By Breeders’ Cup Media Staff —
Eight Rings – Eight Rings, one of only two Grade 1 winners in Saturday’s $1 million Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, galloped a mile over the Del Mar main track this morning. Conditioned by Bob Baffert, the son of Empire Maker has been “training as well as he’s ever trained,” stated his trainer.
“The mile distance might be the best distance for him. We thought about the (Breeders’ Cup) Sprint, but it’s too short for him,” added Baffert. The 4yo colt has won at both 5-1/2f and 1-1/16m, while just missing as runner-up in the summer’s 6f Bing Crosby Handicap at this track. His last race was a facile front-running victory around two turns. He will have Juan Hernandez in the saddle on Saturday for the first time.
Life Is Good – China Horse Club and WinStar Farm’s once-beaten Life Is Good returns to two-turn racing for the first time in eight months Saturday as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the Dirt Mile.
The colt by leading sire Into Mischief was on course toward the Kentucky Derby he was found to have a chip in his left rear ankle on March 20. The chip was removed by surgery and during his recovery he was transferred from trainer Bob Baffert in California to Todd Pletcher in New York.
In his time with Baffert, the $525,000 yearling purchase emerged as a major Triple Crown prospect with wins at Santa Anita in the one-mile Sham and 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. Pletcher brought him back to the races in the 7f Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga on Aug. 28, where he was second. In the 1M four-horse Kelso around one turn at Belmont Park on Sept. 25, Life Is Good won for fun at odds of 1-20.
Pletcher said the fast colt has experience with two turns in the bank and is ready for eight furlongs in the $1 million Dirt Mile.
“He’s proven that before and he got a mile, no problem in the Kelso,” Pletcher said. ‘It’s just a two-turn mile versus a one-turn mile. That shouldn’t be an issue for him.”
Life Is Good resumed his breeze schedule in July, about a month before the Jerkens, which is part of the Travers program.
“He did some training at Keeneland before he came to us,” Pletcher said. “The goal was to go to the Jerkens and everything went according to plan. He hasn’t missed a beat since he came in. After the Jerkens, we kind of weighed our options and decided that the Kelso was the best segue to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. That’s been the plan all along.”
In the Jerkens, Life Is Good and regular rider Mike Smith, moved to the lead, as usual and at one point had a two-length advantage. But Jackie’s Warrior, the favorite in the Sprint, came on in the stretch to win by a neck in 1:21.39.
“I think the horse ran a fantastic race,” Pletcher said, “went really fast early on and he just couldn’t quite get his head in front of the finish line against a very talented horse. I thought, considering the layoff, it was it was a big effort from him.”
Life Is Good galloped 1 ¼ miles Thursday morning.
Pletcher has started five horses in the Dirt Mile and has a record of 1-1-1. His winner was Liam’s Map in 2015.
Irad Ortiz Jr., who won the 2019 Dirt Mile on Spun to Run, will ride.
Aloha West – Trainer Wayne Catalano has an impressive Breeders’ Cup record, having earned a check in six of 14 runs, including three victories. He won the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf with Stephanie’s Kitten, 2006 Juvenile Fillies with Dreaming of Anna and 2009 Juvenile Fillies with She Be Wild, making him one of the few trainers to win Breeders’ Cup races on three surfaces: dirt, all-weather/synthetic and turf.
This year, the decorated Midwest conditioner returns seeking his first Breeders’ Cup trophy with a non-2yo in the Qatar Racing Sprint (G1) with Eclipse Throughbred Partners’ Phoenix Stakes (G2) runner-up Aloha West.
A winner of half his eight starts—all in 2021—the $160,000 Keeneland September 2018 purchase has ascended from an Oaklawn Park maiden debut victory in April to G2-placed, while also seeing his Beyer Speed Figures rise from 75 to 102 in the process. The maternal grandson of 2004 Sprint winner Speightstown drew post five of nine runners, is 8/1 on the morning line and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.
“Today he went for a little gallop,” Catalano said. “He backed up to the wire and went about a mile and a quarter and just had a normal gallop. His last work was unbelievable, going (4f) in 47 1/5 and galloped out in a minute flat and it made me very happy. He should have won the Phoenix. They squeezed him back pretty good at the start and our jock misjudged the corner a little. We were very happy with the race, other than not winning, and he was probably the best horse in that day—but the best horse doesn’t always win. It’s great to be back.
“The post is great for him, which puts him right in the middle and there’s good speed inside of him,” he continued. “It should set up perfect. We should be able to break and stay in contention and then when we’re ready to kick, we’ll get ‘em.
“I’m blessed and thankful that Mr. Aron (Wellman) and Eclipse Thoroughbreds put me back in the game here.”
Last year, Catalano-trained Manny Wah was a troubled fifth in the Sprint, which still stings for the winner of 2,930 races as a trainer and 1,545 as a jockey: “We probably should have won that one. I’m almost certain we could have won it if he hadn’t given up his spot to the winner. Nothing against the winner, Whitmore is a really nice horse, but I know my horse was good enough to win.”
Wellman, president and founder of Eclipse, is just as pumped for Saturday as Catalano.
“It’s a Breeders’ Cup race, so of course it’s going to be salty, but our horse is just getting better and better by the day,” he said. “He’ll be tested on Saturday to find out if he’s good enough for the best sprinters in the world and at three-quarters, which might be a little bit sharp for him as far as his best distance, but he’s coming in like a beast. This is the way he’s going to need to be in order to compete with these and Catalano has him perfect.
“Cat is a Hall of Famer in my book,” Wellman continued. “I don’t know if there’s many guys out there who’ve won almost 3,000 races as a trainer and as many as he has as a jockey. When he shows up to the big dance, he knows how to find the prize. It’s just fun to be here with him. He’s had to reinvent himself so many times, but you just can’t keep the man down. He proves time and again, if given the right animal, he knows exactly what to do with them and get to the top of the mountain. We’ve supported him over the last 10 years since Eclipse has been in existence and he’s maximized every horse we’ve given him. It’s just a lot of fun to be here with Cat. We’re flying in under the radar, but we’re bringing a loaded gun.”
C Z Rocket—Peter Miller will seek a third victory in the past five editions of the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup (G1) when he sends forth 2020 runner-up C Z Rocket in the 6f, $2 million test. Originally cross-entered into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but Miller chose a Sprint return for the 7yo gelding. Owned by Altamira Racing Stable, Madaket Stable, Tom Kagele and Gary Barber, he seeks his 12th career victory and second of the season, having won Oaklawn’s Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) and Hot Springs Stakes over Sprint champ Whitmore in the spring.
“I’m really happy with him,” Miller said. “I think drawing the three-hole should be fine, especially with Following Sea and Jackie’s Warrior inside of him with so much speed. There’s plenty of pace on and hopefully they come back to us. We’ll come running and try to do one better than last year.”
Firenze Fire – Before he heads off to stud in Japan, Firenze Fire will make his record-tying fifth consecutive starts in the Breeders’ Cup Saturday when he goes to the post for the 6f Sprint.
The 6yo bred and raced by Ron Lombardi’s Mr. Amore Stable, has yet to win in the Breeders’ Cup, with his best finish a third in last year’s Sprint. Making his debut in June 2017 at Monmouth, he has made 37 starts and compiled a record of 14-7-3 while earning just more than $2.7 million. His most recent win was in the True North in June at Belmont Park. On Aug. 28 at Saratoga he gained international notoriety as he savaged Yaupon in the stretch of the Forego. That prolonged misdeed appeared to interrupt his momentum a bit and likely led to him finishing second by a head.
Veteran trainer Kelly Breen has handled Firenze Fire since the middle of 2020 and saddled him for four victories in 13 starts.
“When it comes to the ends of careers it’s bittersweet, because he’s still sound,” Breen said. “But deals come and go and I guess for this deal to sell him to Japan the timing was right. For me, it’s very bittersweet. He’s going to be a very tough horse to replace and there will be a lot of comparing horses to him. He’s an old warrior. He likes what he does. He struts. He’s an Alpha male. You don’t come across them all too often.”
Breen described him as a being something of a family member.
“It’s like seeing your kids,” he said. “You’ve got nothing to do but smile because he’s a character. Going back being an Alpha male, he’s the man. He’s the man of the barn and he lets everybody know it.”
Firenze Fire drew post six in the field of nine and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione for the first time.
Jackie’s Warrior – Breeders’ Cup Sprint favorite Jackie’s Warrior has proven to be one of the fastest horses on the track this year, but ironically, he has only made two of 11 career starts at the 6f distance, winning both of those starts.
“That’s the fun thing about Jackie’s Warrior,” Asmussen said. “When you look at all his accomplishments and his three grade one wins. He’s just an absolutely fantastic horse to be around and to get the pleasure to run.
“The funny thing to me was the Gallant Bob was only the second time he’s ever been able to run three quarters of a mile. Everybody knows how fast he is and the fractions that he’s laid down in a multitude of races and then for him to finally get the opportunity to do what he was meant to do was awfully fun.
I mean, he’s obviously found his niche with the one turn races. His Pat Day Mile Derby week was just brilliant, was beautiful. His race in the Allen Jerkens against Life Is Good was as good of a horse race as I’ve ever been involved with and for him to just handle it the way that he does was just very rewarding.”
Jackie’s Warrior is the first Grade 1 winner for his Texas-based owners J. Kirk and Judy Robison, long-time clients of Asmussen.
“He is a brilliant horse owned by Kirk and Judy Robison, just longtime supporters and wonderful racing enthusiasts. They’ve continuously supported the game and had some very nice horses, but very few people ever have the pleasure of owning horses as talented as Jackie’s Warrior.”
FILLY & MARE SPRINT
Bella Sofia – Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he will have simple instructions for jockey Luis Saez before he and Bella Sofia take on defending champion Gamine Saturday in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Gamine, the 3-5 favorite, will start from post five, just to the inside of the 3yo Bella Sofia in the 7f race that has six runners. Bella Sofia has won four of five starts since making her debut on May 6 with a 11 ¼-length victory at Belmont Park.
“I’m going to tell Luis to just go for it because if you let Gamine get comfortable we’re going not going to catch her,” Rodriguez said, “I think I’m the only one who has got more speed in the race than the other fillies. Hopefully, we have more speed than Gamine to clear her and let her chase me.”
Gamine is unbeaten in four starts this year and has won nine of 10 career starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
While much was expected of Gamine, who sold as a yearling for $1,800,000, Bella Sofia brought just $20,000 as a 2yo at auction last year. She arrived from the farm with a reputation as a quirky young horse that needed special attention.
“They said to be careful with her. She is suspicious, so you have to be careful,” Rodriguez said.
“And in the beginning she was, she was hard to handle. She wanted to do a lot more stuff than you wanted. We have a team in the barn and we tried to settle her down. She was taking everything in and we worked her we knew she had some talent.”
Since she wasn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup as a foal, Bella Sofia’s big ownership group decided to spent $100,000 to supplement her to the Filly and Mare Sprint after she won the Gallant Bloom on Sept. 26 at Belmont Park. Rodriquez shipped her from New York two weeks ahead of the race to give her time to acclimate at Del Mar and said she is up to the challenge.
“We believe in her and that she can compete with those horses,” he said. “It’s a tough test, not only Gamine, but Ce Ce and the rest of the group. They are very, very solid fillies. It’s not only Gamine.”
Ce Ce – “She’s won at distances from 6-1/2f to 1-1/16m, but seven-eighths could suit her the best,” said conditioner Michael McCarthy, speaking of his entrant Ce Ce ahead of Saturday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Since she’s been running one-turn races, Ce Ce has found her greatest success, winning three of four, including two stakes events, with her only defeat against Gamine, pre-race favorite in Saturday’s dash.
“Our best chance will be if Gamine doesn’t get left alone in front,” McCarthy added. The 5yo mare has earned more than $1.2million while winning 7 of her 15 lifetime starts. This morning, Ce Ce, who is named for the mother of famous magician Harry Houdini, a play on her dam, Miss Houdini, galloped a mile with Issaac Munoz aboard.
Proud Emma – Bayakoa Stakes winner Proud Emma enters the Filly & Mare Sprint with an outside 20-1 morning line chance, but trainer Peter Miller is hopeful that the Gem Inc and Tom Kagele-owned charge will give a good account of herself Saturday against a world-class field. In a six-horse field, the 5yo six-time winner has drawn the rail.
“I guess all things being equal, I would have preferred an outside draw, but she’s going to be back and there’s a lot of speed in there,” Miller said. “Hopefully she comes running. I think she fits enough to do well in this race and hit the board in the right circumstances. The race has to set up for her and she has to bring her A-game.”
Commandperformance – While he has yet to win a race, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher feels that Commandperformance is a good fit for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The gray son of Union Rags has been the runner-up in both of his outings for co-owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, but Pletcher said that the colt should appreciate the 1 1/16 miles and two turns of the Juvenile. Commandperformance debuted at 6f in the mud on the closing day of the Saratoga season, Sept. 6, and finished 2 ¾ lengths behind Jack Cristopher in the Champagne on Oct. 2.
“His first two starts were very good, even though he finished second,” Pletcher said. “In his debut, he drew the rail and he got bumped pretty hard leaving there, got a really good education out of it and closed well. We thought it was a winning-type race. We decided to treat it as though he won and if he had won, we would have went to the Champagne. That’s what we ended up doing.”
Pletcher said he liked what he saw in the one-mile Champagne, which is contested around one turn at Belmont Park.
“I thought he closed really well in there and was gaining on the winner at the wire and galloped out in front,” Pletcher said. “I think he’s a horse that is looking for two turns and more distance. He has had some very good breezes since then. I think we’re on a forward trend and see if he can continue improving.”
At 12-1, Commandperformance went off at the longest odds of Pletcher’s three horses in the Champagne and turned in the best finish.
“We were not surprised that he was able to do well in there,” Pletcher said. “We were expecting a good effort from him.”
Repole and St. Elias purchased Commandperformance, who is out of the graded-stakes placed Smitten, by Tapit, at the Keeneland 2020 September yearling sale for $220,000.
Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Commandperformance in the Breeders’ Cup.
Double Thunder – Phoenix Thoroughbred LTD’s well-traveled Double Thunder, purchased as a yearling for a modest $60,000 has already proven to be good investment with three wins in five starts and $348,850 in earnings.
The gray son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was precocious and won the Bashford Manor on June 26 at Churchill Downs. He rebounded from a fourth in the Saratoga Special on Aug. 14 to capture the Sapling at Monmouth Park on Sept. 5. Double Thunder comes to the Juvenile from a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Futurity at on Oct. 9 at Keeneland that has prompted trainer Todd Pletcher to make an equipment change.
“He’s been a solid horse, so far. He’s got a lot of experience,” Pletcher said. “We felt like he was a little unfocused in the Breeders’ Futurity. We’ve worked him back in blinkers since then and plan to add blinkers on for this start. I think we’ll see some improvement there.”
Double Thunder, bred by WinStar Farm, is out of the Tapit mare Rattataptap.
In his first year of eligibility, Pletcher, 54, was elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame this year. He has started 21 horses in the Juvenile and has an in-the-money record of 2-3-1. His winners were Uncle Mo in 2010 and Shanghai Bobby in 2012.
Flavien Prat will ride Double Thunder for the first time in the Juvenile.
Jack Christopher – As he has all week, Chad Brown-trained Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) morning-line favorite Jack Christopher went out early this morning before the sun rose. The Champagne (G1) winner had an easy jog one day prior to contesting the 1 1/16-miles, $2 million affair. Owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant, the son of Munnings has been a key part of an exceptional autumn for Brown and team, with a record of 43-11-12-6 in graded stakes since Sept. 1.
“It’s been a good fall,” Brown said. “Part of strategy is we play the long game all year and try to work backwards from these fall races. Not only the Breeders’ Cup, but all the big stakes in the fall. The races generally build up as you go through the year and I try to point for those races and it’s nice when it works out. We’ve had several horses my team has been preparing all year to peak around this time and it has worked out really well this year.”
Hidden Connection – Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection galloped on the main track Thursday morning under Janine Smith to wrap up here training for Friday’s NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Unbeaten in two starts for trainer Bret Calhoun, Hidden Connection will be contesting 1 1/16m for the second time in her career and going around two turns.
“I’d like to see her get away from the gate clean and not get squeezed back,” Calhoun said. “Let her run her race. I think Echo Zulu will clear and we will set second or third. She has a high cruising speed.”
Jockey Reylu Gutierrez, who has been aboard for both victories, will be making his Breeders’ Cup debut on the filly Friday.
“He is a very talented rider,” Calhoun said. “He doesn’t seem to get flustered or nervous and gives the horse a chance to run its race and see if they are good enough or not. That’s all you can ask for.”
Sequist – West Point Thoroughbreds, Gervais Racing, Charles Pigg, Stewart Racing Stable, Tom Andres and Karen Kraft’s Sequist completed her preparations Thursday morning for Friday’s NetJets Juvenile Fillies.
Trained by Dallas Stewart, Sequist has chased Juju’s Map and Echo Zulu, two of the favorites for the Juvenile Fillies, in her past two starts but has closed ground late in both of those tests.
“There are some fast horses in there and I would like to see a speed duel early, something like a :46 half-mile,” Stewart said. “It’s a small field and she will probably be last early and the hope is she doesn’t drop too far out of it.”
After the Alcibiades, in which Sequist was third to Juju’s Map, Stewart indicated a Breeders’ Cup run was in play.
“It’s a $2 million race and it is something to dream about,” Stewart said. “After the Alcibiades, she was doing well, eating well and training well. She was doing all the things a horse trainer wants to see.”
Tarabi – LBD Stable, Manganaro Bloodstock and David Ingordo’s Tarabi galloped under exercise rider Juan Leyva Thursday morning to complete her preparation for Friday’s Juvenile Fillies.
Tarabi will be making her first start since finishing second to Echo Zulu in the Spinaway at Saratoga on Sept. 5.
“I’d like to see her get a clean break,” trainer Cherie DeVaux said. “There is plenty of speed on paper and I’d like to see her stalk comfortably.”