Steve Haskin's BC Countdown: Law of the Land

Steve Haskin's BC Countdown: Law of the Land
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Following another blowout by Lawyer Ron in Saturday’s Woodward Stakes (gr. I), we’re down to one champion-caliber older horse who looks capable of withstanding this year’s 3-year-old juggernaut in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I).

Actually, it might be more appropriate to say that it is the 3-year-olds who must withstand Lawyer Ron’s one-horse juggernaut. That, of course, is assuming he can take his Criss Angel vanishing act back to Belmont Park, and then on to Monmouth. Lawyer Ron certainly seems to have perfected this new act, in which he is seen cavorting with his fellow older horses, and then, poof, he’s gone.

The son of Langfuhr   has single-handedly eliminated every older horse in the East as a serious, or even semi-serious, threat for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Between the Whitney (gr. I) and his latest stunner in the Woodward, Lawyer Ron has sent a wake-up call to Classic hopefuls such as Corinthian, Political Force, Sun King, Brass Hat, Diamond Stripes, Wanderin Boy, Magna Graduate, and Fairbanks, informing them that their presence at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 is no longer required, or worth the trouble.

Several obviously will not heed his words and will try him again at a new track and an extra quarter of a mile. For $5 million, why not? Out West, no one is going to take Student Council and Awesome Gem, the first two finishers in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), seriously until they can demonstrate their talents away from Del Mar’s sloth-like surface. To their credit, both have performed admirably on “dirt” tracks, but not in the company they’ll be facing back east.

California’s only true star, Lava Man, appears headed to the non-graded Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (and 70 yards) after his laborious encounter with Del Mar’s Polytrack. Considering his age, and the belief by many that he’s slowed down over the past two years, it would seem an unusual move running a horse who has won seven grade I stakes at 1 1/4 miles, in a race in which he’ll have to show more speed than he’s ever shown before against some swift younger foes who have excelled from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.

Getting back to Lawyer Ron, now that he has issued a harsh reality check to his contemporaries, he will turn his attention to this year’s sensational sophomores, possibly starting off with Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), although trainer Todd Pletcher also is considering training him up to the Classic. For people who enjoy seeing their stars race, it is a sad fact of life that the last three winners of the Classic – Invasor, Saint Liam, and Ghostzapper – all went into the race off layoffs, ranging from seven weeks to three months. Lawyer Ron’s layoff would be eight weeks.

If he does run in the Gold Cup and gets by the Preakness (gr. I) winner, awaiting him at Monmouth will be Street Sense, his stablemate Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun, Tiago, and Grasshopper. And now you might even have to throw Timber Reserve into the mix after his gutsy win in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) in only his second start of the year. The son of Forest Camp covered the nine furlongs in a sprightly 1:47 3/5, out-battling the multiple stakes winner Xchanger after a stretch-long duel. There’s a chance we’ll also see Timber Reserve next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but taking on Lawyer Ron and Curlin is a huge step up.

Tiago, who skipped the Pacific Classic, will now wait until the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. I) on Sept. 29 before heading back east to Monmouth.

Right now, it looks as if Pletcher is preparing quite a one-two knockout punch for the BC Classic, with Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday, both of whom have been nothing short of brilliant this summer, but still have to show they are just as effective going 10 furlongs. Judging by their recent performances, it would be a major surprise if they’re not. With Pletcher packing such strong ammo for the Classic, one could surmise that Rags to Riches, with only one race scheduled between the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, will point for the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I).

Lawyer Ron has always loved being a racehorse, with an “on” and “off” switch that has been pretty much stuck on “on” for the past two years. Since moving to the Pletcher Palace, he has added a “high” and “low” setting, which has allowed his zeal to be regulated. Although many feel he has blossomed and improved under Pletcher’s care, let’s not forget that he did turn in a number of brilliant performances under former trainer Bob Holthus, highlighted by a six-race winning streak that included five stakes victories leading up to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). So, this was not exactly some miracle turnaround. With a little tinkering by Pletcher, combined with the colt’s natural maturity process, Lawyer Ron is now a professional running machine.

As for his vanquished Woodward foes, Sun King, who seems like he’s been around for five years, added another grade I placing to his growing list. It seems like ages ago that he was running in major 2-year-old stakes against the likes of Afleet Alex. The son of Charismatic has now finished second or third in eight grade I stakes, including heartbreaking defeats in the Whitney and Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), and no one deserves to win one more than him. A mile and a quarter might be a bit too far for him, but trainer Nick Zito and owners Tracy and Carol Farmer will have to decide in which direction they want to go. His last victory was at seven furlongs, so they do have the BC Dirt Mile as an option, but that won’t help his graded stakes status. He could, however, add to his already hefty bankroll of over $2.1 million.

Diamond Stripes keeps running hard and picking up a piece of the purse, but has to start showing more improvement if he’s going to be considered a major threat in the upcoming stakes. Corinthian deserves another chance after a bad start and making what looked to be a serious move around the far turn. He definitely should improve off this effort. The rest of them pretty much went through the motions.

Expect to see the older horses start to spread out all over the country, looking to land a big prize, while avoiding Lawyer Ron. But with even the 3-year-olds heading off in different directions, there is a good chance of running into one them along the way, such as Street Sense in the Massachussetts Handicap (gr. II) or Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), Any Given Saturday in the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II), Hard Spun in the Kentucky Cup Classic, and the aforementioned Curlin, as well as Lawyer Ron, in the JC Gold Cup. The new kid on the block, Grasshopper, could show up in the Super Derby (gr. II) against 3-year-olds.

One colt, Suburban (gr. I) runner-up Fairbanks, who skipped the Woodward, will head to Chicago for the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II).

In addition to classy Europeans Manduro and George Washington, who could have the Classic in their sights, there is the Argentine-bred Asiatic Boy, who should welcome a return to the dirt after finishing fourth in the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) and fifth in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I). Before heading to England and the grass, he romped by 9 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) and by 4 1/2 lengths in UAE Two Thousand Guineas. The latter was his smallest margin in four winning efforts over the Nad al Sheba dirt course this year. A 10-furlong specialist to watch is the hard-knocking Notnowcato, who has knocked off Authorized, Dylan Thomas, and George Washington in group I stakes this year.

Majestic Mott

Bill Mott’s surge back to the top reached new heights with the powerful victory in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) by George Steinbrenner’s Majestic Warrior, a regally bred son of A.P. Indy out of grade I winner Dream Supreme, who captured Saratoga’s two big filly sprints, the grade I Test and Ballerina Stakes.

Mott, even in his heyday, was never known for his precocious 2-year-olds, and made few appearances on the Kentucky Derby trail. But the new Bill Mott is firing all kinds of weapons, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here with Majestic Warrior, who seems to have it all – from his pedigree to his powerful kick, which propelled him past the two-time graded stakes winner Ready’s Image and the highly touted Maimonides in the final furlong of the Hopeful.

Mott has always been one of the classiest trainers and a stand-up guy, and he would be a welcome addition to the Derby trail. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Right now, there is the Champagne (gr. I) and Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), which for the first time will not have a Kentucky Derby jinx attached to it.

 A filly to fawn over

America has Rags to Riches, but she is not the only female superstar to emerge this year. In Europe, the superlatives have been flowing for Coolmore’s Peeping Fawn, who, after a narrow defeat in the English Oaks (Eng-I), has rattled off four consecutive group I victories – the Pretty Polly Stakes, Irish Oaks, Nassau Stakes, and Yorkshire Oaks. She’s won all of them by open lengths and on two occasions soundly defeated Light Shift, the filly that beat her by a half-length at Epsom.

Peeping Fawn is quoted at 7-1 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I), but no decision has been made by trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore brain trust regarding her fall schedule. If the daughter of Danehill heads to Monmouth for the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I), for which she is the 4-1 favorite with Wynn Race Book, or even the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I), for which she is 25-1, she could prove to be a worthy successor to Ouija Board.

If Peeping Fawn should contest the Filly & Mare Turf, she’ll likely face some formidable competition, such as the undefeated Nashoba’s Key, who has been reported to be heading back to the turf; the explosive stretch runner Rutherienne; the often brilliant Wait a While and her classy stablemate Honey Ryder, both of whom prefer firm ground; and classy fillies Citronnade, Precious Kitten, Price Tag, Lady of Venice, Rosinka, Royal Highness, Mauralakana, Panty Raid, and the unlucky Makderah.

Horses for Courses

The following are horses to watch on Breeders’ Cup day who have already run big races at Monmouth Park this year: Any Given Saturday and Lawyer Ron, and to a lesser degree Hard Spun and Curlin (Classic), English Channel and Better Talk Now (Turf), Hystericalady (Distaff), Honey Ryder (F&M Turf), Lantana Mob and The Roundhouse (Juvenile), A Little Gem (Juvenile Fillies), Smokey Stover, Idiot Proof, First Defence and La Traviata (Sprint), Icy Atlantic (Mile), Gotcha Gold, First Defence, Park Avenue Ball, and Cable Boy (Dirt Mile), La Traviata (F&M Sprint), Atoned and Hop Skip and Away (Juvenile Turf), and Sales Tax and Sammy Van Ammy (Juvenile Fillies Turf).

There have been a number of brilliant 2-year-old performances this year, many by horses whose distance qualifications are questionable. There is one colt, however, who looks like he could develop into a star when the distances stretch out, and that is the aforementioned The Roundhouse, a half-brother to Circular Quay by Fusaichi Pegasus  , who, like his brother, packs quite a wallop in the stretch. But this colt has more early speed and can lay within six to eight lengths of the leaders through rapid early fractions. He ran into a pair of buzz saws in Ready’s Image and Kodiak Kowboy in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) and Sanford (gr. II), but will be a more formidable foe from now on, and should be tough to beat in the upcoming Futurity Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont. To his credit, he won his debut at Monmouth going five furlongs, blowing by everyone in the final furlong after being fifth at the eighth pole.

 

Most Popular Stories