Now I ask you: Was that any way for Midcourt to possibly upset the double-tough Bob Baffert two-pronged attack in the day’s headliner on a huge Breeders’ Cup “Win-and-In” Saturday in September?
After breaking with his field, Victor Espinoza took back, and immediately angled Midcourt out four wide into the first turn and put himself right on Maximum Security’s hip, virtually remaining four across for the entire nine furlongs of the Grade 1 Awesome Again.
Espinoza’s tack was good enough for a third-place finish as he avoided the kickback that could have compromised his finishing punch. But Maximum Security and Luis Saez had a target on their backs and this unusual gambit surely hit the bullseye.
Alas, it would not have mattered. Maximum Security raced flatter than what was expected of him, virtually lifeless as Saez labored to extricate himself from between horses the entire trip. But when he stepped on the gas, he found only regular in the tank, not premium.
Not so stablemate Improbable. Drayden Van Dyke found nothing less than super premium in his reserve, whooshing away from four rivals with a move that launched him into the role of favorite for the biggest dance of all at Keeneland Race Course on November 7. It was an awesome performance.
From Keeneland, it’s just a two-minute lick up the road to WinStar Farm, his major shareholder’s breeding operation, Baffert winning one for the nursery. Contrarily, ‘Max’s’ effort was reminiscent of his first start for Baffert post-Dubai before improving markedly in the Pacific Classic.
‘Max’ will be better at Keeneland. But whether it will matter is fodder for another day. Following the Hollywood Gold Cup and Whitney, the Awesome Again was Improbable’s third straight Grade 1 victory, one that will carry him to #1 when all the NTRA ballots are tallied this week. Will Improbable be awesome again?
For the Babies, it was Two for the Show
If it were a beauty contest, you could have stopped the fight in midstretch. Geared-down filly Princess Noor was also awesome, winning her two-turn debut very professionally and extending her undefeated career streak to three as Baffert charges finish 1-2 again, this time in odds order.
But comparing her performance to that of American Pharoah-winning Get Her Number leads to dubious conclusions. Visually, it was the filly hooves down. But her effort was 62/100s slower that his and while he took nearly 7 seconds to run his final sixteenth, hers was only marginally better by 0.11.
It’s too early to start thinking about Breeders’ Cup juveniles. It’s hard enough to trust what we think we know so far. Especially since these days, now more than ever, horses simply fail to show up.
Two For the Breeders’ Cup Turf Shows
United is as hard-hitting and honest as turf horses come, in that way reminiscent of the legend for which yesterday’s mile and a quarter at Santa Anita was named. But early gambits of 24.57 and 49.07 on a clean fresh carpet enables final quarter-miles that go in 23.10, en route to 1:59.17.
It was the same story in the Rodeo Drive. No one wanted the front and Juan Hernandez, riding at a wondrous 25% clip this year, seized the opportunity and won the first Grade 1 of his career. Good for him, and for home-state breeder George Krikorian whose been at it for a long time.
But there is no way that either of Saturday’s Grade 1 10-furlong winners are going to get off that easily at Keeneland. The identical fractions might be replicated, but the level of competition rise several notches, especially given the appearance of Eastern and internationally-based grass runners.
Firenze Fire Is Back… Time Will Tell How Far
We think it unwise to ignore the fact that there are certain courses for certain horses, that’s just us. He’s now has won for the second time in five starts for new trainer Kelly Breen, both at the Grade 2 level, but it’s no coincidence he was able to improve his Belmont career record to (8) 5-1-0.
Kudos to the trainer and the five-year-old bay is a very, very nice horse. But it’s difficult to get excited about beating five rivals that are, at best, Grade 2 level including co-favorites—one making his first start since last year’s BC Sprint and another who was awful on the day.
Finally, it is likely that all, with the exception of Princess Noor, will appreciate the fact that they’ve been given an all-expenses-paid ride onto the world stage.
There are several more opportunities for free rides today out west; the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and Zenyatta Stakes. A safe and speedy journey to all.