Two talented colts made important strides this past weekend in their quest to win the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Vindication performed like a monster, dominating the Sept. 14 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park by six lengths. And Whywhywhy reeled off his third consecutive victory in a graded event when he scored by 1 3/4 lengths in the Sept. 15 Futurity Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Both were impressive performances. But in this round of competition, the slight edge should go to Vindication--at least as far as long-term prospects are concerned.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile has been lengthened to 1 1/8 miles this year, and Padua Stables' colt passed a key test by romping in the two-turn, 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Cup event. He also had to overcome adversity after breaking in the air, then being forced back to last when a horse next to him, Crowned King, stumbled leaving the gate and lost his rider. Vindication shook off those setbacks easily, rallying to take control with a sweeping move in the final turn. A $2.15-million Saratoga select yearling sale graduate, the son of Seattle Slew is now undefeated in three races.
And Vindication has a pedigree that suggests he can go farther, with Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew as his sire. Vindication's dam, Strawberry Reason (by Strawberry Road), won at 1 1/16 miles, and she was stakes-placed twice at nine furlongs. Those efforts included a third-place finish in the 1995 Arlington Heights Oaks (gr. III) at Arlington Park, site of the World Thoroughbred Championships. Leaving nothing to chance or genetics, trainer Bob Baffert prepared Vindication for the two-turn challenge by working him behind horses at Del Mar.
In winning the one-mile Futurity, Whywhywhy posted his first victory beyond six furlongs after stalking the early pace. He also showed he can cope with adverse weather, winning on a rainy day when the track was rated good. Whwhywhy's sire, Mr. Greeley, was at his best as a sprinter, but he did win once at Belmont at a mile. Whywhywhy's dam, Thorough Fair (by Quiet American), never won beyond six furlongs, so stamina may be the colt's biggest obstacle.
Still, trainer and co-owner Patrick Biancone was confident. He predicted following the Futurity that Whywhywhy would win the Breeders' Cup., saying the colt would "love two turns." Whywhywhy's competitive spirit is not an issue. In winning both the Sanford (gr. II) and Flash (gr. III) Stakes, he overcame trying circumstances.
"He handles everything," Biancone said. "They fall in front of him (in the Flash Stakes) and he still wins. They shuffled him back (in the Sanford Stakes), and he still wins. (In the Futurity), he handled the weather."
Vindication and Whywhywhy probably will not compete again before tackling the Breeders' Cup.
In Europe on Sept. 15, the Aga Khan Studs National Stakes (Ire-I) featured undfeated group III winner Dublin facing off against undefeated group II winner Van Nistelrooy, the most expensive yearling sold at public auction last year at $6.4 million. The contest pitted the mighty Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai against the powerful Coolmore Stud team. But the race went to a 7-1 Moyglare Stud Farm homebred, Refuse To Bend (by Sadler's Wells). He defeated Van Nistelrooy by three-quarters of a length, with Dublin a neck back in third.
Whywhywhy's Futurity victory moved him into a first-place tie with European-based Elusive City and undeafeated Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Sky Mesa in the latest World Thoroughbred Rankings for the 2-year-old male division. Whywhywhy's stablemate Zavata, who is scheduled to run next in the Oct. 5 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, fell from third to fourth. Refuse To Bend and Vindication were tied for fifth in the rankings, and there was a three-way tie for seventh between Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) winner Icecoldbeeratreds, Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III) winner Lone Star Sky, and Hopeful and Futurity runner-up Pretty Wild. Van Nistelrooy was 10th.
Baffert, who trains Icecoldbeeratreds, has indicated he would like to keep that runner sprinting, reducing his chances for a Breeders' Cup appearance. Lone Star Sky worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 at Churchill Downs on Sept. 17.
This weekend (Sept. 21 and 22) there are no graded events in North America for 2-year-old males, with the competition leaning heavily toward restricted races. Open contests include the one-mile-and-seventy-yard Foolish Pleasure Stake on Saturday at Calder and the seven-furlong Swynford Stakes on Sunday at Woodbine.
Fab Five Contenders:
1. Vindication/ Bob Baffert/Padua Stables
Next start: Breeders' Cup Juvenile
2. Sky Mesa/ John Ward/John Oxley
Next start: Breeders' Futurity
3. Whywhywhy/Patrick Biancone/Fabien Ouaki
Next start: Breeders' Cup Juvenile
4. Elusive City/G. Butler/The Thoroughbred Corporation
Next start: Unknown
5. Zavata/ Patrick Biancone/Michael Tabor
Next start: Champagne Stakes