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 second edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, we take a look at the previous week of races.
Shancelot’s 12 ½-length runaway victory in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes Sunday at Saratoga was a “wow” performance in more ways than one. Of course, the margin of victory was eye-opening, as was the final time of 1:14.01 for 6 ½ furlongs, just 0.27 of a second off the track record. He actually completed the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:07.63, which was faster than the track record for that distance set the previous day by Imperial Hint in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes. And then there’s the fact the fact that a performance like that came in Shancelot’s stakes debut, so he was taking a major step up in class and still dominated. Speed-figure makers also were quite impressed. The 121 Beyer Speed Figure Shancelot earned was the fastest sprint figure since 2007. Shancelot jumped 14 points to a new best 122 Equibase Speed Figure and earned a dazzling 133 Timeform US rating. The word “brilliant” is tossed around way too often in horse racing, but that was a brilliant race from a very promising sprinter. He improved to 3-for-3 lifetime and has led from start to finish in each of his races, which is my biggest concern. Some racehorses can run exceptionally fast and become extra brave when left all alone in front. We know Shancelot fits that description. What we don’t know is whether he can handle early pressure and still have something left in the tank for the stretch. He showed in his career debut that he has tenacity when he held off Bodexpress to win by a neck in February at Gulfstream Park, but pressure early is much different than a challenge late. There is much to like when considering Shancelot as a Breeders’ Cup Sprint contender, but the division could be very deep this year and the older horses are a salty bunch.
I’ll admit I was slightly more impressed with Imperial Hint than Shancelot last weekend at Saratoga, but I didn’t rank him above Shancelot because he already was firmly cemented near the top of the sprint division. Imperial Hint on Saturday defeated a much better group of sprinters in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt that included five other graded stakes winners, including Mitole coming off back-to-back Grade 1 wins. The way he just blew past Strike Power and Mitole, two explosive burners, on the turn gave me goose bumps. Consider this: Imperial Hint took the lead through a half-mile in :44.20 according to Trakus data and then ran his next eighth of a mile in 11.52 seconds to open a commanding lead en route to a four-length win. The final time for the three-quarter-mile race was 1:07.92, a track record for the distance at a venue that has been open since 1863. As with Shancelot above, the speed-figure makers were impressed. Equibase gave Imperial Hint a 125 figure, his Beyer Speed Figure was 114, and Timeform US rewarded him with a 136 rating that is its highest to date in 2019. Imperial Hint’s Timeform US rating was just a point off the fastest in a sprint since 2015. Consider that Imperial Hint has already run second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2017 and third in 2018 and its clear he can compete at that level. The Breeders’ Cup runner-up finish came when shipping to Southern California, so he can travel and run well as evidenced by wins at six different tracks throughout his career.
Ollie’s Candy punched her ticket to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff with a win in the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes July 28 at Del Mar, where she battled gamely after being headed in the stretch by favorite Secret Spice to win by a head. The Distaff looks like it could draw a terrific field this year with several promising 3-year-olds as well as standout older females Midnight Bisou and Elate, plus Monomoy Girl, last year’s Distaff winner who recently returned to the barn of Brad Cox. But I think there are some logical reasons why we could see Ollie’s Candy continue to improve. First, she has only raced on dirt twice. She won the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks in June 2018 before going back to turf for a four-start stretch against graded stakes competition that included a runner-up finish by a neck in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Winless in two tries this year on grass, she returned to the main track for the Clement L. Hirsch and posted a career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure. She now has a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 win in two tries on the main track and seems to be finding her groove for trainer John Sadler, who this year took over training responsibilities for the lightly raced 4-year-old filly. Ollie’s Candy has always been consistent, finishing first or second in seven of her eight starts and posting speed figures ranging from 101 to 109 in her last six, and she owns a win on the main track that will host this year’s Breeders’ Cup. She has some improving to do, but Ollie’s Candy looks like a serious Distaff contender and adds more firepower to what should be a terrific field.
Also-Eligibles: Enable came out of her knock-down, drag-out victory over Crystal Ocean in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes July 27 at Ascot in good order and she looks every bit the monster she was in 2018 when she completed the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf double. However, while we know she is targeting a third-straight win in the Arc, her plans beyond that race have not been determined. If she returns to the U.S. for the 2019 Turf, she will be a heavy favorite. … Cistron earned a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with a win in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes July 27 at Del Mar as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” Series. I admit I was skeptical after he halted a 17-race winless stretch with a win in the Grade 2 Kona Gold Stakes in April at Santa Anita Park, but he followed with a runner-up finish by a head in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes and then won the Bing Crosby. The Sprint looks like it has the potential to be a terrific race, but I think it’s time to take Cistron seriously as a legitimate contender. … Both Channel Cat and Minit to Stardom earned their first career graded stakes wins last week at Saratoga, but I want to see a second top effort before I consider them serious contenders for the Longines Turf and Filly and Mare Sprint, respectively. … Tax turned in a career-best performance to win the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets July 27 at Saratoga, defeating Preakness Stakes winner War of Will and Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets runner-up Tacitus in the process. He has the look of an improving 3-year-old, but stepping up to face older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic division is a significant challenge and the Jim Dandy win is not enough to convince me he’s ready to clear that hurdle. We’ll revisit Tax’s chances to be a factor in the Classic after the Runhappy Travers Stakes Aug. 24.
1. Firenze Fire
The 4-year-old has faced elite competition in his last two races, running fifth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 27 at Saratoga. While I was quick to forgive his Met Mile loss, Firenze Fire never really looked engaged in the Vanderbilt, which featured a pace scenario that should have set up his powerful closing kick. My guess is he was too close to a swift pace and he was pretty much gassed by the top of the stretch, but I did at least expect him to make a run late. Instead, he faded badly and lost by 10 lengths. Give credit to Imperial Hint for a track-record performance that made several talented horses look bad, but I expected more from a colt we know is capable of more, as evidenced by the 119 Equibase Speed Figure he earned when winning the Runhappy Stakes on May 11 at Belmont Park.
I’m willing to forgive his third-place finish in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 27 at Saratoga, which halted a seven-race winning streak. He has had a tough campaign to date with a pair of wins at Oaklawn Park before his back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Churchill Downs Stakes presented by Twinspires.com and Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, so his credentials this year were impeccable before this defeat. I fully expect him to bounce back in his next start, which begs the question, “Why bother putting him in the cooling down section?” The answer for me is pretty simple. Before the Vanderbilt, I viewed Mitole as a freak capable of running the table, winning the rest of his 2019 starts, and possibly inserting himself into the Horse of the Year discussion despite not being a classic-distance horse. There is a chance he still might turn out to be a freak, but that aura of invincibility is gone now and the Horse of the Year potential has cooled considerably. He remains a powerful, explosive racehorse capable of great things like stringing together a sequence of races in which he earned 118-119-118 Equibase Speed Figures, but he doesn’t look quite like the monster he appeared to be entering last weekend.
3. War of Will
The Preakness Stakes winner looked like a tired racehorse on the second turn of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes July 27 at Saratoga. The 3-year-old War Front colt had a clear lead through an easy half-mile and three-quarters of a mile, but he offered little resistance when challenged by Tax approaching the stretch. I give him credit for fighting on after he was passed by Tax and he didn’t seem to pack it in until Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets runner-up Tacitus jostled him a little bit against the rail when surging past in deep stretch. War of Will faded to fifth, beaten by six lengths, a race after he faded to finish ninth in the Belmont Stakes. The Jim Dandy was the seventh start of the year for War of Will, who competed in each of the three Triple Crown races and the three graded prep races at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and I don’t believe we saw anything close to the best War of Will last weekend.