There is no question that any horse coming in off a five race winning streak, including a graded stakes and undefeated in three races at a mile or longer is a deserving favorite. And it seems every time handicappers pick up their heads this year, Shug McGaughey is winning another big race.
I know… I’ll simply argue that Code of Honor was the exception that proves the rule and, anyway, it’s 2020. Furthermore, hasn’t Joel Rosario had the kind of year in big spots that thrusts him into the Eclipse Award conversation for Jockey of the Year?
Yes, Performer (7-5) should be the favorite to win New York’s final Grade 1 of the season. But at 1.40-to-1? From the rail? He might be the most probable winner but he’s not for me today.
This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge Performer has faced and he very likely will be under pressure throughout from his pole position. It’s something that Shug and Joel will just have to figure out. As for the rest, it’s not that difficult to make a case for almost all of them. From the inside, out:
Mind Control (20-1) is the poster child for fast race, bad race, and he’s on the fast race pattern of his form cycle here. He ran badly at Keeneland last time out but then a lot of horses don’t perform at Keeneland for whatever reason. His record at the trip is (2) 1-1-0 but, of greater significance, is (5) 4-1-0 in Queens County.
What’s Snapper Sinclair (20-1) doing in here? His record indicates he’s more turf than dirt but Steve Asmussen switches this two-turn dirt-mile winner from three straight grass tries back to the main track. You don’t win a lot of Troy Ounces betting against a guy that’s won 9,000+ races.
Firenze Fire (5-2) probably owns the best upset chance based on logic and his record. For one thing, he’s already beaten the odds by not losing a step after leaving the Jason Servis barn.
Kelly Breen’s got this guy humming. He’s a two-time Big A winner, has won half of his six starts at a mile, is certainly fast enough, and his big, too-late finish when third in the BC Sprint should have him right on the edge.
New York-bred Mr. Buff (6-1) is interesting. Yes, he stubs his hooves often when he steps into graded open company but repeats a winning nine-furlong to eight-furlong pattern that worked nicely in February, he’s fresh, is (10) 2-4-1 at the trip but a remarkable eight-time winner with three seconds at the Big A.
King Guillermo (9-2) has been away since his runnerup finish to the brilliant albeit ill-fated Nadal in the G1 Arkansas Derby following his G2 Tampa Bay Derby 49-1 shocker in Oldsmar. Can he beat this kind off the bench is a fair question to ask.
A flat mile seems tailor made for his talent and style and he’s drawn nicely outside. But our guess is that the connections are using this as a Pegasus World Cup prep. That doesn’t mean he can’t beat these horses. Talented three year old gets in this handicap at 117. Does Jose Ortiz fit speed types?
Majestic Dunhill (20-1) is far from a no-hoper. Even lacking a win at the trip or over this surface, what in hell is he doing in here? George Weaver has had a great fall that has continued into the last month of the year.
But the kicker is that Majestic Dunhill is back in six days after trailing throughout in the Fall Highweight under 133–that’s a lot of lead. Picking up Dylan Davis, who’s enjoyed a breakout season, he won the G3 Bold Ruler in fast time two back.
True Timber (20-1) lacks winning credentials at one mile and is only 1-for-8 at Aqueduct, but he was third in this race last year, third in the G1 Forego this year and, we believe he was third at a big price in another Grade 1 when Kiaran McLaughlin was tightening the girth. So there’s that.
Bon Raison (20-1) is True Timber’s uncoupled mate who owns a win at the trip and three victories over the track and stretches to a mile off two sprints, his latest an appearance in the BC Sprint where we was clearly overmatched but was taking a shot off a previous Keeneland score. Nice horse but badly in need of class relief.
We’re not taking the favorite to win here but not sure where to go after that. We’ll sleep on it and get back to you Saturday with the upset special.