Racing Roundtable: Nest, Moira dominate ahead of potential Breeders' Cup clash

August 23rd, 2022

The Racing Roundtable — James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson — debate what three-year-old fillies Nest and Moira should do next and opine on a couple of the leading juvenile maiden winners from the past weekend.

Should Nest have another prep before the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1)?

James Scully: She probably won't, allowing the opportunity for perhaps seven or eight more published workouts prior to the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 5, but I wouldn't count the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) out of consideration after watching her turn of foot in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1). Nest has improved significantly in recent months, and she prefers the Classic distance over the 1 1/8-mile Distaff. The overwhelming early Classic favorite, lightly-raced Flightline, has missed targeted races before, and if he came out of the projected Classic field for any reason, Nest would benefit from a prep race over the 11-week interim. It won't happen, but I would love to see Nest aim for the Oct. 1 Woodward (G1) at Belmont Park, where she would give male rivals all they could handle.

Kellie Reilly: An Oct. 9 prep for the Breeders' Cup would mirror the spacing of her summer races, so in principle, it makes sense to run again if she's thriving. Nest had six weeks between her runner-up effort in the Belmont (G1) June 11 and her demolition job in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) July 23, followed by a four-week turnaround for the Aug. 20 Alabama. An Oct. 9 race would come seven weeks after the Alabama, with a nearly four-week gap to the Breeders' Cup. That said, Nest has a history of firing very well off the bench, and trainer Todd Pletcher wasn't even going to run in the CCA Oaks until she basically forced him. Unless she forces his hand to run in between, it wouldn't be a surprise if Pletcher opts to train her up to the Breeders' Cup. An 11-week break from the Alabama might be pushing the envelope, but four of the past seven Distaff winners were coming off layoffs of two months or longer. Note that Marche Lorraine, last year's shocker from Japan, hadn't run since Aug. 12, 2021.

Vance Hanson: Although it might not be in the cards, I don't see an interim start doing much harm to Nest's Breeders' Cup chances. The Oct. 9 Spinster (G1) at Keeneland would be the ideal spot, rather than the Beldame at Aqueduct on the same day. The latter has been downgraded in recent years, and accordingly the NYRA is doing little to boost its stature again by only offering it for a mere $250,000. In contrast, the Spinster is a $600,000 race and over a track Nest thrived over in the Ashland (G1) back in April. Trainer Todd Pletcher won his first Distaff back in 2004 with Ashado, who met older mares for the first time in the Breeders' Cup, though that same strategy didn't pan out last year when Malathaat finished third while attempting to win off a layoff dating back to the Alabama.

What would you like to see Queen's Plate winner Moira do next?

JS: Try dirt in the Sept. 24 Cotillion (G1) at Parx. Nest won't be in the field, and if Moira can make a seamless transition from Tapeta, she's a Breeders' Cup Distaff contender. I know it probably won't happen — connections are considering the next two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown on turf and synthetics for the Kevin Attard-trained daughter of Ghostzapper — but I would like to see how Moira stacks up following spectacular back-to-back wins in the Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate.

KR: The most exciting Queen's Plate winner of the synthetic era at Woodbine, Moira warrants her chance at the top level in the United States. If the question were just one of timing and opportunity, the Sept. 24 Cotillion at Parx offers a Nest-free zone versus fellow three-year-old fillies. But that would come at the expense of her specifically Canadian legacy, which might be a factor for connections. Moira's other option is to continue on the path through the Canadian Triple Crown — the Prince of Wales S. at Fort Erie and possibly the Breeders' S. on the Woodbine turf — before casting her eyes south. To get way ahead of ourselves, she theoretically could try to emulate dual Hall of Famer Dance Smartly, who swept the Canadian Triple Crown and the 1991 Breeders' Cup Distaff. If that's too far a flight of fancy, Moira nevertheless has the look of a triple-surface threat. The Ghostzapper filly has the action of a horse who can excel on dirt, and the late kick of a turfiste. Her dam, the Unbridled's Song mare Devine Aida, won stakes on both dirt and turf. Second dam (granddam) Passion was effective on all three surfaces, but 3-for-3 on turf, including the 2008 La Habra (G3) at Santa Anita and Alywow S. at Woodbine.

VH: A pit stop at Fort Erie for the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales on Sept. 13, makes sense from the perspective of testing her dirt ability, albeit against a restricted group. A win there will provide temptation to go for the Triple Crown sweep, but the third leg, the Breeders' S., is over 1 1/2 miles on turf. On the other hand, an impressive win in the Prince of Wales might also entice connections to try for something more lucrative south of the border, perhaps in the aforementioned Spinster or other open graded race. She appears to have the talent to be much more than a provincial star on the Ontario circuit.

What did you make of juvenile debut winners Echo Again and Classical Cat?

JS: Echo Again proved brilliant leading wire-to-wire, netting a 99 Brisnet Speed rating for the 6 3/4-length decision, and sire Gun Runner, a record-breaking leading freshman sire, is showing no signs of a sophomore slump with this talented gray colt. The Steve Asmussen trainee is out of a Tapit mare.

A buzz surrounded the fifth race at Del Mar Saturday, as highly-touted $3.55 million Hejazi made his career debut at 2-5 for Bob Baffert with a blistering worktab in tow, but Classical Cat wound up the star of the show, winning authoritatively by 2 1/2 lengths from just off the pace. From the first crop of Mendelssohn, a half-brother to three-time leading sire Into Mischief and Beholder, Classical Cat looks like a good one for Phil D'Amato, earning a 90 Speed rating, and Hejazi figures to graduate next time following a clear second.

KR: The name "Echo Again" might have been tempting fate, since Winchell Thoroughbreds forecast that he could follow in the hoofsteps of their champion Echo Zulu. Likewise sired by Gun Runner and trained by Steve Asmussen, Echo Again furthered that hope with a convincing debut at Saratoga. Not only did the 3-5 shot go wire-to-wire in fast time, and keep motoring, but he also drew right away from the useful Summonyourcourage and Bat Flip. Runner-up Summonyourcourage previously had split Sanford (G3) winner Mo Strike and Asmussen's next-out romper Disarm (another Gun Runner colt who had been working with Echo Again). Bat Flip had been fifth to Blazing Sevens and Bourbon Bash in a hot Spa maiden. Echo Again has every right to go on from here, especially around two turns. As a half-brother to Pneumatic, out of a Tapit mare closely related to Pyro, he has an outstanding Winchell pedigree behind him.

Classical Cat was professional in his Del Mar debut, if not sparking the same degree of enthusiasm. The Phil D'Amato trainee easily dispatched $3.55 million hotpot Hejazi by 2 1/2 lengths, but the time was a bit slower (90 Speed rating) than the other 5 1/2-furlong maiden, won in an utter rout by Kangaroo Court (97 Speed rating). If Kangaroo Court hadn't taken the softer Cal-restricted option, he likely would have won the open-company maiden. Classical Cat is nevertheless a promising prospect, and potentially versatile as a son of freshman sire Mendelssohn and a stakes-winning Not Bourbon mare.

VH: The secret was out on Echo Again from the time the betting windows opened, and he ran to the high expectations. The Hopeful (G1) is coming up a bit soon, so I would expect Echo Again to point for the Champagne (G1) or a stakes in Kentucky for his next start. He figures to be highly competitive.

Classical Cat beat an expensive juvenile purchase, Hejazi, on debut at Del Mar on Saturday, but his effort was slower than what Kangaroo Court achieved in a state-bred maiden on the same card. That's not to say he can't improve considerably in, say, the Del Mar Futurity (G1), but he has more progress compared to Echo Again. He's well-bred, though, being a son of Mendelssohn and from the family of Curlin.