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 week or two 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.
With 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar retired the U.S. older turf male division is pretty wide open, but in his last two starts Instilled Regard has stepped forward to win a pair of races against solid competition when winning the Grade 2 Fort Marcy Stakes by a neck June 6 and the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes by a neck July 4. Both races were at Belmont Park, but Instilled Regard impressed me more in the Manhattan when he finished with a final quarter-mile in 22.31 seconds according to Trakus data. His 101 Equibase Speed Figure for the Manhattan came up a little light, but the pace was slow and his Beyer Speed Figure (102) and TimeForm US rating (124) were much better. Instilled Regard is a graded stakes winner on dirt who was good enough to run fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, but he has proved more consistent on turf with three wins and seven top-three finishes in eight races on the grass. Trainer Chad Brown, who trained the aforementioned Bricks and Mortar, has Instilled Regard as good as ever in his 5-year-old season, and while 1 ½ miles for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf might seem a bit beyond his ideal distance, so many route turf races are a long, fairly easy gallop and then a sprint to the finish. Even so, he could also be effective as a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Mile if the Turf is a bit too long. He started his season with a third in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf, so he can compete at an elite level and he seems to be finding a nice groove on the grass for a turf maestro.
2. Mean Mary
I believe there will wind up being considerably more depth in the older turf female division in 2020 than in the turf male division, and one reason for that is the emergence of Mean Mary as a legitimate contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She’s on a four-race winning streak since Dec. 22 at Gulfstream Park, including three straight graded stakes wins by open lengths in her three starts in 2020. As a front-runner on the grass, Mean Mary has a tactical advantage as many turf races have little competition for the early lead. When Mean Mary is permitted to set an uncontested pace, she is devastatingly effective. It is impossible to make up ground on a front-runner who finishes her final quarter-mile in 22.56 seconds, as she did according to Trakus data when winning the Grade 2 New York Stakes June 27 at Belmont. Her three previous wins came on the grass at Gulfstream, which can favor early speed, but she was even more dominant at Belmont and looks like a serious racemare. She earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure and even more promising a 101 Beyer Speed Figure and 124 TimeForm US rating for her New York Stakes win. By top sire Scat Daddy out of Grade 1 winner Karlovy Vary, by Dynaformer, Mean Mary has a win on the grass at Keeneland, host of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, on her résumé and she’s emerged as a rising star on the grass.
3. Tom’s d’Etat
You could make a compelling argument that one of the many names in the also-eligible section have made a more rapid ascent in the last two weeks, and you would not be wrong, but what Tom’s d’Etat did in winning the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes June 27 at Churchill Downs was firmly cement his credentials as one of the top contenders for the $7 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Classic is the marquee race at the World Championships and the most important race each year when it comes to determining the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Tom’s d’Etat defeated highly regarded By My Standards soundly in his 4 ¼-length Stephen Foster victory. In the capsules above on Instilled regard and Mean Mary, I discussed closing fractions and finishing fast is extremely important in grass races. You rarely see sub-12 second final eighths of a mile on the dirt, but according to Trakus Tom’s d’Etat covered his final furlong in 11.77 seconds. That’s fantastic considering he set the pace through a pressure opening three-quarters of a mile. The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was a sparkling 1:47.03, good for a 116 Equibase Speed Figure, 109 Beyer Speed Figure, 112 BrisNet rating, and eye-catching 129 TimeForm US speed rating. Tom’s d’Etat has a Grade 2 win by open lengths on the main track at Keeneland for a trainer (Al Stall Jr.) who won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Blame. This 7-year-old Smart Strike horse is in impeccable form right now and he is in terrific hands.
Also-Eligibles: Three-year-old fillies can win the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint – Shamrock Rose won as a 3-year-old last time the World Championships were at Keeneland in 2015 – so I thought long and hard about including Frank’s Rockette in the top three after her win in the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes July 4 at Belmont. She has now won three of her last four with the lone defeat a runner-up finish to a terrific filly in Kimari in April at Oaklawn Park. … I try not to get too jazzed about stakes races for 2-year-olds early in the season as they often are won by precocious types with distance limitations, but I think Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes winner Cazadero might be much more than a flash in the pan. He won the June 27 Bashford Manor by 4 ¾ lengths from off the pace and has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 80 and 81 for his first two starts. By 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of multiple graded stakes winner Wild Gams, Cazadero is living up to his pedigree. … I went into more detail in this week’s Breeders’ Cup profile on Vekoma and he appeared on the first edition of this year’s Breeders’ Cup blog on June 25, but it’s worth mentioning he showed great determination and defeated a strong field in winning the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap July 4 at Belmont Park … Likewise, it was good to see Midnight Bisou back in the winner’s circle in the U.S. after a trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. She won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Stakes June 27 at Churchill Downs by 8 ¼ lengths, but, of course, she was already one of the best racehorses in training. … Uncle Chuck was impressive in his stakes debut in his second career start when winning the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby by four lengths July 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, but I think he’s probably targeting the Triple Crown trail with this talented Uncle Mo colt. … Tacitus halted a seven-race winless stretch with an 8 ¾-length runaway in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes, but you’ll have to forgive me if want to see him do it again against a better field before I buy in. … One runner that really did catch my eye was Social Paranoia, who closed powerfully to win the Grade 3 Poker Stakes July 4 at Belmont, using an electric final quarter-mile in 22.79 seconds according to Trakus data to prevail by a length. I think he has the potential to develop into a top miler.
1. Valid Point
Valid Point won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes in just his third career start for top turf trainer Chad Brown last summer before closing his 3-year-old season with the first loss of his career when facing older horses in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes in October at Keeneland. While he finished 10th that day, he was only three lengths back of the winner. He returned off a nine-month layoff July 4 in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes and faded late to finish eighth, beaten by 6 ¼ lengths. Valid Point got off to a slow start and was overeager early on in the Poker Stakes, but he really just didn’t fire in the stretch, which is rare for Brown’s runners even coming off a layoff. I’m willing to reserve judgement until we see another race from Valid Point, but I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw in his first start of 2020.
2. Sir Winston
After a nice 4-year-old bow and a solid second start of the season on a sloppy track, last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston looked like he might be poised to build off a classic-winning campaign. He showed me little in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes July 4 at Belmont, where he was just never a factor and ran sixth, beaten by 21 ½ lengths. The Awesome Again colt is a bit of an “all-or-nothing” type, but the fact that he came up empty on the track where he got his biggest win to date is definitely a concern.
3. Got Stormy
Got Stormy did not run a terrible race in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes July 4 at Belmont Park, where she took the lead in the stretch but was unable to hold on and faded to fourth, beaten by 3 ¼ lengths. But she has not had the same late punch she showed in 2019 when she won a Grade 1 race against males and finished second in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile and Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile. One race before the Poker, she finished a well-beaten fourth in the Grade 3 Beaugay Stakes June 3 at Belmont and the reality is Got Stormy is winless in four starts this season. She really came around in the summer last year at Saratoga, and that could happen again this year. When she is at the top of her game, Got Stormy is a fantastic miler capable of beating just about anyone, but we have yet to see that version of her in 2020.
Of note: Uni is another Chad Brown runner who was unusually flat coming off a long layoff as the 2019 TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile winner finished third in the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes, beaten 3 ½ lengths by stablemate Newspaperofrecord. More than Valid Point (above), this race looked like it might be a nice building block to an improved effort in her next start. Uni had won seven of eight races in 2018 and 2019, so I expect she’ll bounce back. … Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint runner-up Bellafina did not run a bad race when second in the Grade 2 Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos, but she did lose a race she really should have won. I understand horses like humans are subject to ups and downs, but that was her race to win and I expected her to take care of business.