Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Breeders' Cup Top 5

All of the major preparation races are over so this week's top 5 rankings will be the last for this years Breeders' Cup. It's kind of useless to be putting out top 5 lists when you could be pouring over the entries making actual selections. Pre-Entries will be drawn sometime next week and from here on in it will be all about workouts, post positions and proposed tactics.

October 20th

1. Rail Trip (1)
2. Rip Van Winkle (2)
3. Mastercraftsman (3)
4. Richard's Kid (new)
5. Einstein (4)

Dropped: Summer Bird (5)

The Classic should be just that this year, although Rachel isn't coming, Sea the Stars is not coming and I think Zenyatta will skip in favor of the Ladies version. The Classic will be deep enough to absorb those losses and still look like a fantastic race. A list of 5 horses isn't long enough to mention all the really great talents that will be on display.

One thing that has really stuck out to me is the record of the sophomores in prep races. Not just for the Classic division but seemingly everyone. Three year olds are doing extremely well against older horses and as time marches on I think that spells bad news for the older crew. Many three year olds are maturing into the horse they're going to be while many older horses like Macho Again or Einstein are simply trying to still be the horses they were.

I know I have an older horse atop my rankings but I think that if Rail Trip can't handle the youngsters no one will. Rail Trip is a horse I have enjoyed following for all his career. I posted about him last December and mentioned that he was a horse worth watching but I never could have imagined that he'd end up being this good. I see him as the horse to beat in the toughest race of the year. We know he loves the track and we know he is capable of sheer brilliance like he showed in the Hollywood Gold Cup. I love the fact that he'll be more fresh than most of his competition as well.

The recent performance by Gitano Hernando makes me even more scared of the Ballydoyle duo of Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman. Gitano may have been an experienced Polytrack horse but his level of talent is no where near what O'Brien's pair are capable of. I hate playing Europeans second time off the plane so Gitano is an out and out toss but it has to make you think that the established class in California will be up against it. So why do I have Richard's Kid on the list? Because I'm naturally contrary to the flow of public sentiment. Everyone will be looking for a European grass horse while I'll still be keeping my eye on a very solid horse who obviously loves synthetic tracks and probably needs 10f to show his best form. I was worried that his Pacific Classic was a fluke but it certainly wasn't. He would have the Goodwood too if it had been 10f. He's a serious horse and Baffert is as good as anyone at preparing horses for big events.

Summer Bird is a major danger. He is one of those improving three year olds but he's an unknown on the surface. I preferred Einstein because he of the surface issue and because Einstein is quietly in very fine form. I know it's bucking the trend to go with three older horses when we can clearly see that the sophomores are gaining tons of ground but I really think that Rail Trip, Einstein and Richard's Kid can give good accounts of themselves.

It may seem like rather weak reasoning but three weeks away from a race much of this type of ranking comes down to a gut feeling. My gut says that that Rail Trip is the horse to beat despite the strong evidence that three year olds and Turf horses are the ones to fear. It's hard to justify a lack of faith in Summer Bird, who looks like a powerhouse. Or Gio Ponti who is my favorite horse in training or even horses like Twice Over or Quality Road but I've decided to stick with these five who I've been pretty high on for months with the exception of Richard's Kid.

1. Spanish Moon (2)
2. Conduit (3)
3. Dar Re Mi (new)
4. Presious Passion (5)
5. Mastery (new)

Dropped: Fame And Glory (1), Kite Wood (4)

Are there really five horses even coming to this race? I'm looking over a list of contenders and most of the horses that people are listing are likely not to come. Grand Couturier endured a nightmare at Santa Anita last year. Why would he come against this year when he is far worse form? Telling is on many people's lists but he's not good enough to be a real factor. It looks as though no horse from the Canadian International will be headed to the Turf. That means that as of now it looks like the Arlington Million, Joe Hirsch, Clement Hirsch and Canadian International will have only produced one or two starters combined: Presious Passion and Telling. That is shocking and unbelievable.

Because of the dearth of quality I expect that Dar Re Mi will in fact target this race instead of the Filly and mare version. Fame And Glory has now surely dropped out of the running while Godolphin have not said a single thing about Kite Wood since the St Leger. With both of those horses being likely non runners it leaves the race wide open to a filly like Dar Re Mi. She already took on the boys in the Arc and was far from disgraced. I think she'll still have a very tough time with Spanish Moon and Conduit but she's a legitimate threat.

Presious Passion is also a horse with a winning chance and the shorter the field the better he'll do. His opponents will be seriously looking at options for pacemakers because aside from Spanish Moon none of the other names floating around have any semblance of speed.

Although he hasn't been mentioned I think Take The Points will show up. Connections should see this as an easy spot to grab some notoriety. Pletcher always likes to have runners on big race days and although Take The Points doesn't really fit in the Turf. He fits here more than anywhere else and this race looks much easier than the Mile.

I decided to go with Mastery for the last spot on the list. I know Godolphin has been talking about the Marathon with this horse but when they get a glimpse of the competition how could choose a $500k ungraded event instead of the Turf? Mastery is a G-1 winner on fast ground and the St. Leger was a successful stepping stone for both Conduit and Red Rocks. The temptation to chase the big prize will probably draw them here and Mastery has a realistic chance because the field lacks depth at the moment.

1. Goldikova (1)
2. Delegator (2)
3. Ferneley (3)
4. Zacinto (4)
5. Court Vision (new)

Dropped: Whatsthescript (5)

Last week when I compiled this list I said that the 5th spot was being reserved for the most impressive horse to emerge from the Shadwell Mile and Oak Tree Mile. I have to admit that now having seen those races I believe that none of those horses are likely to win the Mile. The bar set by horses like Goldikova and Delegator is much too high.

There is plenty to like about Court Vision, Cowboy Cal and Karelian even if you think as I do, that Goldikova will be nearly untouchable. Court Vision seems to be responding very well to his new barn and since his surgery. I expect an improved effort from him on firm ground. I think it's significant that IEAH is holding out Diamondrella from this race because of what they see in Court Vision. If Diamondrella was running in this race she would be near the top of my list. I really wanted to see him run a lifetime best effort in this race to show that a Mile suits him perfectly but I was left with the impression that 9f is still likely his best distance. I went with him because of the intangible feeling that this horse has been sitting on some world class talent since the beginning but that Mott struggled to get it out of him. Dutrow has a way of figuring out horses like that and he may even take a big enough step forward to pull off the upset. Maybe Goldikova won't be untouchable.

Karelian is a very admirable horse who is unquestionably a mile specialist but I think the circumstances are just against him. He is a 7 year old who has been notoriously unfit since the fall of 07'. The Shadwell was an unbelievable performance considering that it was his first of the season and that he is not naturally a speed horse. But my worry is that this old gelding won't be able to gear up again in a month. Performances like that often lead to regression in older horses unless they get a bit more time on the bench. If he had got another start in this year I'd be preferring Karelian to Court Vision.

Cowboy Cal is a classic example of a horse that is good at everything but not great at anything. He wins the races he ought to win because he is tough and classy but when special horses show up against him he always takes a back seat. Cowboy Cal has an excellent chance to hit the board in the BC Mile. He is undefeated at the distance and you could see how stubborn he gets. In races 8f-9f Cowboy Cal is 12-7-4-1. He has only missed the exacta once. The reason I haven't put him on my list is that I'm not trying to pick the horse that will be second or third. I'm looking for horses with the best winning chance. Cowboy Cal is a far steadier prospect than Court Vision but Court Vision has that upside potential that Pletcher's horse just doesn't have. what you see is what you get with Cowboy Cal and it's only going to be good enough for second place at best. At least with Court Vision there is that slim chance that the firm turf could really bring him to life and he'd fulfill that potential connections always saw in him.

1. Fatal Bullet (1)
2. Zensational (2)
3. Gayego (5)
4. Capt. Candyman Can (new)
5. Delta Storm (new)

Dropped: Kodiak Kowboy (3), Hollywood Hit (4)

Like the Turf this race is struggling to find runners but unlike the Turf there is still going to be quite a bit of quality. The loss of Fabulous Strike and Kodiak Kowboy is significant but Zensational, Fatal Bullet and Gayego are all good enough to make this a legitimate championship event.

I have been a strong supporter of Fatal Bullet all year long. I know the hype is with Zensational and that Fatal Bullet has not had a championship caliber campaign. But in a one race situation I still think he is the best synthetic sprinter in the world. He has lost just on synthetic sprint at 6.5f or less and it took the fabulous Midnight Lute to beat him. All of his last 7 races on synthetics have seen him earn triple digit Beyers. Now this doesn't really set him apart from Zensational who is undefeated in synthetic sprints and has also earned triple digit Beyers in every synthetic sprint race he has run. My case for Fatal Bullet is based more on visual impression, the strength of his competition and the fact that he has shown the ability to rate a bit. Zensational is a bit less reserved and he has never faced any horses like the ones he'll be facing in the Sprint.

Gayego has inherited the spot of closer most likely to swoop past the dueling pair of Fatal Bullet and Zensational. The threat of an all out speed duel with those two is very real and with Kodiak Kowboy pulling out of the Sprint it's left to Gayego to run them down. Gayego has exuded class all his life and he is quite effective going longer as well. What I like about him is that he makes winning seem like no big deal. The Ancient Title was a good performance but it seemed like Gayego was only going at workout pace. It took very little for him to sweep to the lead.

Capt. Candyman Can is one of the most admirable horses in training. He has never earned massive figures for his work but he has been nothing but solid all of his life. He has run in 7 sprint races in his career and the only horses to have beaten him fairly are Quality Road and Fatal Bullet. I'm not sure that he can close as effectively at 6f as Gayego can but he'll be another closer looking dangerous in the final furlong.

I was deeply saddened to hear that Hollywood Hit has been suspended for 90 days because he was found to have a tranquilizer in his system during his last race. I must say that I find it odd that the horse himself is barred from running instead of a sanction being brought on the trainer. Either way the BC Sprint has lost a legitimate threat.

Who else is coming to this race? I have no idea to be honest. I'm interested in Crown of Thorns but he's on the fence for this race and even for the Breeders' Cup at all. My feeling is that he is more likely for the Dirt Mile.

I have tossed Delta Storm on the list because he has a decent and consistent record on synthetics. I don't he has a realistic chance of winning and he should be 40/1 but he usually runs his race and the evidence suggests that he's as good as he's ever been. That's probably not good enough but stranger things have happened in racing. All we know is that 6f on a synthetic track fits him well and he's capable of running a good race.

1. Lookin At Lucky (1)
2. Pulsion (2)
3. Aikenite (new)
4. Aspire (5)
5. Noble's Promise (new)

Dropped: Dave in Dixie (3), Dublin (4)

When the Juvenile is hosted in the West it is usually won by a western horse. I have two westerners atop my list although I think that the form is really very close between all these five horses.

Lookin At Lucky and Noble's Promise are both major synthetic prep winners that have good tactical speed and decent figures. They also both come from barns that are excellent with two year olds.

On my list they bookend a trio of classy closers who should all have a big say. Pace meltdowns in the Juvenile are hardly rare. With all those young horses keyed up by the crowds it doesn't take much to wind up with a speed duel. Pulsion has proven that he can close effectively on this track. He is not a stakes winner but he is one of the few non stakes winners that will enter the juvenile having won a two turn race. Biancone has a good one.

I think there is very little to separate Aikenite and Aspire. The reason I have Aikenite a bit higher is that he got the two turn synthetic prep while Aspire got a one turn dirt prep. It was still a route race for Aspire but it just gives me a bit less confidence in him. Aikenite had closed hard in both of his last two G-1 races but he definitely looked better on the Polytrack at Keeneland than he did on the main track at Saratoga.

Aspire might be a bit of a hidden gem because he never really got to run in the Champagne. I thought he was the horse to beat going into that race and coming out of it I think he is the horse with the brightest future. I don't know what synthetics do to his chances but I will definitely be rooting for Aspire in the juvenile.

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