As the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup World Championships approach, stay up to speed on the latest developments with a weekly roundup of news and notes:
Breeders’ Cup Classic
Continuing a trend of upsets in major Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) prep races, Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park saw Tacitus fall to defeat at odds of 0.65-1. A runaway winner of the Suburban (G2) during the summer, Tacitus had placed five times at the Grade 1 level without winning, and his streak of frustration continued in a race seemingly custom-built for the talented 4-year-old.
Certainly Tacitus enjoyed a favorable trip in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Allowed to secure an uncontested lead through slow fractions of :24.93, :49.68, and 1:13.61, Tacitus had every chance to kick on and win for fun down the lane. But when challenged from both sides by Happy Saver and Mystic Guide at the top of the stretch, Tacitus gave way readily, weakening to finish third by two lengths.
In the meantime, Happy Saver stole the show with a professional performance. Saving ground throughout, the rapidly-improving son of Super Saver rallied smartly up the rail turning for home, sprinting the final half-mile in a quick :48 to edge Mystic Guide by three-quarters of a length. The Todd Pletcher trainee stopped the clock in a respectable 2:01.77, boosting his career record to a perfect 4-for-4. In a wide-open year without anything resembling a clear favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, another step forward could place Happy Saver in the hunt for victory at Keeneland.
Still, we would be remiss for failing to mention the admirable effort turned in by Mystic Guide. Racing wide throughout, the Jim Dandy (G2) winner ran 47 feet (nearly six lengths) farther than Happy Saver, but nevertheless led at the eighth pole before settling for second place by less than a length. A beautifully-bred son of Ghostzapper out of the five-time Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Music Note, Mystic Guide is steadily progressing in the right direction and could be an intriguing dark horse contender for the Classic, though the New York Racing Association reports he’s doubtful to start.
In related news, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law is back in serious training at Belmont Park, rocketing 5 furlongs in a bullet :57.87 on Oct. 2 before traversing the same distance in a more measured 1:01.54 last Saturday. Reigning champion 3-year-old Maximum Security has also returned to the work tab, bouncing back from a surprising defeat in the Awesome Again (G1) to clock a quick half-mile in :47.80 on Sunday at Santa Anita. He was joined on the Sunday work tab by his stablemate and Awesome Again conqueror Improbable, who clocked a half-mile in :47.20.
Blue Grass (G2) winner Art Collector remains under consideration for the Classic, though according to the Daily Racing Form, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) or the Nov. 27 Clark H. (G1) are also options following Art Collector’s disappointing fourth-place effort in the Preakness (G1).
International Breeders’ Cup Watch
A strong group of European juveniles could make their way to Keeneland for the 2-year-old turf fixtures at the Breeders’ Cup, with Saffron Beach among the big names to know. The daughter of New Bay brought her record to a perfect 2-for-2 with a victory in Friday’s Oh So Sharp (G3) at Newmarket, racing prominently throughout to win by a half a length over soft ground.
Trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam has indicated Saffron Beach could target the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Racing a mile around two turns at Keeneland will be very different from sprinting 7 furlongs over the straight course at Newmarket, and the ground figures to be firmer as well. But on talent and potential alone, Saffron Beach warrants respect.
Arguably even more intriguing is Juvenile Turf (G1) contender Go Athletico, who was beaten to second place when dashing 6 furlongs over heavy ground in Saturday’s Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte (G2) at Chantilly. The 2-year-old gelding had previously thrived over good to soft ground in the 7-furlong Prix la Rochette (G3) at Longchamp, scoring by a length over next-out Group 1 winner Sealiway. It seems reasonable to assume Go Athletico will appreciate quicker ground at Keeneland.
“Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Qualifiers
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series concluded last week with half a dozen qualifiers at Belmont Park and Keeneland. Happy Saver was the star of the show, securing a berth to the Classic, but he was far from the only impressive winner of the week.
Undefeated 2-year-olds were out in full force. At Belmont Park, Jackie’s Warrior wired the Champagne (G1) to qualify for the Juvenile (G1), Dayoutoftheoffice stamped her ticket to the Juvenile Fillies (G1) by scoring a comfortable victory in the Frizette (G1), and Second of July unleashed a determined rally to nab the Futurity (G3) and qualify for the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2). Earlier in the week at Keeneland, Aunt Pearl secured a spot in the Juvenile Fillies Turf after dominating Keeneland’s Jessamine (G2) in gate-to-wire fashion.
Whereas the juveniles were generally decisive with their victories, the 5-year-old Civil Union had to work hard to prevail in the Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Park. Racing 1 1/4 miles in a qualifier for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), Civil Union saved ground throughout, then forced her way between rivals to seize command and hold on by a head over the late-charging My Sister Nat.
With four straight wins under her belt, including a triumph in the Glens Falls (G2) at Saratoga, Civil Union is reaching her peak at just the right time. International competition figures to be formidable in the Filly & Mare Turf, but Civil Union will have every opportunity to secure a victory for the home team.
And don’t overlook the chances of My Sister Nat. A pure late runner, My Sister Nat was compromised by a slow pace and a wide trip in the Flower Bowl, running 17 feet (about two lengths) farther than My Sister Nat. A more favorable setup at Keeneland could put My Sister Nat in the mix at a hefty price.