Native Dancer: The Nearly Perfect Grey Ghost of Sagamore
The path to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 championship races.
Over the next few months, this blog will provide 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 or two ago.
In the July 25 edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down, I said I wanted to see Catapult post another graded stakes win before buying in. Well, he delivered in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Catapult closed like a runaway train to catch the subsequently disqualified Fly to Mars and win the one-mile race by a half-length. The John Sadler trainee looks like a much-improved racehorse this year with two wins and a second in three starts since kicking off his 5-year-old season in June with a runner-up finish off an 8 ½-month layoff. He then rallied to win the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes by a neck on July 28 at Del Mar to establish a new career-high 124 Equibase Speed Figure that was especially eye catching. He flashed the same late turn of foot in the Del Mar Mile, completing his final quarter-mile in less than 22 4/5 seconds with a final eighth of a mile in about 11 1/5 seconds. He was really moving late. One mile looks to be his ideal distance – he got three wins, three seconds, and one third in nine starts at a mile – and he’s run well outside of California and held his own on yielding and soft ground, which could be a factor in November at Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. It also was a positive to see a horse who finished 5 ¼ lengths behind him in the Eddie Read (see below) come back and dominate the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Club on Aug. 18 by 5 ¼ lengths. I still probably will lean heavily on European invaders for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but I will include Catapult on my tickets.
I mentioned Fashion Business above and placed him second here because I believe Catapult is the better racehorse and the more likely winner at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but I do think Fashion Business has plenty of upside. Perhaps it was partly because Flavien Prat gave Fashion Business a remarkable ride in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Club on Aug. 18 – seizing command with a sweeping bid on the turn when the pacesetter seemed to be testing how slow he could gallop while maintaining the lead – but the winner appeared to be shot out of a cannon entering the stretch for a visually-impressive victory. Fashion Business covered the final three-eighths of a mile in approximately 35 2/5 seconds, a very fast finish. He improved to two wins in four starts this season, with the other victory a season-opening allowance win in May. His fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes at 43.25-1 odds in June was actually a terrific effort. He set a new career-top with a 124 Equibase Speed Figure and lost by only a length in a race in which the sixth-place runner came back to win the Arlington Million Stakes. Fashion Business did not run well in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes when eighth in July at Del Mar, and that inconsistency is why I didn’t rate him higher this week. From the first crop of two-time European Horse of the Year Frankel out of Grade 1 winner Icon Project, by Empire Maker, Fashion Business was bred to be a star but took a meandering path through 12 starts before tallying his first graded stakes win. He has come a long way this year to earn a “Win and You’re In” starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf just a few months after he was a 43-1 outsider in the Manhattan.
I profiled Accelerate for this week’s Getting to Know blog, so I won’t go too deep into his placement here. I think his victory by a record-setting margin of 12 ½ lengths in the TVG Pacific Classic stamped him as the most likely favorite for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and, with three Grade 1 wins, the leader in the race for the Eclipse Award as champion older dirt male. He did not beat a terrific field in the Pacific Classic, but the 125 Equibase Speed Figure he earned was just off the 126 career-top he posted in summer 2017, and Accelerate has been dominant at 1 ¼ miles, the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. I’d feel better about his chances in the Classic if it were being held in Southern California, but he ran well enough in his only venture outside the state – second by a neck in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap – to be optimistic.
Also-Eligibles: In late winter-early spring, I felt confident that not only was Rushing Fall a budding superstar turf runner for Chad Brown but that she was the best 3-year-old filly in training in North America. With the emergence of Monomoy Girl, that assertion no longer holds much merit, but on Aug. 18 Rushing Fall showed she was back to business with a 2 ¾-length win in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. I had some minor concerns about how she would return after her first loss and missing a planned start with a fever, but she looked every bit the powerhouse in the Lake Placid and posted a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure despite racing on turf rated soft. The reason she didn’t crack the top three is simply because I don’t see an ideal spot for her in the Breeders’ Cup. The Filly and Mare Turf might be stretching her distance limitations and I’m not sure as a 3-year-old she’s ready to take on males in the Mile. … Roaring Lion won the Juddmonte International Stakes impressively on Aug. 22 to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the Longines Turf, but after his second straight Group 1 win trainer John Gosden sounded noncommittal about him targeting the Nov. 3 race. If he makes the trip from England to Churchill, Roaring Lion should be one of the favorites provided he maintains his current form. … You had to like what Eskimo Kisses showed in winning the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on Aug 18 at Saratoga, defeating a solid field that was missing top 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl by 6 ½ lengths. But I thought the pace set up ideally for this deep closer and, coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes, she needs to be more consistent before I give her a chance in what looks like a deep Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff division.
Entering the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes on July 22, Itsinthepost had won four of five starts in 2018 with the lone blemish a third-place finish by less than a length when shipping to Keeneland in April. He’d amassed four Grade 2 wins on the year and looked like a serious player in the older male turf division. But in two starts since, he’s really dropped off. After running ninth, beaten by seven lengths in the Eddie Read, Itsinthepost ran seventh as the favorite in the Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Club on Aug. 18, finishing 8 ½ lengths behind the winner. The one ray of hope that he might be able to turn things around is that he really does not seem to thrive on the grass at Del Mar, where he is winless in 11 races. Itsinthepost is a much different racehorse at Santa Anita Park, where he has a five-race winning streak. Itsinthepost ran seventh in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf a year ago and right now he looks like a real longshot to even warrant consideration for the event in November.
She was my pick for the Longines Kentucky Oaks and she ran reasonably well when third in that race, 4 ½ lengths behind winner Monomoy Girl. I thought she was back on track when she won the Grade 2 Mother Goose Stakes by six lengths at Belmont Park on June 30. In two starts since then she’s come up short, finishing second by three lengths to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 and then third by 6 ¾ lengths as the heavy favorite in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on Aug. 18 at Saratoga. It’s the Alabama that has me most concerned. On paper, she looked like a standout, but on the racetrack she was anything but. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said after the Alabama that he thinks Midnight Bisou does not like the dirt main track at Saratoga, something he mentioned previously after the Coaching Club American Oaks. That might be the case and we could see an improved effort at a different track in her next start. But Midnight Bisou seems to have distance limitations, and with Monomoy Girl and elite older females like Abel Tasman and Elate targeting the Longines Distaff it’s tough to make a compelling case for Midnight Bisou.
3. Bowies Hero
Like Itsinthepost, Bowies Hero got off to a terrific start in 2018 by using a runner-up finish in a Grade 3 race in February as a steppingstone to a victory in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes in March at Santa Anita. Having established a then-career-best 121 Equibase Speed Figure in a Grade 2 win at Santa Anita in December and with a 118 for the Kilroe Mile, Bowies Hero looked like a serious candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Mile as an improving 4-year-old. I was willing to forgive his fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes at 1 1/8 miles because Bowies Hero seems to be at his best at one mile, he lost by only a length, and the 122 Equibase Speed Figure indicated it was a strong race. His 11th-place finish in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap, however, was definitely a head scratcher as he regressed to a 104 speed figure and was beaten by 6 ¾ lengths as the favorite while never threatening at his best distance. I wouldn’t sell all stock in Bowies Hero just yet. It’s always important to remember that horses are animals, not machines, but the Breeders’ Cup Mile is a tough race every year and Bowies Hero will have to quickly find his best form to be a threat on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
Also-eligible: Thewayiam had been first or second in her six previous starts in 2018 before finishing a well-beaten seventh in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes on Aug. 18. She’s run well previously on yielding turf, but I think the soft turf at Saratoga might have been the reason for her dull performance. … After winning the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap to close his 5-year-old season and opening his 6-year-old campaign with a Grade 1 win in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes, Hunt has tailed off with a well-beaten 10th-place finish in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes in July and a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap on Aug. 19. He looks to be headed in the wrong direction as we approach crunch time for Breeders’ Cup candidates.