Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Breeders' Cup Top 10 - Sprint

Sprint Top 10 - July 1st

1. Fatal Bullet
2. Zensational
3. Benny The Bull
4. Georgie Boy
5. Big Drama
6. Red Arrow
7. Munnings
8. Devoted Magic
9. Fabulous Strike
10. Capt. Candyman Can

The Sprint seems like a pretty difficult race to read this far out. All year long as I've been compiling the TCR (point standings featured on the sidebar) I've been noting that the sprinters look weak. Often there are two or three horses that step up and seem to put a gap between themselves and the rest of the division. If anyone has done that yet this year it was Fabulous Strike and Benny The Bull in the True North. Both horses looked fantastic that day but being the best dirt sprinters doesn't make you the most likely BC Sprint winner which, as everyone knows, will be run on synthetics again.

Benny The Bull has only raced once on synthetics and it wasn't the greatest race. He finished 6th in an allowance at Keeneland. If this were a dirt race we were discussing there is no way I'd have him worse than second on any list but he falls to third because of the surface concern. I am willing to give him a bit of a break since he was a different horse in the days when he contested that Keeneland allowance. Results have shown that horses form from Keeneland often has no relation to their form in California. He also ran that day at 7f and his best distance is definitely 6f. I'm also still high on him because I think a classy closer is well suited to Santa Anita sprints. Benny The Bull is a monster on his best day and he's got a great chance.

Fabulous Strike is likely the best 6f dirt horse in the nation but he barely made my list because I think his connections will be reticent to send him to California again after what happened last year. Most people would be thrilled with a solid 5th place finish in the BC Sprint but for a horse that virtually never runs worse than second it was not an encouraging effort. He failed to seriously challenge the pacesetters and really just went at one speed the whole way around. If they're chasing a championship he'll probably show up again and who knows maybe his class will show through this time but this is horse of the best arguments against having championships on synthetics. The Breeders' Cup losses a star even if he runs because when he runs on synthetics he's not even close to the same horse.

If there is a synthetic sprinting equivalent to Fabulous Strike it's probably Fatal Bullet. I rate him as the horse to beat for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. It's not just that he ran second in last year's Sprint. If you look at his complete career record you'll see an above average horse who is extremely consistent. He has only run poorly twice in his career. Both times he was running on a surface other than synthetics. He is 8-6-2-0 in synthetics sprints. His first loss came in his second career start where he was running at 7f, a distance that would prove to be too far. His second loss was in the BC Sprint where he held off everyone but Midnight Lute and earned a 107 Beyer for his effort. Fatal Bullet's last 4 Beyer Speed Figures are 107, 108, 100 and 105. All of those were earned on synthetics last year before the new calculation revision which would see those numbers likely climb a few points. There is no horse this year that has come anywhere close to consistently running those kind of synthetic figures. Fatal Bullet has been struggling with an injury which has prevented him from seeing the races but he's back to regular works in the mornings and he should be in action soon enough. A light campaign is actually often better for the Sprint anyway.

Call him a hype horse but I believe the hype surrounding Zensational. He's a freaky fast horse who likes synthetic tracks and has one of the best sprint trainers in the nation. Baffert has another potential champion on his hands and you know he has Breeders' Cup on his mind. Zensational makes his stakes debut Sunday in the Triple Bend (G-1). I actually would not be surprised to see him lose the race because it's a huge step up from allowance level sophomores and it's a 7f race. But he's going to be very tough to beat, his competitors are going to realize just how tough this son of a gun is.

Another reason the sprint division has seemed a touch weak is the absence, through injury, of Georgie Boy. Georgie Boy does not have a look or record that screams pure sprinter but he does scream pure class. This is a horse that some people thought might win the Kentucky Derby until he got injured before the SA Derby. His record up to that point was 7-4-2-1 and he had run almost exclusively in sprints. But he has such a flashy turn of foot that fans of his figured he might have a shot at any distance if properly used. That same logic applies to his chances in the Sprint. He probably looks like a miler and he'll be a top contender in my BC Dirt Mile list as well but he's got that one quick thrust that makes him pretty effective at 6f as well. He is undefeated in two starts this year with wins in the Sunshine Millions Sprint and San Carlos. He got a 103 Beyer for each effort so we know he is in the neighborhood of fast enough. He has been struggling with quarter cracks for months now but one thing we must remember about the Sprint is that even long layoffs are usually no problem. It would not seriously bother me if Georgie Boy did not make another start until the BC Sprint itself.

Big Drama is the only horse in my top 10 that has not yet raced on a synthetic surface but that does not persuade me that he cannot handle it. Big Drama is a win machine. He has run 9 times and has arrived at the finish line first on 7 of those occasions. He's got great tactical speed and it capable of the brilliant as well as the workmanlike. Often brilliant horses don't also add consistency to their arsenal but this horse has both. He might be a wild card on the surface until the BC itself but he'll be dangerous.

Red Arrow is still developing as a sprinter although he's already an older horse. He has had only a few starts in North America since coming from Australia. He's a big powerful horse like Zensational or Fabulous Strike and John Sadler has been bringing him along very well. The stakes quality in California sprints is not great when you take out Georgie Boy but he's probably second best and still has a chance to improve.

Munnings is one of the hottest horses in the nation right now because of his big move in the Woody Stephens. He was excellent that day and he has all the tools to become a great sprinter. Synthetics is a question mark since he was terrible in last year's juvenile but I think it was mostly the distance that did him in. He hooks up with Fabulous Strike this weekend at Belmont in what promises to be a most intriguing affair. I doubt the result will change my opinion of their chances in this race very much because the conditions are so different but it should give us an idea of the true class that Munnings has.

The Sprint has turned up some wacky results in the past and a win for a horse like Devoted Magic would definitely qualify as a wacky result. But I have to respect a closer who is capable of the odd brilliant race on his day. Not unlike 97' Sprint winner Elmhurst, Devoted Magic is an older late closing gelding that is pretty useful at 6f when he feels like it. He's not the most consistent horse which is what has kept him out of regular stakes company but he has run a 107 Beyer at Santa Anita and finished second in a G-2. Don't write him off completely, even if his form looks pretty much the same by BC day.

Capt. Candyman Can is the last horse on my list and is one that most people would probably say lacks the necessary speed to beat elite sprinters at 6f. What I like most about him is that he wins. Like Big Drama and Fatal Bullet this horse is a winner and no one has been able to figure out how to beat him in a dirt sprint. His one synthetic try was a decent effort in a messy race that was really too far for him. He finished a troubled 6th in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. I thought he actually ran well that day. Well enough to suggest that the surface should not beat him outright. He's not a real speed ball, as 3yo he seems to have developed into an intelligent horse with a nose for the wire. He runs as fast as he has to in order to get in front. He needs to get better but three year olds often do over the summer and fall.

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