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With only one race left on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Many of the series winners from the last two weekends will move on to the Breeders’ Cup as one of the favorites for their respective races.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Free Drop Billy, winner of the Grade 1, $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 7 at Keeneland and a guaranteed spot in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Heading into last weekend, it felt like the rest of the 2-year-old division had a ton of ground to make up on undefeated FrontRunner Stakes winner Bolt d’Oro. Another 2-year-old male needed to step up in a big way for the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to become a compelling race.
Free Drop Billy turned in an impressive showing in the Grade 1, $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, so let’s take a closer look at his chances to beat Bolt d’Oro.
In his first attempt navigating two turns, Free Drop Billy looked like he was blasted out of a cannon entering the stretch of the Breeders’ Futurity. He seized command with a sweeping rally and finished powerfully to win by four lengths, completing the final sixteenth of a mile in 6.43 seconds.
The chestnut Union Rags colt overcame traffic on the final turn and earned a new career-best 94 Equibase Speed Figure, a two-point increase from his runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in his previous start that should set him up to take a step forward in the Juvenile.
The Breeders’ Futurity was the fourth career start for Free Drop Billy, who was purchased for $200,000 by owner Albaugh Family Stables at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. He made his debut for trainer Dale Romans on June 15 and charged from off the pace to win a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs by three lengths.
Making his next start in the Hopeful at seven-eighths of a mile, Free Drop Billy rallied from last in the eight-horse field and finished second by a neck to a green Sporting Chance, who ducked out in front of Free Drop Billy but did not impede him. Free Drop Billy raced wide early and was five wide entering the stretch, so he ran very well to overcome significant ground loss.
The 1 1/16 miles of the Breeders’ Futurity really seemed to suit Free Drop Billy. He was a little closer to the slower pace – sixth of 12 after an opening half-mile in :47.11 compared with last of eight after a :45.92 half-mile in the Hopeful – and he really leveled off in the stretch and pulled away impressively. It looks like the longer the better for him.
The Albaugh family and Romans teamed to finish second in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Not This Time, who was second by a neck to Classic Empire in a thrilling finish.
It looks like Albaugh and Romans similarly have a great chance for a top-three finish in this year’s Juvenile. While Free Drop Billy’s top Equibase Speed Figure is 25 points lower than the 119 Bolt d’Oro posted in winning the FrontRunner, I think he’s right there with the rest of the 2-year-olds.
I’d be shocked if he isn’t flying late in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile stretch and passing rivals, but at this point it appears he would need to take a significant step forward to defeat Bolt d’Oro on Nov. 4.
Free Drop Billy is from the second crop of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, who also was a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, winning the Champagne Stakes before running second in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Overall, Union Rags won five of eight starts with a seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands his only finish outside the top three.
With a very limited sample size of 130 starters and 50 winners through Oct. 7, Union Rags sure looks capable of siring elite runners with 2017 Santa Anita Oaks winner Paradise Woods and Grade 1 winners Union Strike, Dancing Rags, and Free Drop Billy among his five graded stakes winners to date. Multiple graded stakes winner Tequilita is Union Rags’ top earner so far and Patch finished third in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets to give him his first classic-placed runner.
Free Drop Billy is out of Grade-3 placed Trensa, by three-time leading sire Giant’s Causeway. Trensa made more than half of her starts on grass and won three of 19 races, all at 1 1/16 miles, while placing in three stakes on turf. Her first foal, Trensita, was a winner and her second, Hawkbill, by Kitten’s Joy, is a European Group 1 winner who has earned more than $750,000. Free Drop Billy is Trensa’s fourth foal and third to race.
Free Drop Billy’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is Serape, by Fappiano, winner of the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes in 1992 and the dam (mother) of multiple graded stakes winner Bastique. His third dam (maternal great-grandmother) is Grade 1-placed stakes winner Mochila, by In Reality, a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 1985 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and sire Cozzene.
Free Drop Billy has a combination of class, stamina, and speed in his pedigree that should make him dangerous at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as well as longer races should he progress on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby.