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 …