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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 Good Magic, winner of the Grade 1, $1 million betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes on July 29 at Monmouth Park to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
Most racing fans are familiar with 3-year-old Good Magic, the 2017 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old male who entered the season as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
While Good Magic was a major factor on the Triple Crown trail — he won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and ran second in the Kentucky Derby — his star was clearly outshined by Triple Crown winner Justify.
With Justify’s retirement last week, Good Magic has as good a claim as any as the best 3-year-old male in training in the U.S. He proved as much last weekend in winning the Grade 1 Haskell by three lengths over six overmatched opponents.
While it did look like Good Magic was shortening stride a bit late in the Haskell, he was an easy winner and the race was a strong effort in his first start in 10 weeks since fading to fourth after pressing Justify early in the Preakness.
Sometimes the Triple Crown grind leaves 3-year-olds with little left for the second half of the season; that does not appear to be the case with Good Magic. But in order to be a threat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Curlin colt will need to be able to defeat older males in the fall.
This year’s cast of top older males entering August is not as imposing as it was a year ago when champion Arrogate and eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner looked like goliaths.
West Coast is back training and the Dubai World Cup and Pegasus World Cup runner-up probably rates as the de facto leader for the Classic. Accelerate, a two-time Grade 1 winner this year; Suburban Stakes winner Diversify; and lightly raced recent San Diego Handicap winner Catalina Cruiser add some depth, but right now, the Classic looks like a wide-open race ripe for the picking.
Even though it is not the strongest group of older males, Good Magic has significant ground to make up to be considered a serious threat. The 109 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for winning the Haskell matched a career high, which is a good sign that he has room for improvement but also shows how far he has to go between now and November.
The average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the last 10 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic is 121 with a median of 120.5.
West Coast’s career-best is a 125, which he earned when third last year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and matched in the Pegasus in January. Accelerate earned a 126 last year and this year has posted consistent figures of 120-119-119-120 in four races. Similarly, Diversify’s career best is a 119 and Catalina Cruiser earned a 118 for the San Diego in his stakes debut. Add last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected, who has not raced this year, to the mix, and you can see Good Magic will need to get faster to be competitive against older horses.
Fortunately for him, 3-year-olds often make considerable strides in the second half of the year as they mature mentally and fill out physically.
Trainer Chad Brown won the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 2016 and 2017, so Good Magic is in terrific hands. Ideally, you’d like to see him improve by 3-4 points in his next two starts, which is not unrealistic and would place Good Magic squarely within striking range of the top older horses.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of Good Magic’s Breeders’ Cup Classic portfolio is his pedigree. The chestnut is by Curlin, who emerged as a monster in the second half of his 3-year-old campaign after winning the Preakness and running second in the Belmont Stakes.
After posting a 107 Equibase Speed Figure when third in the Haskell, Curlin improved to a 115 for winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup and recorded a 118 to win the Classic. The Jockey Club Gold Cup kicked off a streak of seven wins and a second in eight races that led Curlin to back-to-back Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year.
Curlin also has sired runners who enjoyed sustained success, including Stellar Wind, a Grade 1 winner at ages 3, 4, and 5; Keen Ice, who won the Travers in the second half of his 3-year-old season and was a graded stakes winner at 5; Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, who won the Grade 1 Met Mile at 4; and Curalina and Connect, both Grade 1 winners who really emerged in the second half of their 3-year-old seasons.
Good Magic is out of stakes winner Glinda the Good, by Hard Spun. His broodmare sire, Hard Spun, progressed well over the second half of his 3-year-old campaign after running second in the Kentucky Derby and third (to Curlin) in the Preakness. He finished second to familiar rival Curlin in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Good Magic looks like a very good bet to continue to mature and improve as summer turns into fall, but it’s also pretty clear that he has significant ground to make up on the best older males and limited time to get there.