songbird and now the Spinster. She’s been shopped very nicely for Grade 1 spots that lacked Grade 1 depth.