The path to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 6-7 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 championship races and $35 million in purses and awards.
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 few weeks ago.
In this week’s edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down, we take a look at some of the big movers over the past two weeks of racing action.
1. Tiz the Law
After his runaway victory in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, I must admit I wondered if maybe Tiz the Law was simply the beneficiary of a watered-down 3-year-old division that lost elite runners like Nadal, Maxfield, and Charlatan to injury. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan since his debut win last August at Saratoga and he’s probably right there with Mean Mary for my favorite racehorse in training. But I didn’t give Tiz the Law much thought as it pertains to the Breeders’ Cup Classic until I watched him absolutely dominate in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at 1 ¼ miles Aug. 8. During that race, it dawned on me that not only was Tiz the Law the best 3-year-old male in training in the U.S., he’s the best classic horse at any age. The top older males of 2020 like Tom’s d’Etat, Improbable, By My Standards, and Code of Honor are all very good, but the only one I would be scared of for Tiz the Law would be a Maximum Security that regained his peak form … and I think it’s fair to wonder if that is probable given what we know about his former trainer. As for Tiz the Law, it’s tough to predict how he will emerge from a possible stretch of winning the Travers and then competing in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes, but if he remains on target for the Classic after the rigors of the Triple Crown, and certainly if he completes the sweep, he should be the overwhelming favorite for the $7 million race. I’d prefer less speculation for the horse who earned the top spot here, but Tiz the Law has dazzled this year and I think he’s certainly earned it. His speed figures continue to be strong – 115 Equibase Speed Figure, 109 Beyer Speed Figure, 115 BrisNet speed rating, 126 TimeForm US speed rating for the Travers – and I was especially impressed with the 3 he earned on the Ragozin Sheets, which seems to indicate he’s getting better as he matures and could have room to get even faster for trainer Barclay Tagg.
There were four important graded stakes for 2-year-olds over that last two weeks, but while Jackie’s Warrior (see below) ran the fastest race of the group, I believe Thoughtfully has the best chance to make an impact at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Tapit filly followed up on an 8 ¾-length debut win June 11 at Churchill Downs with a five-length romp Aug. 12 at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. She rated beautifully behind horses in the Adirondack and showed poise when passed on the turn – trailing the field for several strides – as she waited for her cue to accelerate from jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. Santana angled her wide at the top of the stretch and she leveled off powerfully to take command before pulling away late with a final sixteenth of a mile in 6.39 seconds under little urging. Her speed figures were a bit of a mixed bag as she went from an 83 Equibase Speed Figure for her debut to an 80 for the Adirondack and earned a solid 86 BrisNet speed rating. Her Beyer Speed Figure came back on the low side at 69, but she’s all racehorse and showed maturity beyond what you’d expect from a 2-year-old filly in her second start. By leading sire Tapit out of multiple stakes producer Pension, a Phipps family Seeking the Gold mare who was a winner at one mile, Thoughtfully is bred to improve with distance and experience. She is a half-sibling (same dam [mother], different sire) to graded stakes winner Annual Report and multiple stakes winner Giant Payday and her grandam (maternal grandmother) is Grade 1 winner and multiple stakes producer Furlough, by Easy Goer. I’d like to see her improve her speed figures, but Thoughtfully looks like a 2-year-old filly with a very bright future and a serious candidate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 6 at Keeneland.
Sure, Gamine ran a faster final time later on the Runhappy Travers Stakes card when she won the Grade 1 Longines Test Stakes, but Serengeti Empress was pressed through blistering early fractions (a half-mile in 43.74 seconds) and still held off three-time Grade 1 winner Bellafina by a length to win the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes. I think she really benefitted from the cutback in distance to seven-eighths of a mile and it was promising to see her withstand the early pressure and still have something left for the stretch. You’d have to think with the depth and talent from the older female and 3-year-old female divisions very likely targeting the Longines Distaff that Serengeti Empress’s trainer, Tom Amoss, will point her to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Serengeti Empress finished third a year ago in the Distaff, but I think she would be a top win candidate for the Filly and Mare Sprint, especially if Gamine goes on to win the 1 1/8-mile Longines Kentucky Oaks Sept. 4 and then points toward either the Preakness Stakes or Distaff. TimeForm US was especially impressed by Serengeti Empress in the Ballerina, giving her a 127 speed rating, while Equibase (105), Beyer (98), and BrisNet (104) were more measured in their appraisal.
Also-Eligibles: My Girl Red was another 2-year-old that I thought might be better than the speed figures would seem to indicate after she posted a second straight dominant victory in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes Aug. 7 at Del Mar. She dueled for the early lead and pulled away to win by 4 ¾ lengths, earning an 80 Equibase Speed Figure, 65 Beyer Speed Figure, and 91 BrisNet speed rating. She was much the best in that race and the future also looks bright for this filly from the first crop of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red. … Gamine continues to impress for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, posting a front-running, seven-length runaway win in the Grade 1 Longines Test Stakes Aug. 8 at Saratoga. She’s now put together 117 and 111 Equibase Speed Figures in winning back-to-back Grade 1s. It’s hard to tell what races might be on her agenda beyond the Sept. 4 Longines Kentucky Oaks, but she would be a serious player in either the Filly and mare Sprint or the Longines Distaff. … Swiss Skydiver really ran the competition off its feet in winning the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes by 3 ½ lengths Aug. 15 at Saratoga, which came one start after she ran second against males in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. She is on a collision course with Gamine Sept. 4 in the Kentucky Oaks, and I’m interested to see how trainer Ken McPeek approaches her fall campaign after what will be her eighth start of the year in the Oaks, but she appears to be just finding her peak form. … Jackie’s Warrior improved to 2-for-2 with a three-length win in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite Aug. 7 at Saratoga. The Maclean’s Music colt earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure, a promising 88 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 97 BrisNet speed rating. Based upon that, he probably deserved a spot in the top three here, but I have to admit I’m very skeptical about his chances to excel as the distances get longer. … Similarly, I’m not sure how far Weston wants to go after he was fully extended to beat 32.90-1 Girther by a neck in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes Aug. 8 at Del Mar, a race that earned lackluster speed figures. I’ll need to see him improve before I buy any stock in this Hit It a Bomb gelding.
This 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly appeared to have taken a huge step forward earlier this year when she won the Grade 2 Buena Vista Stakes in February and then the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes three months later, both at Santa Anita Park. But Keeper Ofthe Stars has disappointed in two subsequent starts, finishing a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 3 Wilshire Stakes before running seventh Aug. 8 in the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Handicap. Her Equibase Speed Figures have plummeted about 30 points since June, so trainer Jonathan Wong has his work cut out for him to get her turned around and he needs to do so quickly if she is going to be a factor in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup.
Sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Presented by Miller Lite, Cazadero showed little while finishing fifth, beaten by 9 ¾ lengths. It’s no shock to see an uncharacteristically bad performance at Saratoga, a racetrack known for stunning upsets, but I expected more from this Street Sense colt out of multiple graded stakes winner Wild Gams after he won his debut by 8 ¾ lengths and then won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes by 4 ¾ lengths June 27, both at Churchill Downs. The talent clearly is there for Cazadero, but I would have liked to have seen a little more fight from him in the stretch at Saratoga. I’m not giving up on Cazadero yet, far from it, but that was not the type of race you want to see from a colt that appeared to be a top contender for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
3. Come Dancing
I really thought cutting back in distance would be exactly what Come Dancing needed to regain her top form from a year ago when she posted four graded stakes wins and a second to Midnight Bisou in a Grade 1 during a five-race stretch from April to September. The 6-year-old Malibu Moon mare showed some improvement when second in the Grade 3 Vagrancy Handicap in June but came up empty late despite a perfect setup Aug. 8 when fourth in the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes, a race she won by 3 ½ lengths in 2019. Come Dancing is terrific at her best, but that’s a level we have yet to see from her in 2020.
Of note: Nine-year-old, eight-time graded stakes winner Pure Sensation was retired from racing after an unplaced finish in the Grade 3 Troy Stakes Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Third in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Pure Sensation had been a fixture in that division for years having won at least one graded race every year from 2015 through 2019. He won more than $2 million in his career for a trainer in Christophe Clement who does things the right way. The Zensational gelding gave his fans many thrills in his 38-race career.