Racing Roundtable: Pacific Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup, juvenile winners

September 5th, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson comment on the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) picture after Saturday's "Win and You're In" events, the Pacific Classic (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Juveniles are also in focus, with the Hopeful (G1) and Spinaway (G1) offering fodder for discussion along with hot maiden winners to watch.

What does the Breeders' Cup Classic picture look like after the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Pacific Classic?

James Scully: The top two from the Pacific Classic, Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride, confirmed themselves as major win contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bright Future and Proxy, separated by a nose in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, are worthy of top three consideration following the encouraging performances.

Arabian Knight came home slowly, but it was the lightly-raced colt’s first attempt at 10 furlongs and he may continue to show more next time. Geaux Rocket Ride lacked the needed late punch finishing a neck short, but he still ran well off a career-best performance in the Haskell (G1) and should benefit from the experience.

Bright Future and Proxy will need to keep advancing to offer a serious challenge at Santa Anita, but the older horses appear to be rounding into top form at the right time.

Kellie Reilly: Saturday’s results underscored the lackluster state of the older male division. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was won in a squeaker by a relative newcomer, Bright Future, from the frustrating Proxy, who arguably lost his race at the post position draw. If Proxy hadn’t drawn the rail, the bête noir of his existence these days, maybe the mercurial Godolphin homebred wins. Bright Future has elicited comparisons with the same connections’ Vino Rosso, but the resemblance – as a late-developing son of Curlin – strikes me as rather superficial. Vino Rosso had a lot more foundation, and a romp in the Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita, en route to his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory.

The elders at Del Mar were totally exposed, as the Pacific Classic finish came down to lightly-raced three-year-olds. Although game front runner Arabian Knight held off Geaux Rocket Ride, a slow final quarter in :26.36 suggests that they’re vulnerable against stronger stayers in the Breeders’ Cup. One such contender is Japan’s Dubai World Cup (G1) star Ushba Tesoro; plans call for him to prep in the Sept. 27 Nippon TV Hai at Funabashi. Note that he’s by Orfevre, the same sire as Marche Lorraine, who won the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) after a pace meltdown at Del Mar.

Vance Hanson: The horse I'd consider for the Breeders' Cup Classic out of the two weekend preps is Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up Proxy. While he's fairly well exposed, I do like the fact he was given a race over the Santa Anita strip earlier this season. Although he lost the Gold Cup in the same fashion as he did the Santa Anita H. (G1) -- by the narrowest of margins -- I'd expect him to run a good race and not throw in one of his occasional clunkers. Jockey Joel Rosario has started to figure this horse out as the season has progressed, and he'd be an interesting candidate at 6-1 or higher, especially if Arcangelo happens to not reproduce his New York form in California.

Kellie noted the slow final quarter-mile of the Pacific Classic, and I agree that Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride will have to step up in order to threaten Arcangelo. No one from older male division in Southern California appears a serious contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic at this point.

Thoughts on the Hopeful and Spinaway?

JS: Brightwork and Ways and Means separated themselves from the competition in the Spinaway, and the talented fillies look poised to make a major impact in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Brightwork remained unbeaten in her fourth start, including three stakes, and the John Ortiz-trained miss possesses outstanding positional speed. Ways and Means experienced a troubled trip finishing a half-length back, the Practical Joke filly remains very promising for Chad Brown.

Nutella Fella sprung a massive upset rallying last-to-first in the Hopeful for Gary Contessa, and the Runhappy colt has opened his racing career with a pair of convincing off-the-pace wins. We will see if he can back it up in the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park on Oct. 7. Timberlake experienced a troubled trip finishing second as the favorite, look for more next time. Pirate and maiden Be You, third and fourth, still have upside for Todd Pletcher. 

KR: Spare a thought for the sidelined Rhyme Schemes, who might well have won the Hopeful much like he ran away with the Saratoga Special (G2). Or what if General Partner had tried the Hopeful instead of blitzing a maiden over the same track and trip on Saturday? It’s hard not to play the what-if game after the Hopeful’s inscrutable result. A slow-motion final furlong gave the 54-1 Nutella Fella enough time to lumber past favored Timberlake in a race that was falling apart by midstretch. By way of contrast, the fillies in Sunday’s Spinaway left a far more favorable impression. As undefeated Brightwork bested the self-troubled Ways and Means, they pulled well clear of the rest.

The Spinaway’s first half-mile wasn’t that much slower than the Hopeful (:22.40 and :45.09 versus the boys’ :22.19 and :44.89), but Brightwork and Ways and Means were already a second faster by the six-furlong split (1:09.80 compared to 1:10.87 in the Hopeful). While the fillies slowed in their seventh furlong, it wasn’t egregious, and Brightwork’s time of 1:23.17 remained significantly better than Nutella Fella’s 1:24.41. The Brisnet Speed ratings validate the cross-day comparison, since Brightwork’s 95 outstripped Nutella Fella’s 89. In other words, the Spinaway is liable to hold up better than the Hopeful. To be fair, the Hopeful was full of promising types who can still pan out, but they’ll need to turn the page on a less than inspiring edition.

VH: The Hopeful promised a lot but failed to deliver, as Nutella Fella registered one of the biggest upsets in race history. It was a slowly-run affair, too, with most of the field caked in dirt crossing the wire over a track officially labeled fast. In contrast, I thought the two protagonists in the Spinaway are two high-quality fillies with a bright future. It remains to be seen how far each wants to go, especially the 4-for-4 Brightwork, but the pair separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are serious players for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and any interim preps they might appear in.


What else caught your eye over Labor Day weekend?

JS: A pair of two-year-olds by Gun Runner, the record-breaking freshman sire of 2021, won impressively the second time out for Pletcher on the final week of the Saratoga meet.

On Thursday, Life Talk graduated by 6 1/2 widening lengths while stretching out to a mile. A head second to Alys Beach, who finished fourth in the Spinaway, Life Talk rallied from off the pace with a sharp turn of foot on the far turn.

Locked turned heads on Friday when dominating a one-mile maiden special weight on the front end, generating a whopping 105 Brisnet Speed rating for the 7 1/4-length decision. He blew the break when debuting at six furlongs on Aug. 5, closing belatedly to be third to Just Steel and Be You, the respective seventh and fourth-place finishers in the Hopeful, and Locked appears to have a bright future at two-turn distances following the scintillating performance.

KR: The world’s top-rated horse, Japanese phenom Equinox, continues to have his Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) form upheld. French-based Zagrey, who had been third in the Sheema, captured Sunday’s 153rd Grosser Preis von Baden (G1). He’s the fifth Sheema alumnus to add a Group 1 title in the interim, including Equinox himself, who maintained his winning streak back home in the June 25 Takarazuka Kinen (G1). Sheema runner-up Westover landed the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) (beating Zagrey again) before just missing in an epic King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). Sheema fourth Mostahdaf won the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot and toppled Paddington in the Juddmonte International (G1), both Breeders’ Cup Challenge events. Even Sheema eighth Russian Emperor did his part by taking the May 28 Champions & Chater Cup (G1) at his home base of Sha Tin.

Stateside, Carl Spackler made it back-to-back graded wins at the Spa in Friday’s Saranac (G3), following up on his National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) tally. The Chad Brown sophomore employed different styles in each, but delivered the same dominant result. That bodes well for his first foray versus elders in the Oct. 7 Coolmore Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, where he could add some pizzazz to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) picture.

VH: The home team will be hard pressed to prevail in either the Breeders' Cup Mile or Turf (G1) in November, perhaps the Filly and Mare Turf (G1), too. However, the Turf Sprint (G1) still figures to be a race the U.S. could dominate, and Motorious might be our strongest card after a comfortable score in the Green Flash H. (G3) at Del Mar on Saturday. Despite entering off a four-month layoff and running over a five-furlong distance perhaps a bit shorter than he would truly prefer, Motorious turned in a solid performance to win going away. The success over five is crucial as this year's Turf Sprint will run over that distance, rather than about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course. That trip might be more suitable for Motorious, but he's now assured of not being out of his element going five.