Regardless of how many horses I feel have a shot to win, I am going to stick with VINO ROSSO. It doesn’t make sense to turn back now after a year and a half of supporting this horse, first as my top ranked Kentucky Derby horse and now as my BC Classic horse. He looks like he finally is peaking, and at the right time, especially based on his works and overall demeanor and enthusiasm. His recent works over the Belmont training track were as impressive as I’ve seen. I had never seen him so strong and so sharp.
I lean toward the older horses, and he is one of the rare Eastern horses to ship to California and win a grade 1 stakes, and he did it by defeating the Santa Anita Handicap winner Gift Box, fresh off victories over McKinzie in the Big Cap and Battle of Midway in the San Antonio. So not only does he have a win over the track, he is bred to relish the mile and a quarter, he has the right running style for Santa Anita, and his fastest Thoro-Graph figure was in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita when he ran a –2 1/2, the fastest figure of his career. His Brisnet late-pace figures aren’t anything to rave about, but his strength is his tactical speed, as one can see by his ability to run strong middle-pace figures; that’s where he beats you.
McKinzie, Code of Honor, Yoshida, Elate, and Higher Power are pretty predictable, and all have a good shot, but to make money you are going to need a longshot to sneak in there. Two horses have who will be big odds have betting angles that are worth mentioning and should not be overlooked.
It is interesting to note that SEEKING THE SOUL and McKinzie share the highest Thoro-Graph figure in the field: a –3 1/2. One, however, is going to be the favorite and the other is going to be 30-1, trained by someone who has proven to be deadly in big races with 30-1 shots. Seeking the Soul also ran a –3 last fall, so he is capable of repeating that number. He’s been in California for a few months. His first race was a toss due to an electrolyte imbalance called the Thumps and I thought his fourth in the Awesome Again was a decent enough comeback race over a speed-favoring track that did not suit his style. And I can’t imagine he was 100 percent in that race. He will appreciate the larger field and contentious pace, and although he hasn’t won at a mile and a quarter, three of his four great-grandsires ran the three fastest Kentucky Derbys in history – Secretariat, Monarchos, and Northern Dancer.
It is obvious that by sending him to California so early and running him twice there, bypassing the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, they have been totally focused on winning the Classic for a long time.
His seven triple-digit Beyer speed figures are second only to McKinzie. He has the class, having won the grade 1 Clark Handicap and grade 2 Stephen Foster, and he ran a huge race in last year’s BC Dirt Mile, finishing second to the brilliant City of Light in 1:33 4/5, and rallied from 12th to finish second to City of Light in the grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at 34-1. In short, his best effort can definitely put him in the money, and even in the winner’s circle if we get a pace collapse. He doesn’t always give his best effort, but at the odds he’s going to be, it might be worth it to take a shot that he will on Saturday, enough at least to pick up a piece of it.
The other longshot, although not as long as Seeking the Soul, is MONGOLIAN GROOM, whose trainer’s honesty could move his odds up a few points. Enebish Ganbat was direct and to the point when he did what most trainers would never do – express displeasure in his horse’s workout, saying he worked too slow after his saddle slipped a little. I say that going a second or so slower than planned is not going to affect his performance. Most are going to deduce that his Awesome Again victory was a fluky theft, in which he went to the lead for the first time. But this horse has had a sneaky good year, finishing a solid third in the grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap at 53-1 and Pacific Classic at 18-1 and a fast-closing second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap at 12-1 before winning the Awesome Again at 25-1. He also was fourth to Vino Rosso in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita at 25-1. Traveling cross-country for the Woodward, he made a steady run on the far turn, racing three-to-four wide throughout the race, and then was squeezed out of contention in the stretch when Preservationist and Tom’s d’Etat put him in the proverbial vice nearing the eighth pole.
He is a natural mile and a quarter horse, with his two grandsires being major stamina influences Mineshaft and Dynaformer. He is inbred to two Triple Crown winners (Secretariat and Seattle Slew) as well as two horses who won two legs of the Triple Crown (Nashua and Northern Dancer). Two of his great-grandsires won the English Derby (Roberto) and Belmont Stakes and BC Classic (A.P. Indy). His third dam, Versailles Treaty, won the 10-furlong Alabama Stakes and finished second twice in the BC Distaff. Other major stamina influences in his female family are His Majesty, Hail to Reason, and Buckpasser.
To demonstrate why the Awesome Again might not be a fluke, he came home his final eighth in :12.32, McKinzie was 5 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Higher Power, and by the time Mongolian Groom reached the clubhouse turn on the gallop-out, he was some 15 lengths in front of McKinzie. He just wanted to keep going, getting stronger the farther he went. So don’t let that last workout scare you. He doesn’t need a lot of training after three grade 1 mile-and-a-quarter races, three mile-and-an-eighth races, and a mile-and-three-quarters grass race this year. He has shown improvement since adding blinkers and dramatic improvement when Ganbat removed his front bandages for the Awesome Again. He has put together two excellent form cycles on his Beyer figures. After going from a 79 to 86 to 93 to a 97 in the Big Cap, he began his current cycle – 89, 96, 98, 99, 100, and 110, with his last number the second fastest Beyer just below McKinzie’s 111 in the Whitney.
Often in mile-and-a-quarter races you like to see a grinder type who can consistently maintain a high cruising speed throughout the race. In their last six starts, Mongolian Groom, McKinzie, and Vino Rosso are the only three horses in the field who have not run a Brisnet middle pace figure under 90, meaning they are going strongest of all down the backstretch and around the far turn.
If you like McKinzie, Vino Rosso, Code of Honor, Yoshida, Higher Power, or Elate, you might want to consider playing whichever ones you like best, or all of them, with the two aforementioned longshots in the exactas and trifectas in order to try to land a big price. As a point of interest, the only three horses who have run as fast as a negative-3 Thoro-Graph figure in their career are McKinzie, Elate, and Seeking the Soul. Make of that what you wish.
The bottom line is that MCKINZIE is the fastest horse in the race, the most gifted, and the most consistent in his speed figures, and he should be effective at a mile and a quarter (see my column last week), regardless of all the skepticism. And you can’t ignore the racing gods angle with the Bob Baffert—Brad McKinzie connection that always gets Baffert choked up. Sometimes things are just meant to be, and this is the kind of race Baffert usually wins.
So, to summarize, Vino Rosso is my pick and will be my main win bet, and he will be included in all exotic bets. Seeking the Soul and Mongolian Groom are my two longshot picks to back up all exotics and even make a saver win bet on them just in case I actually know what I’m talking about.
I am also going to play Vino Rosso, Code of Honor, McKinzie, Higher Power, Yoshida, and Elate over Mongolian Groom and Seeking the Soul in the exactas, Playing any combination of the six shorter-priced horses alone is just not worth it if you’re looking to make big bucks. You need a bomb in there somewhere.
I am also intrigued by a five-horse trifecta box consisting of the horses with a race over the track — McKinzie, Vino Rosso, Mongolian Groom, Higher Power, and Seeking the Soul just to try for a killing by eliminating the horses who have never shipped to Santa Anita.
Finally, one other bet if you’re only lukewarm on the two longshots and have the money to burn is a trifecta key part-wheel of Vino Rosso, McKinzie, Higher Power, Code of Honor, and Yoshida over the same five horses over Seeking the Soul and Mongolian Groom.
I am not suggesting making all these bets, only the ones that seem the most appealing and that you can afford. A lot of it depends on how much you made or lost on the previous Breeders’ Cup races. You can stick with just the exactas or just the trifectas or even just the win bets. If you have the resources to bet all of them you are no doubt doing something right.
Just as a final note, I was all set to make a case for Owendale, who I really like, and even studied War of Will and Math Wizard carefully, with the latter improving rapidly and War of Will possibly returning to his best form with blinkers. But all three of them have Thoro-Graph numbers that strongly suggest they are just not fast enough at this time to compete with the older horses. None of the three have ever run a negative number, so they have a great deal of improving to do. Thoro-Graph figures obviously are not gospel, but in a race this seemingly wide open you have to utilize the handicapping tools you follow.
The rest of the Breeders’ Cup races to come.