Racing Roundtable: Should Next attempt the Breeders' Cup Classic?

July 10th, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable examines the Belmont Oaks (G1) and Belmont Derby (G1), whether Next should attempt the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), and what else caught their eye from the weekend.

What were your takeaways from the Belmont Oaks and/or Belmont Derby?

James Scully: It’s time to respect Trikari. Winner of the American Turf (G2) two starts previously, the three-year-old earned his first Grade 1 and third overall stakes win this season when recording a head decision in Saturday’s Belmont Derby (G1). He made amends for a neck third in the Penn Mile (G3) in which trainer Graham Motion felt the colt pulled himself up after striking the front in the stretch, and Trikari was off as the 5.20-1 co-third choice in a field of five.

“I was a little amused that he was once again not respected, which is great for the people that keep betting him,” Motion said of Trikari, who was dismissed at 47-1 in the American Turf. “It’s just funny because he really hasn’t done anything wrong. He was green first time (out) and he’s two necks short of being undefeated since then. He got overlooked at Churchill and I can see why, but he keeps showing up and I feel very fortunate to have him.”

By Oscar Performance, Trikari may point to the one-mile Secretariat (G2) at Colonial Downs on Aug. 10.

Vance Hanson: I found the Belmont Oaks (G1) a more intriguing race than the Belmont Derby (G1), both before and after, so I'll restrict my comments to it. Class definitely told in the Oaks as Cinderella's Dream, a credible seventh against Europe's top filly milers in the 1000 Guineas (G1), came roaring through the stretch to catch Segesta and She Feels Pretty to win in course-record time for the little-used distance of 1 3/16 miles (it was more than a second faster than the slower-paced Belmont Derby). Cinderella's Dream is now 5-for-6 and figures to stick to the longer races in America, like the Saratoga Oaks (G2) and presumably the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) in October.

The other Europeans in the field, both of whom had some question marks going into the race, didn't fare as well. Runner-up Segesta and Breeders' Cup winner She Feels Pretty both ran respectably, though the latter came up a bit flat as the odds-on choice. Nine furlongs and up seemingly is a stretch for the filly, and trainer Cherie DeVaux said she's likely to shorten up for her next start.

Ashley Anderson: Trikari was once again underestimated at the betting windows, as he was sent off as the 5.20-1 post-time choice in the Belmont Derby (G1) but completed a mild upset of 3-2 Legend of Time in the 1 3/16-mile turf test. The three-year-old colt is now 4-for-7 lifetime and has won or placed in his last six starts since a poor debut at Keeneland in October of 2023. With the win on Saturday, Trikari not only earned Graham Motion his 32nd Grade 1 victory, and his first since 2022, but the sophomore also gave sire Oscar Performance his first Grade 1 winner. Although Trikari succeeded at 1 3/16 miles and has the option to remain at the distance for the Saratoga Derby (G1) on Aug. 3, Motion mentioned the potential of cutting him back to a mile for the Secretariat (G2) at Colonial Downs or pointing him toward Kentucky Downs in September. Regardless of where he races next, it's unlikely we'll see Trikari overlooked by bettors next time around.

As for the Belmont Oaks, Charlie Appleby and Godolphin were able to get a win with Cinderella's Dream in her first North American start, and the Shamardal filly set a new course record at Aqueduct with a final time of 1:53.42. The victory marked her fifth in six starts and her first at the graded level. It was also her first time racing beyond a mile, and she had no issues with the added distance. Cinderella's Dream will likely try the Saratoga Oaks (G2) next and will look to add to Appleby's growing tally of graded stakes scores since he arrived in the U.S. in the spring.

Should Next step out of the marathon division and point toward the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1)?

JS: Yes, strike while the iron’s hot! Not only should Next test the waters in a Grade 1 event at 1 1/4 miles, but he has nothing to fear following a romping victory in the Brooklyn (G2). The six-year-old gelding has reeled off five consecutive stakes wins, the last four coming by a combined 57 1/4 lengths, and he’s become too formidable for the competition in marathon stakes, generating a 109 Brisnet Speed rating last out that is good enough to win in any Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) prep race so far this year.

And considering the murkiness of the Classic picture, with no standouts in the older horse or three-year-old divisions, the situation is ripe for Next to offer a serious challenge. Connections have every reason to target the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 1.

His trainer, Doug Cowans, has been on a tear of late, winning his last five starts. Since May 1, Cowans has won 17 of 35 starts (49%), recording wins at seven different tracks (Aqueduct, Belterra, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Horseshoe Indianapolis, Presque Isle Downs, and Thistledown).

VH: Given the paucity in depth, consistency, and big speed figures in the older male dirt division, Next deserves to aim a little higher for his next start. Trainer Doug Cowans said he was inclined to keep him going long in a race like the Birdstone S. at Saratoga, but his speculation that race might not even go with Next entered is not hard to envision. National Treasure is the pro tem leader of the division, but he's still a bit of a question mark over 1 1/4 miles. If Next can prove his effectiveness at that distance and turn himself into a Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) contender, pretty much everyone would win in that scenario.

AA: With a 109 Brisnet Speed figure in his 9 1/4-length victory in the Brooklyn (G2), Next's recent Speed figures rank better than many of the runners we are likely to see in the Breeders' Cup Classic. However, his trainer, Doug Cowans, and owner Michael Foster have already indicated they are likely to stick to marathon distances. Cowans admitted, "The problem is the pace is going to change when you start shortening things down. I worry about that with the horse because early on he likes to be up close. ... I don't know about putting him in a race with a 46-(second) half." Still, with a wide-open three-year-old division and beatable older horses pointed toward the Breeders' Cup, the connections of Next should highly consider the move to 1 1/4 miles. The six-year-old has dominated in each of his last five starts, with a combined margin of victory of nearly 60 lengths over that span, and the right pace scenario could result in a trip to the winner's circle at Del Mar in November.

What else caught your eye?

JS: Bigger races loom in the coming weeks, but Saturday’s Indiana Derby (G3) provided another gauge to consider for the three-year-old division in the second half of the season. Dragoon Guard made his stakes debut a winning one, drawing off to a 2 1/2-length decision over favored Stronghold.

Over the last three weekends, Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Catching Freedom and Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Stronghold have lost to three-year-olds who were still maidens when the final round of Kentucky Derby prep races were being held. Batten Down jumped straight from a maiden win to capture the Ohio Derby (G3), with Catching Freedom checking in fourth at odds-on, and Dragoon Guard made his first two-turn attempt in the Indiana Derby following maiden and entry-level allowance wins at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

Juddmonte Farms campaigns both homebreds, with Batten Down residing in Bill Mott’s barn and Dragoon Guard with Brad Cox, and both colts led wire to wire and are bred to relish longer distances. The early-season prep races revealed little – all three winners of the 2024 Triple Crown races paid more than $20 – and the results of the Ohio and Indiana Derby suggest more chaos is to come in the three-year-old division.

I’ll add that Dragoon Guard is one of several up-and-coming types from the final two crops of Arrogate. Four-year-old Subrogate looks ready for Grade 1 sprint competition following three consecutive allowance scores in New York, generating a 104 Speed rating for his six-length romp on June 29. And Sidamara remains a very promising three-year-old filly for Mott following a nose second to Power Squeeze in her stakes debut, Monday’s Delaware Oaks (G3).

VH: It's certainly possible to overstate Domestic Product's performance in the Dwyer (G3) at Aqueduct, given the limited quantity and modest quality of the opposition he faced. Nonetheless, winning by 7 1/2 lengths and covering a mile in 1:33 and change suggests that perhaps longer one-turn races might actually be the three-year-old's niche. That despite a maiden win over nine furlongs and a gutsy effort in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G3). Perhaps a Cigar Mile (G2) type by the end of the season?

Power Squeeze and Sidamara put on quite a show in Monday's Delaware Oaks (G3) in what was more of the exciting finishes of the extended holiday weekend. The connections of Power Squeeze are doing right by her in pointing for the Cotillion (G1) in September, rather than taking on Thorpedo Anna again during the Saratoga meet, and Sidamara looked like a filly with a bright future in narrowly going down in her stakes debut. Also at Delaware on Monday, Whiskey Decision won her stakes debut in the Christiana S. on the turf as an overwhelming 1-5 favorite. Trainer Arnaud Delacour says she might point toward either the Lake Placid (G2) at Saratoga or the Del Mar Oaks (G1). Definitely another three-year-old filly to watch.

AA: Four-year-old filly Sweet Azteca scored her second straight graded stakes victory on Saturday when she romped to a five-length win in the Great Lady M S. (G2) at Los Alamitos. The Sharp Azteca daughter also set a course record for 6 1/2 furlongs when she crossed the wire in 1:14.33, and she recorded a career-best 106 BRIS figure in the process. Trained by Michael McCarthy, Sharp Azteca is now 4-for-5, with her lone loss coming off a long layoff in the Las Flores (G3), in her second career start. Two back, Sweet Azteca beat Adare Manor in the Beholder Mile (G1) and could be in the running for older dirt female with a few more graded stakes wins on her resume.