Mike Watchmaker: 2011 Breeders' Cup analysis
Breeders' Cup Saturday
CEASE has been a revelation since switching to dirt, and though the Hawthorne Gold Cup he comes out of wasn’t the strongest Breeders’ Cup prep of the year, he ran very well finishing a close third considering he had previously won only an entry-level allowance race. We have seen the best of what everyone else in this race can do, but Cease still has lots of room for improvement, and seems the type who will run all day. BRIGANTIN has only raced on turf, but was third in two even longer Group 1 races this year in Europe, where the quality of marathon racing just has to be better than ours. A. U. MINER was going well at the finish when fifth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup off a 2 1-2 month layoff and should be tighter this time; obvious. BIRDRUN finished sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup off the same layoff and can also improve.
FARRAAJ has yet to finish worse than second, including a good try in his group stakes debut last time out at Newmarket. He appears to be effective from anywhere on the track, and what I find intriguing is how well bet he’s been in every start. That, in fact, was the deciding factor in a race where I wanted to go with a Euro shipper. CASPAR NETSCHER has already had more starts at 2 (nine) than many Europeans have in a lifetime, but he was beaten only a length in a 16 horse Group 1 last time. STATE OF PLAY’S victory in the With Anticipation in his most recent start got a big boost when Dullahan, the third place finisher, came back to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. But that win was two months ago, and he drew an awful outside post. WROTE was an okay third in his group stakes debut last time; can certainly improve.
APRIORITY’S poor finish last time out in the Vosburgh is best ignored as he was compromised by early trouble and a speed favoring track. And he might have been short off a three month layoff in his loss two back. Apriority’s form before that was very good, and he could sit a perfect trip here stalking a pace disputed by Big Drama, Euroears, and Giant Ryan; taken to upset. BIG DRAMA won this race last year en route to a divisional championship, but his campaign this year has been strange: disappearing for eight months after an incredible performance, returning with only a workman-like win, and then missing his final prep due to illness; too many questions for my liking. JACKSON BEND wants more distance, which is why it was a shock he didn’t go in the Dirt Mile; in tremendous form, however. AMAZOMBIE was perfectly set up in the Ancient Title, but could get another favorable set up here.
CARACORTADO is not a five furlong horse. He prefers more distance than what he gets in this race. But what Caracortado is, is a legitimate Grade 1 performer – he has come within a couple of feet of winning two of them in his career – and the same cannot be said for any other member of this field. He has a powerful late kick on turf, and a lively early pace here could set the stage for him getting up in time. HAVELOCK has won stakes in his last three turf sprint starts, and his score in the Woodford last time out was his best effort yet. CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE won this race last year, and an improved third in his most recent start suggests he is approaching top form again; dangerous. CAMP VICTORY flopped at odds-on in the Morvich, but he can rebound given his excellent prior form on both the main track and grass.
In a race that came up a little softer than expected, WILBURN is the pick. Granted, Wilburn got a sweet rail trip when he won the Indiana Derby most recently, but he’s a rapidly improving 3-year-old who is looking for his fourth straight score, and he might get another great trip here stalking a hot pace. TRAPPE SHOT was compromised by a speed bias in the Vosburgh last time out. He earned big Beyers prior to that, albeit against questionable company, but he also could get a good off-the-pace trip here. I didn’t like the way THE FACTOR caved at 2-5 after an early speed duel in the Ancient Title last time, and while he is a better horse than that, he might get hooked early by Tapizar this time. CALEB’S POSSE stretched back out unsuccessfully in the Indiana Derby, but his two sprint outings before that were top notch; might well be a natural one-turn miler.
SEA MOON might not sport the flashiest Euro lines here, but what he does have over some of the more well-established European invaders is a higher upside. Sea Moon was making only the fifth start of his career when third as the favorite in the St. Leger most recently, a race in which he has a big trouble line, and showed great potential winning his first two starts this year. It was a minor surprise that MIDDAY, winner of the 2009 F&M Turf and a narrowly beaten second in that race last year, opted for this event. Then again, she has made three starts this year against males and has proven very competitive against them. Being competitive against males is also no issue for SARAFINA, whose form prior to a disappointing run in the Arc was stellar; will be formidable if she hasn’t lost her edge. ST NICHOLAS ABBEY beat Midday last June and is not out of this.
UNION RAGS was miles the best winning stakes in his last two, and no other member of this field has earned a pair of Beyers that equal the two he received in those romps. It is true that this will be his first start around two turns, but his pedigree and versatility in terms of running style suggest a route will be no problem. DRILL was no match for Creative Cause at odds on in the Norfolk, but a projected livelier pace this time will be to his benefit. CREATIVE CAUSE was clearly best in the Norfolk even if he had an easy trip prompting a slow pace. The pace will be stronger this time, but Creative Cause can still be effective coming from a little farther back. DULLAHAN got his maiden win in the Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack, and is better now than when he tried dirt at the start of his career; stretch threat.
BYWORD’S overall form this year might seem notch below Goldikova’s, and maybe also Strong Suit’s. But he is in season-best form at this time, having beaten the subsequent Group 1 Champion Stakes winner in his most recent start. Byword was a Group 1 winner last year, when he also ran Goldikova to a close decision; taken to upset. Truth be told, I am pulling for GOLDIKOVA to win this race for a fourth straight year because it’s unimaginable to me that another horse will ever approach such a Breeders’ Cup feat. Goldikova does seem to have lost a step, but even if she has, she could still simply be much the best. GIO PONTI was second to Goldikova in this last year and repeats the same prep pattern this year; might have also lost a step, though. STRONG SUIT is another sharp Euro shipper, but a mile might be just outside his best distance range.
FLAT OUT’S two big wins this year – the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban – did come at Belmont Park, but he is much more than a one track horse. He ran well finishing second in the Woodward and Whitney at Saratoga, and even his sixth on the dead rail in the Foster on this track was okay. Flat Out was beaten by Havre de Grace in the Woodward, but the additional furlong could be the equalizer. SO YOU THINK proved to be top class pretty much everywhere in the world, except here. He will be formidable if he handles dirt, which his connections believe he will. HAVRE DE GRACE, outstanding all year, already proved she can beat males when she won the Woodward; tough to take a strong stand against. UNCLE MO is brilliant, but is also a huge question mark at this distance. Moreover, Game On Dude and To Honor and Serve won’t let him get loose early.