Countdown to the Cup: Saturday Longshots

JUVENILE TURF – This race is so competitive and wide open, you can pretty much pick anyone and expect a good performance. The Euros are particularly strong, with several top-class stakes horses who have finished first, second or third is nearly every top 2-year-old stakes in England, as well as France. It is difficult separating Dondonnell, Artigiano, George Vancouver, and Fantastic Moon – all talented colts with great futures.

The Americans are just as difficult to figure out, so we’re going to go with 20-1 Brown Almighty, from the same team that brought you Summer Bird in 2009. This son of Big Brown looked like a budding turf star after winning his first two career starts. He showed too much early speed in his narrow defeat in the Sunday Silence Stakes and then had a disastrous trip in the grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. He still managed to finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, and was placed second on a disqualification. He should be coming up to this race in peak condition and could surprise with a clean trip. He also had a very strong gallop Friday morning and came back with good energy, showing all the signs of a horse ready for a big effort. He will be heading to Oaklawn Park for the winter and, judging by his pedigree and the way he handles the dirt in his gallops, there is no reason why he shouldn’t make his presence felt on the classic trail.

Of the Europeans, the one horse who looks intriguing at 8-1 is Artigiano, who has won only one of six, but has thrown in a couple of top-class performances, especially a solid second in the one-mile Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket at a mile. Frankie Dettori has ridden him in all his career starts.

FILLY & MARE SPRINT – So, who can beat Groupie Doll? The smart answer is “probably no one.” Turbulent Descent is always dangerous if she returns to last year’s form and Musical Romance won this race last year. Dust and Diamonds is very fast and is riding an impressive three-race winning streak. But Groupie Doll has turned into a freak with blinkers added and her best race beats this group.

DIRT MILE – Shackleford, Emcee, and Jersey Town make a formidable trio of favorites, and we know Bob Baffert has always been very high on Fed Biz, but one horse whose true talent is still unknown is the Canadian invader Delegation, who has been touted as something special by everyone who has ever been close to him. The fact that he’s never been on dirt, even in a workout, makes him even more unknown. But he is by Speightstown, out of a Sea Hero mare, so he certainly is bred for the dirt. If he can duplicate his synthetic and grass form, he could be an intriguing overlay at 12-1.

Speaking of overlays, seeing a horse the caliber of Rail Trip at 10-1 makes that old warrior an interesting play. This is probably his best distance, considering the brilliance he used to have, but he did draw the rail, which is a bit of a concern. But, still, keep an eye on his odds. He could be worth a play if he’s high enough and gets lucky.

TURF SPRINT – Good luck coming up with a winner of this crap shoot. There is a lot of early speed, and we always like to look for a horse to from off the pace in this race. Mizdirection is a filly running against the boys and is 20-1, but she should not be overlooked, considering her superb record – she has never run a bad race and is always right there. We also give an outside shot to longshots Great Attack, trained by sprint guru Wesley Ward, and the lightly raced Tale of a Champion, whose best races have come at less than a mile on turf and seems to coming into form.

JUVENILE – Shanghai Bobby and Power Broker look awfully tough to handle in here, and Baffert is already looking ahead to the classics with Power Broker. He also feels Title Contender is extremely talented, and off his impressive maiden victory with the addition of blinkers, you can’t dismiss him.

But if you’re looking for price horses to perhaps play in the exotics, Capo Bastone had a troubled trip in his third-place finish in the FrontRunner Stakes and he has a strong closing kick. Also, Dynamic Sky, another synthetic horse trained by Mark Casse, is coming off a strong second in the Breeders’ Futurity and should improve off that effort. But, on paper, the two favorites look awfully tough in here..

TURF – We love Point of Entry too much to play against him. With three consecutive grade I wins under his belt, he is one victory away from being the next Manila. And he does have the turn of foot to match the Europeans, so we’ll just see if gets a good trip.

Dullahan is the big unknown, going a mile and a half, as is the Japanese horse Trailblazer, who looked super finishing a fast-closing second in the Arroyo Seco Mile at distance well below his best. Slim Shadey and Turbo Compressor likely will be the pace factors and we’ll see how far they can carry their speed.

Of the Euros, we have last year’s Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey and his stablemate Treasure each, but the one who intrigues us the most is the French filly Shareta, who couldn’t handle the soft ground at Longchanp in the Arc. But we loved her victories in the Prix Vermeille and especially the Yorkshire Oaks, and she did run big finishing second to Meandre in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Her owner, the Aga Khan, always seems to do well here and we look for her to run a big race, even though several of the Euros we’ve spoken to aren’t overly enamored with her. We certainly would consider her to play in the exactas and trifecta with Point of Entry.

If you’re looking for a real megabomb, Cogito seems to be a firm course horse, so his fourth in the Jamaica Handicap in his U.S. debut can be thrown out. But if you go strictly by his second-place finish to eventual Secretariat winner Bayrir in the 10-furlong Prix Eugene Adam over a firm course at Maisons-Laffitte then he might be worth a wager to pick up a piece of it.

SPRINT – We really don’t have strong feelings about this race, nor do any of the big longshots stand out. We like what we’ve seen of Coil in the mornings and feel he’s coming up to another big race. And his stablemate Capital Account looks to be strong as well. The big question is whether last year’s winner Amazombie is in the same form he was at Churchill Downs.

From a sentimental standpoint, we’d love to see Smiling Tiger return to prominence, and at 12-1 with Ramon Dominguez up, we feel he might just be an enticing overlay. He’s not as consistent as he once was, but on his best day he is still a formidable foe, and he has run some sensational races at Santa Anita. Whether he’s good enough now to win this race we have no idea, but he surely can be right there with his best effort.

Although he’s listed at only 6-1, The Lumber Guy was so impressive in the Vosburgh, there is no reason to think he can’t bounce back with another big one. We’d be surprised if he didn’t run huge again, even if he is a 3-year-old.

If there is any big longshot who can threaten the favorites, it could be Trinniberg, who had a super :47 work at Santa Anita, even though seven furlongs seems to be his best distance.

MILE – All eyes will be on Wise Dan and Excelebration and rightly so. But this is far from a two-horse race. No one is giving Animal Kingdom much of a shot coming off a long layoff and only one allowance race in 17 months. But this is much more gifted horse than people realize and Graham Motion seems to have him cranked for a big return. Some horses can explode when fresh and he was one of the most lightly raced Kentucky Derby winners in history. We admit it’s a tall order, but at 8-1 we would not be surprised at all to see him run a big race.

We also have a good deal of respect for the French filly Moonlight Cloud, who beat the boys in the Prix du Moulin in her last start and nearly defeated the great Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. She’ll be coming in the stretch.

Finally, we have to mention 12-1 Mr. Commons, who was taken way out of his strength in the Arroyo Seco, tracking the early pace. If he can take back and run the way he wants to and make one run, he could pick up a piece of it in the exotics.

CLASSIC – And now for the big finale, and we must confess we’re totally confused, considering we feel any one of the 12 starters can win. Game On Dude is a standout on paper, considering he is undefeated in five starts at Santa Anita.

Handsome Mike should set a decent pace, tracked by Game On Dude, To Honor and Serve, Mucho Macho Man, and Fort Larned. If these horses hook up and put enough pressure on each other it could set things up for a closer. Flat Out is the solid midpack horse and should get first run on the leaders, along with the intriguing Nonios. Then comes the next wave of deep closers Ron the Greek, Richard’s Kid, Pool Play, and Brilliant Speed.

We wrote this past week about Fort Larned and feel he is sitting on a huge effort, especially considering his past speed figures and the number of influences in his family who have excelled at a mile and a quarter at Santa Anita. We’re not thrilled with 5-1 and would hope to get better odds. We do, however, like the 8-1 odds on Mucho Macho Man, who is just now maturing into a mature, finely tuned racehorse. He only runs every 10 weeks or so and we’ll see how tight trainer Kathy Ritvo has him. He has a great post (11) and the perfect jockey (Mike Smith). Watch out for him next year when we really see the finished product.

We are going to follow the longshot premise. We love the 20-1 odds on Brilliant Speed (who we wrote about recently) and Nonios, and the 30-1 odds on Pool Play, a 7-year-old pretending to be a 3-year-old.

Nonios is a 3-year-old who is reaching his peak right now, and his solid seconds to Game On Dude in the Awesome Again and Paynter in the Haskell suggest this is a very talented horse.

In our column on Brilliant Speed we mentioned all the similarities between him and 2002 Classic winner Volponi. And as for Pool Play he is undefeated on dirt, is coming off the deep, deep track at Hawthorne, and has looked fantastic training at Santa Anita.

We will take a shot and bet all three of these horses to win and play them in the exotics, concentrating on Fort Larned, who has the acceleration on the turn that could propel him to victory. And, of course, Mucho Macho Man will have to be included. These are our top two choices in that order.

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