The path to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1-2 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 championship races.
This blog provides 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 new edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, we take a look at the previous week of races.
1. Come Dancing
This 5-year-old’s win in the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga was impressive visually, and the speed-figure makers confirmed the eye test. She earned a 110 Equibase Speed Figure, a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 117 TimeForm US rating. Sure, she did what was expected of a 3-to-4 favorite. But coming off of a strong second to star older female Midnight Bisou in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes, Come Dancing dazzled cutting back to seven-eighths of a mile, which is the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Come Dancing overcame an awful start in the Ballerina that left her last of five early with a powerful move on the turn and turned on the afterburners in the stretch to win by 3 ½ lengths. I think the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint distance is ideal for her. She won the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap at seven furlongs by 7 ¾ lengths in April and earned a career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure and also won the one-turn-mile Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes by 6 ¾ lengths in May. The average and median winning Equibase Speed Figure for the Filly and Mare Sprint over the past 10 editions is 109.5, ranging from a 98 to a 121, so even at the fast-end of that spectrum Come Dancing can compete with her best race. Come Dancing would be trainer Carlos Martin’s first Breeders’ Cup starter and she has never raced outside of New York, so shipping to the West Coast is a legitimate concern, but I like what I’ve seen from Come Dancing and I think she’s a serious contender for Filly and Mare Sprint.
It’s very rare to see a racehorse win a Grade 1 and then not win another stakes race of any kind for several years before winning another Grade 1, but that’s exactly what Annals of Time did Aug. 24 at Saratoga. The 6-year-old by Temple City utilized an explosive final quarter-mile in :22.36, according to Trakus data, to prevail by a neck from Sadler’s Joy in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes. The 113 Equibase Speed Figure was his best since winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in 2016, which was more than two years and eight months ago. Annals of Time earned an eye-catching 131 TimeForm US rating and a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Regular readers of this blog know I love turf horses who can really finish, so that final quarter-mile in the Sword Dancer was very convincing when considering his chances in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Given his other Grade 1 win came on the grass at Del Mar, we also know he can ship and run a big race on the West Coast, where you typically see drier, firmer turf courses. For a horse who has had three separate layoffs of nine months or longer and one that lasted 20 months, health and soundness are obviously major factor. If trainer Chad Brown can keep Annals of Time happy and healthy for the Breeders’ Cup, he should be a serious player in the race. As with all deep closers, Annals of Time is a bit pace dependent, but he doesn’t need a scorching early tempo to set up his closing speed, just an honest pace which he figures to get at the Breeders’ Cup.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey presented a master’s thesis on preparing a 3-year-old for a summer target with Code of Honor, who was a dominant three-length winner of the Runhappy Travers Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga Race Course. McGaughey had Code of Honor in peak condition for the “Mid-summer Derby” after giving him some time off after he finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. McGaughey brought Code of Honor back in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes July 6 at Belmont and he won by 3 ¼ lengths in his prep for the Travers. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure from a 101 in the Dwyer to a 108 in the Travers, three ticks off his career best. Code of Honor earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure and a 125 TimeForm US rating and reportedly will be pointed to the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28, a test against older males. There is no question that Code of Honor will need to get faster to be a serious threat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but there is plenty of room for physical and mental growth, as a 3-year-old who was a May foal. The average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the Classic over the last 10 years is 120.4 with a median of 119, but this is not a year with an especially deep, imposing group of older horses. McKinzie is very talented, but after that the Breeders’ Cup Classic field looks wide open, and an improving 3-year-old who in the Travers proved capable of excelling at the 1 ¼-mile distance is an exciting addition. Code of Honor has some work to do to be a top contender in the Classic, but he’s in the hands of a nine-time winning trainer at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships who knows how to get a horse ready for a target race.
Also-Eligibles: I’ll mention Midnight Bisou at the start because she again proved she is the best older dirt female in training when she outfinished Elate by a nose to win a thriller in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti Aug. 24. Midnight Bisou is 6-for-6 this year with three Grade 1 wins and an outside contender for Horse of the Year honors. … It was great to see Mitole back to his best in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes Presented by Encore Boston Harbor after he faded to third, beaten by 7 ½ lengths in his previous start in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. The Vanderbilt snapped a seven-race winning streak for Mitole that included the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap and a string of 118-119-118 Equibase Speed Figures. He earned a 117 for the Forego, a nine-point jump from the Vanderbilt, and should be considered a threat for either the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as well as a player in the Horse of the Year race. … Mind Control pulled off a 10.40-to-1 upset in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, but that’s a bit misleading as he was the second betting choice in a race that featured a 3-to-10 favorite in Shancelot. Mind Control rallied gamely to win a three-horse photo finish by a nose and earned a career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure. Like Mitole, I’m not sure if he fits better in the Dirt Mile or the Sprint, but he’s an improving 3-year-old capable of competing with the best when he’s at his best, as he was in the Jerkens last weekend. … Giant Expectations is winless in four starts this year but his margins in defeat are three-quarters of a length, a length, a nose, and a head. He’s been unlucky. The 6-year-old by Frost Giant gave elite older male Catalina Cruiser all he could handle in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes, even taking command in deep stretch Aug. 24 at Del Mar before Catalina Cruiser battled back to prevail by a head for his seventh win in eight starts. In defeat, Giant Expectations earned a career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure, which is promising, but I’m not sure where he fits in the Breeders’ Cup puzzle. He finished sixth and fifth, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile the previous two years.
1. Wow Cat
The 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up has not been especially sharp in two starts this season. She returned from an 8 ½-month layoff with a runner-up finish as the heavy favorite in the Grade 3 Shuvee Stakes. Considering the time away, it was not a discouraging performance from a talented racemare who looked like she needed a race. Wow Cat’s fourth-place finish Aug. 24 in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes, in which she finished 10 lengths behind winner Midnight Bisou and runner-up Elate, was not the major improvement I expected from her. Granted, Wow Cat was facing two of the best older females in training, but a year ago she proved she could compete with the best. So far this year she has not come close to the form she flashed in 2018 with Equibase Speed Figures of 96 and 100, the latter 14 points off of her career top. On the bright side, a year ago she ran her two best races in her third and fourth starts off a similar layoff, so maybe she just takes her time winding up to her best form. Trainer Chad Brown is so good at bringing horses back off of extended breaks that I just expected more from Wow Cat in the Personal Ensign. Entering the season, Wow Cat looked like a top Distaff contender, but it’s difficult to view her that way given what she’s shown so far in 2019.
Earlier in his career, Promises Fulfilled had some flashes of inconsistency, but both of the clunkers came in races when he was trying to stretch out in distance to 1 1/8 miles and then 1 ¼ miles in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. The Shackleford colt has been far more consistent since he was cut back to one-turn races and sprints. Promises Fulfilled entered the Grade 1 Forego Stakes Presented by Encore Boston Harbor having won four of his previous eight races over 13 months while posting Equibase Speed Figures between 109 and 113. During that stretch he never finished worse than fourth and typically ran his race; sometimes, he just wasn’t good enough. In the Forego, however, Promises Fulfilled set the pace through a fairly easy opening quarter-mile in :23.05 but faded badly after Mitole put him away near the top of the stretch. He finished last of six, beaten by 14 ¼ lengths, and recorded an Equibase Speed Figure (90) that was his lowest since the Kentucky Derby. Promises Fulfilled seemed destined to be a top contender for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint entering the season, and he looked impressive in winning the Grade 2 John A. Nerud Stakes in July at Belmont Park, but the Forego was not an encouraging race from this talented sprinter. He’ll need to bounce back in a big way in his next start.
3. Ya Primo
After winning the Chilean Derby and the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano, South America’s multi-national Group 1 championship, in February and March, Ya Primo was purchased privately and transferred to the barn of Chad Brown. The 4-year-old Mastercraftsman colt’s U.S. debut was very encouraging as he rallied to finish second by half a length in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes July 27 at Saratoga, good for a strong 118 Equibase Speed Figure. Sent off as the 2.60-to-1 second choice in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga, Ya Primo set a solid pace and gave way in the stretch with little fight and little encouragement from jockey Jose Ortiz while fading to last of nine, beaten by 11 ¼ lengths. My first thought as I watched the race unfold was that Ya Primo was used in the Sword Dancer strictly as a pacesetter for stablemate Annals of Time, who won by a neck, and the surprised response on social media seemed to echo my thoughts. In hindsight, I guess I’d be shocked if that was the plan with an accomplished horse like Ya Primo … maybe, he just had an off day or reacted negatively to a big race in his stateside debut. I just can’t imagine a horse that talented would be used as a rabbit and I’d expect improvement in his next race.
Of note: Many of you probably expected to see Shancelot in one of the three cooling down spots after he lost as the 3-to-10 favorite in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes. I thought he would win that race fairly easily, but I did think there was a significant chance he might regress at least a bit from a monster race in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga July 28, when he won by 12 ½ lengths while finishing only 0.27 seconds off the track record for 6 ½ furlongs. His 122 Equibase Speed Figure gave him a line of 103-108-122 for the first three starts of his career. In the Jerkens, he was stretching out to seven-eighths of a mile and facing tougher competition on four weeks rest. Horses are not machines, and he lost by a head while running third in a thrilling finish. He earned another strong 112 Equibase Speed Figure and should be considered a serious player for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I think he might be at his best at three-quarters of a mile and it would be a mistake not to consider him a very serious prospect with a ton of potential. He lost a race but could come out of it even better, and I still think there is superstar potential in Shancelot.