Ventura winning the Woodbine Mile (Can-I)

Ventura winning the Woodbine Mile (Can-I)

Michael Burns

Countdown to the Cup: More Fantastic Fillies

The year is shaping up to be a special one for fillies.

Has there ever been a year like 2009 for the female sex? With Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Ventura (spectacular in the Woodbine Mile), familiar standbys like Forever Together (tough nose defeat in the Canadian Stakes giving the winner 11 pounds) and Music Note, and rapidly rising stars Icon Project, Careless Jewel, and Swift Temper, as well as Goldikova in Europe, this is truly a special year for fillies.


On the human front, we saw Linda Rice out-battle Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott to win the Saratoga training title, an unprecedented feat and totally unexpected. We’ve also had Helen Pitts winning the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) with Einstein and narrowly missing in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), and Josie Carroll saddling Careless Jewel to an 11-length romp in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I).


Ventura, under a brilliantly timed ride by Garrett Gomez, charged past a top-class field of grass milers with a quick burst of speed to win comfortably and set herself up perfectly for another try at the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, which she dominated last year, or even the BC Mile (gr. IT), if Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms decide to step up and take on Goldikova. But that is not likely to happen, as they want to keep her around one turn, where she is most effective. So, look for her in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint again.


Henry Cecil could have a pair heading to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup. Cecil has his sights on the BC Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) with Midday, and is considering the 1 3/4-mile BC Marathon for Father Time.


Midday, second by a head in the English Oaks (Eng-I) and third in the Irish Oaks (Ire-I), is coming off an impressive victory in the 10-furlong Nassau Stakes (Eng-I) at Goodwood. Father Time captured the group II King Edward II Stakes at Royal Ascot by four lengths before finishing third in the Great Voltogeur Stakes (Eng-II) at Goodwood and fourth in the St. Leger (Eng-I), beaten 3 1/2 lengths.


Michael Stoute, who is always a formidable presence in the Breeders’ Cup, has several potential starters for the BC Turf (gr. I) -- last year’s winner Conduit, Coronation Cup (Eng-I) winner Ask, and his hottest horse at the moment, the Juddmonte Stable-owned Spanish Moon, winner of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fra-I) and most recently the Prix Foy (Fra-II) at Longchamp. Ask hasn’t run since his solid third-place finish in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) won by Conduit, who also has not run since.


Stoute could have a BC Mile starter if the lightly raced Zacinto runs big in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot. Zacinto is coming off a second-place finish to Delegator in the Celebration Mile (Eng-II).


Godolphin, who finished one-two in the St. Leger, also is pointing Delegator for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes where he’ll face as many as five Aidan O’Brien horses, including Mastercraftsman and Rip Van Winkle, as well as Prix du Moulin (Fra-I) winner Aqlaam and 1,000 Guineas (Eng-I) winner Ghanaati. O’Brien’s other three who could run are Poet, WindsorPalace, and Set Sail. Last year, the Queen Elizabeth served as a springboard for Raven’s Pass’ victory in the BC Classic (gr. I), and you can bet Mastercraftsman and/or Rip Van Winkle will show up in this year’s Classic rather than tackle Goldikova in the Mile. We’ll see if they break them up should Sea the Stars wind up running in the Classic.


Delegator finished second in the 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I) and St. James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I), after which he was purchased by Godolphin, In his only start for his new owner, he captured the Celebration Mile (Eng-II) by 1 1/2 lengths over the aforementioned Zacinto.


John Gosden could be represented in the QEII by Virtual, third in the Prix du Moulin (Fra-I) to Aqlaam and a well-beaten third to Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois (Fra-I) following a victory back in in May in the Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I). Also coming out of the Moulin is the Dermot Weld-trained Famous Name, who finished a good second and who has been first or second in 12 of his 14 career starts.


Speaking of Godolphin, what an abundance of talent they have breaking out at the right time. Their roster reads like a Who’s Who: Regal Ransom, Music Note, CocoaBeach, Pyro, Vineyard Haven, Midshipman , Flashing, Seventh Street, Sara Louise, and Girolamo. After winning eight of 14 starts at Saratoga, including four grade I scores and being disqualified from another, Godolphin has kept on rolling, winning the Super Derby (gr. II) with Regal Ransom and an allowance/optional claimer with the brilliant Girolamo, finishing second in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) with Seventh Street and a fast-closing third in the Presque Isle Masters (gr. III) with Flashing, and sending out Midshipman to an emphatic 2009 debut victory.


The question now is, where do you run all of them? Vineyard Haven, Midshipman, Pyro, and Girolamo all look to be major players from seven furlongs to a mile, possibly farther with Midshipman and Girolamo. Regal Ransom showed in the Super Derby he will be a formidable foe going 1 1/8 miles or longer. Pyro has excelled at seven furlongs, but won or placed in major stakes last year from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/4 miles. Music Note is one of the top fillies in the country from seven furlong to 1 1/8 miles, as is Seventh Street. Cocoa Beach is effective on any surface — dirt, grass or synthetic — against anyone, and Sara Louise, the last horse to defeat Rachel Alexandra, looks to be one of the leading filly sprinters in the country. In short, Gang Godolphin is a versatile group whom you can pretty much place anywhere.


As of now, it looks as if Girolamo is heading for the Jerome Handicap (gr. II), Music Note and Cocoa Beach could both show up in the Beldame (gr. I) and will likely run as an entry in the Ladies Classic (gr. I).  Sara Louise and Seventh Street are candidates for the Filly & Mare Sprint, as is Flashing if they want to try her on the Pro-Ride. But Sara Louise and Seventh Street are their main hopes for that race. Midshipman has had only the one start, and may return to Santa Anita, with the BC Dirt Mile as a possibility. Vineyard Haven could shorten up and point for the DeFrancis Memorial (gr. I), but is unlikely for the Breeders' Cup. Like Girolamo, Midshipman, and Pyro, he is a candidate for the Cigar Mile (gr. I). But Pyro is also a good possibility to head to Santa Anita, either for the BC Sprint (gr. I) or Dirt Mile. Another talented colt, Gayego, may go in the six-furlong Ancient Title (gr. I), and if he runs big he could run back in the BC Sprint.


Remaining on the topic of Godolphin, has any rider’s life changed as dramatically as Richie Migliore’s? For most of the year, Migliore has struggled to get top mounts, but has kept coming out in the mornings and persevering, hoping to land live mounts for a big outfit. This summer, he decided to change his lifestyle completely and moved his family to a sprawling, picturesque farm in Upstate New York that he had fallen in love with. Then, just like that, he winds up as a go-to rider for the hottest stable in the country, Godolphin, and proceeds to win the Super Derby on Regal Ransom, an allowance score on Midshipman, and the Test Stakes (gr. I) on Flashing, who came back and finished fastest of all to get third in the Presque Isle Masters against many of the top older filly and mare sprinters in the East.


Migliore flew to Santa Anita this weekend and worked his BC Turf Sprint winner Desert Code, who is pointing for the Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT).


In other news abroad, Team Valor’s Gitano Hernando, who at one time was being considered for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), returned from a four-month layoff and won a 1 1/16-mile special weight race on the all weather track at Wolverhampton. He’s already won going 1 5/16 miles and could be pointed for the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, now run at 1 3/4 miles. The Marathon actually will be part of Friday’s Ladies Day card, having been moved from its Saturday spot last year.


Will the stars come out in the Classic?


The status of Sea the Stars will determine which European horses will contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.I). As mentioned earlier, you can expect to see at least one, likely two, O’Brien horses take him on, most notably Mastercraftsman and/or Rip Van Winkle, both of whom have finished a strong second to Sea the Stars this year, in the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (Eng-I) and 1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), respectively. Rip Van Winkle gave the Irish-trained superhorse his biggest scare in the Eclipse when he nearly headed him in deep stretch. Rip Van Winkle then came back to score an emphatic victory in the one-mile Sussex Stakes (Eng-I).


As of now, here is the way the Classic is shaping up. Those likely pointing for the race include, Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, Einstein, Richard's Kid, Rail Trip, Macho Again, Bullsbay. Awesome Gem, Parading, Tiago, Colonel John, and Hold Me Back. 


Possibles include, Zenyatta (who is more of a probable), Sea the Stars, Rip Van Winkle, Mastercraftsman, Quality Road, and Gone Astray.


As mentioned last week, if the Arc comes up soft, there is a very good chance we’ll see Sea the Stars in the Classic. If he winds up running in the Arc, the door would still be open, but trainer John Oxx is not thrilled about running him into November, especially if he competes at Longchamp.


No Bones about it


On the 2-year-old front, trainer Rick Dutrow said he’d prefer running Futurity (gr. II) winner D' Funnybone  in the Champagne and then stopping on him for the year, but hasn’t ruled out the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), depending on what owner Paul Pompa Jr. has in mind. Pompa has sold majority interest in a promising 2-year-old before for the right price, so it’ll be interesting to see if get gets any lucrative offers for this brilliant colt.


D’ Funnybone is an unassuming-looking colt. He’s on the small side, but has a big shoulder and girth. No one knows how far he wants to go, but he does everything right. He has excellent tactical speed, can rate, and changes leads on cue, and most important, he can pour it on in the stretch.


He is a son of the speedy D’wildcat, but is out of a Woodman mare, and his third dam, Chain Bracelet, won the grade I Top Flight Handicap, as well as the grade II Shuvee and Bed o’ Roses Handicaps. His fourth dam, Chain, is a half-sister to the dams of Swale and Forty Niner.


Also, keep an eye on runner-up Discreetly Mine, who had a much worse trip than the winner, getting stuck down on the rail, and ran on well in stretch, pulling eight lengths clear of the third horse. The son of Mineshaft – Pretty Discreet is a handsome individual and a half-brother to stakes winners Discreet Cat, one of the most brilliant horses of recent years, and Pretty Wild. Pretty Discreet also produced Discreetly Awesome, who is the dam of Saturday’s impressive Matron Stakes (gr. II) winner Awesome Maria. That is one heckuva broodmare.


Although the race was taken off the turf and the field was suspect, check out the electrifying move made by the 6-5 favorite William's Kitten in the Sunday Silence Stakes at Louisiana Downs. The son of Kitten’s Joy raced in last the whole way, about 10 lengths back, and when Garrett Gomez pulled the trigger he exploded around the pack and then found another gear in the stretch, drawing off to a 4 3/4-length victory. Again, he didn’t beat anything, but he sure looked good doing it.


You won’t find a more impressive maiden winner than the Bruce Levine-trained Nonna Mia, a daughter of Empire Maker who romped by 12 lengths at Belmont Sunday in a sizzling 1:02 3/5 for 5 1/2 furlongs, just two-fifths off the track record. And she came home in :11 3/5 and :06 flat.


One quick note regarding the disqualification of Marsh Side in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (gr.IT). From our viewpoint, the indicent actually looked much worse from the side than it  did on the head-on, because of the way Garrett Gomez snatched up Champs Elysses, which you couldn't really see that well on the head-on, where it looked as if there wasn't much room for Champs Elysses to begin with. In the long run, the stewards probably got it right. It just seemed to be tough to get a good read on the incident from the two angles.  


2-Year-Old scouting report


Each week, we will spotlight one 2-year-old who is still relatively unknown (most likely a maiden), but worth keeping an eye on, either for the BC Juvenile or next year’s Derby trail.


This week’s colt is Unbridled Fury, who finished third in a Belmont maiden race Sept. 12, beaten 6 1/4 lengths. The son of Broken Vow–Val Marie, by Coronado’s Quest broke slowly in what appears to be a strong field, ran up into a bit of traffic, but closed well as if looking for more distance. Although he wasn’t being persevered with in the final sixteenth, he actually rallied to get third all on his own, which is something you like to see. He carries his head low and has a smooth, efficient stride. His second dam is by Seattle Slew, out of an Alydar mare and his fourth dam, Priceless Fame, is a full-sister to Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Bold Forbes. All in all, a good-looking prospect who should do better once the distances stretch out.


He is owned by Gary and Mary West, who are major players, so chances are he would have to be a part-interest purchase. The Wests already have two juveniles pointing for major stakes — Hopeful (gr. I) runner-up Aspire for the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Saratoga maiden winner Callide Valley for the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), so Unbridled Fury is no better than No. 3 in the West stable right now. Unlike the first two, who are trained by Eddie Kenneally, Unbridled Fury is trained by Chad Brown.