A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
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.
To kick off the 2020 Breeders’ Cup edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down, we take a look at the biggest movers from the first half of the year to date.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Mitole, and he looks like he has another serious contender in 2020 with lightly raced Volatile. On Breeders’ Cup Saturday last year, Volatile was essentially an unknown commodity eligible for a first-level allowance race, which he won the next day (Nov. 3) at Churchill Downs while earning a 107 Equibase Speed Figure in his final start as a 3-year-old. The Violence colt has been electric in two races in 2020, winning an Oaklawn Park allowance-optional claiming race by 7 ½ lengths in April before an eight-length romp in the Aristides Stakes June 6 in which he missed the Churchill Downs track record for six furlongs by only two-hundredths of a second. For running three-quarters of a mile in 1:07.57, Volatile earned a new career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure and a 118 Equibase Speed Figure, which was just a point off the 119 he earned for his season debut at Oaklawn. For his two races this year, Volatile has earned a 107 and 109 BrisNet speed rating, which is very fast as were his 124 TimeForm US rating for the Aristides and 3 ¼ figure on the Ragozin Sheets. To put it simply, this is one fast colt. Granted, he still has yet to be tested against graded stakes competition, but there were some solid sprinters in the Aristides. I also like that Volatile is not just a pure speedball – he’s naturally fast but rates behind horses and accelerates impressively when called upon. I think the ceiling for this sprinter is very high and you can see from his pedigree why he’s so fast. His dam (mother) was a stakes-winning sprinter by Unbridled’s Song and his grandam (maternal grandmother) is multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Lady Tak.
In the first half of 2020 the Breeders’ Cup Sprint division got plenty of reinforcement in the aforementioned Volatile and Vekoma, who returned from a long layoff following an unplaced finish in the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in the Sir Shackleton Stakes March 28 at Gulfstream Park. Trainer George Weaver cut Vekoma back in distance to sprinting and he won by 3 ¾ lengths and then followed with a true breakout win when rolled to a 7 ¼-length runaway in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter Handicap at Belmont Park on June 6. For completing the seven-eighths of a mile race in 1:21.02, Vekoma earned a starting spot in the Sprint via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series and a set of eye-catching speed figures: 116 Equibase Speed Figure, 110 Beyer Speed Figure, 113 BrisNet speed rating, and a 125 TimeForm US rating. Vekoma also was the first horse to register a negative figure (lower is better) on the Ragozin Sheets with a -1/2. It wasn’t a big surprise that Vekoma was shifted to sprints as he has a pronounced paddle when he gallops and was produced by a Grade 1-winning sprinter in Mona de Momma. Like Volatile, Vekoma is a 4-year-old with terrific natural speed, a willingness to rate behind horses, and an explosive turn of foot. We could, perhaps, see them meet up later this summer in Saratoga or maybe we’ll have to wait for a showdown at the Breeders’ Cup, but either way the Sprint division just got a whole lot more interesting.
It’s not often that the top three spots on this list come from racehorses who turned in legitimate “wow” races, but maybe a glimmer of hope through the dark cloud of a COVID-19-ravaged 2020 is an exciting new wave of talent. Making her stakes debut in the Grade 1 Longines Acorn Stakes, Gamine smashed the stakes record by 1 ½ seconds when she blistered the one mile in 1:32.55, which was just 0.31 seconds off the track record (1:32.24) set by Najran May 7, 2003. Gamine won by a remarkable 18 ¾ lengths to improve to three wins in as many starts for Bob Baffert. For the dazzling victory, Gamine earned a 117 Equibase Speed Figure, a 110 Beyer Speed Figure, a 109 BrisNet speed rating, and a 125 TimeForm US rating. Her 3 ¼ number on the Ragozin Sheets was likewise a stellar figure for a 3-year-old filly, especially considering it was only her third start. I thought about placing her higher on this list, but my guess is that the Breeders’ Cup might be a secondary target as I would guess Baffert has either the Longines Kentucky Oaks (or maybe even the Kentucky Derby) lined up as a top target. But if she remains in good form, Gamine looks like a potential superstar and she might be the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and a top contender for the Longines Distaff if the Breeders’ Cup was next up on the schedule.
Also-Eligibles: There were a number of bona-fide stars that returned recently and made a nice impression, but as I mentioned at the top for the top three spots I was really looking for exciting new prospects on the Breeders’ Cup scene. Perhaps the toughest to leave off was kind of a surprise when I really started to dig in: Wildman Jack. The Goldencents gelding started to come on at the end of his 3-year-old campaign before starting 2020 in Dubai, where he won a Group 3 race by 4 ¾ lengths. He returned to the U.S. following the cancellation of the Dubai World Cup card and won the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes by a nose on May 23 while posting a 115 Equibase Speed Figure. He looks like a nice turf sprinter. … Gotta respect last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Sharing winning her season debut and then going over to Royal Ascot and running second against top Euros in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes. I could see her being a serious threat in the Filly and Mare Turf by year’s end if she continues to improve. … Oleksandra defeated males to win the Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes Presented by America’s Best Racing June 20 at Belmont Park and earned a guaranteed “Win and You’re In” spot in the Turf Sprint, but she is not currently nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and would need to be supplemented. She is an elite turf sprinter who has won five of her last eight and has not run out of the top three during that stretch. … Code of Honor and Monomoy Girl, the 2018 champion 3-year-old filly, both won impressively off long layoffs; United, last year’s Longines Turf runner-up, is 2-for-2 this year and looks like a major player in the older turf male division; and Factor This has won three graded stakes in as many starts in 2020, although the Breeders’ Cup Mile might be just a bit short for him and the Turf a bit too long.
1. Mr. Money
The future sure looked rosy for Mr. Money after he ripped off four straight wins followed by a runner-up finish by a nose in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby that earned him a career-best 121 Equibase Speed Figure. He flopped in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his final start as a 3-year-old, but I was really excited to watch him race at 4. Problem is, he just has not shown much this season when running sixth by 10 ¾ lengths on a wet-fast track in the Oaklawn Mile and then fourth by 3 ½ lengths in the Blame Stakes May 23, also at a mile. I was willing to give him a pass for the off track at Oaklawn, but I wasn’t encouraged by the Blame follow up. It’s too early to give up on Mr. Money, but he hasn’t looked like the same racehorse he was a year ago when he was sizzling hot.
After winning her first three races in North America after coming over from Europe and joining the barn of Brad Cox, this 5-year-old Dansili mare has lost four in a row. The first loss was a runner-up finish by a nose before another second in a Grade 1. She closed out her 2019 season with a third in a Grade 1 and I thought maybe she would take a nice step forward in 2020, but she came up empty in the stretch of the Grade 3 Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes and faded to sixth as the 8-5 favorite. Sometimes, I’m guilty of placing a horse or two on this cooling down list that has cost me at the betting window and I’m probably guilty of that here as I’ve bet Juliet Foxtrot early and often. I’ll let her beat me next time as I didn’t like what I saw in the Mint Julep when she tracked an easy pace and offered little resistance in the stretch. I’m just not sure she’s good enough right now to compete with the best of the best in the turf female division, much less the males she’d have to face if she targeted the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Last year’s Belmont Stakes runner-up and Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher has built a reputation over the last few months as a money burner. He’s lost seven straight since winning the 2019 Wood Memorial Stakes, three times as the favorite and five times at 4-1 or less. He’s a very good racehorse, but he just does not seem to have that extra gear in him to allow him to win. Maybe the lightbulb will come on for him in the second half of the year, but judging from his well-beaten fifth in the Saudi Cup in February and fourth in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap May 2, I’m not holding my breath. This is a well-bred Juddmonte Farms homebred with quite a bit of talent who will pick up a bunch of nice checks, but I’ve given up on him emerging as a star.
Of note: Two very promising, unbeaten 3-year-olds were diagnosed with injuries that forced them to the sidelines: Nadal and Maxfield. The former, a winner of a division of the Arkansas Derby May 2 for Bob Baffert, was retired after sustaining a condylar fracture and will begin a second career as a stallion in 2021. Maxfield also was sidelined with a condylar fracture, forcing him off the Kentucky Derby trail. He could return to training in 90 days after undergoing successful surgery June 10. Charlatan, another unbeaten Baffert 3-year-old, won the other division of the Arkansas Derby, but he too was reportedly taken off the Kentucky Derby trail because of a minor injury.