When the 2020 version of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series began back in December of last year, prognostications for 2020 decidedly, did not, include a global pandemic. Since late February, tracks across the nation scrambled to reschedule, if they could, and the ramifications of those decisions on the Breeders’ Cup entries remain elusive.
For the most part, racing secretaries, horsemen’s associations, connections, jockey/agent pairings, and even the Thoroughbreds themselves, practiced adaptation. As of yesterday, Sunday October 11th, the final winner received their automatic bid, and it is time to get down to the business of the draw. Who will make the trip?
Let’s take a look at who secured their spot to the most celebrated two-day event in Thoroughbred racing, which this year will be held at Keeneland, November 6-7.
JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (KEE) Aunt Pearl (IRE) Juvenile Fillies Turf
Brad Cox won the Jessamine Stakes, and I am sure this is just part-n-parcel of an inauguration of a new era of impending dominance by a trainer who goes about his business in a workmanlike manner. I see him as a young Bobby Frankel (that is high praise), and I am not shy about heaping praise on him, as you can probably tell. I am not on his payroll, for the record; he simply continues to evolve into areas, like turf racing, that offer opportunities. That spells success earned in my estimation.
Aunt Pearl, the 2-year-old filly he entered in this race was absolutely stellar and sparkling in this spot. Go look at those gaudy fractions she set when Florent Geroux switched on the autopilot. It looked like she was pulling a little to left as she ran, maybe that assisted with her swift turn-of-foot. That is 2 races in a row where Geroux has just coasted with drink in hand. Her 3/2 status at post time was deserved, and if the field in the Juvenile Fillies Turf lets Aunt Pearl loose on the Haggin again, she has the power to win that too.
Jockey Club Gold Cup (BEL) Happy Saver Longines Classic
Irad Ortiz looked just fine over the weekend at Belmont, after serving first a suspension, and then, a quarantine lockout due to his contraction of COVID-19. Time away catching up on Dickens and Rand lends perspective. Aboard Happy Saver (2/1), Irad simply kept pace during much of the Gold Cup with Tacitus, who for some reason was taken out on the lead by brother, Jose Ortiz. That was the wrong decision for one brother, and the correct one for the trailer because it gave Todd Pletcher’s Saver the chance to sit just off and weigh options.
That is dangerous of course, at a place like Belmont where the sand runs deep in the stretch, but we are talking about Tacitus here. Once again, the betting public was snookered into believing that this beautiful gray, Bill Mott-trained colt, was going to deliver in a short field at a preferred distance. The rail ride by Happy Saver spoiled his shot at the BC Classic, and now that colt will bring an undefeated record into the biggest race of his short 3-year-old career. Does this horse have the chops to take on older males, like Maximum Security and Improbable? And what about fellow cohorts like Authentic, Tiz the Law, and Swiss Skydiver (if she draws in)? I am not sure. Sometimes horses heading into the “Mt. Everest of competition” can rise. Saver, he is going to need it.
The Sounding of Music
The Champagne (BEL) Jackie's Warrior TVG Juvenile
Maclean's Music is not a sire that most would consider in the upper echelons of breeding royalty. During his abbreviated racing career, he was a flash in the pan in the tradition of California gold mining. Music ran one race, a MSW 6-furlong dirt race at Santa Anita, then was injured. Stonestreet got paid $32,400 for that effort. Not a great return for a $900K investment. Others saw potential, and when he went to stud at Hill ‘N’ Dale, his offspring that he produced started to win. Ever heard of Cloud Computing? He was the son of Maclean’s and won the Preakness. How about Complexity? He won a race called the Champagne at Belmont two years ago, sired by, guess who? Maclean’s Music.
This past Saturday, another son of the colt who never got the chance to race, won the Champagne—the Steve Asmussen-trained, Jackie’s Warrior. Proving that just because your Sire did not have the opportunity at a prosperous racing career, does not mean you have to follow in his footsteps. Jackie’s Warrior was in firm control throughout the race on Saturday afternoon, setting a solid pace. Joel Rosario maintained that easy lead, and the short price on this one was clearly deserved. I cannot wait to see the field that draws in for this year’s TVG Juvenile. It is going to be a beast of a race.
The Flower Bowl (BEL) Civil Union Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf
Rosario was not done after notching a win in the Champagne. I said last week in my preview of the Flower Bowl that he was going to have to position Civil Union in the perfect spot at the top of the stretch to score. JR, the Risktaker, did just that, just barely edging My Sister Nat who was rolling like a freight train at the end. Trainer Shug McGaughey has got to be really proud of this mare. That makes 4 in a row and 5-overall in 3 years of competition. War Front continues to produce turf winners, and that is a testament to not only his bloodline, but also the mares he has covered.
With Civil Union’s victory, what was most impressive was how she repulsed the Chad Brown entries. Think on it, McGaughey’s charge bested all three of them, who each finished 2nd-4th. Lesson? Just because you have a strong hand coming into a race, does not ensure victory. I still do not understand how Brown separates in his mind when and where to enter turf horses. It has gotten to the point that all of them are such short prices, you have difficulty discerning which one is in the best form (this was the issue at Monmouth in the Stakes there, too). Whatever the case, more Chad Brown runners await Civil Union. Next up, possibly Sistercharlie (IRE), Rushing Fall, and a rematch with My Sister Nat. Cannot wait…
The Frizette (BEL) Dayoutoftheoffice Juvenile Fillies
An uncontested pace in a dirt race is two halves of the same coin. It can lead to a wire-to-wire score or it can give other horses that rate well, the opportunity to have a target to run at. The Frizette at Belmont on Saturday was essentially a two-horse race between the favorite, Vequist, and the second-choice, Dayoutoftheoffice, which is odd to type. Joy’s Rocket served as the pacer, as the low odds pair bided their time. In the end, Dayout powered home for trainer Tim Hahn and jockey Junior Alvarado. I wanted to see this horse win, and she showed her true spirit by putting away Vequist long before the wire.
Hahn knows how to train with a wealth of experience under his belt. But most of his work has come at local tracks like Thistledown and Belterra. It is gratifying to see him bring this filly into such a major race and have her perform in such a fine fashion. The best of this story is that Hahn owns this daughter of Into Mischief. Once again, this relatively new sire has proved that his offspring can match speed with anyone. The only question mark the pundits will continue to harp on is can she get the BC Juvenile Fillies distance of 1 1/16th? This division is going to be on full parade at Keeneland, and I would expect some serious pomp and circumstance considering the company that will lineup in this upcoming test of youth.
The Longshot Young Turfling
The Futurity (BEL) Second Of July Juvenile Turf Sprint
The final BC Challenge Series race went to Belmont Park and their juvenile 2-year-olds burned up the turf. It is a good thing the weather held, because a giant rainstorm rolled through Long Island the next day. For once, Wesley Ward brought a sprinter into a NYRA track and was the favorite. He gets little respect up that way being a Kentucky guy, but his horse, After Fiver with Irad Ortiz aboard, looked odds on. Not to be. Dylan Davis played spoiler riding the Phil Gleaves young gelding, Second of July (15/1) to victory. Seemingly boxed in along the 3-path, she shook loose and swept by the leaders in impressive fashion.
Second of July’s sire was an extremely accomplished miler named Jack Milton. Out of the Todd Pletcher barn, he won 2 major G1s at Keeneland, but his progeny have not had much success over the past 2 years, until now. This horse is going to see Wesley Ward stablemates again (at least 1-2) if he heads to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. Ward will not be so willing to relinquish the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint trophy he won last year at Santa Anita with the accomplished, Four Wheel Drive. This year’s edition promises to be another raucous and contentious grass race. The son of Jack Milton better get ready! It’s on!
Congratulations to all the connections! Now, it is on to Keeneland! Look for our weekly review of possibles/probables for all the upcoming Breeders’ Cup races. It is going to epic when the Purple and White sweeps into the land of the Green! Stay tuned…