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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


If the final Breeders’ Cup prep Saturday has taught us anything, it’s that we need to appropriate the name Churchill Downs created for their all-two-year-olds-all-the-time fall race cards and give yesterday a name: Stars of Tomorrow Prep Weekend.

Many of those who graced America’s racetracks on the day will be flooded in Klieg lights, if not on the first weekend of November in Lexington then at a racetrack near you later this fall, winter, or early spring Saturdays of 2021.

With the exception of couple members of the handicap division, and perhaps a certain juvenile filly out West, the strength of the remaining Breeders’ Cup divisions live in the Midwest, East, or a hop, skip and jump across an ocean.

Saturday on Long Island had a familiar, yet distant ring. Remember Belmont’s Fall Championship Meet, the place where championships were made prior to 1984? If you were a serious Thoroughbred, you had to prove it over the wide expanse of Big Sandy. How wide?

Big Sandy is so wide that undefeated favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Jackie’s Warrior, was so gob-smacked by it, he jumped over to his right lead before reaching headstretch, as if was all part of the widest left turn on American dirt.

When Jackie’s Warrior won Saratoga’s storied Hopeful Stakes, I thought he could not have won more impressively. I was wrong. It was farther and the effort was more compelling. The connections said it best:

“He had an easy half-mile and I’m surprised he came home that quick,” said Steve Asmussen assistant Toby Sheets. “He’s a class act and does everything correct”

“He’s a beautiful horse; a big horse, and it looks like everything he does is easy for him…” said jockey Joel Rosario. “I think the further he goes the better.” And a second turn for the undefeated baby? “We’ll see [but] I don’t think he’ll have any problems.”

Especially not after proving he can finish, with a final quarter-mile in 24.74 after three-quarters in 1:10.68, en route to a mile clocking of 1:35.42.

Dayoutoftheoffice was as impressive in the G1 Frizette as ‘the Warrior’ was winning the Champagne. Fast away from the barrier, she came back nicely to Junior Alvarado as soon as he dropped his hands. Favorite Vequist took a run at her at headstretch but Tim Hamm’s filly flicked her away in deep stretch–and Vequist is a quality filly.

“She’s a big, scopey filly and I wanted to have a fresh horse for this time of year,” said the Midwest-based trainer after winning his first Grade 1. “We wanted to just train her a little lightly and have her fresh for the fall run. Everything went according to plan.”

“Post position had a lot to do with how she ran today because it allowed me to control the race,” said the white-hot Junior Alvarado. “It was just a matter of time before she got it to the next gear and really kicked on nicely at the end.” Indeed.

The filly ran virtually the same race as the colt, slower but barely by a couple of ticks. Clear by two lengths at the end, she got the mile in 1:35.82 following six furlongs in 1:10.98, her final quarter in 24:84. At the moment, the Juvenile Fillies is a battle of the unbeatens: Dayoutoftheoffice v Baffert’s Princess Noor v Ken McPeek’s Simply Ravishing. Can’t wait.

It’s not very often when a trainer, even a Hall of Famer, can improve on a grass mare previously trained by Chad Brown, but that’s what Shug McGaughey accomplished yesterday, taking the G1 Flower Bowl with Civil Union, her fourth in a row for the Lexingtonian.

But McGaughey will tell you the victory would not have been possible without an exemplary handling from Joel Rosario who knew what to do with all the ground he saved. He waited for the very last instant, found a seam, got a jump on the ralliers, saving just enough to hold off My Sister Nat.

“They weren’t flying up front,’ said McGaughey. “She ran under some different tactics today on Joel [Rosario’s] part, but that’s why he’s such a great rider. He knows what to do.”

In the process, Civil Union defeated Mysistercharlie’s sister ‘Nat’, Nay Lady Nay and Cambier Parc, all her former stablemates as Chad finished 2-3-4. The late developing five-year-old has joined the highest echelons of grass females, but the waters are about to get deeper still.

We don’t wish to pile on Tacitus, beaten by a pair of three-year-olds in yesterday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup after setting an extremely slow and comfortable pace. The four-year-old we believe is better with a target than being one, but his finish was simply terrible.

Not so either of the three-year-olds, exacta finishers Happy Saver and Mystic Guide, who both ran excellent races, especially the winner. He showed high class to slip through a narrow opening on the fence and the extraordinary quality to go from debuting sophomore on JUN 2 to Grade 1 winner OCT 10.

It’s difficult to run a respectable time and pick up the pace going long off such a slow tempo as 49.68, but considering Happy Saver was about a length behind after the first half-mile, he raced his final six furlongs in 1:13.08, a final of 2:01.77 that included a final quarter mile in 24.51.

Whatever happens in November, Happy Saver has the makings of an extraordinary four-year-old.

Poor Chad Brown, can’t win the G1 Flower Bowl with three fillies but he has one to join their Grade 1 ranks as Tamahere, making her U.S. debut, took the G3 Sands Point with a ferociously late turn of foot, going faster and faster the further she ran in the mile event.

Brown explained: “She can be a little temperamental and a little keen early … behind the gate there’s still some work to do. She’s a high-strung horse. She was a little bit keen early but Irad got her to settle and she showed that turn of foot. She’s a really exciting horse for the future. We’re lucky to have her.” Lucky, and good.

The Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup is always a much sought-after prize. And at least the victory by Harvey’s Lil Goil had to take some of the sting out of the Tacitus no-show for Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

The three-year-old gray gave Triple Crown champion sire American Pharoah his first Grade 1 winner, the filly benefitted from excellent handling from Martin Garcia, who reunited with the filly he took Churchill’s Grade 3 Regret with, at the same 9-furlong trip.

She’s in the Breeders’ Cup by virtue of her QE II win, and Mott has beaten older horses on both surfaces with Breeders’ Cup three-year-olds. Seven days until Breeders’ Cup Pre-Entries are announced. Ready, set …

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7 Responses

  1. Thanks for the writeup – it allowed me to relive Saturday for a few minutes!

    There were a number of impressive performances at Belmont on Saturday, but the one that stuck with me the most was the turn of foot by Tamahere.

    Two other notes:
    With regard to Tacitus, I really don’t even know what to make of him. On the surface, its impossible to not think of him as an overall disappointment. On the other hand, this is a colt who has earned 3 million dollars in 14 starts, and, tossing the Saudi race, has finished out of the money 1 time since his debut – and that was a horrific wide trip 4th vs Grade 1 opponents at Oaklawn. (was a Grade 2 race, but due to pandemic closures, the field was G1 level). And if Tacitus is a disappointment, what does it say about his fellow TC contenders from 2019? Most of them aren’t anywhere to be found these days, while he still competes at the top level. Tacitus might be a horse that will be more accurately assessed in the rearview mirror when all is said and done.

    As impressive as Jackie’s Warrior was once again, the wise words of Harvey Pack come to mind regarding the two turns in the BC. Never take a short price betting a horse to do something he has never done before. He has certainly proven to be the most talented 2yo on the dirt, but I think I’m probably letting this one beat me on BC day.

  2. From the bottom up Doc: You could always save in exactas with Jackie’s Warrior. Let’s see who is pre-entered 10 days in advance of race day.

    You’re right about Tacitus; rear view mirror would clarify the picture. While I always find a way to make a note when a horses becomes a new millionaire, earnings are important to those who share in the spoils and I wish that foreign earnings were separated from U.S. earnings as huge purses are/can be misleading. E.G. I love the racing at Kentucky Downs, but a $500K race for lightly raced horses is misleading–might be an affinity to handle the course.

    I, too, very impressed with Tamahere. CB said might sit on her until 4YO year–must really like her.

  3. Dennis’ Moment was favored in Juvie last year and had a terrible break at start and that was that. Haven’t heard from him since Fountain of Youth where he ran poorly. Glad BC is at Keeneland where the track may play better than what we saw last year at The Great Race Place (SA). Any updates on Dennis’ Moment? Thanks.

  4. Next time I see Dale I’ll ask about Dennis’ Moment. Don’t recall reading anything about a retirement but might have missed the memo.
    Yes, I prefer a Keeneland Breeders’ Cup to Santa Anita–except when I was on the beat when I would err on the side of warmth and sunshine…

  5. John: Please allow this “old fogey” to offer a slightly different slant to this past weekend. I miss the Belmont Fall Championship meet. It has been rendered a non-entity by the never ending marketing of the so-called World Championships ( we will see how many Euros actually show up in Lexington). I guess that the Genie is long out of the bottle, and we are never returning to the glory of Forego’s run in the 76 Marlboro, or Slew’s magnificent Champagne, one year later ( still the greatest two year old performance of the last 1/2 century). Everything nowadays is a prep for some Breeders Cup race ( even ones that are fake BC races). I don’t know about you, but, I am bored with the constant regurgitation of the nonsense about ” Win and In” races, and that the BC will pay for shipping. Why would local punters care if some Arab Sheik gets his entry fee paid by his own Breeding operation in Versailles, KY? I know that I don’t.
    John, last week, we were discussing your idea to change the TC season. As far as I’m concerned, the Ky Derby “point” system, and the Breeders Cup WAYI, have conspired to undermine what was once a semblance of a “Season” in Thoroughbred racing. It seems that all that we have now is one of two things: 1) who has the requisite # of points for the Derby, or 2) who is running in the Breeders Cup. Nobody is running their horses any more! A typical Derby Starter now has at most, 3 or 4 starts before the Derby. Moreover, all of the horses other than 3yo colts, only run once or twice before the BC. Take a look back at Belmont last Saturday. The field sizes for what used to be the defining races of the year, were woefully small and lacking in depth. The current Federal Legislation might be a cure for racing’s medication and safety problems, but what is the remedy for ensuring that we will have an entertaining and bettable product going forward?

  6. There is so much here Fram, I’m going to devote today’s entire column to the issues you raise. Totally apropos and timely; some I agree with, some I do not. This is why I love the HRI Faithful…

    (And, BTW, I probably am an “older fogey” than you).

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