Countdown to the Cup: The Most, the Best, and Other Lists

Countdown to the Cup: The Most, the Best, and Other Lists
Photo: NYRA/AdamCoglianese
Riskaverse, gets no respect despite winning or placing in grade I races in each of the last five years, including this win in the Flower Bowl.
It is still too early to make final selections for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Most of the important works are finished, and the majority of the mounts have been assigned. So, basically there is nothing much to do but wait for the shippers to arrive and concoct lists that may or not prove helpful.

So, here, then, are a few of those lists that might be of interest for whatever reason:

Horses most likely to be forgotten in the wagering

So, you're tossing Battle Won after his fifth-place finish in something called the Woodford Stakes, are you? Before you do, and ignore the big odds he's likely to be in the TVG Sprint (gr. I), be aware that it was a 5 1/2-furlong grass race at Keeneland, and he was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths. The last time he ran in a 5 1/2-furlong grass stakes at Keeneland, he finished fourth by 1 1/2 lengths and came right back off that race to win the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:20 2/5, defeating among others Pomeroy.

A common question will be: Who do you like between Ashado and Happy Ticket in the Emirates Airline Distaff (gr. I)? Perhaps the name Society Selection should be included in that question. Sure, she had every chance in the Beldame (gr. I) and hung in the final furlong. But this filly runs hot and cold, and you sure want to have a happy ticket on her the day she's hot. In the Beldame, she was forced to make the kiss of death move on Belmont's turn of no return, and did it prematurely. She came up empty, finishing third, but she was only beaten three lengths. She gets Edgar Prado, and the last time Prado rode Society Selection she won the Test Stakes (gr. I) by 6 1/2 lengths. All she needs is a well-timed and well-placed trip and she is capable of beating any filly in the country. She will be an enticing price, and isn't it about time Allen Jerkens wins a Breeders' Cup race?

Could last year's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner, Better Talk Now, actually be fifth or sixth choice in this year's running? Better believe it. This horse just does not get respect at the windows, and isn't likely to again, despite scoring grade I victories this year in the Man o'War Stakes and United Nations Handicap. There is a good chance he will be higher odds than Shakespeare, Motivator, Azamour, Bago, and possibly even English Channel.

When was the last time you heard anyone engage in a discussion about Flower Alley? After all, he did win the Travers (gr. I), but after being boiled in a rabbit stew, he apparently has shrunk in stature and is now but a small portion of what he was back in his Saratoga glory days. Todd Pletcher likely will take the blinkers off, and if you feel he can restore his tarnished reputation you're going to be looking at pretty hefty price for a Travers winner. The question is, is he good enough even on his best day?

Most Under-appreciated horses

Is there any horse more under-appreciated than Riskaverse? In today's grab-the- money-and-retire world, this hard-knocking mare has won stakes at ages two, three, four, five, and six. She has won or placed in grade I stakes in every one of those years, and all in all has won or placed in eight grade I stakes. It is hard to imagine a horse winning a grade I stakes like the Flower Bowl Invitational, and then coming back to win the same race the following year and paying $73.50. Now that is no respect.

Perfect Drift, at age six, is trying to shed his reputation as a horse who finds a way to lose. Yes, he did have a string of races last year in which he did everything but win, but can anyone who saw him out-duel eventual Horse of the Year Mineshaft   in the 2003 Stephen Foster (gr. I) or wear down a stubborn Congaree   in that year's Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) actually consider him a horse who doesn't want to win? This tough veteran just needs a little luck and, like Society Selection, a well-timed ride. It's hard to imagine his losing efforts in last year's Whitney (gr. I) and the last two runnings of the Pacific Classic (gr. I) not putting him right there at the finish in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), a race he will be running in for the fourth time. Fans should appreciate this horse's honesty, consistency, and durability, which deserve to be rewarded with a Classic victory.

Most dangerous European

In a word, Bago. Yes, there are some top-class horses coming over who have won major races this year, but Bago, last year's Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I) winner, is sitting on a huge race following his fast-closing third in this year's Arc. Losing ground the entire trip, he closed relentlessly from next-to-last at the head of the stretch and did it way out in the middle of the course, widest of everyone. Once noted for his brilliance, winning his first six career starts, he has been plagued with some minor back problems this year and should love going from the uphill and downhill courses in Europe to a flat course in America. The last European horse I can remember who had back problems and relished the change to American racing was a colt named Arcangues.

Horses whose last start was a lot better than it looked on paper

Looking for a bomb in the NetJets Mile (gr. IT)? Pay little attention to the last past performance line for Limehouse. The Kelso Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) was his first start on the grass, and while it normally is not wise to seek out a dirt horse in the Mile, this was a great learning experience for the horse. He showed good speed, dropped back on the turn as if he were going to finish last, then came back again along the inside and was caught in traffic. In the final yards, he gave a big late surge to get to within 1 1/2 lengths of two top-class grass horses in Funfair and Artie Schiller in 1:32 4/5. That late surge may have been the light bulb going off that this new surface isn't too strange after all. He basically is a miler, and now that he knows what grass racing is all about, he could use his class and toughness to at least make some kind of an impact on the race. It also was a major wake-up race for him following two uncharacteristically dismal performances.

Wend's lines in the WinStar Galaxy Stakes (gr. IIT) show that she rallied from four lengths back to be beaten three-quarters of a length by Intercontinental. But they don't come close to showing just how good a race she ran. Wend possesses good tactical speed, but broke horribly, quickly dropping back to last, several lengths behind the next-to-last horse. She then was forced to go five wide around the first turn and made steady progress down the backstretch and around the far turn, while still four wide. In the stretch she continued her steady rally, but, out of nowhere, she exploded in the final 70 yards and was flying at the wire. She will be overlooked in the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), but could surprise off that performance.

Best bet to be in the exotics at a good price

Let's stick with the Filly & Mare Turf and the Mile and toss in Film Maker, who is always closing fast at the end regardless of who is she is running against, and Artie Schiller, who possesses a dazzling turn of foot and just needs to be saved for as long as possible to be right there. Also, Film Maker has Pat Valenzuela on for the second time, and he knows her a lot better now.

In other Breeders' Cup news:

-- Australian champ and two-time group I winner Starcraft turned in a solid work over the all-weather track at Southwell. Working with three stablemates, Starcraft settled in fourth, moved up behind the trio at the top of the stretch and sat chilly in order to get dirt kicked in his face. He then slipped through an opening and coasted clear at the wire with his ears cocked. He seemed to handle the "dirt" well, but this was designed more for the kickback and adapting to a change in surface than to see if the colt liked dirt, which the Southwell surface is not. Trainer Luca Cumani said he was pleased with what he saw.

-- Suave will be trying to make it two-for-two for the Daily Racing Form writers having family members saddling a horse in the Classic angle. First it was Karen Johnson's father, P.G. Johnson, who saddled Volponi to a stunning upset in the 2002 Classic. Now, Marty McGee's brother, Paul, who will try to upset the Classic with Suave.

-- It is worth noting that there are five contenders in the Sprint who are basically miler types dropping back to six furlongs. They are Roman Ruler, Gygistar, Lion Tamer, Imperialism, and High Fly.

-- For those who like to see fast-closing fractions, Singletary closed his final quarter in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) in :22 2/5.

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