Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from Super Saturday on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park:
BETTER WITH AGE: When Thunder Snow was last seen in the United States, he was bucking shortly after the start of last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and was pulled up almost immediately by disappointed jockey Christophe Soumillon. Thunder Snow is a far better horse as a 4-year-old. He won the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline for Godolphin earlier this year and returned to the U.S. for the first time for Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes and placed a game second behind upset winner Discreet Lover. Next comes the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor is filled with optimism. “He will be a different horse next time,” Suroor predicted.
SLUMPING GRONK: Gronkowski looked to be an exciting 3-year-old when he rallied to be second to untouchable Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. It was his first start on dirt in the United States for new trainer Chad Brown, and he clearly enjoyed the mile-and-a-half distance. But he has regressed since then, showing little in an eighth-place finish in the Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and now running a lackluster sixth of eight in the Gold Cup. If anyone can figure out this mystery, it is Brown, the reigning two-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading trainer in North America. Stay tuned.
PERFECT PREP: As far as winning trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr. was concerned, the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes turned out to be the ideal prep for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint for Imperial Hint, who won the Vosburgh geared-down by a length and a quarter after needing nothing more than a hand ride from Javier Castellano. “We wanted to try to get an easy race before the Breeders’ Cup as a prep,” Carvajal, Jr. said, “because you don’t really want to go into that race having run really hard. I was happy the way the field for this race came out.”
KUDOS TO MOTT: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is a master at getting his horses to peak at the best possible time. Channel Maker, a 4-year-old gelded son of English Channel, looks to be the latest example of that. After finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park, he won the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes on July 28 at Saratoga, followed that with a solid second-place effort in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes on Aug. 25, and rolled on the front end in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes by 4 ½ lengths on Saturday.
“A horse couldn’t be doing any better than he’s been doing,” Mott said. “I don’t know if he can stay this good for another four or five weeks (to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf), but he’s just gotten better and better since we had those two runs at Saratoga. He’s been hard to hold on the ground.”
DISAPPOINTED BROWN: Trainer Chad Brown was critical of jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. after heavily favored Arlington Million Stakes winner Robert Bruce ran second in the Turf Classic. Robert Bruce made a belated rally after settling running fourth in the early going in the field of seven. “I’m disappointed. There was no pace in the race and my horse broke so well and then he ended up behind. I’m not sure why,” Brown said. Ortiz Jr. believes the soft turf was a factor. “The way the turf is, it’s really hard to make up some ground,” he said. “The winner just held.” Whatever the case, Robert Bruce undoubtedly has the quality to rebound in the Breeders’ Cup.