1)      Legacy-builder: Beholder towers over her division and appears well on her way toward adding a third Eclipse Award to a Hall of Fame resume. The October 30 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland remains the logical season-ending target for the outstanding 5yo mare – trainer Richard Mandella probably wants no part of American Pharoah, Honor Code and perhaps a couple of others in the 1 ¼-mile Classic (G1) a day later – but the competition isn’t as deep in the Pacific Classic (G1) and a victory would be special considering no female has ever won Del Mar’s centerpiece event. She’s captured all three starts this year on cruise control, rating in third before striding away to a seven-length tally in the August 1 Clement L. Hirsch (G1) most recently, and while the 1 ¼-mile distance remains a concern, Beholder looks capable of simply overwhelming her Pacific Classic foes in my estimation.

2)      Seeking a turnaround: Bayern won three of his final starts in 2014, registering BRIS Speed ratings of 106, 109 and 110 for respective victories in the Haskell (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but the speedy ridgling took a step back this season, recording last-place finishes in the Churchill Downs S. (G2) and Met Mile (G1) before a third as the 7-5 favorite in the July 25 San Diego (G2). Will we ever see the best of Bayern again? His speed is dangerous today if he can recapture past glory, but that’s a big if.

3)      Deep closers: Bayern figures to ensure a lively tempo as the projected pacesetter, with Midnight Storm attempting to apply early pressure from his far outside post, and deep closers such as Hard Aces, Imperative and Hoppertunity should receive the right set-up. Hoppertunity looks best to me of the group and could be a little overlooked in the wagering due a four-race losing streak. I thought he ran a big race two starts back in the 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), falling short by a nose in second after being forced about seven wide off the far turn, and while he left himself too much to do in the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile San Diego last time, the 4yo made up plenty of ground late finishing fourth and registered a 110 BRIS Late Pace rating. Hoppertunity could come up short again today, but the added ground and expected pace scenario makes him an extremely viable top three contender.

4)      3yo filly supremacy on dirt: Lady Eli is unfortunately sidelined and it remains to be seen whether any 3yo filly can surpass the unbeaten turf superstar in terms of divisional honors this year. Today’s Alabama (G1) at Saratoga will feature the top two performers on the main track so far, Curalina and Lovely Maria, who are each seeking their third Grade 1 tally of 2015 in the 1 ¼-mile event. Curlalina, a maiden scorer in late March, has captured four straight races for Todd Pletcher, making her stakes debut a winning one in the Acorn (G1) two starts back before being elevated to first via disqualification in the July 26 CCA Oaks (G1) at the Spa, and Lovely Maria posted convincing wins in the Ashland (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) before returning from a freshening with a dull fifth in the July 11 Delaware Oaks (G3), a performance Larry Jones blamed upon a virus spreading through his barn. Curalina and Lovely Maria will meet for the first time in the Alabama.

5)      Betty: It’s easy to respect the chances of Curlina and Lovely Maria, and many handicappers are sizing up the Alabama as strictly a match-up between Pletcher and Jones, who will also be represented three-time stakes queen I’m a Chatterbox. But I’ll zig while most horseplayers zag and tab Include Betty for top honors. The Tom Proctor-trained filly shows an 8-4-1-1 mark this season, the only unplaced efforts coming on turf and behind a slow pace in the Kentucky Oaks, and I liked the turn of foot she displayed winning the Mother Goose (G1) by open lengths two starts ago. Include Betty left herself too much to do after a rough start last time, nearly 20 lengths back down the backstretch of the CCA Oaks, but offered her customary late kick to be beaten only two lengths in third. I’m expecting a sharper performance today, with Embellish the Lace and I’m a Chatterbox providing a solid pace to run at up front, and Include Betty can rally past her rivals in the final furlongs.

Beholder photo courtesy of Benoit