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.
1. Dream It Is
I thought Dream It Is was stunningly good in victory in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes on July 21, leaving seven challengers toiling in her wake as she motored nine lengths clear in the stretch. After winning her first two starts on the synthetic surface at Woodbine, she sure handled the switch to dirt without issue and now has three wins by open lengths in as many starts. By 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, Dream It Is should excel as the races get longer and she looked like a budding 2-year-old star in the Schuylerville for trainer Barbara Minshall. She earned a 97 Equibase Speed Figure for the Schuylerville, essentially pairing the 99 she earned for winning the My Dear Stakes on June 24 and could take a step forward in her next race.
It would be easy to dismiss Accelerate’s 8 ½-length win in the TVG San Diego Handicap because heavily favored Arrogate was so disappointing, and I’m sure many analysts will, but upon closer look Accelerate ran a damn good race. Sure, he completely dictated the pace, but he set a solid tempo through a half-mile in :47.06 and still finished strongly — final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.76 and a final sixteenth in 6.37 seconds. No, he wasn’t challenged by the racehorse many considered the best on the planet, but he did post a new career-best 128 Equibase Speed Figure and four of his last five have been 112 or higher. He’s finished in the top three in all but one of his 12 career races and looks like a potentially serious contender for the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
3A. Lady Eli
What can I say about this remarkable mare that hasn’t been said yet? She’s just been outstanding since returning from a life-threatening fight with laminitis in 2015. She’s strung together three wins and three seconds since her return, including a determined head victory over Quidura in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes on July 22 at Saratoga that gave her five Grade 1 wins. One of those post-comeback seconds came in her first start after the near-death experience and another was by a nose in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The 120 Equibase Speed Figure she earned in the Diana was just two ticks off her career top and she covered her final three-eighths of a mile in about 34 1/5 seconds. Lady Eli is an elite talent in elite form and she’s as game as a racehorse comes.
3B. West Coast
I cheated here a bit to add a runner who raced two weeks ago, but I continue to be impressed by West Coast, a runner from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn who has earned a triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure and run first or second in all six of his career starts. He’s always been a true racehorse, but he’s really improved when coming from a little farther back in his last two races. He earned a career-best 117 speed figure for winning the Easy Goer Stakes on Belmont Stakes day and proved much the best on July 15 when winning the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby by 2 ¾ lengths. It sounds like Baffert is targeting the Travers with West Coast, which is a positive sign for this Flatter colt out of 2000 champion 2-year-old filly Caressing.
HONORABLE MENTION: Diana runner-up Quidura ran a huge race in defeat, earning a new 12-point, career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure. … Hunt has earned his three best Equibase Speed Figures since stretching out to a mile or longer on the turf and was very impressive in defeating 7-to-10 Ashleyluvssugar with a blistering late turn of foot in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes. … Firenze Fire ran a big one in winning the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes and held off a colt I like a lot in Free Drop Billy, but I’m skeptical about the winner’s chances as the races get longer. … Madam Dancealot struck for a 21.20-to-1 upset in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap but I’d like to see her duplicate that effort before I buy in wholeheartedly. … Abel Tasman earned her third straight Grade 1 win when taking the Coaching Club American Oaks, but she was challenged a little more than I expected. She a rising star for sure, though. … Irap is another who raced two weeks ago, but his Grade 3 Indiana Derby win gave him three wins in his last four races with the only defeat coming when he got mugged early and often in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Irap was the butt of some social media snark after he won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes as a maiden in April, but no one is laughing at this formidable 3-year-old now. Irap is on the rise!
There has been a lot of piling on Arrogate after he ran an absolute clunker in the TVG San Diego Handicap on July 22 at Del Mar and much of that is probably unfair. Horses are animals, not machines, and certainly susceptible to simply having a bad race or bad day once in a while. But Arrogate did look like a machine in winning seven straight races and amassing more than $17 million in earnings. He was named the 2016 Longines World's Best Racehorse and was even better in two starts in 2017, winning the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes and the $10 million Dubai World Cup after essentially walking out of the starting gate. He looked like a monster without a single crack in the armor, destined to win out the rest of his races this season on his way to the Racing Hall of Fame. He’s still headed to the Hall of Fame and he probably wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November, but he sure looks more vulnerable this week than last week. It’s also pretty clear Del Mar – host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup – isn’t his favorite track. The San Diego defeat would have been more palatable had he come up a nose short in a game performance at a distance, 1 1/16 miles, much shorter than his best. He just came up completely empty in the San Diego, and now Thoroughbred racing recognizes this giant isn’t invincible.
I thought the Kentucky Oaks runner-up ran a respectable fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational in what was her second race on grass (following a Royal Ascot debacle in which she was shipped to England but scratched when she ran off after being spooked by thunder and lightning). Returning to dirt, she came up empty when fifth, beaten by 12 lengths, by Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. The 87 Equibase Speed Figure was 10 points below her previous worst of the season and you can’t help but look at her resume and notice her last win was nine starts ago.
3. Sircat Sally
After beginning her career with seven straight victories, Sircat Sally was retired after sustaining a career-ending injury when third in the Grade 2 San Clemente Stakes on July 23. She’s not expected to need surgery, which is terrific news for the dazzling 3-year-old filly. Sircat Sally lost nothing in defeat and only appears here because we won’t be seeing her on the Breeders’ Cup trail this fall. We wish Sircat Sally a speedy recovery.