Handicapping Insights

SEPTEMBER 28, 2012

by Dick Powell

The days of multiple prep races leading up to the Breeders' Cup are long gone and the schedule of major stakes races leading up to it reflects the new paradigm.

Belmont Park has five Grade 1 stakes races this coming weekend and three Grade 2s. Santa Anita has five Grade 1 stakes races on Saturday and all of them have name changes. Last week saw big stakes races at Woodbine, and Keeneland opens up next week. And, that's about it. With few exceptions, you will see nearly all the major domestic contenders in these races.

Last year, Belmont had heavy rain so many poor efforts had to be excused. The typical Breeders' Cup starter will only have one start between Saratoga/Del Mar and the first weekend in November so it becomes much harder to gauge form since there is not much to go on and outside factors like weather and track bias can cloud it.

With the Breeders' Cup races held on Santa Anita this year, this Saturday's five Grade 1 stakes races will be center stage. The Oak Leaf Stakes is now known as the Chandelier Stakes and is still run at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. It has attracted a field of 11 and is headlined by Bob Baffert's undefeated Executiveprivilege, who will be making her dirt and two-turn debut.

One advantage that the California juveniles have over their rivals is that these final prep races are run around two turns like they will be on Championship Day. It's one less question that they have to answer.

What used to be the Norfolk Stakes is now the FrontRunner Stakes run at the same 1 1/16 miles for juvenile males. It also has a field of 11 and Baffert is represented by three starters. It doesn't look like one of the more stellar renewals so we might see a recent maiden winner get the job done.

Of the 22 juveniles running in the two stakes races, two are not racing on Lasix. With the new policy of the Breeders' Cup to ban Lasix for the five juvenile stakes races on the weekend, I thought more trainers would experiment on Saturday by racing without the diuretic. But 20 of the 22 will run on it again meaning that there's a strong probability that the in-the-money finishers in Saturday's races will be first time Lasix-off in the Breeders' Cup.

A horse that will not even run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies is Grade 1 Spinaway winner So Many Ways. Owner Maggie Moss, an opponent to banning raceday Lasix, is putting her on the shelf for the rest of the year to let her develop for next year's racing. She did not mention the ban of Lasix but I have to assume that it played a major role in her decision.

It will make for an interesting handicapping exercise to try to predict who might or might not bleed internally at a time of the year when temperatures are usually in the high 90s.

In the Belmont races, the Jockey Club Gold Cup came up deep and strong with 10 entries. What makes the race a fascinating handicapping exercise is the issue of trainer intent. Yes, it's a race for $1 million but it's still a prep race for the Classic. How many horses will be pointed for Saturday and how many will be trained through Saturday to be ready for the big prize.

Last year, on a very muddy track, Bill Mott saw his Royal Delta lose the Beldame by eight lengths to Havre de Grace and Drosselmeyer get beat in the Gold Cup to Flat Out, who, ironically, Mott now trains and is back in on Saturday.

Both horses came out of their prep races to win the Ladies' Classic and Classic, so it's unlikely that Mott will have Royal Delta and Ron the Greek 100 percent fit and ready. He'll probably save some gas for the big goals ahead and train through the race. The specter of a wet track also makes it unlikely that either horse will run a gigantic effort and come out of the race empty.

Racing was canceled for Belmont on Friday in anticipation of heavy rain, which should stop by Saturday. The turf courses will be soaked and the main track should be sealed and wet. Considering that Santa Anita in six weeks will almost certainly be fast and firm, you could not have a bunch of important prep races run under more diametrically opposite conditions than they will see in six weeks.

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