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. Vino Rosso
This was a really tough week to try to first narrow down and then place the top three, but I’ll start with Vino Rosso who showed tenacity late to hold off Code of Honor in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. Sure, he was disqualified (rightfully, in my opinion) for interference in the stretch after bumping Code of Honor multiple times, but Vino Rosso bounced back in a big way from a disappointing third-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes Aug. 3, when he was beaten by 6 ½ lengths by McKinzie. I featured Code of Honor in this blog Aug. 28 and I thought then and still think he’s a serious player in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if his connections opt to push forward to the World Championships. Vino Rosso seems like a lock to go on to the race at Santa Anita Park, where in May he secured his first career Grade 1 win with a three-quarter-length score in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. A few hours after the Jockey Club Gold Cup, McKinzie came up short at 3-10 odds when beaten by 2 ¼ lengths by 25-1 outsider Mongolian Groom in the Awesome Again Stakes. I rated Vino Rosso atop this list for a few reasons. First, he rebounded nicely to earn a 106 Beyer Speed Figure and 112 Equibase Speed Figure. Second, he earned his most important victory to date at the venue that will host the Breeders’ Cup, so he proved he can ship to Southern California and win. Third, after McKinzie’s loss, the Classic lacks a true standout this year. Other than Code of Honor, none of the other 3-year-olds, except maybe Owendale, has really stepped up. That leaves a vulnerable McKinzie and, maybe, Elate tackling males for the first time ahead of Vino Rosso. Add in the news Oct. 1 that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert gave Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith — the all-time leader with 26 Breeders’ Cup wins — the hook from McKinzie for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and it just looks like a wide-open race. Look, I don’t think Vino Rosso has morphed into Gun Runner or Accelerate, but this year he didn’t need to in order to emerge as a serious threat in the Classic. He may have lost the battle via DQ in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he’s now positioned very well to win the war Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
2. Eight Rings
After a sensational debut that he won by 6 ¼ lengths Aug. 4 at Del Mar, earning a 105 Equibase Speed Figure and an eye-catching 94 Beyer Speed Figure, Eight Rings became the buzz 2-year-old of the summer. Then, he took a left turn shortly after leaving the starting gate as the 1-2 favorite Sept. 2 in the Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity and unseated his rider. Eight Rings returned Sept. 27 and led from start to finish in a six-length runaway victory in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita Park. While he was the 6-5 favorite and still highly regarded, the Empire Maker colt needed to prove himself against stakes competition and did so convincingly in a Grade 1 race around two turns. Eight Rings will try to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his fifth win in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, where he won the American Pharoah at the same 1 1/16-mile distance of the Juvenile. Eight Rings earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure and an 87 Beyer Speed Figure, both a step back from his career debut but certainly fast enough to be considered one of the most logical win candidates.
This last spot was extraordinarily difficult because it was between three talented fillies that I really like targeting the same race, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. I landed on Selflessly coming off a three-quarter-length win in the Sept. 29 Miss Grillo Stakes over fast-finishing Miss Grillo runner-up Crystalle and European multiple group stakes winner Daahyeh (more on them below). After closing from the clouds to run second in her Aug. 28 career debut, Selflessly showed more tactical speed in the Miss Grillo while rating in third early under jockey Javier Castellano behind an easy pace. According to Trakus data, the More Than Ready filly completed her final quarter-mile in a swift 22.62 seconds en route to a three-quarter-length victory, and she figures to be very well supported in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Her trainer, Chad Brown, has won the Juvenile Fillies Turf in four of the last five years, including three times with the Miss Grillo winner and twice partnering with Selflessly’s jockey, Javier Castellano. I think Selflessly has enough speed to rate mid-pack even if the pace is faster than it was in the Miss Grillo and still finish powerfully. Brown will no doubt have her ready to fire. Selflessly is not currently nominated to the Breeders' Cup, so she would need to be supplemented.
Also-Eligibles: I’ll kick this off with the other 2-year-old fillies that profile as serious players for the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Daahyeh won the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes by a half-length from stablemate Stylistique Sept. 27 at Newmarket. Already a group stakes winner and coming off a runner-up finish by three-quarters of a length in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, Daahyeh has established elite form and trainer Roger Varian has been pointing her to the Juvenile Fillies Turf. With three wins and two seconds in five starts, Daahyeh has a terrific shot to give trainer Varian his first Breeders’ Cup victory. … I mentioned Miss Grillo runner-up Crystalle above, and she actually finished faster than Selflessly with a final quarter-mile in a blistering 22.17 seconds to rally from eighth to second. … I’d love to see Code of Honor move on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic because I think he’d get more pace to close into and would be a viable win candidate coming off his victory in the Sept. 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup. … Mongolian Groom posted a 25.40-1 upset victory in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes to earn a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, BUT he’s not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and would need to be supplemented at a cost of $200,000. Judging by trainer Enebish Ganbat’s post-race comments, it sounded like supplement him was a longshot at best. His 110 Beyer Speed Figure and 126 Equibase Speed Figure indicate he would be at least dangerous, but he almost certainly would not be permitted to set an easy pace on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. … Come Dancing has been phenomenal sprinting this year and took care of business Sept. 22 in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap with a 3 ¼-length win. Covfefe will be tough to catch, but if she faces significant pressure early Come Dancing should be very dangerous at the seven-furlong distance. … Firenze Fire ran way too well to lose in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes as star sprinter Imperial Hint battled back after being headed in the stretch to beat him in a thriller Sept. 28 at Belmont. But Firenze Fire showed me a lot in the Vosburgh and he should get some pace to close into in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
… King Jack also looks like as serious player for what is shaping up as a terrific edition of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint coming off a monster 1 ½-length win in the Grade 2 Gallant Bob Stakes Sept. 21 at Parx Racing. King Jack earned a 120 Equibase Speed Figure and a 111 Beyer Speed Figure. He’s plenty fast. … After winning the Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes by 1 ½ lengths Sept. 28 at Churchill Downs, Mr Freeze could move on to the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile off a career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure. … Paradise Woods runs hot and cold. On Sept. 29, she got an ideal trip and fired big with a 1 ¾-length win in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park, where she has posted all five of her wins and run in the top three in 10 of 12 starts. … Every time I dismiss Owendale, he runs huge and when I climb on board, he seems to disappoint. Keep an eye on him for the Dirt Mile or even the Classic after an impressive 1 ¾-length win Sept. 29 in the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby.
Preservationist looked great winning the Suburban Stakes by 4 ½ lengths in July and ordinary when finishing fourth, beaten by 7 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes. He sparkled in winning the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets Aug. 31 but again came back down to earth with a fourth-place finish, beaten by five lengths, in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 28 at Belmont Park as the 9-5 favorite at what I thought was his best distance. He’s missed a lot of time throughout his career, and I think we just have to expect some variance in his performances from race to race. But with a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Classic possible, Preservationist’s disappointing race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup came at an inopportune time.
2. Mr Vargas
After Mr Vargas ran both Eddie Haskell and Stormy Liberal off their feet to win the Grade 3 Green Flash Stakes Aug. 17 at Del Mar, I thought he had the look of a top turf sprinter who had found his niche. He still might be just that, but he took a step backward in the Grade 2 Eddie D Stakes Sept. 27 at Santa Anita, where he faded badly late and finished eighth, beaten by 7 ½ lengths. It’s tough to rebound from a disappointing performance like that in a final prep race. Mr Vargas also is winless in three races at Santa Anita, two on the grass, so it might be he prefers the grass at Del Mar, where he’s got two wins, one second, and one third in four starts. He does not, at this point, look like a strong contender for the Turf Sprint.
Maybe it’s crazy to put McKinzie here after he earned a career-best 125 Equibase Speed Figure and a respectable 106 Beyer Speed Figure for running second in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 28 at Santa Anita. Still, I just can’t look past a loss by 2 ¼ lengths as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite in a race won by a 25-1 outsider. McKinzie was, and probably still is, the heavy favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita, but he’s winless in two tries at 1 ¼ miles and coming off a stunning (and decisive) upset loss in his final prep race. I’m not saying he can’t bounce back and run a big race in the Classic; in fact, I think there is a reasonable chance he runs very well in the big race. But he looked like one of the most formidable favorites for any of the Breeders’ Cup races a week ago and this week Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is suddenly replacing Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on McKinzie for the Classic.