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. Bolt d’Oro
This bay Medaglia d’Oro colt looked like he could have done another lap after winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at seven-eighths of a mile on Sept. 4, and my guess is that he’ll be even better as the distances get longer. His middle move to rally into contention into a torrid half-mile in :44.54 (he improved to only two lengths back) was eye-catching and he still was able to finish his final furlong in about 12 4/5 seconds. He’s now 2-for-2 at Del Mar, host of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, with a 94 Equibase Speed Figure for a 2 ¼-length debut win in August and a 101 for the Del Mar Futurity. His dam (mother) Globe Trot, by A.P. Indy, won three times at a mile, so the 1 1/16 miles should be right in his wheelhouse. A fast-, well-bred 2-year-old who loves the Breeders’ Cup host track … count me in!
2. Gun Runner
Originally, I hadn’t planned to include Gun Runner. Why? Because we already knew he was arguably the best older male in training. But Gun Runner just seems to keep getting better. He looked like poetry in motion in his 10 ¼-length runaway victory in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on Sept. 2, using his high cruising speed to rate just off a testing half-mile in :46.56 before dusting his overmatched competition. With three straight Grade 1 wins since returning from Dubai, he’s moved to the head of the class for the Breeders’ Cup Classic – although a compelling case could be made for Arrogate, who has beaten Gun Runner twice in their head-to-head matchups, or TVG Pacific Classic Stakes winner Collected, who would be my pick if the race was held today. Gun Runner improved from a 122 Equibase Speed Figure for his Stephen Foster Handicap win to a 127 for his Whitney Stakes romp to an eye-popping 131 for the Woodward. That 131 figure is the best we’ve seen on North American soil this year. Gun Runner’s natural speed should be a huge asset at Del Mar, where he probably will be tucked in just behind the pacesetter(s) in the Classic, and he should be in position to get the jump on familiar rival Arrogate.
He’s been an elite turf sprinter since 2015 and a victory in the Grade 3 Turf Monster Stakes on Sept. 4 at Parx Racing signaled a return to top form. He rallied from off the pace to beat a solid field as the 7-5 favorite and completed the five-eighths of a mile race in :57.13 for a new career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure. I thought he was at a bit of a disadvantage last year when the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was held of the 6 ½-furlong downhill turf course at Santa Anita, but he ran very well to finish third by a length. I think five furlongs is his best distance, though, as he’s won four of six starts at that distance on the grass, including his best speed figure in the Turf Monster. He rebounded from a dull effort at Saratoga in August and looks razor-sharp now for trainer Christophe Clement. He also had no trouble shipping west to Southern California last year. I love his chances in the Turf Sprint.
Honorable Mention: Heart to Heart was tough to leave off this list. He is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, but it sounds like the plan is to pay the horses of racing age nomination fee for him to run. Trainer Brian Lynch said he thinks his dedicated front-runner would love the firm turf and tight turns of the course at Del Mar. He was impressive in winning the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Stakes on Sept. 4 and has a pair of graded stakes wins and two Grade 1 placings in his last four starts. … I really liked Moonshine Memories' front-running win in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 2. Like Bolt d’Oro, she’s 2-for-2 at Del Mar with a pedigree (dam won at a mile and is half-sister to 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick) that suggests 1 1/16 miles is well within range. … Cambodia has won back-to-back Grade 2 races at Del Mar and looked like a legitimate player for the Filly and Mare Turf in her John C. Mabee Stakes win on Sept. 2. Tough to place her given we don’t know the quality of the Europeans coming stateside, but she loves the Del Mar turf and is as good as she’s ever been. … I didn’t come away especially impressed with either Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner Sporting Chance or Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes winner Lady Ivanka, but they are on target for the Juvenile and 14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies, respectively. … Not sure what to make of Vertical Oak’s 5 ¼-length romp in the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes on a sloppy track at Saratoga on Sept. 3. I want to see another big race before I buy any stock for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
1. Pure Silver
She was the big disappointment of the weekend for me. Pure Silver wasn’t the favorite for the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes on Sept. 2, but she was riding a three-race winning streak, entered off a 9 ½-length romp in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes, and faced only four opponents. She only beat one horse to the finish line – a 56.75-1 outsider – after getting caught in an early speed duel and finished 6 ½ lengths behind winner Lady Ivanka. Entering the race, I thought she was one of the top-three contenders for the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she’ll need to rebound in a big way for trainer Todd Pletcher in her next start if there remain Breeders’ Cup aspirations.
2. Run Away
I’ll hand it to Run Away, he didn’t pack it in when passed in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity stretch and battled on for third, but I can’t help but look at the declining speed figures (91-97-101) as the races have gotten longer and wonder if this is a sprinter. I had concerns about his ability to excel at longer distances and it looks like the 1 1/16-mile Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile might be too long for him. Run Away was very impressive in winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and I’ll bet he gets another shot in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes. Perhaps a less testing pace around two turns will be a big benefit, but I’ll be looking elsewhere to fill out my top three.
I’d been keeping my eye on Battalion Runner as a possible Las Vegas Dirt Mile contender since he held on for second in the Wood Memorial Stakes in the spring. He’s blessed with terrific natural speed and he can carry it around two turns but not much farther. I thought his third-place finish behind the very talented Practical Joke in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes in July was sneaky good – it came off a three-month layoff and was his fourth straight Equibase Speed Figure between 104 and 108 – but he just kind of came up empty as the 1.30-1 favorite in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes on Sept. 4. He stalked the pace from second and then faded in the stretch to finish fifth of six, beaten by 10 lengths. It was an uncharacteristic performance from a colt who has always been plenty game. It’s one of those regular reminders that horses aren’t machines. Let’s hope it was just a bad day and he rebounds in his next start.
Notable: Much was expected of Spectator in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 2 after she won the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths in August, but she got off to a poor start and took a step back in a third-place finish. I’m inclined to give her another shot since she had an excuse and fought on to pass other fillies in the stretch. I still think she has a bright future, but there are distance concerns here and it might just be she is better suited to sprinting.