The path to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 13 championship races. This blog provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago. For this week’s edition, the contenders were considered from races over the previous two weekends.
After a disappointing career debut, Not This Time has been dominant for trainer Dale Romans. He won his second start at Ellis Park by 10 lengths and then overwhelmed the opposition on Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. He improved from an 83 Equibase Speed Figure to a new career-best 99 for his 8 ¾-length romp in his stakes debut in the Iroquois. Not This Time also earned an automatic starting spot in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. By leading sire Giant’s Causeway out of graded-stakes-winning sprinter Miss Macy Sue, by Trippi, Not this Time boasts a nice combination of stamina from his sire (father) and speed from his dam (mother) and he gets a dose of class from both. He’s a half brother to 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map. Romans, who called Not This Time “really something special,” plans to train him up to the Juvenile so he’s fresh, and he figures to be one of the top three or four betting choices for the race.
After four straight unplaced finishes in his previous four races this year, The Pizza Man got back on track in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes Presented by HPIBet on Aug. 17 at Woodbine. He raced much closer to the pace than he typically does in the Northern Dancer and held on to win by a neck. The 118 Equibase Speed Figure was just a point off his career best, so reports of his decline might have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, I’d argue that the 2015 Arlington Million winner has been much better than he’s looked on paper. He was sixth in this year’s Million but was only beaten by 1 ½ lengths, and in the race before that he finished fourth, beaten by a head in a blanket finish. It looks like The Pizza Man is back in elite form, and he’s shown he can compete with the best when he’s at his best. Fifth in last year’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, The Pizza Man is ticketed for a return trip to Canada for the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International on Oct. 16, with a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup possible provided he runs well and comes out of that race in good order.
I tend to favor European shippers when handicapping the Juvenile Turf races on the Breeders’ Cup card, but I came away from the Grade 2 Summer Stakes on Aug. 18 at Woodbine impressed with winner Good Samaritan. He improved to 2-for-2 for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott with a fast-finishing 1 ½-length score that included overcoming a poor start that left him trailing the field early. He earned an automatic starting spot in the Juvenile Turf with the win and showed a strong late turn of foot (last quarter-mile in about :23.20), which is what it takes to win that Breeders’ Cup race. Good Samaritan is by Harlan’s Holiday out of multiple stakes-placed winner Pull Dancer, by Pulpit. He’s from the family of graded stakes winners and sires Wiseman’s Ferry and Bernstein, the latter the sire of superstar miler Tepin.
Of all of the winners over the last two weekends, Tepin is the most likely to win a Breeders’ Cup race. She extended her winning streak to eight in taking the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes against males in her first race since June 16. Tepin is arguably the best turf miler in the world and looks primed to repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. So why isn’t she higher here? Tepin had no real room to move up since she was, in my opinion, already the best turf horse in training in the U.S. With apologies to Flintshire, who is right there with Tepin, her consistent brilliance gives her a slight edge as she continues build a Hall of Fame career.
Big Blue Kitten won a pair of Grade 1 races in 2015 and finished third in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf en route to winning the Eclipse Award as champion turf male. Unfortunately, the Kitten’s Joy ridgling has not been as good in 2016. After finishing off the board in his first two races of the year, Big Blue Kitten ran last of eight, beaten by 7 ¾ lengths, in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes Presented by HPIBet on Sept. 17 at Woodbine. The incredibly slow pace in the Northern Dancer was far from an ideal set up for Big Blue Kitten, but the eighth-place result was his worst since 2013. He’s a terrific turf horse when he’s in top form, but we have yet to see him at his best this year and time is running out before the Breeders’ Cup.
I’ve always been a sucker for deep closers; there’s nothing in racing more exciting than a racehorse sweeping into contention with an eye-catching rally and then inhaling five or six opponents in the stretch on the way to victory. So I became a fan of Mo Tom when he used that running style to land a win in the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes and third-place finishes in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and Risen Star Stakes on the road to the 2016 Kentucky Derby. After unplaced finishes in the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby, his return from a layoff in the Ohio Derby — a three-length win — was reason for optimism. But he took a step back in the Grade 3 Super Derby on Sept. 10 when fifth, beaten by 10 ¾ lengths. Three-year-olds at this time of year need to handle competition in their own division if they have any hope of holding their own against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup. The Super Derby was a step in the wrong direction.
There were not many candidates for the final spot here, but rather than pick lightly raced 2-year-olds I opted for a multiple graded stakes winner who turned in a surprisingly dull effort as a heavy favorite. Ahh Chocolate finished last of six, beaten by 29 lengths, as the 7-10 favorite for the Grade 3 Locust Grove Stakes. For a racehorse who had finished in the top three in six of her seven previous races, Ahh Chocolate’s dud came as a surprise. Let’s hope she just didn’t care for the muddy track and rebounds in her next race.