Countdown to the Cup: Beware Of Keeneland Kiddies

It seems a contradiction to the senses to boost the merits of the Breeders’ Futurity, run over Polytrack, and several of its participants. But the feeling here is that we saw a couple of potential stars emerge from the race, whose true talents actually will not be seen until they run on dirt. One of them already has become our live longshot for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a force for next year’s Kentucky Derby trail.

First, however, let’s address the Futurity winner Dullahan. The first inclination would be to dismiss his chances in the Juvenile, based on his two mediocre performances over the Churchill Downs dirt surface in his first two career starts. That would be a mistake.

All you have to do is watch the Futurity to see that this is a big, scopey, long-striding colt who would not be expected to run big going 5 ½ and six furlongs, the distances of his first two starts. He actually ran OK in those races to finish third and fifth. He improved when stretched out to the grass, finishing a close second in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Saratoga and third in the With Anticipation Stakes. We believe the improvement was due to the stretch-out and not the grass. This colt is bred top and bottom for the dirt, being a son of the Unbridled’s Song stallion Even the Score and a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and traces to a great Greentree Stud family, most notably Broodmare of the Year Track Medal, a full-sister to Swaps.

He ran decently in sprints on the dirt, improved on the grass, improved even more on the Polytrack, and should improve again when he returns to the dirt going two turns.

The most impressive aspect of his performance in the Breeders’ Futurity was the quick-fire acceleration he showed on the far turn, blowing past horses, despite racing wide four-wide every step of the way. He also was able to sustain his move for five-eighths of a mile, something you don’t often see a 2-year-old do. And finally, he appeared to actually find another gear in the final furlong and seemed to be getting stronger the farther he ran.

So, watch out in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This performance was legitimate and we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg with this colt.

Now, if you’re looking for a horse who was almost or equally as impressive as the winner, but who is going to be a big price in the BC Juvenile and looks like a hot prospect for next year’s Derby trail, then pay close attention to third-place finisher Optimizer, who has unlimited potential.

If you feel he is a grass horse because he is by English Channel and ran big in his first two career starts on the grass you would be dead wrong. English Channel happened to be a grass horse, but wasn’t bred to be a grass horse. Optimizer only raced on grass because trainer Wayne Lukas needed to run him two turns and the only two-turn races for 2-year-olds at Saratoga are on the grass. Lukas believes his dramatic maiden victory and his second in the With Anticipation Stakes, in which the rider lost the whip at the sixteenth pole, were both achieved on class alone. The only reason he ran him in the Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack was because it was two turns and he was looking to get enough points to make it into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field.

This colt worked lights out on the Oklahoma training track and continued to work big on the dirt at Churchill Downs, blowing out a half in :48 breezing for the Breeders’ Futurity, the second fastest of 31 works at the distance.

Optimizer’s female family is a Who’s Who of Phipps family breeding. His dam, Indy Pick (by A.P. Indy), is out of Fantastic Find, winner of the grade I Hempstead and placed in the grade I Test, Ballerina, and Gazelle. Fantastic Find also produced Finder’s Fee, winner of the grade I Acorn and Matron, and who won or placed in 10 other graded stakes.

Fantastic Find’s dam, Blitey (by Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Riva Ridge), won the Test, Maskette, and Ballerina and produced grade I winners Dancing Spree and Furlough, in addition to Fantastic Find and graded stakes winner Dancing All Night.

Blitey’s dam, Lady Pitt, won the Coaching Club American Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Molther Goose and was champion 3-year-old filly in 1966.

This is as strong a female family as you’ll find anywhere, and there is no doubt Optimizer will improve the farther he goes. In the Breeders’ Futurity, he was the other horse flying around the far turn, as he rallied from 12th. Unlike the winner, however, he raced greenly through the stretch and got stuck on his left lead. Robby Albarado kept hitting him left-handed and after getting to the outside, the colt finally changed to his right lead. It took him a few strides to find his rhythm, as he continued to race greenly, but once he did he leveled off and began closing in on Dullahan and Majestic City, getting stronger with each stride.

Lukas said he can’t wait to get him on dirt after seeing his action over it in the morning. The colt is still learning what the game is all about, and with his pedigree, powerful stretch kick, and the look of class about him, his future could be limitless. We’ll find out for sure in the Juvenile, a race in which he only needs to move forward to prepare him for the Derby trail.

Two other horses coming out of the Breeders’ Futurity who should improve next time out on dirt are Take Charge Indy (fourth) and Shared Property (sixth).

Dullahan's trainer, Dale Romans, has a 2-year-old colt he believes is freaky fast and is excited about getting him in the BC Juvenile Sprint. His name is Me and My Gals and he blew the doors off his opponents in his career debut at Hoosier Park, winning by 8 1/4 lengths in a blistering 1:08 4/5. The son of Sky Mesa, out of an Unbridled mare cost $180,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. He currently is tearing up the track in the morning at Churchill Downs.

Early BC bombing raid

It’s never too early to search for longshots in the Breeders’ Cup, so here are a few bombs who might be ready for a big effort, assuming, of course, the Breeders’ Cup is in their plans.

MISS MATCH (Ladies Classic) – Not many people noticed her fourth-place finish against the boys in the Goodwood, in which she came from last, 13 lengths out of it, to be beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Game On Dude, coming home her final eighth in :12 1/5. Although inconsistent at times, she was beaten only three-quarters of a length by Blind Luck and a neck by Switch in the Vanity Handicap. Earlier in the year, she upset Switch in the grade I Santa Margarita at 45-1. She is having her best year at age 6 after being sent to Neil Drysdale. She reminds us a little of Life is Sweet, winner of the 2009 Ladies Classic. On her best day, she could be a stretch threat at a big price, but also has the versatility to stay within striking distance of the pace if they slow it down.

CHAMPAGNE D’ORO (F&M Sprint) – It’s true she’s winless since last year’s Test Stakes and has been a big disappointment, considering the roll she was on last spring. But it is possible her last start, the Lady’s Secret, was a wake-up race that could set her up for a top effort in the F&M Sprint. Her two biggest wins have some in grade Is at seven furlongs and one mile, and after setting a strong pace in the 1 1/8-mile Lady’s Secret, opening up a two-length lead at the eighth pole, and finishing fourth, beaten 4 ¼ lengths, she just might relish the drop back to one turn and have enough foundation under her to press the pace and keep going. She did finish fourth in this race last year as the 4-1 favorite, pressing a fast pace from the 13-post.

CAMBINA (F&M Turf) – Her fifth-place finish in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes was completely lost behind the excellent performances of Dubawi Heights, Cozi Rosie, and Harmonious, all legitimate threats in the F&M Turf. This Irish-bred daughter of Hawk Wing is one of the most versatile and consistent turf fillies in the country, having won stakes at 6 ½ furlongs and 1 ¼ miles, and she is always flying at the end, regardless of the distance. She’s also won stakes at one mile and 1 1/8 miles, so there is little she can’t do. In the Yellow Ribbon, she was ridden for the first time by Pat Valenzuela and got going a little too late, closing from last to finish fifth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, coming home her final quarter in :22 4/5. Considering the price she’ll be in the BC, you know you’ll get a big run from her.

CARACORTADO (Mile or Turf Sprint) – The Mile is a pretty tough spot for him, but he’d be going into the race fresh and has shown his class on numerous occasions. He’s sort of a forgotten horse, not having started since winning the Del Mar Mile. His races at a mile have been excellent, all in top-class company, and was beaten a neck by Courageous Cat in the Shoemaker Mile in 1:33 flat. He never runs a bad race, and if he handles the Churchill Downs turf he should be coming fast at the end. We’re familiar with the leading contenders, but he is a bit of an unknown, shipping east with an excellent resume. If they decide on the Turf Sprint, then he adds a whole new dimension and would need a blistering pace. But he is more than capable of picking them off late in that race as well.

MISS NETTA (Juvenile Fillies) – Overcame a horrendous start in the Frizette, falling more than 17 lengths off the pace, to finish third. Although she was beaten nine lengths, she was almost three lengths ahead of the fourth horse. By Street Sense, out of a Dynaformer mare, she will run all day and should appreciate the stretch-out to two turns. The fact that she was precocious enough to win her career debut at Saratoga on the front end going six furlongs indicates she could have bright future.

A Dullahan by any other name
Dullahan sounds very Irish and very melodic or the name of an Irish cop or priest. But in truth, the name is as bizarre and creepy as you can get.
From Wikipedia:  (Dullahan) is headless fairy, usually seen riding a black horse and carrying his or her head under one arm. The head's eyes are massive and constantly dart about like flies, while the mouth is constantly in a hideous grin that touches both sides of the head. The flesh of the head is said to have the color and consistency of moldy cheese. The dullahan's whip is actually a human corpse's spine, and the wagons they sometimes use are made of similarly funereal objects (e.g. candles in skulls to light the way, the spokes of the wheels made from thigh bones, the wagon's covering made from a worm-chewn pall). When the dullahan stops riding, it is where a person is due to die. The dullahan calls out their name, at which point they immediately perish.

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