With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Walking L Thoroughbreds’ Cairo Cat, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 15 at Churchill Downs to secure a starting spot in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on the Nov. 2 Future Stars Friday card at Churchill.
The betting public is (very) slowly catching on to Cairo Cat, who went from a 35-1 bomb in his debut to 18.10-1 for his Aug. 11 maiden win to 17.10-1 for his victory last weekend in the Iroquois. Which begs the question, is it time to start taking the Cairo Prince colt seriously?
The answer, in my opinion, clearly is yes, but the difficulty is determining to what degree.
Cairo Cat has proved himself a graded stakes-winning 2-year-old and he earned his first stakes win in the Iroquois going around two turns at the racetrack that will host both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in May 2019.
After running eighth on the grass in his career debut, he’s won twice in as many starts on dirt, rallying to win an Aug. 11 maiden special weight race by a head going seven-eighths of a mile at Saratoga before reeling in heavily favored Tight Ten in deep stretch to win the Iroquois by a half-length for trainer Kenny McPeek.
The Equibase Speed Figures on the surface appear to be a bit light — a 75 for his August win and a 93 for the Iroquois — as do the Iroquois speed figures from Daily Racing Form (80) and Brisnet (92).
Those numbers indicate Cairo Cat has some significant ground to make up on the top 2-year-olds. Instagrand, who will miss the Juvenile, earned a 106 for winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and Game Winner recorded a 102 for his win in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. The average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the last 10 years is a 106.6 with a median of 108. The average Equibase Speed Figure for the six (of eight total) Breeders’ Cup Juveniles held at Churchill in which a figure was calculated is a 111.5.
But as is often the case with 2-year-old still learning and developing, the speed figures don’t tell the entire story.
First, Cairo Cat has made significant improvements in each of his starts, and the 17-point Equibase Speed Figure jump in the Iroquois came with added distance against much better competition.
True, Cairo Cat enjoyed an ideal, ground-saving trip under Brian Hernandez Jr., overpowering Tight Ten late after that one had led from the start. Not to be overlooked, though, is that Tight Ten covered the first three-quarters of a mile in an easy 1:14.06; so the pace was not especially taxing and yet Cairo Cat was able to make up ground late while finishing his final sixteenth of a mile in about 6.2 seconds, which is reason for optimism.
“This was my first time I was on him and I thought to myself how smooth he was going. He traveled well the whole way around,” Hernandez said. “ He certainly didn’t travel like he was a 2-year-old.”
Cairo Cat’s running style also bodes pretty well for the Juvenile, which figures to have a swifter pace.
Looking at the eight editions of the Juvenile held at Churchill Downs, the average opening quarter-mile went in 23.36 seconds with a half-mile in an average of 46.98.
Three of the eight were won by closers and two more by stalkers with only one of the eight Juveniles held at Churchill won by a horse who led from start to finish (Hansen, 2011). The Juvenile winner was, on average, more than four (4.17) lengths back after the opening quarter with a median of two lengths for the eight races at Churchill. After a half-mile, the winner was an average of more than 3 ¼ (3.34) lengths behind the pace and with a median of 2.5 lengths.
With a swifter pace to set up his finishing kick, a win at the track and distance of the Juvenile, and continued improvement, Cairo Cat could be more formidable than the speed figures indicate on Nov. 2 in the Breeders’ Cup.
Cairo Cat is from the first crop of Cairo Prince, a Grade 2 winner as a 2-year-old and 3-year-old in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Cairo Prince’s career was cut short due to injury, but he won three of five starts with a runner-up finish by a nose to future champion Honor Code in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. Like Cairo Cat, Cairo Prince was a stalker who preferred to rally from off the pace.
Cairo Cat is the first stakes winner for Cairo Prince, who has 120 2-year-olds in his first crop.
La Belle Cat is the dam (mother) of Cairo Cat. She won three races, all sprints, and finished in the top three in 11 of 25 career starts. His grandam (maternal grandmother), La Belle Danse, was a winner at 1 1/8 miles and stakes-placed at that distance. In addition to La Belle Cat, La Belle Danse also produced Grade 2-placed stakes winner Palace Pier.
Cairo Cat should be well-equipped from a pedigree perspective — plus a win at 1 1/16 miles already under his belt, notably at Churchill Downs — to excel in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I’m less enthusiastic about his chances to carry that ability 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May, fortunately that race is a long way off.