With the 2017 Triple Crown season in the rearview mirror, the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” season is gearing up. While “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races for this year’s event have been taking place since January, the U.S. races are now coming fast and furious the deeper we get into the fall racing season.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Giant Expectations, winner of the Grade 2, $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes on Aug. 26 at Del Mar and a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Las Vegas Dirt Mile.
After an inauspicious first year of racing in 2016 as a 3-year-old, Giant Expectations has really come on during his second year on the racetrack. He returned from an 11-month layoff in a maiden race restricted to New York-breds in May at Belmont Park, where he pulled clear in the stretch to win by 9 ¾ lengths for his first win in his seventh career start.
The chestnut colt was not bad as a 3-year-old – he never ran worse than fourth and finished second twice in six starts at Santa Anita Park – and was sent off as the heavy 0.55-1 favorite in his season bow. Needless, to say, Giant Expectations exceeded expectations and that really has been the case all year.
Giant Expectations then won a one-mile allowance race for New York-breds by 2 ½ lengths at Belmont, again as the heavy favorite, before shipping west to Del Mar for the summer.
In his first start back in Southern California, Giant Expectations finished second by three-quarters of a length in a one-mile allowance race at Del Mar and earned a new career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure. Now, armed with a little bit of confidence, Giant Expectations was ready to make his stakes debut.
Trainer Peter Eurton did not pick a small step up in class for Giant Expectations. He was entered in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the Las Vegas Dirt Mile. That challenge got significantly easier before the race with the retirement of morning-line favorite Danzing Candy with a career-ending injury, but Giant Expectations still faced a deep, talented field of elite California sprinter/milers.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who rode Giant Expectations for the first time in his previous race, rated him in sixth early, within four lengths of a swift pace. Giant Expectations launched his winning rally from four wide on the turn and reeled in Calculator to win by 1 ½ lengths.
In the Pat O’Brien, Giant Expectations was wide throughout the race after breaking from post-position nine, and when he advanced on the turn it looked like he was begging to be let loose. He leveled off really well in the stretch and finished his final eighth of a mile in about 12 seconds despite being only a length behind after six furlongs in a blistering 1:08.83. He improved two points to a new career-top 114 Equibase Speed Figure.
Giant Expectations looked terrific in the one-turn Pat O’Brien and also ran well at Del Mar in the allowance race at one mile around two turns, which will be the configuration for the Dirt Mile.
“He’s a bulldog,” Stevens said. “I rode him last time and he ran great. I thought he was sitting on something big. He showed it [in the Pat O’Brien]. And I think he’ll actually be better off if they run him a mile. He’ll have more time to settle going into that first turn, and I expect he’ll run big.”
Purchased for $135,000 at the 2015 OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training by Ryan Exline, who owns him in partnership with Gatto Racing, Giant Expectations took a little time to find his way as a racehorse but he’s been outstanding as a 4-year-old. He seems to relish the main track at Del Mar, he’s getting better with each start, and Giant Expectations looks like a legitimate contender for the Dirt Mile.
Giant Expectations is from the fourth crop of Frost Giant, a son of European Horse of the Year and leading U.S. sire Giant’s Causeway. Frost Giant was a multiple group stakes winner in Ireland, winning at seven-eighths of a mile at two and 1 ¼ miles at three. Frost Giant was shipped to the U.S. in fall 2006 and, after failing to win in his first four races on grass, was tested on the main track. He won at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt at Gulfstream Park and later that year he won the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Suburban Handicap on the main track at Belmont Park.
Giant Expectations gets a nice dose of stamina and class from his sire.
The bottom half of this pedigree slants heavily toward speed and probably helps explain why Giant Expectations seems best at seven-eighths of a mile and a mile.
His dam (mother), Sarahisittrue, by Is It True, won at five-eighths of a mile and three-quarters of a mile. Sarahisittrue is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to stakes-winning sprinter Rosebud’s Ridge.
Giant Expectations’ grandam (maternal grandmother), Sarah Rosebud, by Unreal Zeal, won five races ranging from five- to seven-eighths of a mile.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Giant Expectations can be effective going a bit longer, but he appears to be very comfortable at or about one mile in distance. His chances in the Dirt Mile could be dependent upon how tough of a field he faces in the race, but he’s a rapidly improving 4-year-old who loves Del Mar and looks like a serious threat at the Breeders’ Cup.