2023 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Two Phil’s
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 $31 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 week of racing action.
I was initially a bit skeptical of Jackie’s Warrior because I thought distance could be a major hurdle for him, but he looked exceptional in winning the one-turn mile Champagne Stakes at Oct. 10 at Belmont Park. While that is a much different type of race than the one he will be asked to compete in Nov. 6 in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, a 1 1/6-mile face around two turns, this Maclean’s Music colt looked well within himself coasting home to win the Grade 1 Champagne by 5 ½ lengths as the odds-on favorite. He defeated runner-up Reinvestment Risk by an even larger margin than he beat him by in the Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful Stakes in September and matched his career best 102 Equibase Speed Figure while remaining unbeaten in four starts. Other speed-figure makers were even more impressed with Jackie’s Warrior’s, who earned a terrific 100 Beyer Speed Figure, a strong 101 BRISnet speed rating, and a 117 TimeForm US rating. Jackie’s Warrior could be one of the most formidable favorites at the 2020 World Championships. Trainer Steve Asmussen has never won the Juvenile, but he does count a victory in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies with My Miss Aurelia among his seven Breeders’ Cup winners. Jockey Joel Rosario has won 11 Breeders’ Cup races, including the Juvenile in 2018 on Game Winner.
2. Aunt Pearl
Aunt Pearl improved to 2-for-2 with a dominant front-running victory in the Grade 2 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes Oct. 7 at Keeneland, the same course that will host the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 6. A win on the host track’s turf course is very valuable and I believe her pacesetting running style also could prove advantageous as many of her most dangerous opponents figure to be European shippers, who typically race near the back of the pack and finish powerfully. What Aunt Pearl showed in the Jessamine is that she can set a solid pace – an opening quarter-mile in :22.28 and a half-mile in :46.65 – and still finish well with a final sixteenth of a mile in 6.15 seconds en route to a stakes record time of 1:40.86. Considering the display she put on at Keeneland, I was a little surprised the speed figures were not better: 93 Equibase Speed Figure and 83 Beyer Speed Figure. No matter, I’m a believer and I hope the European invaders come in numbers and take a ton of money, because I plan to bet Aunt Pearl with both fists. Trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux teamed to win the Distaff in 2018 with Monomoy Girl, one of three Breeders’ Cup wins for Cox and five for Geroux. I think they add another in the Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 6 at Keeneland.
3. Civil Union
I was leaning toward Happy Saver for the final spot here, but trainer Todd Pletcher seemed like he was really unsure about taking a shot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic with his lightly raced 3-year-old. I’m very comfortable with my other option in Civil Union, a 5-year-old War Front mare who ran her winning streak to four with a victory by a head in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Stakes Oct. 10 at Belmont Park. Civil Union is a powerful finisher, clocking her final quarter-mile in :22.77 according to Trakus data, to win the Flower Bowl and post a career-top 108 Equibase Speed Figure. She’ll need to improve upon that to win the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf Nov. 7 at Keeneland, but her other speed figures (97 Beyer, 118 TimeForm US, 100 BRISnet) were more in line with the type of effort it will take to be a serious contender. Civil Union has shown the ability to stalk or close depending upon pace setup, and she’s really come into her own in 2020 for a patient, Hall of Fame trainer in Shug McGaughey, who has nine wins and 10 seconds with 64 career Breeders’ Cup starters. Civil Union hails from the family of top sire Dynaformer and really looks like she’s putting it all together at 5. The Filly and Mare Turf typically is a very tough race and this year could be especially salty if Keeneland draws a handful of tough Europeans, but Civil Union might fly under the radar with a big chance to outrun her odds for top-notch connections.
Also-Eligibles: I mentioned Happy Saver was a strong contender for the top three after improving to 4-for-4 with a win over older horses in the Oct. 10 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes. The speed figures suggest he’s fast enough to be a player in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic – 100 Beyer Speed Figure, 123 TimeForm US rating, 104 BRISnet speed rating, and a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure – but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see trainer Todd Pletcher play it a bit more conservative with a Super Saver colt who did not make his career debut until June 20. … Nashville turned heads with an electrifying 9 ¾-length runaway win Oct. 10 at Keeneland in a three-quarter-mile allowance race. The 113 Equibase Speed Figure and 101 Beyer Speed Figure lend credence to the initial response on social media that this is a potentially special racehorse. He has won his two starts by a combined 21 ¼ lengths and could make his stakes debut in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at the track and distance of last week’s victory for Steve Asmussen, who won the Sprint in 2019 with Mitole. The Sprint reportedly is under consideration for Nashville, but Breeders’ Cup or not this is an exciting prospect. … Dayoutoftheoffice was my top pick for this blog Aug. 5 after her win in the Schuylerville Stakes, and impressed again in a two-length victory in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes Oct. 10 at Belmont Park. In my opinion, she’s the most likely winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 6 at Keeneland coming off a race that earned her a 98 Equibase Speed Figure, 92 Beyer Speed Figure, and 97 BRISnet speed rating, the latter two very strong for a 2-year-old filly in the fall. … I really liked what I saw from Tamahere in winning the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes Oct. 10 at Belmont Park. She really only extended herself for about a quarter of a mile and was much, much the best in one of the easiest two-length wins you’ll see. I’m not sure where she’ll be pointed, but if she winds up in a race Breeders’ Cup weekend, she’s well worth keeping an eye on. … Also, I wanted to mention that Got Stormy seems to have made a nice transition to turf sprints and showed powerful acceleration when closing than farther back than when she was racing at a mile. With back-to-back graded stakes wins sprinting, including the Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes Oct. 9 on the course and at the 5 ½-furlong distance of the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Got Stormy profiles as a serious threat in the race.
New came midweek last week that four-time Grade 1 winner McKinzie had been retired to stand at Gainesway Farm. He had not had a published workout since running fourth in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet on the Sept. 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve undercard. The retirement of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up was a nice addition for Gainesway but a loss, for sure, for the 2020 World Championships. The versatile McKinzie won the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at seven-eighths of a mile in June and could have been a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile, or Longines Classic. A 5-year-old by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of multiple Grade 2 winner Runway Model, McKinzie retired with eight wins and six seconds in 18 career starts and seven graded stakes wins.
I don’t know what else to say about Tacitus other than it just does not seem like a Grade 1 win is in the cards for the regally-bred Tapit colt out of multiple Grade 1 winner Close Hatches. Tacitus is very good, but he’s just not great and when he ran third of five as the 0.65-1 favorite in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Oct. 10, it marked the second straight race where he was the overwhelming favorite to bank his first Grade 1 win and came up well short. Maybe the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic will provide a better setup for him – he’s run second in the 2019 Belmont and Travers Stakes and 2020 Woodward Handicap – but I can’t see any scenario where Tacitus is a serious threat to win on Nov. 7.
The 2020 QIPCO One Thousand Guineas and Investec Epsom Oaks winner would have added significant firepower to the lineup of contenders for the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, but it sounds like trainer Aidan O’Brien plans to bypass the World Championships with the European star 3-year-old filly. “Love might be finished for this season with next year in mind,” O’Brien said Oct. 9. I was really hoping for a chance to see Love at Keeneland, but instead it appears the budding star with three Group 1 wins (all by 4 ¼ lengths or more) in as many starts this season will be freshened for a 4-year-old campaign.
Of note: I mentioned McKinzie’s retirement above, so it’s well worth noting that 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable also has been retired. There was a possibility that the 6-year-old mare, a two-time winner of the Cartier Award as European Horse of the Year, would make one final start after running sixth in her bid to win the Arc a third time, but it seemed unlikely she would be shipped overseas to the U.S. for the Breeders’ Cup. Instead, she will be bred to Kingman and begin her second career as a broodmare for owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms. Enable won 15 of 19 starts, including 11 Grade or Group 1 wins, with more than $14 million in lifetime earnings and will be remembered as one of the greatest racemares of a generation. … Promising graded stakes winner Mystic Guide ran a great race when second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Oct. 10 at Belmont Park. But after the race, trainer Mike Stidham said he most likely would bypass the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic and play it a bit conservative with a well-bred Ghostzapper colt that Godolphin has every intention of racing as a 4-year-old. … After coming up short in her return from an 11-month layoff, Cambier Parc disappointed again as the favorite in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Stakes when fading to fourth after leading in the stretch. A multiple Grade 1 winner as a 3-year-old, Cambier Parc has not flashed her explosive turn of foot in two starts in 2020.