Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
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 two weeks of racing action.
Slated to be retired and bred to No Nay Never in 2020, Magical was instead brought back to racing after her connections had a change of heart. She earned her third Group 1 win of the year Sept. 12 at Leopardstown when she turned the tables on familiar rival Ghaiyyath to win the 1 ¼-mile Irish Champion Stakes by a determined three-quarters of a length. After the race, trainer Aidan O’Brien confirmed the Breeders’ Cup is on his radar for the 5-year-old mare, who ran second as a 3-year-old to superstar Enable in the 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. Make no mistake, if Magical comes over for this year's Longines Turf, or the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf, this seven-time Group 1 winner will be a top contender with a big shot to find herself in the winner’s circle at Keeneland.
I’ll admit I had been a skeptic of Gretzky the Great entering the Summer Stakes Sept. 20 at Woodbine, but he really showed me something with the professional way he stalked the pace, changed leads on cue at the top of the stretch, and then accelerated powerfully to charge clear in the stretch. He lugged in a bit after passing the pacesetter, which shows a bit of immaturity, but he still finished with a final quarter-mile in less than 23 2/5 seconds to win the Grade 1 race by 3 ¼ lengths. With four career starts, including victories in his last three, Gretzky the Great should move on to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with both experience and a solid foundation for trainer Mark Casse, who counts the Juvenile Fillies Turf (2015, Catch a Glimpse) and Juvenile (2016, Classic Empire) among his five career victories at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Catch a Glimpse and Tepin (2015, Mile) both won on the grass at Keeneland, which hosts the event this year, for Casse. The 94 Equibase Speed Figure and 83 Beyer Speed Figure Gretzky the Great earned in the Summer Stakes also are reason for optimism when it comes to this colt from the first crop of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, the 2015 champion 2-year-old male. Sometimes the North American contenders are a bit overshadowed by the European invaders when it comes to 2-year-old races on grass, but I think Gretzky the Great is a win candidate.
This Speightstown filly was making only her second career start in the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes, but like Gretzky the Great above she impressed with her victory Sept. 20 at Woodbine and I view her as a serious threat in the Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 6 at Keeneland. Lady Speightspeare stalked the pace comfortably from second in the early going before sweeping to the front in early stretch of the Natalma. She closed with a final quarter-mile in a shade faster than 23 seconds, so she was really moving late, and held off fast-finishing Alda by three quarters of a length. I was surprised her Beyer Speed Figure came back seven points slower than Gretzky the Great’s figure (76) given how well she finished, but she has much room to improve with only two races under her belt, and the 93 Equibase Speed Figure was encouraging. The Charles Fipke homebred filly is out of multiple graded stakes winner Lady Shakespeare, a full-sister (same dam [mother], same sire [father]) to 2007 Woodbine Mile winner Shakespeare and a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl. Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield’s lone previous Breeders’ Cup win came with the aforementioned Perfect Shirl.
Also-Eligibles: I loved seeing Starship Jubilee take it to her male opponents in winning the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes Sept. 19 to improve to 19 wins in 38 career starts, but I’m just concerned that the quality of competition in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF field would really test her from a class standpoint. She’s a terrific racemare, but the Breeders’ Cup Mile almost always comes up a salty race with a number of top Europeans, so she just missed the cut here. … It was also nice to see Got Stormy get back on track when cutting back in distance for the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes Sept. 12. That was her first win in six races this year and hopefully serves as a confidence builder for the 5-year-old Get Stormy mare, who can compete with the best of the best when she’s at the top of her game. … Imprimis won the Grade 3 Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs to punch his ticket to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and has crossed the finish line first in both of his starts in 2020. He also has a Grade 2 win and a Grade 2 third-place finish on the grass at Keeneland. The 6-year-old Broken Vow gelding is in great form and the Turf Sprint will be on a course he loves.
A talented colt by Violence, Volatile had ripped off three straight open-length victories to begin his 4-year-old season and was widely viewed as a top contender – if not THE top contender – for the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint after a dominant front-running victory in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 25 at Saratoga Race Course. Unfortunately, the dazzling speedster was retired Sept. 21 due to an injury, removing one of the fastest horses from the projected field for the Sprint and leaving fans to wonder what might have been for a colt who started 2020 with two eye-catching victories by a combined margin of 15 ½ lengths. From a speed-figure perspective, Volatile was an exceptionally fast racehorse and a legitimate threat to win the Sprint.
2. Cambier Parc
Quite a few accomplished turf runners have not started off their 2020 campaigns as expected, and Cambier Parc added her name to that list, which includes stablemates Sistercharlie and Uni, with a second-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Presented by The Japan Racing Association Sept. 12 at Woodbine. A multiple Grade 1 winner as a 3-year-old in 2019, Cambier Parc returned from an 11-month layoff in the race but she towered over the Canadian field from an accomplishment perspective. The 4-year-old Medaglia d’Oro filly could not match stride late with winner Rideforthecause, who looks like a promising, well-bred filly but had never previously placed in a stakes. The 90 Equibase Speed Figure Cambier Parc earned was 23 points off the career top she earned when winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club in August 2019. There is an argument to be made that Cambier Parc clearly needed a race off the long layoff and the Woodbine turf course can be a bit tricky for horses racing on it for the first time, so it’s worth giving this top-class filly another shot, but her return definitely rates as a disappointment.
3. Mrs. Sippy
Although she closed out her 4-year-old campaign with a ninth-place finish in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, I had high expectations for Mrs. Sippy entering the 2020 season. Instead, she has been overshadowed by stablemate Mean Mary, who has won three graded stakes and run second in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes. Mrs. Sippy’s season got complicated before it began when her season debut was pushed back on several occasions, but I thought she ran pretty well when she finally made it back to the racetrack for the first time in nine months and finished second by a neck in the Grade 3 Waya Stakes at Saratoga. In her most recent start, however, I thought she came up a bit small against a field she probably should have handled in the TVG Stakes Sept. 15 at Kentucky Downs. It was not a bad effort, but I thought she might take a big step forward in her second race after the long break. Instead, her Equibase Speed Figure dipped from a 106 for the Waya down to a 91, her lowest in five starts in the U.S. I still believe that we have not yet seen the best of Mrs. Sippy, but if she is going to be a threat on Breeders’ Cup weekend, she needs to show she is back on top of her game in a hurry.