Breeders' Cup Classic preps are in the books, and what we have is, in simple
terms, a mish mash on paper. The anticipated East vs. West showdown between
Accelerate and Diversify didn't pan out with the performance of Diversify in
the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And while Accelerate won the Awesome Again Stakes by
2 1/4 lengths, it wasn't with the same authority we had seen in his previous
races, and that final three-eighths in :40 3/5 is not going to instill fear in
the opposition. Also, Accelerate is going to have to travel outside of
California for only the second time in his 21-race career. And he was beaten at
6-5 in that only previous start.
have to take into consideration that the third-place finisher, Isotherm, who
was right there through most of the stretch run and finished only a half-length
behind West Coast was 57-1 in a six-horse field, hadn't won a race since
February 2017, and was winless in his four starts on dirt.
Accelerate's defense, this was only a prep and he had less than an ideal trip,
breaking slowly from the outside post and getting hung four-wide into the first
turn and then continuing wide down the backstretch and into the far turn. So,
assuming he will be as effective at Churchill Downs as in California, he still
should be a force to deal with in the Classic. Many will be mentioning trainer
John Sadler's 0-for-41 record in the Breeders' Cup and Accelerate's dismal
performance in last year's Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, but he is a far better horse
at age 5 and is still a major endorsement for keeping a horse in training and
letting him grow into his full potential. There is no reason to be down on him.
He is still a very talented horse, just as Sadler is a very talented trainer. And, oh, yes, he did win the race going away.
Diversify, he will always be a very dangerous horse wherever he runs, but just
as the pace and his exceptional speed can help him win races, they can also
cost him. While he did set insane fractions in the Gold Cup and was only beaten
five lengths, the 3-year-old Mendelssohn, who tracked him the whole way, ran a
much stronger race to finish third, beaten two lengths. And you can't ignore
the final quarter in a pedestrian :26. Also, let's not forget that the winner,
Discreet Lover ,did pay $93. He is a very useful horse who has picked up a check
in several top-class stakes and won the Exclesior Handicap early in the year,
but he was coming off an atrocious performance in the Woodward and had won only
one of his previous nine starts and would again be a longshot in the Classic,
as he has been in his last seven starts. He is a tough old boy, but he won't be
able to count on such a sizzling pace to run at in the Classic.
Classic prep winner over the weekend was Mind Your Biscuits, who looked
exceptional winning the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. Granted it wasn't a
particularly strong field, but he did everything you wanted to see to build up
confidence that he can stretch out to a mile and a quarter, which would have
seemed totally inconceivable four months ago when he looked to be the best
sprinter in the country. Talk about a trainer knowing his horse and stretching
his limits. There is no denying that Chad Summers has done a remarkable job
with this horse. He could have easily kept him sprinting and aiming for the BC
Sprint for the third time after two tough defeats, but he has somehow turned
him into one of the leading contenders for the Classic.
Not only did
Mind Your Biscuits draw off in the stretch to win by almost five lengths in a
strong 1:48 3/5 for the mile and an eighth, he came home his final
three-eighths in a powerful :36 flat, as if he wanted more distance. Although Summers has had the Classic in mind for a while, another incentive for pointing in that direction is not having to take on Imperial Hint in the Sprint. Imperial Hint was stabled with Summers' horses at Saratoga, just a few stalls down from Mind Your Biscuits, so Summers' is well aware just how special he is. And Saturday's walk in the park in the Vosburgh, eased up in 1:08 1/5, did nothing to change his mind.
OK, so much
for the winners. There were a number of positives for the beaten horses that
would make you think they could be peaking in the Classic. The main one, of course
is Awesome Again runner-up West Coast, who desperately needed this race
considering how fresh and sharp he was, making a premature early move to take
the lead through a strong early pace. It looked as if it would take its toll as
he backed up to third, but he found a second wind and, thanks to a slow final
furlong in :13 3/5, was able to get up for second. This race definitely should
set him up well for the Classic, and unlike Accelerate, he has won or placed at
Saratoga, Parx, Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Keeneland, and Meydan, so we know he
can take his show on the road. After four consecutive defeats, he just has to
get back in that winning mode. But you can't fault his two defeats to the older
Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup or to Thunder
Snow on a notoriously speed-favoring track in the Dubai World Cup or to the far
more seasoned Accelerate on Saturday. Watch for him to get bet heavily in the
Thunder Snow, he obviously loved returning to the dirt and looked like a winner
of the Jockey Club Gold Cup until he was nailed on the wire by Discreet Lover.
He fortunately was not able to keep up with Diversify and Mendelssohn, who
opened 10 lengths on the field through those suicidal fractions of :45 3/5, 1:09,
and 1:33 4/5. Although it was set up for a horse to come from far out of it,
you can't ignore the fact that he ran his fourth quarter, from the
three-quarters to the mile, in a sensational :23 1/5, so his final quarter in
:25 1/5 was not that bad at all. Like West Coast, he looks to be set up
perfectly for the Classic, as long as he doesn't have memories of his last trip
to Churchill Downs and one of the biggest fiascos in Kentucky Derby history.
But there is no denying he will be a major force Nov. 3.
have to give a lot of credit to Mendelssohn for sitting right behind that
brutal pace and hanging tough in the stretch to be beaten only two lengths. The
big question is his ability to settle off the pace and not set or chase fast
fractions, which also did him in in the Dwyer Stakes. But he is another who
will be dangerous coming off a defeat, and you have to give him a lot of credit
for making four transatlantic trips this year and improving with each start.
And we saw what he is capable of on his best day when he demolished his field
by 18 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby.
And now we
come to the most intriguing horse of all, and one who could be extremely live
at a big price in the Classic. Has any horse had a stranger career than the
Lukas runnerup Toast of New York? Yes, that's the same Toast of New York who
was beaten a nose by Bayern in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing ahead
of California Chrome and Shared Belief. Following an absence of three years, he
returned in a mile and a quarter allowance race over the all-weather track at
Lingfield and won carrying 130 pounds. But he returned to the United States for
the Pegasus World Cup and was distanced. He was on the shelf for eight months
and returned once again to the States for the Lukas Classic.
One of the
most impressive things I saw all weekend was the move he made circling horses
on the far turn, running that quarter in a scintillating :23 4/5. Although he
couldn't sustain his run coming off such a long layoff and having to deal with
Mind Your Biscuits, he still ran his next quarter in :24 1/5 and came home his
final eighth in under :12 3/5 to finish second, while holding off 5-2 second
choice Honorable Duty, last year's Lukas Classic winner and runnerup in this
year's grade 1 Stephen Foster.
imagine a horse actually winning the Classic, or even just running in it, four
years after getting beat a nose and having only three races in all that time?
This is an amazing story and an equally amazing horse, who is more than capable
of winning the Classic if he can move forward off this latest performance. A
great deal of credit goes to trainer Jamie Osborne for having this 7-year-old
primed and ready for such a big effort.
So, now you
know what is meant by the term mish mash. Who knows what's going to happen in
the Classic, especially when you throw in Travers winner Catholic Boy and Woodward winner Yoshida, both
converted grass horses, and McKinzie, who returned off a layoff to win the Pennsylvania Derby. And don't forget the John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion, who came up a bit short in the English Derby going 1 1/2 miles, but has since rattled off victories in the Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International, and Irish Champion Stakes, all at 1 1/4 miles or 1 5/16 miles. He certainly has to be considered a Classic possibility. Whether this year's race lives up to its billing or not, it's still
one of the most intriguing and perplexing races seen in a long time with angles