Hangin’ with Haskin: Beware of the Classic Prep Losers

RacingContent provided by Blood-horse
Mind Your Biscuits, a former sprinter, prepped for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a strong win in the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic Stakes on Sept. 29 at Churchill Downs. (Coady Photography)

The Breeders' Cup Classic preps are in the books, and what we have is, in simple terms, a mishmash on paper. The anticipated East vs. West showdown between Accelerate and Diversify didn't pan out with the performance of Diversify in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And while Accelerate won the Awesome Again Stakes by 2 ¼ lengths, it wasn't with the same authority we had seen in his previous races, and that final three-eighths in :40 3/5 is not going to instill fear in the opposition. Also, Accelerate is going to have to travel outside of California for only the second time in his 21-race career. And he was beaten at 6-5 in that start.You also have to take into consideration that the third-place finisher in the Awesome Again, Isotherm, who was right there through most of the stretch run and finished only a half-length behind West Coast was 57.80-1 in a six-horse field, hadn't won a race since February 2017, and was winless in his four starts on dirt.

But in Accelerate's defense, this was only a prep and he had less than an ideal trip, breaking slowly from the outside post and getting hung four-wide into the first turn and then continuing wide down the backstretch and into the far turn. So, assuming he will be as effective at Churchill Downs as in California, he still should be a force to deal with in the Classic. Many will be mentioning trainer John Sadler's 0-for-41 record in the Breeders' Cup and Accelerate's dismal performance in last year's Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, but he is a far better horse at age 5 and is still a major endorsement for keeping a horse in training and letting him grow into his full potential. There is no reason to be down on him. He is still a very talented horse, just as Sadler is a very talented trainer. And, oh, yes, he did win the race going away.

As for Diversify, he will always be a very dangerous horse wherever he runs, but just as the pace and his exceptional speed can help him win races, they can also cost him. While he did set insane fractions in the Gold Cup and was only beaten five lengths, the 3-year-old Mendelssohn, who tracked him the whole way, ran a much stronger race to finish third, beaten two lengths. And you can't ignore the final quarter in a pedestrian :26. Also, let's not forget that the winner, Discreet Lover, did pay $93. He is a very useful horse who has picked up a check in several top-class stakes and won the Excelsior Handicap early in the year, but he was coming off an atrocious performance in the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and had won only one of his previous nine starts and would again be a longshot in the Classic, as he has been in his last seven starts. He is a tough old boy, but he won't be able to count on such a sizzling pace to run at in the Classic.

Accelerate (Eclipse Sportswire)

The other Classic prep winner over the weekend was Mind Your Biscuits, who looked exceptional winning the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. Granted it wasn't a particularly strong field, but he did everything you wanted to see to build up confidence that he can stretch out to a mile and a quarter, which would have seemed totally inconceivable four months ago when he looked to be the best sprinter in the country. Talk about a trainer knowing his horse and stretching his limits. There is no denying that Chad Summers has done a remarkable job with this horse. He could have easily kept him sprinting and aiming for the BC Sprint for the third time after two tough defeats, but he has somehow turned him into one of the leading contenders for the Classic.

Not only did Mind Your Biscuits draw off in the stretch to win by almost five lengths in a strong 1:48 3/5 for the mile and an eighth, he came home his final three-eighths in a powerful :36 flat, as if he wanted more distance. Although Summers has had the Classic in mind for a while, another incentive for pointing in that direction is not having to take on Imperial Hint in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Imperial Hint was stabled with Summers' horses at Saratoga, just a few stalls down from Mind Your Biscuits, so Summers' is well aware just how special he is. And Saturday's walk in the park in the Vosburgh Stakes, eased up in 1:08 1/5, did nothing to change his mind.

OK, so much for the winners. There were a number of positives for the beaten horses that would make you think they could be peaking in the Classic. The main one, of course is Awesome Again runner-up West Coast, who desperately needed this race considering how fresh and sharp he was, making a premature early move to take the lead through a strong early pace. It looked as if it would take its toll as he backed up to third, but he found a second wind and, thanks to a slow final furlong in :13 3/5, was able to get up for second. This race definitely should set him up well for the Classic, and unlike Accelerate, he has won or placed at Saratoga, Parx, Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Keeneland, and Meydan, so we know he can take his show on the road. After four consecutive defeats, he just has to get back in that winning mode. But you can't fault his two defeats to the older Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup or to Thunder Snow on a notoriously speed-favoring track in the Dubai World Cup or to the far more seasoned Accelerate on Saturday. Watch for him to get bet heavily in the Classic.

Speaking of Thunder Snow, he obviously loved returning to the dirt and looked like a winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup until he was nailed on the wire by Discreet Lover. He fortunately was not able to keep up with Diversify and Mendelssohn, who opened 10 lengths on the field through those suicidal fractions of :45 3/5, 1:09, and 1:33 4/5. Although it was set up for a horse to come from far out of it, you can't ignore the fact that he ran his fourth quarter, from the three-quarters to the mile, in a sensational :23 1/5, so his final quarter in :25 1/5 was not that bad at all. Like West Coast, he looks to be set up perfectly for the Classic, as long as he doesn't have memories of his last trip to Churchill Downs and one of the biggest fiascos in Kentucky Derby history. But there is no denying he will be a major force Nov. 3.

You also have to give a lot of credit to Mendelssohn for sitting right behind that brutal pace and hanging tough in the stretch to be beaten only two lengths. The big question is his ability to settle off the pace and not set or chase fast fractions, which also did him in in the Dwyer Stakes. But he is another who will be dangerous coming off a defeat, and you have to give him a lot of credit for making four transatlantic trips this year and improving with each start. And we saw what he is capable of on his best day when he demolished his field by 18 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby.

Toast of New York (Eclipse Sportswire)

And now we come to the most intriguing horse of all, and one who could be extremely live at a big price in the Classic. Has any horse had a stranger career than the Lukas runner-up Toast of New York? Yes, that's the same Toast of New York who was beaten a nose by Bayern in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing ahead of California Chrome and Shared Belief. Following an absence of three years, he returned in a mile and a quarter allowance race over the all-weather track at Lingfield and won carrying 130 pounds. But he returned to the United States for the Pegasus World Cup and was distanced. He was on the shelf for eight months and returned once again to the States for the Lukas Classic.

One of the most impressive things I saw all weekend was the move he made circling horses on the far turn, running that quarter in a scintillating :23 4/5. Although he couldn't sustain his run coming off such a long layoff and having to deal with Mind Your Biscuits, he still ran his next quarter in :24 1/5 and came home his final eighth in under :12 3/5 to finish second, while holding off 2.60-1 second choice Honorable Duty, last year's Lukas Classic winner and runner-up in this year's Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Can you imagine a horse actually winning the Classic, or even just running in it, four years after getting beat a nose and having only three races in all that time? This is an amazing story and an equally amazing horse, one who is more than capable of winning the Classic if he can move forward off this latest performance. A great deal of credit goes to trainer Jamie Osborne for having this 7-year-old primed and ready for such a big effort.

So, now you know what is meant by the term mishmash. Who knows what's going to happen in the Classic, especially when you throw in Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Catholic Boy and Woodward Stakes winner Yoshida, both converted grass horses, and McKinzie, who returned off a layoff to win the Pennsylvania Derby. And don't forget the John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion, who came up a bit short in the English Derby going 1 ½ miles, but has since rattled off victories in the Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International, and Irish Champion Stakes, all at 1 ¼ miles or 1 5/16 miles. He certainly has to be considered a Classic possibility. Whether this year's race lives up to its billing or not, it's still one of the most intriguing and perplexing races seen in a long time, with angles galore.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!