by Jeremy Plonk
October 2, 2017
With the Breeders’ Cup almost exactly one month away on November 3-4 at Del Mar, it’s time to take the temperature of the 13 divisions.
Seabhac likely staked claim to American favoritism with Saturday’s Pilgrim win in sharp style for Todd Pletcher. Meanwhile, Kentucky Downs Juvenile winner Snapper Sinclair already is boarded on the west coast for Steve Asmussen. Archaggelos’ win Sunday in the Grey at Woodbine for Michael Dickinson intrigues via the Tapeta. He had scored on the turf at Laurel prior. Untamed Domain had shipped north for Graham Motion to win Woodbine’s Summer on turf as well. Sunday’s Bourbon at Keeneland adds depth (including Arawak), and the Europeans, of course, will merit a deeper dive.
Awesome Slew scored the Ack Ack nicely on Saturday at Churchill Downs and could stretch around 2 turns, though he’s obviously a very good closing sprinter/miler. Oklahoma Derby 1-2 finishers Untrapped and Battle of Midway make some sense here, as does Pacific Classic third Accelerate. Don’t be surprised if Cupid turns back to this trip after tiring in the Awesome Again, given the Baffert stable’s loaded Classic hand, though fellow barnmate Mor Spirit could wind up the favorite here if he’s ready to go. Practical Joke, winner of the Jerkens at Saratoga, would be interesting here or the Sprint.
Significant Form can continue a Chad Brown pipeline from the Miss Grillo Stakes winner’s circle to the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Best Performance and Orbulation have earned the right of a re-match for Clement and Pletcher, respectively. Capta Temptress made her North American debut a success in Woodbine’s Natalma when beating a ballyhooed Wonder Gadot. The G3 Jessamine at Keeneland a week from Wednesday typically introduces a player or two. The Euros have had less success here than the Juvenile Turf for whatever reason, but are sure to be represented.
Stellar Wind hopes the third time’s the Distaff charm after finishing second and fourth here in previous attempts. She’s been perfect in 3 starts this year and training up to the race since the July 30 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar. Clearly, the duo of Forever Unbridled and Elate have risen to the cream of the crop east of the Mississippi this year. They will join sophomore west coasters Abel Tasman, It Tiz Well and Paradise Woods in a pretty deep division.
Lady Aurelia has taken the world by storm and rates one of the most exciting prospects seen in this specialists’ race’s history for Wesley Ward. Mr. Roary upset Om in the Eddie D last week on the cut-back at Santa Anita and would need to cut back another furlong and a half at Del Mar. Veterans Hogy and past Turf Sprint champ Mongolian Saturday do battle Saturday in the Woodford at Keeneland. Green Mask had enjoyed quite a campaign before being injured and retired in mid-September.
Defending champion Drefong has completed exactly 1 race since last year’s BC Sprint title, but his Forego victory at Saratoga likely makes him the horse to beat again. New York’s follow-up Saturday in the tradition-rich Vosburgh gave Takaful a launching pad. Mind Your Biscuits needs a bounce-back but is capable, as is Whitmore, who goes in Friday’s Phoenix at Keeneland vs. Limousine Liberal, Favorite Tale et al. Meanwhile, Saturday’s Santa Anita Sprint Championship figures to be the final prep for Roy H.
Bolt d’Oro left no doubt who the Juvenile favorite will be after Saturday’s stroll in the 2-turn FrontRunner. He also won the Del Mar Futurity sprinting. With the Hopeful champ Sporting Chance sidelined, the East and Midwest are looking for leadership in Saturday’s Breeders Futurity at Keeneland and Saturday’s Champagne at Belmont. As of today, this truly looks like an “If not Bolt d’Oro, then whom?” division.
Moonshine Memories’ victories in the Del Mar Debutante, over the host track, and Chandelier, over the JF distance, make her a solid headliner. Figure to see Chandelier pursuers Alluring Star and Piedi Bianchi back for local connections Baffert and O’Neill. Friday’s Alcibiades at Keeneland and Sunday’s Frizette at Belmont will shed much more light on the regional challengers. Many are intrigued to see Canterbury rising star Amy’s Challenge and what she might provide in the Alcibiades, while Lady Ivanka seeks a third win without defeat in the Frizette.
Everyone’s favorite, Lady Eli, makes this a must-see division as she looks for a second BC crown and to avenge a narrow defeat last year. Miss Temple City is among Keeneland’s Saturday headliners in the First Lady. Avenge made her case over the weekend at Santa Anita in the Yellow Ribbon. No doubt Chad Brown will load the gate with support for Lady Eli, including Beverly D 1-3 finishers Dacita and Grand Jete. And, Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle presence in this division could come from several points. He’s got Rain Goddess and Rhododendron already aimed at Keeneland on Saturday. Belmont’s Flower Bowl on Saturday also bears watching historically.
All eyes this Saturday will be on the LA Woman Stakes at Santa Anita and the long-awaited return of Unique Bella, out since March. She could cement herself a big favorite for the FMS with a bang-up performance. Defending champ Finest City remains in questionable status given her time away and the eastern contingent has traded punches. Keeneland’s TCA Stakes on Saturday has been a big historical barometer for this division, but appears missing a Groupie Doll or Informed Decision-type on paper.
World Approval has gotten very good in recent starts and his Woodbine Mile score comes in a very key prep in this division. The Americans have done far better here in recent years than most presume, so a review of the Mile charts wouldn’t hurt you before diving into the PPs. We’ll know more after Saturday’s Shadwell Mile at Keeneland, where Heart to Heart, Mondialiste and Lancaster Bomber are expected. As for the Europeans, what will move forward from Champions Day on Oct. 21 at Ascot, and might they be over the top at that?
Beach Patrol has had a pretty historic run by domestic turf standards in winning the Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in succession. Highland Reel already has been here, won that, in terms of the Breeders’ Cup Turf and figures a major player from Europe again. Arc third Ulysses would be a major threat for John Gosden. Itsinthepost appears best in the west. But we’ve seen this many times before where it’s the “other” Euro to fear, so tab the depth of the invaders whose praises are not sung loudest.
Can Gun Runner shoot down all of Bob Baffert’s SWAT team? That’s the question as the Foster, Whitney & Woodward winner takes aim at defending champion, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate – along with his band of Baffert brothers including Pacific Classic winner Collected, Travers victor West Coast and Awesome Again winner Mubtaahij. This does not have the feel of a 12 or 14-horse Classic, but rather a major test just to light the board for all others, even with Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup still to be run Saturday.