The $250,000, Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes Saturday at Belmont Park is a “Win & You’re In” qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Although the race only drew a five-horse field, there is not one starter entered who doesn’t have a chance to win. Since the group is small, I’ll dispense with the normal listing of their qualifications and cover all five horses in detail.
Good Effort has won eight of 29 career races, all on turf or all-weather surfaces. However, he has run big races on dirt, specifically when he missed by a neck in a 13-horse field this past March in the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal Stakes in Dubai on a left handed course like the one at Belmont. He was overmatched in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes in his first start after that race, but then Good Effort rebounded to miss by three-quarters of a length in a Group 3 stakes in the U.K. after making the lead and holding on until very late in the race. He made two more starts on turf in England over the summer and was once again a non-factor in the Group 1 Darley July Cup Stakes and the Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes, but in his most recent start, Good Effort rebounded to lead from start to finish in a very fast six and one-half furlong race in France on an all-weather track last month. From January through November 2020, Good Effort won four straight races, and in three of the four he made the lead shortly after the start and easily held on. He adds blinkers in the Vosburgh to keep that focus, and considering he earned very consistent Equibase Speed Figures of 108 to 110 in his top efforts, Good Effort has a shot to surprise the local contingent and win this year’s Vosburgh Stakes in front-running fashion.
Following Sea cuts back from seven furlongs to six furlongs in the Vosburgh, which may be the key to a top effort. He finished third and well behind the top two finishers in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes in August, but those two horses (Jackie’s Warrior and Life is Good) both won their next starts against top stakes company. Before the Jerkens, Following Sea finished third when trying two-turns for the first time in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes, an irrelevant experiment in my opinion. Prior to the Haskell, Following Sea won easily by 6 ½ lengths at Belmont and prior to that he won by 5 ¾ lengths at the six-furlong trip he’ll race Saturday, earning a career best 110 figure that is good enough to win the Vosburgh. Cutting back to his best distance gives Following Sea a good shot to do just that, and he’s another horse that’s likely to be a bit ignored in the wagering.
Firenze Fire is likely to be favored on the strength of his big effort at the end of August in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes. In the Forego, Firenze Fire went head-and-head with eventual winner Yaupon for the final quarter mile, even trying to bite his foe multiple times in the stretch run. That effort earned a strong 112 figure, similar to the 113 figure he earned two races before that when he ran second by a head in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont. He won the 2020 Vosburgh with a 116 figure, and Firenze Fire shows up with his “A” game nearly every time he runs and must be respected as a contender.
Baby Yoda is one of two 3-year-olds in the field along with Following Sea. He is the most lightly raced horse in the group, having run four times, but he has improved markedly in each race, starting with an 84 figure effort, moving up to 91, then 97 and finally to 111 in his most recent race in a 6 ½-furlong allowance at Saratoga. That effort on Sept. 4 was visually impressive, as Baby Yoda easily drew off to a 4 ½-length victory. Trainer Bill Mott knows this young horse still has improving to do and that is why he puts him in a stakes race for the first time Saturday, as Baby Yoda’s 111 figure matches up well with the 112 figure Firenze Fire earned in the Forego.
Jalen Journey has won eight of 16 career races including three of nine at the Vosburgh’s six-furlong trip. All four of his stakes tries in the U.S. were excellent efforts, starting with a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint Invitational Stakes in June 2019 in which he led late and missed by less than a length to a top sprinter in Diamond Oops. Since returning from Dubai in May of this year, Jalen Journey has finished first or second in all four races, most recently when he crossed the wire second but was moved up to first in the Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes after the winner was disqualified for interference. He earned a 108 figure in that race and in one start prior Jalen Journey earned a career-best 111 figure when he won a 6 ½-furlong race at Saratoga, another effort that’s on par with the best of this group
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