Crown Of Thorns

Crown Of Thorns

Benoit Photo

Countdown to the Cup: Boys to Men

Keep an eye on two juveniles and an older horse heading for the Breeders' Cup.

It seems every year we have our brilliant, precocious 2-year-olds whose bandwagons start filling up fast after a spectacular maiden victory. Bettors rush to Las Vegas to get their bets down for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and some even are looking for Kentucky Derby odds.

Trying to project what a promising young horse will become when he or she matures into the finished product is one of the enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the sport. It can apply to precocious 2-year-olds in regard to the Breeders’ Cup juvenile races and the following year’s classics. And it can also apply to late-developing 2-year-olds, some whose careers are put on hold due to injury, and they will be at 3, 4, and even 5.

This year, we have several horses who bear watching in the Breeders’ Cup (and in some cases beyond), based on the talent they displayed early in their careers and their pedigrees.


Stay Thirsty for the Mint Juleps


The buzz horse in the Todd Pletcher barn and the Mike Repole home is Uncle Mo , spectacular winner of his career debut at Saratoga. Many cannot recall a more impressive maiden winner, whose speed figures were through the roof. By Indian Charlie, out of an Arch mare, he should handle two turns with little problem if he can harness some of his speed.


But Pletcher and Repole have another young horse who has the talent and the pedigree to be a major force not only in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but even more so in next year’s classics.


His name is Stay Thirsty , and his second-place finish to another exciting young horse, Boys At Tosconova , in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) suggests he is a colt with a bright future, especially when the distances stretch out. He’s been outworked in the mornings by the fleeter Uncle Mo, but that will mean nothing several months from now. Uncle Mo could very well be the proverbial freak, but the spotlight is already shining brightly on him, while Stay Thirsty still looks to be No. 2 in the Repole stable, despite his grade I placing, and this is the time to get in on the bottom floor.


Being on the lead, as he was in the Hopeful, is not where Stay Thirsty is going to want to be, and to his credit, he was headed by a promising colt in Wine Police and battled back to finish a clear-cut second.


Stay Thirsty has a pedigree to die for, being by A.P. Indy’s son Bernardini , one of the most talented and magnificent-looking horses we’ve ever laid eyes on. His dam, Marozia, is by Storm Bird, out of Make Change, a daughter of the classic-winning Roberto, out of Equal Change, who finished a strong second to Ruffian in the 1 ½-mile CCA Oaks (gr. I). Equal Change, by Horse of the Year Arts and Letters, is out of Fairness, a half-sister to Prove Out and major stakes winners Heartland and Saidam – all out of the mare Equal Venture. This is the cream of King Ranch breeding, and you have in his pedigree one horse who beat Secretariat convincingly and another who was beaten only 2 ¾ lengths by Ruffian, both at 1 ½ miles. Oh, yes, Equal Venture is a full sister to Triple Crown winner Assault.


Once this colt takes back off the pace (haven’t we been here before with Super Saver ?) and stretches out to two turns, we should see the emergence of a leading contender for next year’s classics.


Mandella’s Fellas


Richard Mandella, who won a total of six Breeders’ Cup races in 1993 and 2003, both at Santa Anita, has his sights set on Churchill Downs with two horses who are way under the radar at this point, as well as a potential Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) contender.


But don’t blink or a relatively unknown ship named Acaffella could sail without you.


Why get excited over a 2-year-old who had to travel up to Golden Gate to break his maiden in something called the Angel Island Stakes? Well, just watch the race and you’ll see. This nearly black, handsome son of Mr. Greeley is quite an eyeful, and you had to love his push-button acceleration and the way he lowered his shoulder in the stretch and was striding out with great extension. After inhaling his rivals at the head of the stretch in the 1 1/16-mile race, he drew off to win by six lengths under hand ride.


Everything about this colt spells class. Even though he rallied from sixth at the eighth pole to finish second in his career debut going a mile at Del Mar, Mandella was disappointed he was beaten and looked to run him back, but the only race for him didn’t fill. It was David Jerkens, associate racing secretary at Golden Gate and grandson of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, who convinced Mandella to come up north for the Angel Island Stakes. By running in that race, Acaffella will now be able to make the grade I Norfolk Stakes, which could lead to the BC Juvenile.


Mr. Greeley was a sprinter who has sired several top-class milers and nine-furlong horses, and Acaffella’s female family looks strong enough to carry him classic distances if he’s good enough.


With the Norfolk his next stop, it means the BC Juvenile would be his first start on dirt. But his action and his pedigree indicate that dirt should be no problem at all.


So impressed with the colt was HRTV’s astute analyst Jeff Siegel, he put him on top in his BC Juvenile rankings.


While Acaffella is gearing up for a run at the Juvenile, Mandella will be sending out Crown of Thorns in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I).


This once-promising Derby prospect broke his maiden by seven lengths in 1:20 3/5 for seven furlongs and then won the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) by 2 ½ lengths in 1:40 3/5, but cracked a knee in the Lewis. He returned from a 19-month layoff and immediately established himself as one of the best sprinters in California. Following a second in the Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) in 1:08 1/5, he came charging late in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) only to fall a nose short, the six furlongs in 1:08 flat.


Out another 9 ½ months, first with an epiglottic ulcer and then a stress fracture, he came back in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar last month and again turned in a big late run to finish second, losing by a half-length to a loose-on-an-easy-lead El Brujo in 1:21 3/5.


Crown of Thorns is by the late-closing Repent, who won the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), was beaten a half-length by Medaglia d’Oro in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), and finished a fast-closing second in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Crown of Thorns’ dam, Crowning Touch, is a daughter of Kentucky Derby, Belmont, and Travers (all grade I) winner Thunder Gulch, the sire of Horse of the Year Point Given and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Spain, among others. So, despite his big efforts sprinting, he actually is bred for stamina, and with his running style, should have no problem stretching back out.


Watch him carefully in the Goodwood (gr. I), because he looks to be the proverbial diamond in the rough who may have all the edges smoothed out come Nov. 6. He has proved he’s an exceptionally talented horse, and at this point we really don’t know how talented he really is, and that makes him extremely dangerous, whether he shortens up for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) or stretches out for the Classic (gr. I). That’s how versatile this colt is. He would be equally tough in the Sprint, Dirt Mile or the Classic. and no one deserves a run of good luck more than him. Mandella will plot his Breeders’ Cup course after seeing how he performs in the Goodwood.


Mandella also has an improving and talented grass horse in Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Champ Pegasus , who came from seventh at the head of the stretch to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths, missing the course record by four-fifths of a second. He will head for the Clement Hirsch (gr. IT) and try to earn his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup.


September Stupor


Remember the good old days, like five years ago, when September at Belmont Park meant Super Saturdays and grade I racing every weekend? Well, NYRA, Belmont, and tradition have gone their separate ways and we are left with a stagnant month of racing, with only one grade I event, the Garden City Stakes for 3-year-old grass fillies.


NYRA has seen fit to either move or get rid of the grade I Woodward, Man o’ War, Ruffian, Gazelle, Futurity, and Matron Stakes. The Marlboro Cup was put out to pasture years ago. Joining it is the Futurity Stakes, which had only been a major fixture in New York for 122 years. With the Futurity and Matron gone, the winners of the grade II Saratoga Special and Adirondack Stakes, as well as 2-year-olds breaking their maidens in mid-August, have no alternative but to wait seven weeks and stretch out to a mile in the grade I Champagne and Frizette. Welcome to the world of “Cup Congestion,” where Breeders’ Cup hopefuls are crammed into two weekends of prep races and the rest of the fall be damned.


So, New York racing fans will have to plod their way through the doldrums of September and wait for the only two meaningful weekends of the entire “Fall Championship” meeting – Oct. 2 and 9. That’s like having a box of chocolates and trying to stuff every piece in your mouth at the same time. Racing fans used to savor the Belmont fall meet, enjoying every delicacy. But now it’s two weeks of gluttony, and then starvation the rest of the time.


There is, however, one positive to NYRA’s bastardization of the September stakes schedule. I don’t have to deal with the Belt Parkway until October.


Trip notes


Trainer Rick Dutrow isn’t fooling around when it comes to getting Rail Trip ready for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). The 5-year-old gelding by Jump Start, who apparently has recovered from back and ankle issues, worked six furlongs in 1:11 1/5 at Saratoga on Sept. 4, six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 at Aqueduct on Sept. 10, and six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 at Aqueduct on Sept. 16. Physically, he looks spectacular, and if he can excel on the dirt and be competitive with Blame off a three-month layoff, he surely will move forward and be tough to deal with in the BC Classic.


It is worth noting that if the Gold Cup or the Classic come up sloppy, he should move way up, with the number of slop influences throughout his pedigree. He is inbred to Mr. Prospector top and bottom; his sire is inbred to Buckpasser and Secretariat; and he has the Relaunch--In Reality connection and Damascus in his female family. Also, his broodmare sire, Carson City, is the broodmare sire of Barbaro, who won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) in the slop. That’s more than enough slop pedigree for any horse.


-- If America’s top grass horses can’t handle DuBussy (gr. I Arlington Million), Chinchon (gr. I Betfair/TVG United Nations), and Redwood (gr. I Northern Dancer), how are they going to handle Europe’s elite, many of whom are scheduled to come for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I)? Our main hope may lie with Paddy O'Prado, but we won’t know how effective he is at 1 ½ miles until he runs in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) Oct. 2.


-- As strong as the Euros look in the BC Turf (gr. IT), they look even stronger in the Mile (gr. IT), with Goldikova, Makfi, and Paco Boy definitely coming, and Rip Van Winkle undecided between the Mile and the Classic. We’re talking arguably the four best milers in Europe. But we did see a ray of hope in Sunday’s Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) when Court Vision  came flying late to run down The Usual Q.T. in 1:34 3/5 for the mile. Court Vision’s best races have been at a mile, and he was only beaten 1 ½ lengths by Goldikova in last year’s Mile. The Usual Q.T. has developed into a top-class miler and will fare better with the shorter stretch at Churchill Downs.


-- On Saturday, the locally based New Normal wired her field in the one-mile Natalma Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 2-year-old fillies, and it should be noted her final time was 1:36 2/5, compared to the 1:37 3/5 run by the boys (Pluck) in the Summer Stakes Presented by TVG (gr. IIIT) the same day.