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Weekend Metapost

It was quite a weekend of racing; things are shaping up nicely for the Breeders’ Cup. First, the West Coast:

Tiago performed well in his first outing against older horses in the Goodwood Handicap (Lava Man was scratched in favor of a race next weekend), although he was certainly tested by Awesome Gem — nevertheless, his victory was very professional. I would also like to see more of third-place finisher Lewis Michael, perhaps in a slightly shorter race; I believe he has a lot of potential but has never quite found his rhythm although he seems comfortable on both dirt and grass. Some may recall he finished third to a horse named Barbaro in the Florida Derby and did not look bad in that defeat; I’d like to see him in the Dirt Mile.

Nashoba’s Key switched back to grass for the Yellow Ribbon and still remains unbeaten, holding off a strong challenge from Citronnade. As I’ve mentioned before, the Filly & Mare Turf division is going to be the hardest one to handicap — but more on that later. It is perhaps more impressive to consider that Nashoba’s Key began this winning streak when she began her racing career earlier this year as a four-year-old and she seems to improve with each race.

Switching to the East Coast, but staying with the girls on grass, the Flower Bowl was certainly an interesting race. Lahudood set a stakes record in her win (her first graded win in America, as a helpful reader has pointed out), but Roskina (one of my picks) was a fine second ahead of Wait a While. It seems that the talented My Typhoon was not a huge fan of the very firm going, as she was never a factor (but she should not be discounted come Breeders’ Cup day). As mentioned above, the Filly & Mare Turf division is full of talent already — once everyone else ships in from Europe, it’s practically a toss-up since a good argument can be made for any number of top horses. It’s going to be a highlight of Breeders’ Cup day.

Discreet Cat’s return to the races in the Vosburgh did not play out as planned; his dull third was not a particularly confidence-inspiring performance, but the excuses are built-in — the long layoff, he needed the race, he needed more distance (although he certainly did not seem to need it at that particular point in time), etc. But the good news is that it means the new Dirt Mile will have a marquee contender, which is something it probably needed — and it should also mean that he needs to stay in training next year to really prove himself. If anything, the victory by Fabulous Strike should continue to raise his sire Smart Strike’s stud fee — three grade I wins for his offspring in one weekend (see English Channel and Curlin below) cannot hurt.

Back on the turf, English Channel looked tremendous in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (his second victory in the race, which is a remarkable statistic these days for a stallion); I don’t know whether that means he’s quite in the same league as some of the expected European heavy-hitters, but it was a gutsy run and a very encouraging sign. It would be nice to see more horses with a career of consistent top-level performances. Given that he was fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf as a 3-year old and third last year, he does have a good shot, but it’s going to be a tough race.

The Distaff division is clearly missing Rags to Riches; Unbridled Belle looked good beating stablemate Indian Vale in the Beldame although Ginger Punch did not seem quite her usual self. While Unbridled Belle seems to be coming into her own, she’s not really in the same class as Rags to Riches and the division is poorer for her absence. Without her, it’s a reasonably solid, but somewhat uninspiring group. However, I’ve always maintained that winning the Del Cap can propel a mare on to bigger and better things, and Unbridled Belle clearly took that to heart — not bad for a $4,000 purchase.

Finally, of course, the Classic division. As predicted, Hard Spun bested Street Sense, but he had everything his own way in a tiny field and on a surface he loves. He’s unlikely to get to set the pace and lead wire to wire in the Classic, which seems to be his preferred running style; Street Sense didn’t look tired to me as much as not necessarily pushed to his full potential — the race seemed more of a rehearsal for him. As I’ve said before, I like Hard Spun a lot and would love him at a mile (and he looked fine at the 1 1/8 as well), but I’m not sure he loves the 1 1/4 distance, and Street Sense does. As ever, trainer Carl Nafzger made no excuses and looks forward to the next dance:

Carl Nafzger, handler of Street Sense, was gracious in defeat. “It was up to him at the head of the lane to get by Hard Spun,” he said, “but he just outran us. We were right there and we got beat; that’s horseracing, no excuses. But we’re ready for next time.”

Curlin proved me wrong, gamely holding off Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, although Lawyer Ron didn’t do himself any favors — he seemed rank early on and was in the center of the track for much of the race. It could easily be argued that he just prefers Saratoga to Belmont — but even if that is the case, it seems there was some concern from trainer Steve Asmussen that Lawyer Ron’s pressure was a tough challenge for Curlin:

Asmussen called the Gold Cup “trophies in their own right” but acknowledged it was not his ultimate goal. That comes in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park.

“Everyone knows the Classic is the pinnacle,” he said. “And I’m extremely concerned that he left too much out there today.”

The bottom line is that all the Classic contenders who raced this past weekend looked good and will likely go off at relatively short odds on come the evening of Breeders’ Cup Saturday, but I can imagine quite a few scenarios in which a European horse runs off with the prize. We’ll have to wait and see who ships in…

3 comments to Weekend Metapost

  • Anonymous

    Just a note on Lahudood, she came in 7th and last in the Beverly D (Grade 1) at Arlington Park on August 11 and started twice at Belmont this summer with a win and a second before that. Don’t forget there is racing in the Midwest!

  • Superfecta

    Well spotted, thanks for the correction!

  • ML Lane

    I just want to say that this is a great blog!

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