Countdown to the Cup: A Classic Bomb

He’s not brilliant and he doesn’t have much speed, but if you are looking for a monster, and I mean monster, longshot to play around with in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, you might want to consider Brilliant Speed, whose form bears a striking resemblance to the form of 2002 Classic winner Volponi, who romped by 6 ½ lengths at odds of 43-1.

Looking at his overall record, Brilliant Speed does not have the credentials to win the Classic, but they said the same thing about Volponi. Permit me to toot my own horn, because it is rare I have a reason to, but I not only selected and bet on Volponi, but picked him in my Friday column as my best bet on the entire Breeders’ Cup card. Sometimes, when a race is puzzling, you start looking out of the box and shy away from the obvious. To me, Volponi actually stood out in a race with no clear-cut favorite.

This time it is different. On paper, it doesn’t look like anyone can beat Game On Dude at Santa Anita, and he may very well be one of the biggest locks of the day. But that’s why they have exotic bets.

Although Brilliant Speed does not match Volponi in career victories, I do notice several similarities that I find most interesting.

Volponi came into the Classic having won one of his previous six starts, while Brilliant Speed has won one of his previous nine starts. The one race each won was a grade III grass stakes at Belmont Park. Both horses finished third in the grade I Sword Dancer Stakes on grass that same year. Volponi had blinkers added for the Classic; Brilliant Speed will have blinkers added for the Classic. In addition, both are homebreds who made their career debut in July as 2-year-olds.

Unlike Volponi, who had won a grade II and grade III stakes in his career, Brilliant Speed has won a grade I (Toyota Blue Grass Stakes) and placed in five grade I’s (on dirt and grass), including the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Turf.

If ever a horse ran like he needed blinkers, it is Brilliant Speed, who looked to have the Belmont Stakes won at the eighth pole after making a big move, but hung in the final furlong to finish third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths. He made a big early move in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, opening a length lead at the eighth pole, but was one-paced in the final furlong and had to settle for third behind a pair of top-class European invaders, St. Nicholas Abbey and Sea Moon. Had these races been at 1 1/4 miles, there is a good chance he would have won both of them.

Although his seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby looks so-so on paper, he came from 16th, had to go eight-wide at the top of the stretch, and still closed fast to be beaten two noses for fifth and 2 1/2 lengths for third. Yes, he has found a way to lose most of his races, but he has been competitive with a number of top-class horses from America and Europe, rarely runs a bad race, and does have a strong closing kick on any given day. And if you believe blinkers will help sharpen him up, as they did Volponi, then you could do a lot worse if you’re looking for a megabomb to play in the exotics.

And as far as his ability on dirt, he hasn’t been given much of an opportunity on that surface or on synthetic, where he is a grade I winner, but he consistently works sharply over the dirt, and his most recent work over the Belmont training track (five furlongs in 1:00 2/5)  received glowing reviews from DRF’s Mike Welsch, who said it “rivaled” the half-mile drill by undefeated Champagne and Hopeful winner Shanghai Bobby as the “work of the day.”

From a pedigree standpoint, his sire, Dynaformer, is one of the most versatile sires in America, with his offspring competing at the highest level on both grass and dirt. And his second dam, Daijin, is a full-sister to Belmont and Haskell winner Touch Gold.

And from a strategic standpoint, his owner, Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation, has a very talented colt in To Honor and Serve, who has an almost identical running style to Game On Dude and should keep the favorite fairly busy on or just off the pace through most of the race.

So, yes, on the surface, it would appear as if we are really reaching trying to convince anyone this horse has a legitimate chance in the Classic. But stranger things have happened and part of the challenge of handicapping is to uncover some angles on a horse one normally would pay little or no attention to.

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