HANDICAPPING INSIGHTS

By Dick Powell

These prep races for the Breeders’ Cup have been great to watch but not so much to bet on. Too many odds-on favorites that lay over the field make pari-mutuel value scarce to come by. But, as a scouting mission, I watched as many as I could in real time; the rest on replays. 

Luckily, the weather was cooperative in New York and Southern California last weekend where Belmont and Santa Anita staged a bunch of races that used to stand on their own as marquee events but are now relegated to prep-race status. This weekend, Keeneland opens up and Belmont will stage another big day of racing, but the weather forecast for both locales is terrible as rain will make turf racing scarce and the main tracks very wet.

Considering this year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland for the first time, the distinct possibility exists for less than Fast and Firm conditions at the end of October. At least Keeneland and Belmont will give us some form on conditions that we would not see when the Breeders’ Cup is held at Santa Anita.

Also, this weekend is a huge one in Paris as Longchamp Racecourse will stage their Arc de Triomphe festival on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday will feature four Group 2 stakes races at Longchamp and Sunday will have seven Group 1s, including the Prix Arc de Triomphe where TREVE (Motivator) will try to become the first horse of any sex to win the Arc three times.

She looked brilliant in her prep when jogging home an easy winner in the Prix Vermeille (G1) three weeks ago and has shown that she can handle any ground. The weather has been sunny all week in Paris and there is only a 10% chance of morning showers on both Saturday and Sunday.

We make a big deal over here when females take on boys but for the rest of the world, it is not unusual. Treve’s quest for three Arcs reminds me of MAKYBE DIVA (Desert King) who not only beat males to win the Melbourne Cup (G1) three times but had to tote high weight of 128 pounds in her third victory. Treve has to carry the same package but will be getting three pounds from her older male rivals.

Andre Fabre will try to make his own history in this year’s Arc when he sends out NEW BAY (Dubawi) to try to win the Arc for a record eighth time. The 3YO captured the Prix Niel (G2) last out at course and distance and has won his last four starts. He is the co-second choice in the betting with GOLDEN HORN (Cape Cross), who looks like he will run now that the turf will be relatively firm.

Last week’s action was hot and heavy at Belmont and Santa Anita. BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) was amazing again and showed that for her, anything is within her reach; even winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Her Zenyatta (G1) victory certainly paid homage to the namesake of the great racemare and Beholder will now have to take her show on the road. 

SONGBIRD (Medaglia D’Oro) followed up her Del Mar Debutante (G1) win with an easy tally going two turns in the Chandelier Stakes (G1). She is now three for three and heads to Keeneland as one of the strongest favorites on the card.

As great as Beholder and Songbird looked, remember how great AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) appeared when winning the Haskell Invitational (G1). The problem analyzing these easy winners is we overreact to their dominance and extrapolate it to their future starts. 

The reality of these performances is they were great that day while winning as much the best. However, it doesn’t mean the gas left in the tank that day will be there next time out, especially in today’s world with plenty of time between races.

It’s not like we are running heats and finals on the same day and the horse that easily wins their heat has an edge over the horse that had to empty out to qualify for the final. Horses go through form cycles and the easy romp might be the top of a form cycle. It is up to you to gauge their chances of whether they can repeat it or go backwards. 

I will say that in Beholder and Songbird’s case, they are trained by masters of their craft who know what is needed to get to the next race. 

NYQUIST (Uncle Mo) might have been a disappointment in the Forerunner Stakes (G1) but did show that he can overcome traffic and tight quarters and still get the job done. Not sure what I will do with him in the Juvenile (G1), but I like him better off Saturday’s win than if he would have jogged on the front end. 

SWIPE (Birdstone) ran a big race to get second. Don’t think about BIRDSTONE (Grindstone) as a horse that won the Travers (G1) and Belmont (G1) Stakes – he was a first-out winner at Saratoga going short and captured the one-mile Champagne Stakes (G1) so there is more precocity in the pedigree than it might look. 

At Belmont, WEDDING TOAST (Street Sense) was an easy winner of the Beldame Stakes (G1) going nine furlongs on the main track. With the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (G1) on the calendar a week before, only one 3YO showed up for a race that used to be a great test of younger fillies taking on hard-knocking mares. 

LA VERDAD (Yes It’s True) went gate to wire to win the Gallant Bloom (G2) but it still doesn’t looks like she wants to go a step past 6 1/2 furlongs. The Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) will be held at seven furlongs and while I am sure she would give it a great try, it still might be too far for her.

ROCK FALL (Speightstown) continued his winning ways when he held on in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) going six furlongs on the main track. SALUTOS AMIGOS (Salute the Sarge) made up tremendous ground after a dull start and does his best going six furlongs even with his running style. 

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) created a geriatric exacta as 7YO BIG BLUE KITTEN (Kitten’s Joy) beat 7YO SLUMBER (Cacique) by three parts of a length. 6YO TWILIGHT ECLIPSE (Purim) might have been best but was stopped cold turning for home. None of them have a chance against Sword Dancer (G1) invader FLINTSHIRE (Dansili) and he probably won’t even be the best of the Europeans in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).