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 month of racing action.
This Into Mischief filly improved to 2-for-2 when she surged away to a six-length romp July 16 in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga Race Course to trainer Timothy Hamm, who co-owns Dayoutoftheoffice in partnership with breeder Siena Farm. I loved how professionally she rated on the outside behind the pace and then really accelerated when roused by jockey Junior Alvarado at the top of the stretch. She was well clear in deep stretch and coasted the final sixteenth of a mile. It was clear when Alvarado looked back over his shoulder coming off the turn in the three-quarter-mile race that Dayoutoftheofiice was loaded and he wanted to see if any of the opposition was mounting a rally, but she proved much the best despite some jostling at the start. It’s nice to see a 2-year-old filly overcome some adversity and also demonstrate that she is willing to listen to her rider. I find speed figures can be a bit deceptive with 2-year-olds, which is part of the reason I don’t usually invest a ton of my budget betting those races early in the season, but Dayoutoftheoffice’s numbers came back fairly strong across the board. She improved her Equibase Speed Figure six points from her debut win to an 88 for the Schuylerville, and earned an 82 Beyer Speed Figure, 91 BrisNet speed rating, and 104 TimeForm US rating. There is a ton of speed in her pedigree, which makes me a bit worried about the 1 1/16 miles of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she’s fast and precocious which is a potent combo for a young filly.
Collusion Illusion has made five of his six career starts in sprints and he is undefeated in those one-turn races. The only blemish on his record was when he was pulled up in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes last September. Following a 3 ¼-length win in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Stakes June 20 at Santa Anita, trainer Mark Glatt was still considering stretching him back out try see if he might be a fit for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. But after he beat older horses to win the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar and earn an expenses-paid berth in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the World Championships have become the focus. “I’m inclined to run him once more in between,” Glatt told Daily Racing Form. “Maybe a month out from the Breeders’ Cup.” Collusion Illusion showed in the Bing Crosby that he can run with the best sprinters on the West Coast, which has produced three of the last four winners of the Sprint, and 3-year-olds have proved quite capable of winning the Sprint having done so three times in the last eight years. Typically, 3-year-old winners have made big strides in the second half of the season, and Collusion Illusion will need to follow that pattern and improve his speed figures. He earned a solid 116 Equibase Speed Figure, but his Beyer Speed Figure (93), BrisNet speed rating (103), and TimeForm US rating (119) will need a bump to be a win contender in the Sprint. He showed some promising signs in the Bing Crosby and he dropped a bit farther back than usual when seventh early before passing six opponents in the final quarter-mile. I think Collusion Illusion is a legit talent.
I spent some time trying to split hairs and decide between the two rising Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff contenders before ultimately deciding that they’ve made a similar jump in status and both have a similar chance to be a serious threat in the race (OK, I hedged and I’m not proud of it). Fighting Mad earned her first graded stakes win last summer when stretching out to a mile at Del Mar and has regained her top form when stretching back out this year to win the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes in May at Santa Anita and then the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Aug. 2 at Del Mar. She won both races in front-running fashion, the Santa Maria by 3 ¼ lengths over Grade 1 winner Hard Not to Love and the Hirsch by a half-length over Grade 1 winner Ollie’s Candy. Depending upon the shape of the race and how the Keeneland main track is playing come November, Fighting Mad could be dangerous. She earned a career-top 117 Equibase Speed Figure for the Santa Maria and her Clement L. Hirsch figures were solid: 112 Equibase, 100 Beyer Speed Figure, 126 TimeForm US speed rating, and 107 BrisNet speed rating. As for Vexatious, I went into great depth on her in this week’s Getting to Know profile, but essentially she seems to have found a home on dirt while shortening up a bit in distance from turf marathons and emerged as a player in the older dirt female division. She ran a bang-up second to champion Monomoy Girl in the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes at Belmont Park and then outfinished champion Midnight Bisou to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Del Mar Aug. 1 with fairly strong speed figures. I still prefer both Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl when looking ahead to the Distaff – I’m worried about Fighting Mad carrying her speed 1 1/8 miles against the best of the best and Vexatious has been a little inconsistent throughout her career for my taste – but I rate them both as solid second-tier contenders in the division with a chance to improve their status between now and Nov. 7.
Also-Eligibles: Last year’s Preakness Stakes winner War of Will’s first start back on turf in May at Santa Anita was uninspiring, but the War Front colt looked terrific in winning the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes July 10 on the grass at Keeneland. The 115 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for that win was four points off his career best and he finished with a final quarter-mile in about 23 seconds after stalking from third. Given he has a win on the turf course at the Breeders’ Cup host track, he could develop into a serious threat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. … Like many others, I didn’t really know what to make of Maximum Security’s first race in about five months. Sure, he won and showed tenacity late, but I have to admit I was expecting to be dazzled a bit more in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap July 25 at Del Mar. I’m sure Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will have him peaking in time for the Breeders’ Cup, but I don’t feel better about his chances in the Classic than I did before the San Diego. … Improbable sprung a mild upset in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes and now has posted a 116 and 120 Equibase Speed Figures in his last two races for winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup and Whitney, respectively. Based solely upon that, he probably deserves a spot in the top three above, but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been burned believing in him before. Maybe Improbable has turned the corner and matured into a bona-fide Breeders’ Cup Classic contender. Maybe?
1. Ce Ce
In each of her two most recent starts, the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes May 31 and the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Aug. 2, Ce Ce was beaten by more than five lengths. From an Equibase Speed Figure perspective, they were not poor races and fell within what looks like her 100 to 112 range, but she did not show much punch late in either race. I expected a lot more from the Elusive Quality filly after back-to-back Grade 1 wins in March and April and it’s tough to view her a major player for the Longines Distaff coming out of those two races. Trainer Mike McCarthy still has time to get her turned around and perhaps the Filly and Mare Sprint around one turn could be an intriguing backup option as the prospective Distaff field continues to become deeper.
After winning the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes in June and running a quality third in the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, I thought Code of Honor had a huge chance to win the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes Aug. 1 at Saratoga. He had won the Runhappy Travers Stakes on the Saratoga main track the summer before and appeared to be in top form, but he never really fired in the Whitney when fourth, beaten by five lengths. I’m confident Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey will get him back to peak condition, but with only three months and probably one prep race before the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic he’d better do so quickly.
3. No Parole
After a failed attempt stretching out in distance on the 2020 Triple Crown trail, No Parole cut back to sprints and was electric in winning an April allowance race at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes Presented by Claiborne Farm June 20 at Belmont Park by 3 ¾ lengths. Despite getting an uncontested lead in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes Presented by Runhappy Aug. 1 at Saratoga, the bay Violence colt had nothing left by the top of the stretch and faded to finish ninth, beaten by 15 ½ lengths, as the favorite. Prior to that race, No Parole was 5-for-5 in races at one mile or less, so it might just be that he didn’t care for the main track at Saratoga or had gone off form a bit. It might be worth giving No Parole a mulligan for now, but I’m much less enthused about his chances to develop into a strong contender for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint than I was six weeks ago.
Of note: You might have been expecting to see Midnight Bisou in one of the cooling down slots after she came up short as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes Aug. 1 at Saratoga. On one hand, I was shocked to see her lose against a field that she boasted a huge class advantage over. But on the other hand, she fought hard through the final furlong and came up only a neck short. Midnight Bisou has now run first or second in 11 straight races and has never finished outside the top three. Sometimes, we forget racehorses are not machines because great mares like Midnight Bisou fool us into thinking they are. She’s still the best of the older dirt female division. … A pair of older turf runners have been a bit disappointing to me so far this summer. Arklow finished a nonthreatening sixth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes July 12 at Keeneland and then came back six days later and finished unplaced and beaten by more than five lengths as the 13-10 favorite in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park. He does tend to space out his top performances, but I thought he’d fare better than he has. Likewise, Next Shares seems to pick his spots to fire occasional monster efforts. I thought he might do so in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile July 10 at Keeneland on a turf course he really likes but instead he barely picked up his feet when 10th, beaten by 9 ¼ lengths. Sometimes with horses like Arklow and Next Shares you need a little luck predicting when they will uncork a big rally.