Racing Roundtable: Curly Jack, Fun and Feisty, and Breeders' Cup contenders

September 20th, 2022

In this week’s Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson examine Godolphin’s trio of Breeders’ Cup contenders from last weekend, and the first winners in the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks series.

Who is Godolphin’s strongest BC prospect: Modern Games, Nations Pride, or Mysterious Night?

James Scully: Give me Modern Games. Three-year-olds have won 11 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Order of Australia being the most recent in 2020, and Modern Games looks poised for a strong showing at Keeneland following his smashing 5 1/4-length victory at odds-on in the Woodbine Mile (G1). Runner-up to Baaeed in the Sussex (G1) two back, Modern Games is discovering his best stride for Charlie Appleby.

Kellie Reilly: Right now, I’d lean more on Modern Games for two reasons: he’s proven on the Breeders’ Cup stage (albeit in the Juvenile Turf [G1]), and he should sport the deepest form in the Mile. Mysterious Night will enter the Juvenile Turf on a high, but the Summer (G1) historically hasn’t been that productive a prep, and other two-year-olds will be on upward curves as well. Nations Pride would face far stiffer competition in the Turf than he did in the New York series. But the biggest sticking point for me is that trainer Charlie Appleby has been talking about putting Nations Pride away for the season and sending Rebel’s Romance to the Turf instead. As a general rule, pointing to the Breeders’ Cup as part of a long-range plan, or emphasizing a fall campaign, is preferable to showing up as an afterthought. It’s been a long season that started for Nations Pride back in February in Dubai.

Vance Hanson: Modern Games could not have looked any better when becoming the first three-year-old winner of the Woodbine Mile, and looks very poised to notch a second career Breeders’ Cup victory in the Nov. 5 Mile at Keeneland. We don’t yet know what the rest of the European contingent will look like, but there is only a three-week turnaround between the final major mile test on the continent, the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot, and the Breeders’ Cup, so Modern Games could wind up being the leading non-domestic candidate regardless.

Mysterious Night certainly has a huge chance in the Juvenile Turf off his decisive Summer victory, while Nations Pride took advantage of some historically unusual circumstances when demolishing Aqueduct’s 1 1/2-mile inner turf course record, set by Pebbles in the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). His task, if he moves on to the Turf at Keeneland, would seemingly be the most difficult of the three, given the much higher level of competition compared to what he spurned in the Jockey Club Derby.

What did we learn from the Iroquois (G3)?

JS: Curly Jack is more effective rating. A one-dimensional frontrunner in his first two outings, the Tom Amoss-trained colt switched to stalking tactics in the Ellis Park Juvenile, rallying to be a head second, and Curly Jack continued to show more while stretching to two turns in the Iroquois, surging from midpack to a one-length triumph. By freshman sire Good Magic, Curly Jack must continue to run faster, netting only an 86 Brisnet Speed rating last Saturday, but it’s still early in his development.

KR: My first reaction is that the star two-year-old of the day didn’t run in the Iroquois, but earlier on the card — Loggins demolished his 6 1/2-furlong debut for Brad Cox in the manner of a serious prospect. Of course, I’d held the same view of Damon’s Mound and Echo Again before their bitterly disappointing efforts in the Iroquois. Perhaps their initial wins had come too easily, since neither could handle a competitive two-turn test. Their early expenditure of energy made their tasks harder, and Echo Again covered extra ground out wide. Still, Damon’s Mound was absolutely rubber-legged by the top of the stretch, and Echo Again, who was traveling better, ended up fading worse. The stagger-fest set up for the battle-tested Curly Jack, fifth in the Sanford (G3) and the near-misser in the Ellis Park Juvenile. While the son of freshman sire Good Magic appreciated the stretch-out, the slow finish dampens enthusiasm.

VH: The poor efforts turned in by Echo Again and Damon’s Mound took a lot of the shine off this edition of the Iroquois. The good news for the connections of the winning Curly Jack is that his one subpar try, at Saratoga, is firmly in the rear view mirror as he’s bounced back with two solid efforts back on the Kentucky circuit. His 86 Brisnet speed figure is rather modest, though, and I question whether the Iroquois’ recent history of having little impact on the juvenile championship chase or the subsequent Kentucky Derby trail is going to be much different after last weekend’s renewal.

How good was Fun and Feisty’s win in the Pocahontas?

JS: Fun and Feisty packs quite the late punch, closing from 11th along the backstretch to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths, and she was visually impressive in the Pocahontas. The late runner’s Speed rating (86) was compromised by the slow pace, and I try not to put too much stock in early figures because they can rise significantly with experience, but she still has something to prove from a Speed rating perspective. Fun and Feisty remains a promising juvenile filly for Kenny McPeek.

KR: Although Fun and Feisty recorded the same Brisnet Speed rating (86) in the Pocahontas as Curly Jack in the Iroquois, her performance had more to recommend it. The Pocahontas pace was appreciably slower (:48.07/1:12.76 versus :47.48/1:11.66 in the Iroquois), and Fun and Feisty was near the tail of the field, almost 10 lengths back at one point. Yet she uncorked a bold move to circle them on the far turn and sustained it to drive 3 1/2 lengths clear. As a result, Fun and Feisty’s Late Pace figure was much stronger (92 compared to 75 for Curly Jack). She is no one-dimensional closer, since she had stalked previously. Fun and Feisty is the latest advertisement for trainer Ken McPeek’s scouting ability at the sales; he bought her for $100,000 at Keeneland September.

VH: The manner of her success was certainly eye-opening, especially since the pace wasn’t all that favorable to her. The Pocahontas has thrown up some decent winners over the years, but none that wound up winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies or champion juvenile honors. Thus, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach as to the long-term quality of the race. Thankfully, trainer Kenny McPeek said post-race that Fun and Feisty would likely take on the Alcibiades at Keeneland, so we’ll find out soon enough how she stacks up against better.