With the second half of the year now in full swing, this is a good time to take a look at one man’s opinions as to who the leaders may be in each division after six months of the horse racing calendar.
Older Male: Gun Runner. Many will forget Gun Runner capped off his stellar career by winning the Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream Park in January. Accelerate has Grade I victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita to his credit, but to be honest nobody has really caught the eye to take the top spot from Gun Runner. Yet.
Older Female: Abel Tasman. This group is a work in progress, as all of the “leaders” have missed a chance to take a firm grip on the division. Abel Tasman finished a dull fourth in the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill coming off a layoff, but rebounded with a dominant victory in the Grade I Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Unique Bella was upset in the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park when she broke poorly, but looked like her old self winning the Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita. 2017 Eclipse Award winning older female Forever Unbridled took on the boys in the Grade I Dubai World Cup but could only split the field in her only start this year. This division is up for grabs.
3-year-old Males: Justify. From an unstarted Maiden in February to an undefeated Triple Crown winner in June. This title has already been locked down.
3-year-old Females: Monomoy Girl. The Brad Cox has already won three Grade I races in 2018, including the Kentucky Oaks. Logic would suggest this title has been decided, but top fillies like Grade I Santa Oaks winner Midnight Bisou, Queen’s Plate winner Wonder Gadot, and Red Ruby (who earned the highest Speed Figure of any 3-year-old filly this year of 104 winning the Grade III Delaware Oaks) suggest this championship will be decided on the track in the fall.
Turf Males: Yoshida. Colt from the Bill Mott stable showed much promise as a 3-year-old, and delivered on that potential winning the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill on Derby day. He then shipped to England and gave a good account of himself when beaten just over a length in the Grade I Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Don’t think we have seen the best of this one yet.
Turf Females: Chad Brown. That’s correct, let’s just give the title to trainer Chad Brown and let him decide among his deep barn of female turf specialists that include A Raving Beauty, Fourstar Crook, and Sistercharlie. He has others, too.
Sprinter: Roy H. I’m willing to forgive his dull try in the Grade I Golden Shaheen behind winner Mind Your Biscuits. He showed he is still a top sprinter winning the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita in February, and the defending Eclipse Award winning sprinter is working well for his return to action and should rebound to his best form given he has had plenty of time to recover from his international trip.
2-year-old Colt and 2-year-old Filly: Way too early to have any opinion as these divisions are just getting started.
Trainer: Bob Baffert. The usual suspects are dominating the earnings standings, including Steve Asmussen ($16.5 million through July 7), Todd Pletcher ($11.1 million), Baffert ($10.8 million), and Chad Brown ($10.7 million), but the job Baffert did getting Justify to not only win the Kentucky Derby but sweep the Triple Crown was one for the ages.
Jockey: Mike Smith. There are other riders who have earned more money, but guiding the inexperienced Justify through an undefeated Triple Crown makes Smith the top jock. Not only a great rider but a terrific horseman.
Horse of the Year: Justify. It will take something very special to wrestle away this title from Justify.
There is much to be decided going into the fall championship, but there have been plenty of noteworthy and even historic performances already in 2018.
Closing week at Los Al
After losing most of last Friday’s card due to excessive heat and surviving numerous small fields last weekend also due in part to the hot weather, Los Alamitos closes out their 12-day meet this weekend.
The highlight of the weekend is the $150,000 Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on Saturday, which could bring out Sir Barton Stakes winner Ax Man from the Bob Baffert stable, Grade III Affirmed Stakes winner Draft Pick for trainer Pete Eurton, and Grade III winner Blended Citizen for trainer Doug O’Neill.
The leading rider title is up for grabs with apprentices Heriberto Figueroa and Asa Espinoza well clear of the rest of the field. Look for those two young jockeys to be flat on their respective bellies on each and every mount closing week.
Welcome back Del Mar
Closing week at Los Alamitos means opening week of Del Mar is just around the corner. Next week we will look at some key angles that could pay dividends early where the turf meets the surf when that meet opens on Wednesday, July 18. Don’t forget your sun block and flip flops if you plan on coming out to Del Mar opening week!
Play of the Week
Los Alamitos, Thursday, Race 5 – Magnolia’s Hope (post 4). Maiden from the Mike Machowsky stable may have been too close to a fast early pace last time. She gets a rider switch to Joe Talamo and a drop into the claiming ranks. Look for a much improved effort.