NOVEMBER 1, 2012
Breeders' Cup Friday
European invaders have found Santa Anita a happy hunting ground in Breeders' Cups past, and for the 29th edition, the international presence is further bolstered by representatives from South America and Japan.
Here's the scouting report on the raiding party set for Friday, with another feature to follow on Saturday's foreign hopes.
CEILING KITTY -- Tom Dascombe filly doesn't fit the profile of Shumoos, an English shipper who was a terrific second in last year's inaugural Juvenile Sprint in her dirt debut. While Shumoos had the pedigree to move up on dirt, and strong form at six furlongs, Ceiling Kitty's pedigree is heavily tilted toward turf, and she looks better at five furlongs. At that shorter trip, she just missed equaling a juvenile course record in her 20-1 upset of the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, and she finished fourth versus males in the Flying Childers at Doncaster. The Flying Childers form looks solid, with the winner Sir Prancealot having previously chased the unbeaten duo of Reckless Abandon and Dawn Approach, and the runner-up being two-time Group 3 victor Bungle Inthejungle. But Ceiling Kitty didn't fare as well when stepping up to six furlongs in the Cheveley Park last out, where she wound up seventh. Note also that her co-owner is Betfair founder Andrew Black, who gave away a half-interest in the filly as part of a betting competition (which is why her other co-owners are listed as the Master Bettors). This placement might have more to do with a nice day out for the partners in the backyard of Betfair affiliate TVG than a serious win proposition, but it's hard to discount exotics chances in such a short field.
FAME AND GLORY -- A curious conclusion to an otherwise honorable career for this high-class son of Montjeu, who has ranked among the best of his generation at two, three and four, and became Europe's champion stayer at the age of five. The Aidan O'Brien charge has compiled an exceptional resume, landing the 2009 Irish Derby, beating all bar the great Sea the Stars in the Derby at Epsom, winning the 2010 Coronation Cup and the 2011 Ascot Gold Cup. His 2012 campaign hasn't been up to his usual standards, however, and he folded rather tamely when fifth in the British Champions Long Distance Cup in his latest. Had Fame and Glory performed as expected there, he would never have come here. O'Brien made the last-minute decision to try the Marathon and add blinkers, mentioning that the six-year-old just stopped trying on the soft ground last out. The blinkers-on gambit didn't work with So You Think (a horse in much sharper form) in last year's Classic, and even more worrisome, a successful transition to dirt appears highly unlikely based on his pedigree. As a longtime fan of Fame and Glory, I'd like nothing better than to be wrong, and watch him go out in style. But this has all the sad earmarks of one last stab before retirement.
SENSE OF PURPOSE -- Onetime Melbourne Cup hopeful is another whose season hasn't lived up to its promise. The Dermot Weld trainee was at the top of her game in 2011, rating as Ireland's highweight older mare from 11 to 14 furlongs, but has been disappointing in two of three starts this year. Yet she has had excuses, ranging from desperately bad ground, to massive weight, and last time, an equipment change to a tongue tie that (theoretically) might have backfired. Considering that she's a small mare, carrying imposts of up to 138 pounds -- versus males no less -- must be crushing. Sense of Purpose now gets in with a feathery 123, and that alone could help her. In her best effort of 2012, she was a close fourth in the Lenebane at Roscommon, form that ties in very well with the Irish St Leger and with her stablemate Galileo's Choice, who runs in Monday night's Melbourne Cup. Three-fourths of her pedigree makes her a dubious quantity on dirt, but her female line has plenty of American ancestry, and this 1 3/4-mile trip is ideal for her. Post 13 did her no favors, but she has shown a good deal of tactical speed in the past.
ALMUDENA -- Peruvian champion mare tackles this distance for the first time, but is a real grinder who has been staying on dourly at the end of her 1 1/2-mile races. She has also shown the ability to take her game on the road to Argentina, most recently placing in a pair of Group 1 events there. Almudena looked stronger in her third to the classy male Al Qasr in the Gran Premio 25 de Mayo, a Challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Turf, than she did in her prior two races on dirt, where she was outpaced. Indeed, after scoring a Peruvian classic victory on dirt in 2010, Almudena threw in a few subpar efforts on the surface, but turned things around when switched to turf. If she gets into a comfortable rhythm, she keeps going relentlessly. Whether she'll be able to find that comfort zone in a U.S. dirt race is another question. She was run off her feet in the Gran Premio Latinoamericano, albeit in a much faster pace scenario than what's on tap here. Unlike the true dirt aficionado Calidoscopio, Almudena shapes up as perhaps better on the turf, but her never-say-die attitude is a real plus.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
|SKY LANTERN -- Impressive winner of the Moyglare Stud Stakes is the deserving favorite. Yet another top-notcher from the Richard Hannon juvenile academy, Sky Lantern has never finished worse than a close second in her five-race career. Her first loss came at the hands of Certify, who beat her by a length in the Sweet Solera at Newmarket. Certify has since gone on to crown her perfect season with a runaway victory in the Fillies' Mile, stamping herself as the early favorite for next spring's One Thousand Guineas. Sky Lantern next went down by just a half-length in the Prestige at Goodwood, where she appeared a little uneasy on the undulating course. She bounced back with a vengeance in the Moyglare Stud at the Curragh, displaying a smart turn of foot to prevail handily. The form was subsequently boosted by fourth-placer Magical Dream, who came back to take the C.L. Weld Park. Sky Lantern intended to step up to a mile in the Prix Marcel Boussac, but was ruled out by the heavy ground at Longchamp. Judging by the way she handled the Curragh's more demanding seven furlongs, a flat mile around Santa Anita should pose no difficulty, and the firm turf is exactly what she needs. She whizzed around the turns at Kempton to prepare, to the delight of assistant trainer Richard Hannon Jr., who has tabbed her as the yard's best-ever chance in the Breeders' Cup. FLOTILLA -- Better-than-appears fourth in the Marcel Boussac looms as a legitimate candidate to spring an upset. Based in France with Mikel Delzangles, Flotilla broke her maiden at the lesser venue of Clairefontaine, but proved that she could hold her own at a higher level. She was a closing fifth in the Prix d'Aumale, and despite being blocked on the rail at a crucial juncture in the Marcel Boussac, she kept on for a creditable fourth in atrocious ground. Flotilla has yet to encounter anything better than soft turf, but her pedigree suggests that she'll move up considerably on a firm course. Both her sire and dam raced in France before finding their biggest successes in Southern California -- she is by Mizzen Mast, who became a star on dirt, and out of Louvain, winner of a Grade 3 and two other stakes on this circuit. Louvain concluded her career with a victory in the 2005 Harold C. Ramser over this very course and distance.|
INFANTA BRANCA -- O'Brien filly was unfortunately relegated to the also-eligible list, but is far better than her 15-1 morning-line odds imply. A sharp prospect very early in the season, she defeated one of Jim Bolger's tough colts, Leitir Mor, to become the first winner for her freshman sire Henrythenavigator. Leitir Mor has progressed over a busy campaign, and just finished second to his presumptive champion stablemate Dawn Approach in the Dewhurst. Infanta Branca was next third to another useful colt, Cay Verde, as the favorite in the Marble Hill. Cay Verde, subsequently the beaten favorite in the Norfolk at Royal Ascot, has since won a French Group 3 and placed in a pair of Group 2s. Infanta Branca looked like a filly to follow over the summer, but she was sidelined for 4 1/2 months. She just returned with an encouraging fourth to stablemate Lines of Battle (who runs in Saturday's Juvenile Turf) in the seven-furlong Star Appeal over Dundalk's Polytrack. With that tightener under her belt, Infanta Branca is entitled to improve substantially here, for she is bred to prosper at a mile on firm turf. The half-sister to Lil's Lad, the 1997 Champagne runner-up and 1998 Fountain of Youth winner, only needs to draw into the field.
WATERWAY RUN -- American-bred daughter of Arch is bred to improve with age and distance, and it's a positive sign that she's already progressed in a short time. The rate of her advancement can be neatly measured through her rival Light Up My Life. In a two-year-old handicap (called a nursery) in August, Waterway Run was only fourth behind Light Up My Life, who set a new juvenile course record for seven furlongs over Newmarket's July Course. But last time out in the Oh So Sharp Stakes, Waterway Run finished with a flourish to catch her by a half-length. Waterway Run has plenty of early speed -- she wired a nursery at York two starts back, and traveled very smoothly while stalking the pace in the Oh So Sharp. While a strict reading of the collateral form suggests that she's a fair bit behind Sky Lantern, it's not easy to get a firm fix on a moving target like Waterway Run. Her trainer Ralph Beckett won the inaugural Marathon with Muhannak here in 2008, and she picks up the services of the newly freelance Frankie Dettori.
THE GOLD CHEONGSAM -- The daughter of Red Clubs has the same sire as Sky Lantern, but that's about as close as she can come to the favorite. Like Waterway Run, The Gold Cheongsam has come up through the nursery scene, but unlike that opponent, she has yet to break through at the Group level. Shrewdly spotted by trainer Jeremy Noseda, she plundered the lucrative Weatherbys Insurance versus males, but principally by means of a 15-pound weight concession from the runner-up. The Gold Cheongsam was put in her place when last of 11 in the Cheveley Park, but to be fair, she didn't have a clean trip. She turned in a more characteristic effort when third in the Tattersalls Millions, but that sales race -- restricted to certain Tattersalls graduates -- is not comparable to this type of test.
Filly & Mare Turf
I'M A DREAMER -- David Simcock trainee might be overlooked following a troubled fourth in the Flower Bowl, but she had previously upset Marketing Mix in the Beverly D. I'm a Dreamer capitalized on a perfect trip to deny the unlucky Marketing Mix, but in the Flower Bowl, her luck deserted her. A touch slow to begin, she was further compromised by having to steady and regroup at the top of the stretch. I'm a Dreamer still made some late progress on yielding ground that isn't her favorite. Her most visually impressive victory came on good-to-firm turf, in the 2011 Dahlia at Newmarket. Since stepping up to about this distance, she has literally yet to run a bad race. Just nailed late in the 2011 E.P. Taylor, she has twice finished third to the high-class Izzi Top (when meeting interference in the Middleton and on wretched ground in the Pretty Polly) and was also fourth to males in the Brigadier Gerard. That represents a solid standard of European form: Brigadier Gerard winner Carlton House was subsequently runner-up to So You Think in the Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot; the Brigadier Gerard placegetters Sagramor and Hunter's Light have also performed well; and the fifth-placer, Colombian, grabbed third in the Arlington Million.
NAHRAIN -- Last year's Filly & Mare Turf runner-up will probably appreciate the fact that this renewal is a furlong shorter, with Santa Anita's configuration permitting 1 1/4 miles as opposed to the 1 3/8 miles at Churchill Downs. Trainer Roger Varian deliberately took it easy with her in the first half of this season, preferring to have her peak at this time, and he has timed it just right. After two poor efforts over the summer, Nahrain turned the corner with an encouraging third in the Blandford, and regained the winning thread with a spearing late thrust in the Flower Bowl. On the negative side of the ledger, however, the daughter of Selkirk might have thrived better than her Filly & Mare Turf rivals Zagora and I'm a Dreamer in the yielding conditions. She also appeared to hang, until Dream Peace ranged up on her outside, and she responded to the stimulus. Johnny Velazquez recommended blinkers, which will be added to Nahrain's equipment for the first time. Will that have the desired effect, or will the headgear cause a different set of issues, especially in a paceless race?
RIDASIYNA -- On paper, the Aga Khan homebred has outstanding credentials, thanks to her emphatic 3 1/2-length defeat of Izzi Top in the Prix de l'Opera last time out. Yet there's a nagging suspicion that Ridasiyna exploited a particular set of circumstances that won't be repeated here. Izzi Top stalked the taxing tempo, drove to the lead prematurely, and was a sitting duck in the heavy ground. The more patiently-ridden Ridasiyna stayed on strongly in the conditions, not so much with a dazzling turn of foot, as simply slogging more powerfully through the Longchamp mud. It should also be noted that she had an equipment change that day, sporting headgear for the first time, in hopes of calming her fragile nerves that had cost her dearly in her only loss. Immediately following the Opera, trainer Mikel Delzangles was not inclined to try the Breeders' Cup: "She is not a filly with which you would want to travel so far."
UP -- O'Brien filly is probably better than her sixth-place effort in the Beverly D., where she adopted pace-forcing tactics that don't work to her benefit. The hardy three-year-old has run 10 times this season, most of them reasonably good performances. Arguably her finest two came after she got home from Chicago, when she posted back-to-back wins in the Lanwades Stud Fillies Stakes and Blandford at the Curragh, beating a still-rounding-into-form Nahrain in the latter. Up's progress appeared to be stymied with a sixth in the Sun Chariot at Newmarket last out, but that might not be the case. She was dropping back markedly in trip to a mile, in a race that could have simply given her something to do before the Breeders' Cup. The pattern is somewhat reminiscent of O'Brien's smart filly last year, Together, who wheeled back in the Sun Chariot, flopped, but came back with a bang at Keeneland. Note too that Up has already crashed the Breeders' Cup exotics -- in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf, she got up for fourth at odds of 21-1.