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 three weeks of racing action. I’ll preface the top three by saying this might have been the most challenging task to pare down the heating up contingent to just three horses because there were 12 candidates I took a very close look at and strongly considered.
1. Sittin On Go
After winning a five-furlong sprint by 4 ¼ lengths Aug. 16 at Ellis Park, Sittin On Go earned a shot against stakes competition but did not get much respect from the betting public in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford when sent off at 24-1 odds Sept. 5 on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve undercard at Churchill Downs. Reserved well behind a fast half-mile in :45.64 in the one-turn mile, Sittin On Go was tucked in near the back of the 10-horse field taking a ton of dirt in the face while waiting for his cue to accelerate. Jockey Corey Lanerie asked him to launch his rally with about three-eighths of a mile to go and Sittin On Go responded with a sweeping bid, surging into the stretch about six wide, before unleashing an eighth of a mile in 11.92 seconds according to Trakus data to give himself a shot at victory with an eighth of a mile remaining. You can see him identify the target with his ears pinned back in just his second career race and then steadily reel in Midnight Bourbon before pulling away late to win by 2 ½ lengths. He ran his final quarter-mile in 24.35 seconds, which was almost a full second faster than the runner-up according to Trakus data. Based on his running style, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to navigate two turns and an extra sixteenth of a mile just down the road at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., Nov. 6 in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Sittin On Go became the first stakes winner for his sire, Brody’s Cause, who loved Keeneland, winning a pair of Grade 1 races in similar eye-catching, off-the-pace fashion and running third in the 2015 Juvenile at Keeneland for Sittin On Go’s trainer, Dale Romans, and owner, Albaugh Family Stables. Sittin On Go earned a new 15-point career-best 95 Equibase Speed Figure and his BrisNet speed rating (90), Beyer Speed Figure (84), and TimeForm US rating (109) were promising.
Unlike Sittin On Go, Princess Noor did not surprise anyone with her performance Sept. 6 as the 7-10 favorite in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes – although she certainly caught My Girl Red off guard when she ducked in after the start and essentially eliminated one of her main challengers from the race. But this blog is about looking ahead based on performance not litigating the judgement of stewards, so let’s focus on evaluating Princess Noor as a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She stalked the pace from third in the Debutante under Victor Espinoza, seized command with an eye-catching rally to take a two-length lead in early stretch, and then coasted home while geared down late to win by 6 ½ lengths. You won’t see many easier victories against Grade 1 competition and the Not This Time filly improved her Equibase Speed Figure 12 points to a 96 from an 84 for her 2 ½-length debut win Aug. 22 at Del Mar and earned a strong 96 BrisNet speed rating. Trained by Bob Baffert, who won the Juvenile Fillies in 1998 with Silverbulletday and in 2007 with Indian Blessing, Princess Noor should be one of the leading candidates for the Nov. 6 race at Keeneland with a terrific shot to give Baffert a third victory. Like Sittin On Go, Princess Noor became the first stakes winner for her sire, 2016 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time. Out of Sheza Smoke Show, a Grade 3 winner at one mile by Wilko, Princess Noor should have no issue stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the 2020 Juvenile Fillies.
I listed Tiz the Law in the Heating Up column after his victory in the Runhappy Travers Stakes because I did not view the older horses targeting the 2020 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic as an especially formidable bunch. So it stands to reason Authentic warrants a spot here after defeating Tiz the Law by 1 ¼ lengths in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve Sept. 5 at Churchill with arguably a career-best performance. He paired his 109 Equibase Speed figure from winning the TVG.com Haskell Stakes, which means there is a chance he could take another step forward in the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes, and earned a career-top 105 Beyer Speed Figure and 129 TimeForm US speed rating. Authentic’s 104 BrisNet speed rating was just three points off his career best and gives him a consistent 105-107-104 for his last three starts. I admittedly underestimated Authentic based of doubts concerning his ability to excel at 1 ¼ miles, but in the Kentucky Derby he overcame a slow start to seize the early lead from the outside while setting a testing pace through a half-mile in :46.41. The fact that he had enough stamina to repel a bid from Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bet and Travers Stakes winner Tiz the Law shocked me. Bob Baffert has won the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic three times, all three times with 3-year-olds including in 2015 at Keeneland with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Also-Eligibles: There is a long list of horses who came very close to the top three and it could have been significantly longer, but I’ll start with a pair of FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF contenders in Digital Age and Halladay. Digital Age earned a four-point career top 114 Equibase Speed Figure and strong figures across the board (105 Beyer Speed Figure, 101 BrisNet rating, 125 TimeForm US rating) for winning the Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs. While he is a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles, I believe he is even better at shorter distances with four wins in as many starts at either one mile or 1 1/16 miles. Meanwhile, Halladay scored a breakthrough victory in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap Aug. 22 at Saratoga to match his career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure. Like Digital Age, Halladay’s other speed figures (103 Beyer Speed Figure, 102 BrisNet rating, 127 TimeForm US rating) paint his as a serious player for the Mile. … The Longines Classic division gets a boost from the addition of Global Campaign after he led from start to finish to win the Grade 1 Woodward Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths from Tacitus going 1 ¼ miles Sept. 5 at Saratoga. He’s won three of four starts this year and on paper looks fast enough to be competitive in the Classic. … Shedaresthedevil scored a breakout win in the Longines Kentucky Oaks Sept. 4 at Churchill to boost her Equibase Speed Figure 14 points to a career-best 111. … I’ve mentioned before that 3-year-olds can be very competitive in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Yaupon profiles as a nice sprinter on the rise after a two-length score in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes Aug. 29 at Saratoga. Unbeaten in three starts, Yaupon is heavy on talent and light on experience, and I wonder if his connections would be willing to drop him in the deep end against the world’s best dirt sprinters or might ease off the gas and hope target the 2021 Sprint. … Two contenders from the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint merited serious consideration. Bell’s the One won the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff Stakes Presented by Derby City Gaming Sept. 5 at Churchill and is 2-for-3 sprinting at Keeneland, the Breeders’ Cup host track; while Frank’s Rockette earned her third straight victory when she scored by 2 ½ lengths in the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes Sept. 5 at Saratoga, where she earned a new top 108 Equibase Speed Figure. … Girl Daddy showed significant improvement when stretching out to a mile to win the Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes by two lengths Sept. 3 at Churchill Downs, improving her Equibase Speed Figure 21 points to a 99 and emerging as a serious contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. … Diamond Oops matched his career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure when closing to win the Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes Presented by Sysco when closing from last to first to win by a neck. The other two times he recorded 117 speed figures both came on dirt, but I’ve long been intrigued by this 5-year-old Lookin At Lucky gelding’s grass potential. He’s been consistently fast on turf and also ran second on the grass at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes in October 2019. … Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Analyze It, who returned from 22 months on the sidelines following a third-place finish in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile to post a facile victory in the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes Sept. 5 at Monmouth Park. It was a terrific first start back for a 5-year-old with elite ability.
I viewed McKinzie’s fifth-place finish, beaten by only two lengths, in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap July 4 as a sneaky-good race, but there is no sugar-coating his fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet at Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old by Street Sense was in terrific stalking position but faded late against a level of competition which the four-time Grade 1 winner previously would have at least competed for the victory. The 101 Equibase Speed Figure was the worst he’d recorded in 11 North American starts since he faltered in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic and lost by 31 lengths. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up has only a sprint win in four starts this year, a season that includes three of his four career unplaced finishes.
Sistercharlie won the 2018 Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf to cap a championship campaign that earned an Eclipse Award as champion turf female, and last year the Myboycharlie mare won three of four starts with her only defeat a third in the Filly and Mare Turf. She has not been close to that level in two starts this season. I gave her a pass after she ran third by 1 ½ lengths in a Grade 2 race July 25 at Saratoga because it was her first start after a layoff of more than 8 ½ months. But the now 6-year-old turned in an uncharacteristically dull follow-up performance when third again in her bid for a three-peat in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes in which she was well-beaten by the top two. I have not liked what I’ve seen from Sistercharlie in 2020, but there is a chance she can get back to peak for an elite trainer in Chad Brown who was encouraged by the Diana: “I thought she took a nice step forward towards the Breeders' Cup today. This course is very speed-favoring. It's hard to imagine a scenario, no matter what the pace is, where she is going to be able to make up that much ground. … I can see her rounding into form right at the right time. I was disappointed that she wasn't right there at the wire but not discouraged that can't get on track for the Breeders' Cup. It's a good step forward.”
Last year’s TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile winner is winless in two 2020 starts. After starting her year with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes June 27 at Belmont Park, the 6-year-old More Than Ready mare ran seventh in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap Aug. 22 at Saratoga. Looking at trainer Chad Brown’s comments earlier about Sistercharlie, it’s fair to wonder if the grass at the Spa this summer is simply unkind to deep closers like Uni, but she only beat two horses in the Fourstardave and was 6 ¼ lengths behind winner Halladay. I really expected more out of Uni in this race. She absolutely has the talent to turn things around, but at this point it’s tough to be too optimistic about her chances to repeat in the 2020 Mile based upon what we’ve seen from her this year.
Of note: Tiz the Law did not run poorly in the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve – however, if he was the racehorse I thought he was he would have blown Authentic’s doors off when he drew alongside him in the stretch. I still believe Tiz the Law is the better 3-year-old and I wonder if a monster effort in the 1 ¼-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes four weeks beforehand sapped some of the potency out of him, but last week I though he was head and shoulders above the rest of the 3-year-old division and perhaps the best dirt horse in training. This week, Tiz the Law is only part of that conversation. … Tacitus delivered the most Tacitus race you’ll ever see in the Grade 1 Woodward Handicap. He was positioned in an ideal spot in second just behind pacesetter Global Campaign but he could not get past him as the odds-on favorite. He’s a grinder with very little burst but enough talent to compete with just about anyone. He’s just not going to pass elite racehorses in the stretch.