The Jury: Bets and fades for Oct. 1-2
The Breeders' Cup prep season begins to draw to a close beginning this weekend, with major domestic stakes at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Santa Anita on Saturday. There's also significant racing on both Saturday and Sunday at Longchamp in Paris, site of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1). The TwinSpires Jury of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson look over those races and more.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: The Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs marks the fourth start back for stakes winner #8 Senor Buscador, who exits a better-than-it-looks third in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien (G2) at Del Mar. Experiencing a wide trip throughout from post 10, the Todd Flincher-trained colt was floated toward the middle of the track leaving the far turn and bumped by American Theorem, who took advantage of the contact finishing second. Senor Buscador rallied well through the stretch to just miss behind that rival, and wound up clear of Speaker's Corner, who faltered mightily as the favorite and isn't in the same form as earlier this year. It's easy to project further progression for Senor Buscador. The four-year-old is still lightly raced, with plenty of upside, and he registered top-notch Brisnet Speed (102) and Late Pace (105) numbers last time. Listed at 12-1 on the morning line, Senor Buscador has a big chance at a price.
Kellie Reilly: #2 Delmona (6-1) is an attractive price for a prime threat in Saturday's Unzip Me S. at Santa Anita. A useful juvenile when trained in England last season, the Dandy Man filly just missed to future Breeders' Cup heroine Twilight Gleaming in a French listed stakes and also went close in a few other notable events. Delmona has transferred that form stateside, where her only unplaced effort came in the Senorita (G3) over a mile. She collected two more stakes placings during a brief stint on the East Coast, most recently taking third in the Galway S. at Saratoga. The Jeff Mullins trainee is proven over the downhill turf, having captured an allowance here. Umberto Rispoli, aboard for that Mar. 26 win, reunites with her.
Vance Hanson: With Saturday's Belmont Turf Sprint (G3) being run at Aqueduct this fall, that should give #12 Scuttlebuzz (10-1) some additional appeal. Although a stakes winner over Belmont's turf last spring, the charismatic gray has proven even more effective at The Big A since the outer turf course was reinstalled in late 2020. Scuttlebuzz is 4-for-4 going six furlongs on the course, including two come-from-behind wins against allowance foes late last season. He has a wide draw to overcome, but should offer some value.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: Along with Speaker's Corner, I'll fade the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the Lukas Classic (G2), #5 Hot Rod Charlie. The Grade 1-winning colt hasn't displayed the same speed, or form this season, from his sophomore campaign. I was excited about his prospects last fall following a spectacular wire-to-wire triumph in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) that registered a 110 Speed rating, but Hot Rod Charlie has not visited the winner's circle in five graded starts since then, including a head second at odds-on in the Salvator Mile (G3) two back and a non-threatening third in the Whitney (G1) last time. I like Art Collector wire-to-wire and respect the chances of Happy Saver.
KR: #1 Gold Phoenix (2-1) is running in Saturday's John Henry Turf Championship (G2) primarily to gain more experience ahead of the Breeders' Cup, trainer Phil D'Amato told Daily Racing Form. The Irish import booked his ticket to the Turf (G1) with an up-in-time rally in the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2) Sept. 3. But he has a furlong less to work with in the John Henry, a race that is clearly not his main aim. Stablemates Cash Equity and Masteroffoxhounds are likelier to step up in this spot. Chances are that Gold Phoenix turns in a solid effort similar to his third in the Charles Whittingham (G2), also over 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita, to set him up for Keeneland.
VH: I'm more confident in #1 Speaker's Corner's (1-1) chances in Saturday's Ack Ack at Churchill Downs than I was for the Aug. 27 Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, for which I recommended in this space he be faded. Nonetheless, if anywhere close to his even-money morning line price in the Ack Ack, I don't think he offers much pari-mutuel appeal. After a great start to his 2022 campaign, I simply haven't liked his performances since June, even when going down to defeat against division stalwarts Flightline and Life Is Good. The opposition here is less compelling than it was at Del Mar, but there are a few that could conceivably surprise.
What else is worth noting?
JS: The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) received a boost of star power when champion Echo Zulu returned off the bench with a stylish wire-to-wire win in last Saturday's Dogwood (G3), and the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) will benefit if #2 Forbidden Kingdom (9-5) returns with a strong showing in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2). An impressive wire-to-wire winner of the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) in late January, Forbidden Kingdom carried his speed 1 1/16 miles in the San Felipe (G2), but the talented colt is a true sprinter. And he's much quicker than any of his six rivals Saturday. Forbidden Kingdom appears to be training forwardly for Richard Mandella, and I expect a dominant performance.
KR: France takes center stage this weekend, with a terrific Saturday card as a prelude to Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) program that itself features a total of six Group 1 races for Thoroughbreds. The depth of these contests, plus the variable of soft ground, makes for plenty of betting value all around. The TwinSpires Edge has selections and informative analysis. Also, from a U.S. racing perspective, Arc Day holds intense interest for its bearing upon the Breeders' Cup, and not just for the five “Win and You're In” events. The Saturday action likewise can have ramifications; in the Prix Dollar (G2), for example, Andre Fabre sends out his Breeders' Cup Turf hope, Botanik, who's not in the Arc only because he's ineligible as a gelding. Newmarket's Saturday highlight, the Sun Chariot (G1), likewise promises to have Breeders' Cup implications with Homeless Songs taking on defending champ Saffron Beach.
VH: Laurel will offer a pair of juvenile stakes on Saturday -- the Laurel Futurity and Selima S. -- with significant histories. Provided rain doesn't wash them off the turf, both look intriguing wagering propositions on paper. In the Laurel Futurity, I'll be interested to see how #1 Quincy Cafe (12-1) adapts to the new surface. A son of the versatile Mendelssohn, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Quincy Cafe will be making his stakes debut in the Futurity after showing gradual improvement in maiden dirt sprints earlier in the summer. He finally graduated in his third start, via disqualification, but is bred to excel with some distance and the switch in surfaces should work him. Notably, he's a half-brother to recent Test (G1) winner Chi Town Lady.