This past weekend, just like the previous weekend, more than a dozen Graded stakes were run at Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Keeneland. Each was designed to prepare contenders for the 13 Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland on Oct. 30 and 31.
In addition, the presumed star of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup – American Pharoah – did not race, but had an excellent 5 furlong workout clocked in 59.80 at Santa Anita under minimal urging. As Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert saw it, the workout pushed American Pharoah closer toward the top performance he will need to defeat a strong field in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Oct. 31.
While the exceptional 5-year-old mare Beholder was scheduled to work at Santa Anita early this week, two of the top older male horses that American Pharoah and Beholder are expected to meet in the Classic, did compete in Graded stakes at Belmont on Saturday.
Specifically, Tonalist turned in a strong performance winning the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at the 1-1/4 mile BCup Classic distance by open daylight. The effort earned Tonalist a 109 Beyer Speed Figure, which is only one point below his lifetime best, while equaling the highest Beyer Fig. American Pharoah ever has earned.
Honor Code was the other logical contender for the BC Classic that performed on Saturday.
Interestingly, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey decided to run Honor Code in the $400,000 Kelso Handicap on the same Belmont card as Tonalist was winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup. While Honor Code only finished third to Appealing Tale in this one mile event, his performance was very close to what McGaughey hoped to see.
Prior to the Kelso, McGaughey willingly explained his crafty intentions.
“I put him in this one mile race so I would not have to run him in the 1-1/4 mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and then run him back at the same 1-1/4 mile distance in the Classic. I’ve learned through the years that it can take something out of a good horse to run him twice in a row at 1-1/4 miles. “At the same time,” he continued; “it will be easier for me to use the mile race to help move him forward for the extra quarter mile in the Classic.”
For the record, Appealing Tale ran a strong mile to win the Kelso, earning a 108 Beyer Speed Figure, and is a likely starter in the $1 million BCup Dirt Mile on Friday, Oct. 30.
Among all the other BCup prep stakes, there were at least two that deserve special commentary. Frankly, I strongly urge readers to look up the result charts for all of these Graded Stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications. Taking time to watch the video tape replays would even be a better way to identify potentially good Breeders’ Cup plays.
At Belmont, trainer Chad Brown’s amazing stable of top turf horses produced another BC contender for the $2 million BCup Filly and Mare Turf as Stephanie’s Kitten won the $500,000 Grade-I Flower Bowl at 1-1/4 miles on rain softened grass. She now will join Brown’s Watsdachances and Dacita as logical BC contenders for that BC race.
In the Grade-I Champagne Stakes at one mile around one turn for 2 year olds, Greenpointcrusader was a surprise winner that made a strong positive impression.
Coming out of a win and a second in a pair of good maiden sprints at Saratoga, Greenpointcrusader overcame serious traffic problems to score an impressive stretch running win in this $500,000 event that was clocked in 1:36.25. That performance earned him a 94 Beyer Fig., which is several points faster than the best turned in by the western based division leader, Nyquist.
Ralis, who previously had won the 7 furlong Hopeful stakes at Saratoga, Sept. 7, was soundly defeated in this good prep for the $2 million BCup Juvenile at 1-1/16 miles.
Ralis’ trainer Doug O’Neill admitted to being mystified by the mediocre effort and is planning to examine the son of Square Eddie “from head to toe” before he makes a Breeders’ Cup decision.
Beyond the stakes run in America on Saturday, two top horses that ran Sunday in the $6 million Prix de l’Arc deTriomphe in Paris, may travel to Keeneland for important BCup races.
The winner of the Arc, Golden Horn, is a talented 3 year old slated to be retired after this season. Yet, his owner Anthony Oppenheimer is considering a challenge to American Pharoah, Beholder, Tonalist and Honor Code in the BC Classic!
“We’re not sure if he’ll run in Champion Stakes in England before he’s retired,” Oppenheimer said after the Arc. “But,” he continued, “we’re definitely thinking about sending him to Keeneland for the Classic.”
Golden Horn is trained by John Gosden, an Englishman quite familiar with American racing, having spent several years here early in his stellar career.
The other Arc horse who may come to Keeneland is Flintshire, who finished 2nd in Sunday’s Arc. Flintshire was 2nd in last year’s Arc and 2nd again to Main Sequence in the 2014 BC Turf at Santa Anita. He is likely for another go in the $3 million BCup Turf.
Added Notes: Andrew Beyer generously provided his Speed Figures for this column. At Belmont In the Frizette, Nickname earned a modest 78 Beyer Fig. and Takeover Target earned a 96 in the Hill Prince. At Keeneland, Amelia’s Wild Ride earned a 102 in the Woodford Reserve turf sprint; Fioretti earned 91 in the Turf Club of America dirt sprint, and Brodys Cause earned an 88 in the Breeders’ Futurity. Finally, Grand Arch earned a good 103 Beyer in the Shadwell Turf Mile.
Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas & is writing a new book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Email: SteveDavidowitz @GamingToday.com.