Catching My Eye: Keeneland Breeders' Cup preps from Saturday, Oct. 7

October 10th, 2023

Along with a turn toward fall weather, at racetracks across the country, the smell of Breeders’ Cup was in the air. On Saturday, Keeneland had two "Win and You’re In” events, but connections used each of the five graded stakes as prep races for the first weekend in November.

The $350,000 Grade 2 Woodford Stakes

What a strange race the Woodford was. Knowing these horses' running styles, if you were to glance at the chart ahead of watching the race, you’d have to assume there was a pile-up out of the gate. But there wasn't. Cleanly away all 12 of them. So what happened? The front runners simply went too fast for many to keep in touch.

Many looked live in the field, but favoritism went to the Irish-bred shipper Live In the Dream (IRE) who had just beat Highland Princess overseas and his connections figured a prep before the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was the right thing to do. And it was. If only Foxtrotanna had not signed on. Talk about a gelding who gets no respect. In four lifetime races, he has been sent off at 20-1, 111-1, 26-1, and 70-1 and he's been a player in every race. This past summer around Kentucky, nobody could get out of the gate quicker than Foxtrotanna.

It was those two, Live in the Dream and Foxtrotanna, going eyeball-to-eyeball for three furlongs. Kaufymaker and Bad Beat Brian tried to keep up, so too did Beer Can Man before his jock got smart and took a breather to have enough for a late run. Sub-21-second quarter mile. Sub-44-second half mile. They spread out the field so drastically that it wasn’t the closers who had a shot in this race as their jocks didn’t register how fast they were flying out front. Only those who stayed close enough but not too close to this absolute freak named Live In The Dream, had a chance.

Although he was wandering around late, Arzak won his first Grade 2 to go along with his Grade 3 win. He has been in form since Saratoga, with his first start over that course marred by a troubled trip; still, should he enter the BC Turf Sprint, he would need an equally perfect trip to win. Keeping in mind the BC Turf Sprint will be run at five furlongs this year, he would be a toss for me. Live In The Dream, however, could absolutely wire the field.

The $600,000 Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity

Although he didn’t get the win, in just his first time going past six furlongs, The Wine Steward proved routing is his game. Though he saved ground near the rail, he also spent much of the race begging to get by his two impeding foes. He learned to relax, he proved he can split foes, and taking a bump when dueling down the backstretch, there’s no doubt he’s tough and has heart. Usually I’d love to abc a horse like this next out in the Breeders’ Cup, assuming the projected value is there. But the winner of the Breeders’ Futurity has simply been too impressive to bet against going forward.

Breaking from the outside post, Locked lost ground to the field every stride, but even when The Wine Steward came back on him in the final stages, the Gun Runner colt appeared to be toying with him, never fully set down by Jose Ortiz, and pulling ahead by a comfortable half-length.

Keep your eyes on the odds for both of these two-year-olds in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. To me, they were more impressive than the winner of any other prep across the country, including Timberlake and Muth.

The $1 million Grade 1 Coolmore Turf Mile

Time and again in graded stakes the classiest horses prevail, and we had a good taste of that on Saturday in the Coolmore Turf Mile. Going for his third Grade 1 score in a row, Up to the Mark ran a stunning race to win the head bob over Group 2 and Grade 1 winner Master of The Seas (IRE). The majority of the rest of the field seemed to only serve as obstacles for their mighty late kicks.

You could argue that the Charles Appleby-trained Irish-bred ran the better race.  Although brushing the gate and getting an awkward start didn’t change Master of The Sea's tactics any, when combined with revving up into full stride prematurely, it’s easy to envision him having enough to hold off his defeater had events unfolded differently. The Godolphin homebred accelerated in the far turn and maneuvered through the stretch traffic while Up to the Mark tailed him like Emmitt Smith behind "Moose" Johnston, saving everything for his clean run at the Woodbine Mile winner.

Note that if Tyler Gaffalione aboard Set Piece follows these two instead of circling the field and winding up along the standside rail, he would’ve been closer than three lengths back.