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.
1. Dream Tree
When you look at the past performances for Dream Tree, aside from the undefeated record another thing jumps out: Midnight Bisou. The future Grade 1 winner ran second to Dream Tree in each of their first two starts. Dream Tree followed with a Grade 1 win in the Starlet Stakes in December 2017 and then won the Grade 2 Las Virgenes Stakes in her 3-year-old bow, both by more than three lengths. At that point, Dream Tree was one of the favorites for the Longines Kentucky Oaks, but a minor injury forced her to miss the race. She returned for her first start in seven months in the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes on Sept. 2 at Saratoga, and what a comeback it was. Dream Tree pulled away to a 4 ¼-length romp under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in his first race as her jockey. “She gave me goosebumps to be honest,” Smith said. "I was fortunate enough to work her one morning, so I knew she was really talented, but I didn't realize she was this talented.” At this point in the season, it seems logical that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert might target the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint with Dream Tree because she has elite speed, posted a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure when cutting back to a sprint, and because he also trains leading Longines Distaff contender in Abel Tasman. If Baffert does point Dream Tree to the Filly and Mare Sprint, she’ll be a top contender.
2. Raging Bull
After falling just outside my top three in this column four weeks ago, I had to include Raging Bull this week after his second straight graded stakes win. He again closed powerfully — completing his final three-eighths of a mile in about 34 ½ seconds and his final eighth of a mile in about 11 ½ seconds — to win the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths on Sept. 1 at Saratoga. In victory, Raging Bull avenged his only career defeat when he ran second to Up the Ante in the Manila Stakes in July, when that familiar foe was allowed to coast along on an uncontested lead and never was seriously threatened. Up the Ante was again allowed to dictate the pace in the Saranac, but this time Raging Bull started his bid earlier and showed he has improved in two races since his third start. I confess that I’ve had trouble identifying where to place this talented but lightly raced runner, but I love the way he finishes races and he owns graded stakes wins on turf rated both yielding and good as well as an allowance win on firm ground. Trained by turf maestro Chad Brown, Raging Bull’s litmus test will be his first try against older males, but I like his chances to hit the board in the Breeders’ Cup Mile when there should be a ton of pace to set up his closing kick. We just don’t know for sure right now that the Mile is his target.
3. Game Winner
Game Winner improved to 2-for-2 with a second straight convincing win when pulling clear by 1 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3 at Del Mar. In victory, Game Winner vanquished highly regarded Roadster and overcame some trouble early in the race. He didn’t rank higher because I did not love the way he finished and I still think right now all of the 2-year-olds rank pretty far behind Best Pal Stakes winner Instagrand. But I do think Game Winner is legit. After earning a 96 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut win at three-quarters of a mile, he posted a 102 for the Del Mar Futurity for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Game Winner has a pedigree that should bode well for continued success as the distances get longer — he’s by elite sire Candy Ride out of Indyan Giving, by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, and his grandam (maternal grandmother) is 2006 champion older female Fleet Indian.
Also-Eligibles: I can’t decide if Synchrony is getting really good at the perfect time or simply beating up on overmatched competition after back-to-back Grade 3 wins at Monmouth Park as the even-money favorite. With four wins and two thirds in six starts in 2018, plus the two best Equibase Speed Figures of his career, it might be time to take 5-year-old Synchrony seriously as a Mile hopeful. … I was intrigued but not blown away by the two 2-year-old graded stakes winners at Saratoga over the weekend — Mind Control, a three-quarter-length winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 3, and Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes winner Sippican Harbor, who I profiled for this week’s Getting to Know blog. … As a dedicated fan of the great Sunday Silence, I love Japanese-bred runners from that line and have always had a soft spot for his grandson Yoshida. A Grade 1 winner on the grass, Yoshida added a Grade 1 win on dirt with a visually impressive two-length score from off the pace in the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 1. My concern is that I’m not sure where he fits in the Breeders’ Cup puzzle as a racehorse who seems to be at his absolute best at 1 1/8 miles. Is he a contender for the 1 ½-mile Longines Turf or the 1 ¼-mile Classic? Might be a little too far for him. The Mile? Better, but that might be just a bit short. … Bellafina made this list on Aug. 8 after winning the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes and she followed with a 4 ¼-length runaway in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante that confirmed her status as a top 2-year-old filly. ... After winning one of five starts in France, Lady Montdore improved to 2-for-2 in the U.S. with a front-running 2 ¼-length win in the Grade 2 Glens Falls Stakes on Sept. 1 at Saratoga. The Godolphin homebred filly by top sire Medaglia d’Oro out of Grade 1 winner Hystericalady is off to auspicious start in North America.
1. Voodoo Song
A few weeks ago, Voodoo Song made the top half of this list. On Sept. 3 he turned in a rare clunker at Saratoga, where he previously was unbeaten in five starts, with a last-place finish in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap. Sure, he only lost by 2 ½ lengths, but Voodoo Song had the ideal setup while uncontested setting the pace and came up empty in the stretch. Entering the Bernard Baruch, I viewed Voodoo Song as a 4-year-old just entering the prime of his career and coming off the best race of his life. For that reason, he looked like a potentially serious contender for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and, at the very least, a pace factor. There is a very good chance he bounced (regressed significantly) coming back on short rest off a career-best race, but at a track where he had dominated in a race that he had his own way, it’s tough to view the Bernard Baruch as anything but a disappointment for Voodoo Song.
Coming off a visually impressive 4 ¼-length victory in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes on July 20, I viewed Catherinethegreat not Chasing Yesterday (the highly regarded but untested sibling to American Pharoah) as the one to beat in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes on Sept. 1 at Saratoga. And for a brief moment on the turn, I thought I had the race pegged correctly. But almost as soon as Catherinethegreat made her bid for the lead, she was pretty clearly headed the wrong way as she faded to finish ninth in the 11-horse field, beaten by 14 lengths. I’m always hesitant to overreact to 2-year-old performances as they can often look much better or much worse than they really were given the inexperience of the contenders. So, I’ll give Catherinethegreat another shot; I believe in her talent. Before the Spinaway, though, I had her as my top 2-year-old filly on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and she no longer sits atop that perch.
I confess I really don’t know what to make of Seeking the Soul. He had a wide trip in a 14-horse field in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on Sept. 1, but he was positioned just behind the two early leaders in perfect stalking position on the backstretch. He did get jostled noticeably while right in the middle of a wave of horses entering the Woodward stretch, but he also did not accelerate when he had an opportunity to go after the leaders on the far turn. It looked like jockey Javier Castellano took care of him late when it was clear that Seeking the Soul had faded from contention. The 2017 Clark Handicap winner opened his 5-year-old season with a fifth-place finish in the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup and then took a break from training. He returned with a runner-up finish in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes on July 14, a race he probably should have won but theoretically should have served as a nice springboard for the Woodward, but after five starts in which he posted Equibase Speed Figures between 107 and 114, Seeking the Soul regressed to a 95 for the Woodward. On the bright side, he does appear to like Churchill Downs, host of the Breeders’ Cup, where he has two wins, a second, and two thirds in seven starts. But Seeking the Soul would need to bounce back in a big way in his next start to be considered a serious Classic contender.
Also-eligible: It looked like Santa Monica was the class of the field for the Grade 2 Glens Falls, but she was never a real threat to front-running winner Lady Montdore and finished second. Perhaps it was the dawdling pace that did her in, and because of that I’m willing to give her another chance. … I never really viewed Maraud as a true Breeders’ Cup contender as a very good but not great 3-year-old turf runner, but he ran probably the worst race of his life when ninth in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes on Sept. 1. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. looked like he was having a heck of a time controlling Maraud on the far turn, so perhaps there was an equipment issue or a plausible explanation because he is definitely better than he showed last weekend.