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 ago.
1. American Gal
This was a tough call between Gun Runner and American Gal, but ultimately I landed on the latter for the top spot because Gun Runner already had a body of work that suggested he was a leading contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while American Gal has, in two 2017 races, emerged as a true candidate for Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Like Gun Runner, American Gal has run very well throughout her career against elite competition. She was a stakes winner at two who finished third in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and second in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes, both at 1 1/16 miles. Transferred to Simon Callaghan for her 3-year-old season, American Gal has been pointed to sprints and, thus far, it looks like a terrific decision. She opened her season with a front-running, runaway 4 ¾-length win in the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes before earning her first career Grade 1 win when rallying from off the pace to win the Longines Test Stakes on Aug. 5 by four lengths against a strong field of 3-year-old fillies. She overcame the far outside post position in the 10-horse field for the Test and earned a win at the seven-eighths-of-a-mile distance of the Filly and Mare Sprint. “Watching the replay again, I think it was a huge performance,” said Callaghan, who plans to target the Filly and Mare Sprint. “Going wide her whole trip, and the way she drew away at the end, I think it was really special.” Stamina is an underrated quality for the Filly and Mare Sprint, which is an eighth of a mile longer than the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and the latter race tends to favor three-quarter-mile specialists. I really like that American Gal has placed in a pair of Grade 1s around two turns, and she is by 2010 West Virginia Derby winner Concord Point out of a Grade 2-placed Ghostzapper mare, so she’s not bred to be a pure sprinter. She’s also been extremely consistent with four wins, one second and one third in six career starts and she’s versatile in that she can take charge early or stalk the pace and pounce. Her first test against older fillies will be a key step, but I think she’s a rising star.
2. Gun Runner
I went really in depth about the reasons to respect Gun Runner’s vast improvement over the last year in this week’s Getting to Know feature, so I’ll keep this to the point. He’s emerged as a star thanks to maturity, physical development and experience. Gun Runner’s Whitney Stakes romp resulted in a 127 Equibase Speed Figure, three points faster than familiar rival Arrogate’s top number. Sure, he lost both head-to-head matchups with that rival, but he’s much better now than he was in last year’s Travers Stakes, and he’s won his two starts since finishing second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup by a combined margin of 12 ¼ lengths. Arrogate, who came up empty in his first start since his Dubai trip in the TVG San Diego Handicap, is still the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Gun Runner is gaining ground. He has tremendous cruising speed and the ability to finish powerfully after clicking off sprightly fractions on or near the lead. While he is 0-for-3 at 1 ¼ miles, he’s got a terrific pedigree that suggests it should be a distance within his scope, especially if he maintains his current form into the November World Championships.
Just based upon the results from last weekend, Spectator should probably be atop this list. She was incredibly impressive in winning the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 5, surging away from six opponents after changing leads in the stretch to win by 5 ¼ lengths. Now 2-for-2 for Phil D’Amato with a 10-point improvement to a 97 Equibase Speed Figure in her second start, Spectator has the look of a budding star and surely will be a formidable favorite for the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 2. While she has a terrific chance to win that seven-eighths of a mile race, I have concerns about her ability to be as effective at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Spectator is from the first crop of Grade 1-winning sprinter Jimmy Creed, who never tried a race longer than seven-eighths of a mile, out of an unraced mare by multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Henny Hughes, who never won a race longer than seven furlongs. Spectator has an abundance of speed and precocity – that combination can overcome quite a bit in November against other 2-year-old fillies – and she’s clearly an elite talent, but I remain skeptical about her chances at 1 1/16 miles.
Notable: Bricks and Mortar improved to 4-for-4 in winning the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes on Aug. 4, but at this point it’s hard to place this lightly raced 3-year-old in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf or the Breeders’ Cup Mile, both against older horses. That said, I love how he finishes his races and his future looks very promising. He was tough to leave out of the top three. … The second Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” spot last week went to Here Comes When, who took advantage of rain-soaked heavy ground at Goodwood to win the Qatar Sussex Stakes. While he is Breeders’ Cup nominated, he almost certainly will not get the wet ground he clearly prefers at Del Mar in November. Seems very unlikely to ship over for the Mile. … I’m not sure 3-year-old Colonelsdarktemper is a candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic off his front-running, one-length win in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 5, but he might fit in nicely in the Las Vegas Dirt Mile. … Cambodia looked good in winning the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Handicap on Aug. 5, and with the Filly and Mare Turf shortened to 1 1/8 for Del Mar, she a contender. … It would be tough to ask Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap winner Sharp Samurai, a 3-year-old, to step up and face older males at 1 ½ miles in the Longines Turf, but perhaps he’s a candidate for the Mile off back-to-back stakes wins.
After finishing first or second in seven straight races – all in stakes and six of them graded races – from June 2016 through May 2017, Suffused has finished out of the top three in three straight starts. I thought her fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine, where she lost by only three-quarters of a length, was better than it looked on paper. But after she followed with a fifth-place finish as the heavy favorite in the Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes on Aug. 5 at Saratoga and packed it in deep in the stretch, it looks like she’s headed in the wrong direction. Suffused’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said as much after the Waya: “She’s just not the same as she was earlier in the year.”
My initial assessment after watching Avenge fade to sixth in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Yellow Ribbon Handicap on Aug. 5 was deep disappointment. She’s always been a favorite of mine and I really thought she was facing a group she should handle – the betting public agreed in sending her off as the 9-10 favorite. But the reality is she is probably best at 1 ¼ miles, she’s a pacesetter who faced early pressure and had to settle in second, and she only lost by three lengths. If anyone can help Avenge return to form it’s Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, but right now she does not look like the same racehorse who last fall won the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes and ran third in the Filly and Mare Turf.
After improving to 2-for-2 with an eighth-length runaway in the Landaluce Stakes on July 2, Surrender Now was sent off as the 11-10 favorite in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes. She dueled for the early lead with eventual winner Spectator but dropped out of contention on the turn and was eased by jockey Flavien Prat in the stretch. “By the quarter pole, she wasn’t running at all,” Prat said. “I just took care of her coming home from there.” I loved Surrender Now’s potential coming into the Sorrento and I’m eager to give her another chance. Let’s hope there was an explanation for what happened in the Sorrento and trainer Peter Miller can get Surrender Now back to her best.