As we await Wednesday morning’s announcement of Breeders’ Cup pre-entered horses for the 37th time, a few hot takes on Saturday’s state-bred programs at Belmont Park and Laurel Park and a look ahead to a handful of highly anticipated championship events.
On Saturday, it surprised me when I had a sense of pride watching Mr. Buff win back-to-back Empire Classics. Maybe it’s my New York roots.
Almost as surprising was the 7-2 mutuel. What were the bettors thinking; it was a nine-furlong race, yes? He won nine of those going in. Anyway, it was cool watching him do his thing, the kind of effort that can inspire a sense of wonder in any fan.
It was a great job all around, including the six-year-old that delivered a near career effort, aided by the love and devotion of the connections who got him there, trainer John Kimmel and skilled pilot Junior Alvarado.
Earlier, a well-kept secret was exposed. Thanks to You Tube and performances by Laobanonaprayer and Brooklyn Strong, the world knows about Delaware Valley-based trainer Danny Velazquez’s skilled handling of juveniles. Two horses, sold for a combined $20,000, won the lion’s share of two $150,000 pots.
Meanwhile, in the Free State meanwhile, all storylines went through jockey Sheldon Russell, a seven-time meet leader in Maryland who’s been putting his business back together since returning from a Delaware Park injury last month. Well, Russell is back—all the way back.
A winner of four races on the Jim McKay Maryland Million program, he took both lynchpin features, the Maryland Million Distaff and Classic aboard horses that should be heard from on the national stage next year, assuming good health and continued development.
Over a very glib surface, Hello Beautiful won the Distaff by a short pole, ridden out after stalking, then taking the lead into the turn. The filly switched her leads so quickly into the lane that it appeared she was always going righty, which wasn’t the case.
And all of a sudden, Hello Beautiful was five in front and, as they say, improved her position. Seven furlongs in 1:21.84 is not something one sees every day at Laurel Park.
While not as stunning, the victory by Monday Morning Qb was just as comprehensively fast, 1:48.13 setting the stakes record for the Classic which in the past has been staged at varying distances.
Russell announced his presence after the opening half-mile, separated into the lane and never seriously threatened thereafter. It was an entertaining day of racing from both state-bred programs.
A Pre-Entry Look at Divisional Pre-Entries
At center stage in the battle for Horse of the Year honors, six horses can wrap it up with victory in the Classic, Breeders’ Cup’s signature event, and those six include a filly.
So who will win it? The “now horse” Improbable; classy need-to-improve-last Maximum Security, a freshened Tom’s d’Etat, and three three-year-olds—Derby winning Authentic, Belmont/Travers winner Tiz the Law, and Preakness winning filly Swiss Skydiver?
With respect to the filly’s choice of Classic or Distaff, that won’t be decided until tomorrow or Tuesday and she very likely will be cross-entered in both. The surprise is that it’s the owner, Peter Callahan, who is leaning Distaff while trainer Kenny McPeek aggressively is thinking Classic. Usually it’s the owner who has the widest eyes, but not this time.
But by no means is the Distaff a gim’me, not with Monomoy Girl in the lineup, plus the winners of the G1 Zenyatta (Harvest Moon); G1 Spinster (Valiance); G1 Ashland (Speech); G1 Beldame (Horologist) and the G1 Personal Ensign heroine, Vexatious.
While older males is a formidable obstacle, the filly’s tactical speed, push-button acceleration, resolute stamina plus an age and sex allowance, the Classic is worth serious consideration. Otherwise, her only path to a Horse of the Year title is for all the Classic favorites to fail and she beats her elders in the Distaff.
The Breeders’ Cup Turf is another huge prestige event and, if it’s grass, that means Euros, and that means the super stout Magical. All she’s done is win seven career Group 1s, which includes victories over males. Recently she won the Gr 1 Irish Champion and not to forget Mogul, winner of the Gr. 1 Gran Prix de Paris, and dual Gr 1 winner Tarnawa.
Representing America will be the style-improved Channel Maker, carefully pointed Pegasus winner Zulu Alpha, and Kentucky Downs Turf Cup winner Arklow, defeating prepping Zulu Alpha, among others.
The Sprint division is deep and turn-back Met Mile winner Vekoma provides some added star power, i.e. if he doesn’t opt for the Dirt Mile. Adding him to the extremely fast Yaupon, laudably versatile Diamond Oops, resurgent Firenze Fire and SoCal’s speedsters C Z Rocket and Collusion Illusion.
Favorites from other divisions also provide heightened anticipation. Who doesn’t want to see impressive turf juvenile Golden Pal again, or Serengeti Empress flaunt her speed in the F&M Sprint, and see how the extremely fast and uber talented Jackie’s Warrior handles a second turn?
But of particular personal interest will be the Juvenile Fillies with undefeated certain-to-be odds-on G1 Del Mar Debutante winner Princess Noor vs. the best from the East and Midwest; G1 Alcibiades winner Simply Ravishing and G1 Dayoutoftheoffice in a battle of impressive, undefeated two-year-old fillies. Can’t wait.