JC / Railbird

Breeders’ Cup

Tea Leaves

American Pharoah returned to Del Mar on Monday, apparently none the worse for his second-place finish to Keen Ice in the Travers, and the track announced that the Triple Crown winner would parade for fans on Sunday. Should owner Ahmed Zayat decide to retire American Pharoah, as he said his “gut feeling” was in the hours following Saturday’s race, “his Del Mar appearance might serve as a racing farewell.” So, that’s one open-to-interpretation phrase to parse as to the 3-year-old colt’s future.

Jay Privman reports, though (DRF+):

… it appears American Pharoah will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland, and Baffert said Tuesday that he could even have a prep race, though he emphasized it’s “too soon to make that call.”

(Also? Baffert’s as done as anyone with talking about the Travers results. “It’s over with. He just got beat. Time to move on.”)

Trainer Aidan O’Brien added some intrigue to the Breeders’ Cup Classic scene, announcing that star miler Gleneagles would point to Keeneland:

“Given suitable ground, Gleneagles will run in the Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday week,” the trainer said. “Failing that, he will be aimed at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October. His end-of-season target is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where he may face American Pharoah.”

Kellie Reilly wonders if there’s a deeper meaning:

Let’s consider this from the Coolmore chess-pieces angle: the global bloodstock juggernaut owns Gleneagles, and will stand Triple Crown champion American Pharoah upon his retirement to stud. Given the timing of this declaration of intent, it’s tempting to read between the lines and think that the chances of American Pharoah making the Classic may be receding. That’s not to say there can’t be the clash that Aidan O’Brien mentions in his statement on Gleneagles, but doesn’t it maximize the benefit to Coolmore to emphasize the hypothetical for the time being?

I’d like to see American Pharoah make it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, not least because, as Amanda Duckworth writes, “it would be a shame if he never competed against his elders.” It would be more of a shame if the reason he didn’t compete against older had nothing to do with injury or unsoundness. Zayat has been outspoken about racing American Pharoah through this year for the good of the game and the thrill of the fans. “When Zayat told NBC on Saturday that he was thinking only of Pharoah’s fans and the horse’s legacy, I finally believed him,” Bob Barry writes in today’s Blood-Horse Daily (PDF). I believe him too, I believe he means it. But it’s a fragile trust.

The Bright Side

Greg Wood finds something positive in the retirement of dual champion and defending Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Main Sequence:

… the loss of Main Sequence from this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be staged at Keeneland for the first time, is a definite setback for the event. From a European point of view, however, it does leave the Turf looking very open indeed. Fabre may feel he has some unfinished business where Flintshire is concerned, and if it looks as though his five-year-old is likely to find at least one opponent too good at Longchamp in early October, it is at least possible that the race in Kentucky will assume greater significance.

Chasing Pharoah

With the connections saying the Triple Crown winner will run again — so long as he’s sound, happy, and healthy — and that a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland will be his career finale, tracks are bidding for an American Pharoah appearance. The Haskell at Monmouth Park seems the most likely spot for his return (the locals are asking), which leaves a late summer, early fall race open. Del Mar would like to get him for the Pacific Classic:

“If they decide the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the goal for his last race, then they’ll need some races before that,” Del Mar’s Craig Dado said. “Backing up from the BC Classic, there’s the [Awesome Again Stakes vs. older horses] at Santa Anita in September or early October. But why not the Pacific Classic…. He’s the Triple Crown winner so he doesn’t have anything to prove against 3-year-olds. Why not go against older horses and not have to ship?”

And Parx, which drew California Chrome and Bayern for the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby, plans to be aggressive in courting Pharoah for this year’s race:

Elliott said the existing conditions of the Pennsylvania Derby are already written to pay a $100,000 appearance bonus, split between the owner and trainer, to any horse that wins any one of the Triple Crown races, the Haskell, or the Travers. The per-race bonuses are cumulative, so American Pharoah’s connections, Elliott said, could be in line for at least a $300,000 base payday just for showing up at Parx, or $400,000 if the horse wins the Haskell.

“And I believe we intend to make a little better offer than that,” Elliott said, without disclosing how much more Parx would be willing to pay above the announced bonuses. “I’m going to try in the not-too-distant future to go to wherever Mr. Baffert is and meet with him to talk about it.”

Canterbury Park is a longshot, but they’re throwing themselves into the mix:

Wednesday, the Shakopee track doubled down on its grand idea, announcing it would offer a $2 million purse for the late August race if American Pharoah shows up. And according to Halstrom, owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert didn’t consider it crazy, either. Halstrom said both men told him Tuesday that they were willing to listen to offers, leading track officials to begin assembling a proposal that will convince Team Pharoah to bypass prestigious races in New York and California in favor of Minnesota.

Saratoga can’t be ruled out, for either the Jim Dandy or Travers, and New York Senator Charles Schumer is making an appeal via letter and press release:

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the owner and trainer of recent Triple Crown winner from the Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah, to bring their champion to the historic Saratoga Race Course this summer. Schumer urged owner Ahmad Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert, to bring the legendary colt to one of the most historic and renowned race tracks in the country.

Saratogians are rallying.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, trainer Bob Baffert told the crowd: “When he comes back, I want him to really bring his fastball … I’m not going to embarrass him because somebody made some offer or whatever.”

Super Saturday Aftermath

Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.

That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]

At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.

“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”

Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.

While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”

Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:

Figure sources: DRF stakes results (Beyers); Craig Milkowski (TimeformUS)

Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”

Super Saturday 2014

Today’s group and graded stakes with potential Breeders’ Cup implications from Newmarket to Santa Anita, listed in order of approximate post time:

Charts, replays, and occasional updates to be added through the day.

4:25 PM: Stephanie’s Kitten, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies winner, just earned her way into this year’s Filly and Mare Turf with a win in the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park as the 6-5 favorite (following second-place finishes in the Beverly D. and Diana this summer). You know Stephanie’s Kitten will be at Santa Anita so long as she’s sound, but the same can’t be said for Kelso Handicap winner Vyjack — according to the post-race quote sent out by NYRA, trainer Rudy Rodriguez had been targeting the Cigar Mile. “I have to talk to the owner and see what his plans are now,” said Rodriquez. Woodward winner Itsmyluckyday, not Breeders’ Cup nominated, finished third in the Kelso. Said Jockey Paco Lopez after, “He tried really hard, but I don’t think he liked the track.” Woodward runner-up Moreno is pegged as the 7-2 second favorite on the Jockey Club Gold Cup morning line.

4:55 PM: Private Zone must like Belmont. Winless in three starts since last year’s Vosburgh Stakes, he became the first horse in 24 years to win the Vosburgh for two consecutive years (the last was New Jersey-bred Sewickley in 1989-1990, whose broodmare sire was Dr. Fager, a back-to-back Vosburgh winner in 1967-68). Too bad for Private Zone that the Breeders’ Cup is at Santa Anita again. He finished 10th in the 2013 Sprint.

5:47 PM: Wow — 10 minutes to post in the Zenyatta Stakes and 95% of the show pool is on two-time champion Beholder, making her first start since sustaining an injury while finishing fourth in the June 7 Phipps at Belmont:

The pools for the Zenyatta Stakes by percentage, 10 minutes before post time

6:10 PM: You have to admire a filly as game and classy as Beholder:

10:00 PM: Here’s how much further Trakus says Shared Belief had to run than runner-up Fed Biz to win the Awesome Again after Sky Kingdom (the other Baffert and the longest shot in the field) forced him wide on the first turn:

Trakus numbers for the 2014 Awesome Again finish

Fantastic Fugue

The Prince of Wales’s Stakes ended in a new course record time of 2:01.90 and a reversal of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf finish when The Fugue kicked clear to win by two lengths over Magician. “She’s proved what she can do to everybody,” said rider William Buick of the 5-year-old mare. “When she gets an uncomplicated run, she’s lethal.” She certainly was: Watch the replay.

Heavily favored Arc winner Trêve finished third. Jockey Frankie Dettori said the filly didn’t feel right from the start: “I was never in a comfort zone.” Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, observing that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, called the beat “a French defeat,” and said, “Maybe we’ll find something wrong. We have lost the battle, not the war.”

7/11/14 Update: She broke a record, finished sixth next time out, and now The Fugue has been retired due to injury. “I’ll never forget her,” says Buick.

Breeders’ Cup 2013 Odds and Ends

Mucho Macho Man's Classic garland on display at barn 126

Shortest odds in a Breeders’ Cup race: Wise Dan, 0.80, Mile.

The longest odds: Teaks North, 95.90, Turf.

Highest win payout: Ria Antonia, $66.60, Juvenile Fillies.

Longest odds on a returning Breeders’ Cup winner: Trinniberg, 17.00, Sprint.

Worst performance by a favorite: Ever Rider, 4.80, Marathon, pulled up tired.

Largest winning margin: Beholder, 4 1/4 lengths, Distaff.

Number of winning favorites: Five, all in Saturday races. (Wise Dan, Mile; Secret Circle, Sprint; Mizdirection, Turf Sprint; Groupie Doll, Filly and Mare Sprint; Dank, Filly and Mare Turf).

Number of winners who won last out: Six (Chriselliam, Juvenile Fillies Turf; Beholder, Distaff; Dank, Filly and Mare Turf; New Year’s Day, Juvenile; Secret Circle, Sprint; Mucho Macho Man, Classic).

Worst last-out performance by a Breeders’ Cup winner: Magician, ninth by 12 1/4 lengths in the St. James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Number of starters in the non-juvenile races running without Lasix: Four, out of 106 (Olympic Glory, Mile, 9th; Romantica, Filly and Mare Turf, 2nd; Royal Delta, Distaff, 4th; Ever Rider, Marathon, DNF).

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