Racing Roundtable: Breeders' Cup Classic picture, Cody's Wish, Arc weekend

October 3rd, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson convene the Racing Roundtable to discuss Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) preps, Cody's Wish's victory in the Vosburgh (G2), and the weekend action in Europe.

Did any race affect the Breeders’ Cup Classic picture?

James Scully: Probably not a serious impact, but Lukas Classic (G2) winner Clapton has some appeal for a minor award. Slow Down Andy and Zandon, convincing winners of the Awesome Again (G1) and Woodward (G2), will face a serious class check and don’t appear to be as effective at the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) distance.

Clapton’s improved form over the last six months is easy to identify, registering triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings in the last three starts (104-103-103), and the confirmed closer has netted Late Pace numbers as high as 111. If Pennsylvania Derby (G1) winner Saudi Crown joins the Classic mix, Clapton is eligible to receive a favorable set-up at Santa Anita.

Kellie Reilly: The most significant Classic tune-up in recent days came in Japan, where Ushba Tesoro won easily at Funabashi in his first start since the Dubai World Cup (G1), and confirmed himself on course for Santa Anita. 

Domestically, none of the preps made material alterations to the landscape, with winners capitalizing on circumstances in the absence of the divisional heavy hitters. Zandon’s high-class consistency was rewarded at last in the Woodward, as he imposed his authority on a pretty weak renewal. Back at the top level in the Classic, he’s likelier to revert to his typical role of minor-award specialist. 

Lukas Classic hero Clapton arguably has more room to develop for Chad Summers, considering how he’s blossoming with maturity. The recent recruit for United Arab Emirates-focused RRR Racing has the Dubai Carnival as his preeminent objective, though; at this writing, a Breeders’ Cup decision is pending. Tail-swishing Slow Down Andy looks as if he’s debating whether to just throw it all away down the stretch, so it was reassuring that he persevered on the front end in the Awesome Again. Still, that was his first win on the main track since the 2022 Sunland Park Derby (G3), and it’s difficult to envision Slow Down Andy improving over the extra furlong of the Classic.

Vance Hanson: I thought Zandon's victory in the Woodward, which snapped a long losing streak dating back to the 2022 Blue Grass (G1), was a solid effort. Although he wasn't beating much, the division as a whole has been unremarkable all year. From a speed perspective, it wasn't as good as White Abarrio's Whitney (G1), in which Zandon finished a distant second, but seemingly on par with the top three-year-old Classic prospects. His propensity for minor awards is his weak spot, but Zandon could be a bit of a sleeper for the Classic. 

Another thing in Zandon's favor is his ability over 1 1/4 miles, which hasn't been the strong suit of either White Abarrio or Slow Down Andy, who stole the nine-furlong Awesome Again over an off track. I would expect those two to have a more difficult time getting that 10th furlong at Santa Anita a month from now.

Thoughts on Cody’s Wish’s performance in the Vosburgh?

JS: Cody’s Wish rebounded from a dull third in the Whitney (G1), edging away late to a 1 1/2-length decision, but did not display the same acceleration from previous wins this season. Taking nothing away from the classy five-year-old horse, he’s been one of the top dirt milers of the modern era in my estimation, but I worry his best days may be behind him.

Granted, let’s see who lines up to take on Cody’s Wish at Santa Anita — the Dirt Mile (G1) does not always attract a deep field — but Cody’s Wish looked potentially vulnerable recording a workmanlike victory in the Vosburgh.

KR: At the risk of accentuating the negative, I thought that Cody’s Wish had to work harder than expected given his lopsided class edge. Granted, a tardy start, the lack of the hot pace he craves, and top weight of 126 pounds all combined to complicate his task. The scrappy Accretive, who fought Gunite in last year’s Amsterdam (G2), put up a stiff resistance. Cody’s Wish was forced to pull out extra, and ultimately did. Yet the effort lacked his usual pizzazz. That might portend vulnerability in his title defense in the Dirt Mile, especially since “Cody” will have to stretch back out to his suboptimal two-turn configuration at Santa Anita. Perhaps I’m making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill, but my instinct is that he’s in declining form since achieving his Met Mile goal. 

VH: The Vosburgh was not one of his more scintillating performances, perhaps due in part to the slow start. He ultimately outclassed the competition, as expected, and you wouldn't have expected him to be fully cranked to deliver a blowout with a Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile title defense on the horizon. Nonetheless, as Kellie notes, Cody's Wish hasn't looked quite as imposing of late as he did earlier this year when taking the Met Mile and Churchill Downs (G1). We'll have to see what kind of field is assembled for the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, but at this point he might be one of those favorites bettors should possibly think about taking a stand against.

In addition to Ace Impact, who else impressed over the big weekend in Europe?

JS: I will mention the two finishers behind the Arc winner, Westover and Onesto, who will target the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita. Both are sons of Frankel who appear to be discovering their best form in the fall of their four-year-old season.

A convincing winner of the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud (G1) two starts prior to the Arc, Westover was exiting a commendable head second to Hukum in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1). His last three performances place him among the upper echelon of European horses.

Onesto started to come on last year, recording a Group 1 win and a close second in the Irish Champion (G1) before an unplaced effort in the Arc, and he wasn’t seen again for 10 1/2 months, returning in mid-August. He needed a couple of starts back for fitness, and Onesto displayed a sensational late kick rallying from last in the Arc, completing his final 600 meters in a blistering :33.06. Don’t be surprised if Onesto has more to offer next time.

KR: Ace Impact scoffed at my historical quibbles about his lack of experience at the about 1 1/2-mile trip, and the rarity of unbeaten Arc winners, in a devastating display. Connections have left a sliver of hope that the Japan Cup (G1) could be a possibility. Dare we hope of settling the “world’s best horse” ranking on the racecourse, with an Ace Impact versus Equinox and Liberty Island showdown? From a Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) perspective, Arc runner-up Westover ran his characteristically admirable race, but Onesto thrust himself into the discussion by closing as fast as Ace Impact, from further back, in a barnstorming third. 

The other superstar on Arc Day was the two-year-old filly Opera Singer, who had jockey Ryan Moore talking her up for the 2024 Arc! The Aidan O’Brien pupil ran herself into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with a five-length rout of the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). With the high cruising speed and stamina of her Triple Crown-winning sire Justify, Opera Singer stood out on a weekend full of top-drawer juvenile performances. Rosallion’s stakes-record Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) also warrants mention in Paris, but Newmarket witnessed a veritable flurry of two-year-olds to follow. Undefeated Vandeek scythed through his Middle Park (G1) foes on an informative Saturday card. Although Thursday’s Somerville Tattersall (G3) isn’t as high-profile a contest, it produced a potentially very smart operator in Alyanaabi. Overcoming a troubled trip that shuffled him out of position, the Shadwell homebred exploded in the final strides, up the rising ground, to win on the line.

VH: A deep juvenile male division in Europe got even more interesting when Ghostwriter captured his stakes debut in the Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket on Saturday. Although part of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Royal Lodge has more significance for the English classics, the 2000 Guineas (G1) in particular. Stepping up to a mile after a pair of wins over seven furlongs, Ghostwriter was always traveling smoothly and picked up nicely when called upon by Richard Kingscote. He pulled away at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths from the stakes-winning Al Musmak, who had run second to the aforementioned Rosallion over the summer. 

Ghostwriter is now 3-for-3 for trainer Clive Cox and has the potential to be even better next season, perhaps up to 1 1/4 miles.

Video Transcript for the Racing Roundtable of October 3, 2023.

We're going to be talking about the Breeders' Cup Classic, a rebound win by Cody's Wish, and other performances that impressed us over in Europe.

We had a number of Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events overseas as well.

James, we'll start with you today.

Let's talk about the Breeders’ Cup Classic. 

After this weekend, did you feel like any race affected the Breeders' Cup Classic picture?

Well, first off, it's good to have you back Ashley.

And probably not, not a serious impact.

I do think that the Lucas Classic winner Clapton has a shot to grab a minor award, potentially, in the classic.

Now, there were three races, the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, the Woodward at Aqueduct, and Lucas Classic at Churchill.

Slow Down Andy and Zandon recorded convincing wins at Awesome Again and in the Woodward. 

I don't think either one of those horses are either good enough, has the affinity for the mile, or is effective enough at the 1 1/4 mile distance, to offer a challenge in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Clapton will obviously face a serious class check at Santa Anita, but his form has really improved over the last six months.

He's earned triple digit speed ratings in his last three starts, and Brisnet Late Pace numbers as high as 111.

So, that bodes really well for him. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is setting up to have a confirmed pace setter in Arabia Knight, possibly the favorite.

But if Saudi Crown, the Pennsylvania Derby winner, joins the mix and he's considering the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he's got everything to go for in that spot.

That race will get a big boost of speed.

All of his wins have come wire-to-wire on the lead. So, Clapton could get some place in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. 

And if he gets a favorable setup, I wouldn't be surprised to see him close for a minor award, Vance.

Yeah, in contrast, I kind of thought Zandon's victory in the Woodward, which snapped a long losing streak dating back to the Blue Grass in 2022, was actually a pretty solid effort.

Now, he wasn't beating much in the Woodward, but that's been kind of the case with the division all season.

It's an unremarkable group of older male horses going long on the dirt.

But, from a speed perspective, it wasn't as good as Abarrio in Whitney, and, of course, Zanden lost that race by more than six lengths

On the other hand, I thought it was about as fast as what we've seen from some of the top three-year-old male contenders coming up for the classics.

So, obviously, Zanden's propensity for minor awards is a weak spot. 

But, stretching back out to a mile and a quarter for the classic, I think he could be a bit of a sleeper in that race.

I think he's probably gonna be more effective than Abarrio going a 1 1/4 mile, and definitely more effective than Slow Down Andy.

Who kind of took advantage of a paceless race in the Awesome Again over and off track, and won wire-to-wire.

I'm a bit more bullish on Zandon than I was before the Woodward.

But again, he's a kind of horse that likes to run 2nd and 3rd more

Another good thing about him is that he's very consistent.

He's obviously gonna go underneath a lot of exotic wagers in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Ashley.

Yeah, I agree with you all. 

I think all three horses are certainly horses to play underneath and near exotics, but I wouldn't give Slow Down Andy much of a chance to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.

We just saw him lose to Arabian Night in the Pacific Classic.

He has two for three at Santa Anita.

But that other win came at 5 1/2 furlongs on debut.

So not gonna put much weight into that.

With Zandon, I do feel like winning by 4 1/4 lengths in the Woodward gives him a chance, potentially, of the pace out as well.

But again, I don't think any of these horses are really the ”win” contenders.

I think Arabian Knight is that horse I would probably bet to win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Well, let's talk about the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last year, which was Cody's Wish.  

He rebounded after losing in the 1 1/8 mile Whitney, came out and won the seven furlong Vosburgh this weekend.

What did you make of his win, Vance?

It wasn't one of his more scintillating performances.

He did start a little slow and got into the race a lot sooner than he typically has in one-turn races.

He was already challenging for the lead approaching the quarter pole.

Obviously, he outclassed that competition.

He was 15 cents on the dollar to win.

You would have expected him to win.

He obviously wasn't going to be fully cranked to win the Vosburgh either, not with the Dirt Mile title defense coming up next month.

Nonetheless, he hasn't looked quite as imposing in his last two starts as he did earlier in the spring when he blew the field away in the Met Mile and the Churchill Downs.

So, you know, going into the Dirt Mile, he seems to be potentially vulnerable, based on what we've seen in his last couple of starts.

I wouldn't be surprised, I think, if betters, kind of looking ahead towards the Dirt Mile, are possibly thinking about taking a stand against him at very short odds.

What do you think, James?

Yeah, I thought you made some good points.

I want to  give Cody's Wish credit.

He won six straight stakes starting last summer in the Forego. No, I'm sorry. He started last spring in the Westchester at Belmont Park, and then he strung together six straight wins including four straight grade 1.

I think he's just a terrific Dirt Miler when he was at the top of his game. 

Like when he was in the Met Mile this summer, he got a 110 Brisnet Speed Rating.

He blew the doors off that field, just brilliantly, off of the far turn.

We saw the same turn of foot in Churchill Downs, the race before the Met Mile.

But I'm a little bit worried he's not in that same form right now.

We didn't see that same acceleration in the Vosburgh.

Obviously, when they tried him in a 1 1/8 mile in the Whitney, he came up extremely flat. 

And I thought the Vosburgh performance on Saturday, Ashley, was a little bit underwhelming.

Now, granted, he may not face the toughest field in the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

I don't think the two-turn mile distance will be an issue for him. 

But I am a little bit worried that we've already seen the best of his form, and he could be a little bit vulnerable at Santa Anita, like Vance said. 

But, yeah, he clocked his second lowest Brisnet Speed Figure of his career with an 88 in this race.

Bill Mott said that it was the perfect tune-up for him, and said that it was, you know, commendable that he was able to come off that slow pace and win.

Of course, you still kind of are concerned with that speed figure and he could be vulnerable, but he's a feel-good-story, guys.

Don't you want him to close out his career with the win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile?

I mean, it's possible.

I'm just like, that race is a little bit far out still, we still got one more round of preps. For a lot of horses, the fields really are still in flux a little bit.

So, he's such a top class performer that I won't put it past him at this point.

But there are some current concerns coming off that effort.

Well, you mentioned Saudi Crown potentially in the Classic, but he could also run this Dirt Mile as well, right?.

Oh, yeah.

And I would like Saudi Crown, I had to say, just off of that Penn Derby, I thought that he was terrific.

I think that horse has gotten really good for Brad Cox. 

Yeah, I would potentially bet him to pull off the upset there.

Let's move over to Europe, which I know Vance in particular, you're a big fan of European racing. 

We had a number of Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events overseas, especially at Paris’ Longchamp.

Well, aside from Ace Impact, who is now six for six after winning the Arc, what else stood out to you all this weekend over in Europe?

We'll start with James.

Well, Ace Impact, he's not gonna come to the Breeders’ Cup.

He could either be retired, it looks like, or go take on Equinox, possibly, in the Japan Cup Turf.

I want to mention the 2nd and 3rd place finishers.

They're both four-year-old sons of Frankel. Westover ran second. 

You know, Westover made a move to overtake Hukum, and then basically got overtaken himself late by the winner.

But I thought he showed a lot of courage.

He dug down deep and held off Onesto who was flying late for second.

And we're gonna get both Westover and Onesto.

Their connections said they're gonna take a serious look at the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

I think their participation would be tremendous for Santa Anita in this year's Breeders’ Cup, because both horses were group-one winning three-year-olds.

Westover for sure has gotten a lot better this year at four.

He ran a really good race, went second in the King George, stood by a head to Hukum.

He won the Prix de Saint-Cloud group-one race in France before that by open land.

So, he's just really good now off of that Arc runner-up effort.

And Onesto, he didn't come back until August. The Arc was his third race back.

And he had run against August Rodin in his previous start, which was just really tough that day.

So, I thought that was a big effort.

One thing about Onesto, he ran his final 600 meters in :33.06 seconds.

That was his fastest against Ace Impact because Onesto was last in that 15 horse field.

So, he came flying late

And I also wanna add one other thing.

I'm taking a lot of this stuff from Kellie Reilly.

If you want outstanding international coverage for the Breeders’ Cup, and Vance as well, check out the TwinSpires Edge.

And before I get off of it, I know it wasn't over the weekend, but Ushba Tesoro came back last Wednesday. We did last week's roundtable on Tuesday, so we haven't mentioned him.

He tuned-up with a convincing win in Japan, the Dubai World Cup winner.

He looks like a very talented type.

He switched to dirt last year, seven for eight on dirt, and I think he could be one of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup, Ashley and Vance.

So he had a good race as well in the last week for the Breeders’ Cup.

What do you think, Vance?

Well, I'm gonna go to the juvenile male division in England, which is very deep and competitive, seemingly from distances ranging up from six furlongs up to a mile, and early Saturday at New Market where they had the Royal Lodge, over a mile.

Now, that was not a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You're In,” but it was part of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby Series.

However, traditionally, the Royal Lodge is more a precursor for the 2000 Guineas than the Kentucky Derby.

But now, the winner of the Royal Lodge I think is a very exciting colt named Ghostwriter, who made it three for three, winning the Royal Lodge.

He was traveling smoothly throughout the entire straight mile, moved into contention under Richard King's coat, under mild encouragement and then pulled away to win by a length and a quarter.

Not sure if he's going to run again the rest of the year.

But Ghostwriter, to me, is a very exciting horse for next year's 2000 Guineas.

And I think he's got the pedigree also to possibly stretch out, maybe up to a mile and a quarter.

He's by Invincible Spirit and he's out of a dam that placed in the 1 1/2 mile Cheshire Oaks, and also won at a 1 1/2 mile.

So he's got an interesting pedigree, he's definitely good at a mile, and he's a horse to watch for early spring classics next year, Ashley.

I'm gonna talk about the Juvenile Fillies division.

We had Opera Singer, Justify filly who won by more than five lengths for trainer Aidan O'brien and jockey Ryan Moore in the, you might have to help me with this Vance.

The Prix Marcel Boussac.

Thank you.

Yeah, she won by more than five lengths in that race.

Now, three for four in her last four starts, she was beaten by a head when she was second in allowance three back at seven furlongs.

She faced nine rivals in the, let's just call it the Prix Marcel, that's easier.

Am I butchering that?

Is that not how you shouldn't say it?

Marcel Boussac.

Ok, we have a French lesson now in this episode as well. 

Opera Singer, she earned a birth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf. I think she'll be a huge front runner in this race.

She’s also in the European Markets and is now the favorite for the 1000 Guineas and Oaks after her performance, she’s looking very good.

Again, the Justify filly and Ryan Moore said that they get better with age, and as they step up and trip, and even think she could stretch out to a 1 1/2 mile.

So, certainly a filly to watch out for in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly's turf, and again Aidan O'brien and Ryan Moore won last year with Meditate in this race.

So, they could have a chance to defend their title with this filly Opera Singer.

What do you all think about Opera Singer?

I thought she was very impressive, and she was one of a number of favorites that won on the Longchamp card on Sunday.

So it was very formfull racing for the most part. I think Kinross’s loss in the Prix De La Foret was the most shocking upset of the afternoon.

But yeah, she looked really good.

All right.

Well, that's all the time we have today for the Racing Roundtable.

We'll be back next Tuesday with more recaps and the stakes action over the weekend.

And of course, check us out on Thursday for the TwinSpires Jury for our best bets and fades of the weekend.

We'll see you next time.