Racing Roundtable: Cyberknife, Nest, and Clairiere

July 26th, 2022

In this week's edition of the Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson talk about the immediate future of Haskell (G1) winner Cyberknife and the fallout following a pair of races for fillies and mares at Saratoga.

Do you see Cyberknife as a leading Travers (G1) candidate following his Haskell win?

James Scully: Yes, one of several leading contenders. Now a two-time Grade 1 winner, Cyberknife delivered a career-best effort in the Haskell, netting a 104 Brisnet Speed rating after gamely rallying through tight quarters to edge Taiba, and the Gun Runner colt may continue to progress. The three-year-old division has depth, as Charge It, Early Voting, Epicenter, and Zandon are all targeting the Aug. 27 Travers along with Cyberknife, and some exciting races lie ahead.

Kellie Reilly: Brad Cox thought that Cyberknife had the raw ability to become a divisional player all the way back before the Lecomte (G3), and the Gun Runner colt is now delivering. Judging by how much his sire progressed from three to four, and given that his dam, Awesome Flower, likewise excelled with maturity, Cyberknife is eligible to keep thriving. That said, the Travers will be a tougher assignment versus other leading Triple Crown alumni. And he got his ideal set-up at Monmouth, where he capitalized on Taiba's hiccup and Jack Christopher's failure to stay the trip. Cyberknife advanced on the rail when Taiba betrayed his inexperience by dropping back. Had Taiba not spun his wheels on the inside, he would have cut the corner, and Cyberknife likely would have taken the overland route. Instead, it was Taiba who went wide and then kicked into gear. Reverse the trips, and Taiba might have won.

Vance Hanson: Cyberknife definitely made significant progress winning the Haskell, recording his highest-ever Brisnet Speed rating. That kind of number figures to put him in the Travers mix, but we'll have to see what shakes out in the Jim Dandy (G2) this coming weekend. That race is top-heavy with the Chad Brown-trained duo of Early Voting and Zandon, as well as Epicenter. The Kentucky Derby (G1) was not a true bill for Cyberknife, but there is little doubt he has form to find against the two of those he faced previously over 1 1/4 miles.

Would you roll the dice with Nest in the Travers or go for the Alabama (G1)?

JS: No, the Alabama is a realistic goal. The Travers provides an extra week's rest, which may be appealing to connections, but both races will be held at 1 1/4 miles. And Nest doesn't have the three-year-old filly division locked up, she's split two meetings with Secret Oath, who would have the opportunity to gain valuable ground with an Alabama win and a Nest loss in the Travers. Nest fit in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1), finishing second against a group of males lacking several prominent players from the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but the Travers will be a deeper race.

KR: As one who was agitating for Nest to go to the Belmont way back before the Kentucky Oaks (G1), I'm hardly averse to considering the Travers. But the circumstances are different, making it a bigger gamble with implications for both the Breeders' Cup and an Eclipse Award. Tackling the Belmont was worth it for two reasons: it was a unique opportunity versus males at a distance that arguably favored her, and she wouldn't miss any major targets in her own division. The Travers is more complicated. First, it should attract more top males than the Belmont did, since several divisional stalwarts were then already freshening up after the first two jewels. More crucially, Nest would be skipping the next obvious spot on her calendar, the Alabama, where she could clinch champion three-year-old filly honors with another win over Secret Oath. Obviously, Nest can wrap up her Eclipse if she beats males in the Travers, but if she loses, she risks her longer-term objectives as well — the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) and the divisional championship. Unless the Travers falls apart, the Alabama is the wiser play.

VH: Although Nest and Secret Oath are tied 1-1 in head-to-head meetings this year, the former stamped herself, in my opinion, as the clear division leader after her thumping of Secret Oath in the Coaching Club American Oaks. She also has a placing in the Belmont to her credit, while Secret Oath has struggled twice against males this season. No filly has won the Travers in more than a century and few have tried since, but that race would be a nothing-to-lose option that should strongly be considered over the Alabama. A big showing in the "Midsummer Derby," even in a losing effort, is less risky for her championship aspirations than a potential setback in the Alabama.

Is Clairiere now the filly to beat in the Breeders' Cup Distaff?

JS: Yes, she's come on at age four and deserves top billing. An outstanding winner over Letruska, Malathaat, and Search Results in the June 11 Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park, Clairiere backed it up in Sunday's Shuvee (G2) at Saratoga, overcoming a troubled trip to win going away over odds-on Malathaat by 1 1/2 lengths. She won't be the second choice in the betting next time. The Stonestreet Farm homebred daughter of Curlin was a solid performer last year, winning the Cotillion (G1) and recording a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and Clairiere has got it rolling presently.

KR: Clairiere's back-to-back wins over Malathaat — a rival she couldn't beat in four tries last season — have elevated her divisional standing and thereby her claims on the Distaff. Still, I'm hesitant to think in terms of "the one to beat" this far out. Aside from my hopes for three-year-old Nest, Clairiere has notable foes in the older female ranks. I'm hard-headed enough not to give up on Malathaat, who's 2-for-2 at host site Keeneland. Search Results just rebounded in the Molly Pitcher (G3), and based on her near-miss to Malathaat in last year's Kentucky Oaks, she belongs in the discussion. Also, remember that Shedaresthedevil fared best of those involved in the crazy pace in last year's Distaff, finishing sixth, and she's back on song. Finally, Letruska is still on the scene. The last mare to beat Clairiere, she's firing bullets at Churchill Downs. Rivals of this caliber are capable of changing the narrative, possibly as soon as the Personal Ensign (G1).

VH: Overcoming a dawdling pace and a small field, Clairiere forged to a clear lead in the older mare ranks in the Shuvee. There are suspicions from the Malathaat camp, however, that she wasn't up to snuff for Sunday's race. If true, the gap between the two remains very narrow. Nonetheless, Clairiere has made great strides since her three-year-old campaign and at this point would appear to be the marquee name among the older set in the Distaff at Keeneland in November, which is shaping up to be an outstanding affair.