CLASSIC: We’ll start with the big one, and this race is not for the faint-hearted. There are so many variables and question marks, it is a perfect race to look past a big favorite like Curlin and his closest pursuers on the odds board and search for the bargains, bombs, and overlays. Then you can decide if you want to play them with Curlin or any of your favorites in the exotics.
It must be mentioned right off the bat that I tagged TIAGO as my Classic sleeper back in August on a Bloodhorse.com chat. Not only have I seen nothing to make me change my mind, I feel even more strongly about him after watching gallop the past two days. This horse is doing as well as I’ve ever seen him, physically and mentally, and on Friday morning he had his exercise rider’s arms fully extended and his feet in the dashboard trying. He took the turn wide, following the likely path he’ll have to take in the race, and came roaring out of the turn in full stride. Coming back, he was feeling good and was full of himself, and there is no doubt this horse is thriving and flourishing right now, and has bounced out of his race in the Goodwood (gr. I) in great shape. No one knows how the track will playing. Stalkers seem to have an edge, but this horse will be flying at the end.
The one worker who stood out was CHAMPS ELYSEES, and I’m looking for the son of Danehill to surprise a lot of people at a big price. For a horse who has a reputation for being a lazy worker, he turned in a sensational five-furlong drill in :59 3/5 with the addition of “cheater” blinkers, which he’ll wear in the Classic. In his work, he dropped his head and shoulder and was reaching out with enormous strides, while being allowed to do it all on his own. He then galloped out powerfully to finish off what was as close to a perfect work as you’ll see. He is another who should be motoring down the stretch.
Those are the two longshots from a physical standpoint, and their form also suggests they’re ready for a big performance.
Right there with them on the physical front is STUDENT COUNCIL, whose coat looks fantastic, and also had a super work this week. He’s sharp after a freshening, and it’s just a question of how he’ll return after his layoff. You have to respect his versatility and his ability to pop a big one at any time, and his Beyer Speed figure in his runner-up performance in the Whitney equals Curlin’s high this year.
On paper, FAIRBANKS looks to be a danger on the front end because of his high cruising speed and his ability to stay. It wouldn’t be wise to ignore him too long. Other than Curlin, he is the only horse in the field coming off a negative Thoro-Graph number, and he’s actually coming off a pair of them (negative 1/2).
I also have to briefly mention that GO BETWEEN has looked terrific on the track, and has been training up a storm at Churchill Downs, and I like what I saw from DUKE OF MARMALADE Friday morning, as he blew out in company with Red Rock Canyon and seemed to be handling the track fine. Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator have done nothing wrong as far as their gallops over the track. Raven’s Pass looked particularly smooth over it. Colonel John always seems to look and train well, but there is the question of how he’ll do not having run since the Travers.
As a side note, one of my favorite horses has to be SMOOTH AIR. He is so professional and businesslike and I just love watching him, whether it’s walking, cantering, or galloping. He is one of those horses you can’t help but like. This obviously is a very tough spot for him, but watch out for him next year – on dirt and turf.
In summation, several horses in here appear to be coming into the race is fantastic shape. But having to narrow it down, I’m going to put TIAGO as my top pick, with CHAMPS ELYSEES right there. Both are worth a win bet and are live horses to play in the exotics.
JUVENILE: I’m already looking ahead to next year’s Kentucky Derby trail, and there are several potential classic horses in here. Square Eddie is the horse to beat off his monster effort in the Breeders’ Futurity, but he’s coming back in three weeks and will test the so-called Euro bounce theory. I have a good feeling about both of Todd Pletcher’s colts in this race, and am definitely boxing them in an exacta. SILENT VALOR is a big longshot pick. After getting tired in the Norfolk (gr. I), in which he was stretching out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and running on a synthetic surface for the first time, he should have a lot more bottom under him and a familiarity with the track. He was only beaten 2 3/4 lengths in the Norfolk after making a good move to reach contention, and should improve off that race. MUNNINGS will be going two turns for the first time and trying synthetic for the first time, but he’s probably the fastest horse in the race and has a ton of ability. He won’t be much of a price, however.
Two horses who should not by overlooked are PIONEEROF THE MILE, a potential Derby horse who managed to finish third in the Breeders’ Futurity despite getting shuffled way back in the pack, and WEST SIDE BERNIE, who could be any kind. His first two races both stamp him as a top-class horse. He also turned in a huge work over the track. Ignore him at your own risk. Both these horses are worth a win wager, and a four-hose box with Silent Valor and Munnings will allow you to change your plane ticket home to first class. But my big win ticket at a price would by WEST SIDE BERNIE, with lesser bets on SILENT VALOR and PIONEER OF THE NILE.
MILE: Lots of solid horses in here, headed by Goldikova and Kip Deville, but looking for a price, it just may be that AWESOME GEM has been a turf horse and a miler just waiting to bust out. He’s run big in all four of his turf starts and he should be coming fast late. It’s just a question of timing his move right. He’s already proven his class on dirt, finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year and being narrowly beaten in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and Goodwood (gr. I). Remember, we’re looking for some big bucks. If you like any of the favorites, then he’s an intriguing horse to put with them in the exotics. But a win bet could give you a thrill for your money. As a rooting interest, I’m pulling for Shakis for the odd reason of boosting Big Brown’s Monmouth Stakes.
TURF: I don’t have any strong feelings about this race, but if WINCHESTER can return to his form in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. I), he will be tough in here, and you always have to respect Dermot Weld. And one of the big potential overlays in DANCING FOREVER, who will relish a return to firm ground. It’s just a question of whether he can handle this level of competition. I just can’t separate any of the others. If you want just a rooting interest, how about the old warrior BETTER TALK NOW? What a great story that would make if he were to win this race four years apart. But this is a tough task.
DIRT MILE: It was a surprise to see Lord Admiral in this race instead of the Mile. I would have given him a big chance in there, so I guess I should at least give him a look in here, although the 12-post is going to hurt. But these are a tough group, and it’s going to be quite a chore knocking off Well Armed, Surf Cat, Lewis Michael, and Albertus Maximus. I have always felt SURF CAT was a superior miler, yet this will be his first start ever at a mile on dirt. At 6-1 on the morning line, he won’t be a price, but I’ll have to back him, even though he’s probably slowed up a step or two. I still think he’ll be tough. REBELLION is another who has been ready for that big break-out race, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come here. Although he should not beat these horses, I have to add that I’ve never seen PYRO look as good as he did Friday morning. Have fun with this one, mixing and matching. There are tons of possibilities, but whoever you play, back it up with Well Armed, who is going to be very hard to beat. My two wins bets would be SURF CAT and REBELLION, and I guess a reluctant two bucks on Lord Admiral, but that’s more out of necessity because of the way I felt about him in the Mile.
SPRINT: This is way too much of a crap shoot, with Midnight Lute, Fabulous Strike, Street Boss, and Cost of Freedom all with a big chance, and with only nine horses, there aren’t many opportunities for a longshot. At 6-1, I’d take a shot on FATAL BULLET, only because we don’t know how good he really is, and based on his last several races, he could be the fastest of the fast.
JUVENILE TURF: I loved GRAND ADVENTURE before he drew post 12, but I can’t just abandon him. I’ll just have restrain any enthusiasm. His fellow Canadian, Skipadate, didn’t draw well eight in post 10. There are several guesses in here that could pay off if you can pick the right one. CITY STYLE is one of them based on his powerful maiden win at Louisiana Downs, and he’s 20-1 on the morning line. In a race like this, I’d also take a shot on Europeans WESTPHALIA and DONATIVUM. The latter was a terror early on, but has responded since being gelded. I’ve seen him quite a bit with Raven’s Pass and he has looked good. He hasn’t won in good company, but his seventh, beaten six lengths, in the 25-horse field in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot wasn’t that bad, and he does like firm ground, so why not?
MARATHON: Another grab bag. But for a price, CEDAR MOUTAIN broke his maiden by seven lengths on Polytrack in England, and he has two wins and a second at 1 1/2 miles or longer. The only concern is his layoff since July, but he’s in top hands with Neil Drysdale. MUHANNAK has not distinguished himself in top company, but he has four wins, a second and two thirds on Polytrack in Europe. These are lukewarm picks and really not worth a big wager.
TURF SPRINT: Get out your hat and pick a number. I think FLEETING SPIRIT is going to run big, but he’s not really a longshot at 5-1 on the morning line. He’s fast and classy and I could see him mowing down everyone late. Same with DIABOLICAL, who looks to be rounding back in form, at 6-1. He’s one I’ll definitely play based on his past form in America. SALUTE the COUNT, at 12-1, is always dangerous in the hands of Rick Dutrow, and he’s coming off a huge win at Saratoga. Can Andre Fabre sneak a 20-1 shot in here; his only Breeders’ Cup starter? If you want to play the Fabre angle, ONLY ANSWER is a two-time Group III winner in France and, although inconsistent at times, he’s been battle tested and has good efforts in him.