Will Mutakayyef Upset Tepin in the Woodbine Mile?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Handicapping races with odds-on favorites is never an easy task, especially when you're doing it a couple of days in advance. It's a careful balancing act that involves analyzing the merits of the favorite and debating whether they are vulnerable to being upset by a longshot... and if so, which longshot?

Saturday's $1,000,000 Woodbine Mile (gr. I) presents such a challenge. The huge favorite on the morning line at odds of 1-2 is Tepin, an amazing five-year-old mare that has won seven straight races in sensational fashion. Last year, she defeated a top-notch field of international rivals in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I), and she's already 5-for-5 this year, including a historic win in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot in June. Gifted with excellent tactical speed and remarkable acceleration, Tepin figures to work out a perfect trip stalking a slow pace in the Woodbine Mile, putting her in the position to add another prestigious win to her record. The only major concerns are that she's coming off a layoff and has never run at Woodbine, but she's won major races at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Keeneland, Tampa Bay Downs, and Ascot, so Woodbine shouldn't be an issue, and her workouts in advance of the Woodbine Mile have been exceptional-she should be ready to roll even off the layoff.

To put it simply, there really isn't a reason to play against Tepin in the Woodbine Mile, and she warrants inclusion in all multi-race wagers, possibly as a single. But despite her talent and credentials, I believe Tepin could face a stiff challenge-possibly a very stiff challenge-from Mutakayyef, who ships in from England. After failing to win a single group stakes race during his first three seasons of racing, Mutakayyef was gelded prior to his 2016 debut and subsequently transformed into an elite runner. He started the year with a sharp pace-tracking win in the one-mile Ganton Stakes at York, then followed up with a similar but even more decisive victory in the Summer Mile Stakes (Eng-II) at Ascot, defeating the capable runners Dutch Connection and Gabrial.

Off these efforts, Mutakayyef stretched out in distance and tackled group I company in the 10.4-furlong Juddmonte International (Eng-I) at York, a race in which he faced an incredibly deep field that included Postponed, Highland Reel, The Grey Gatsby, Hawkbill, and Dariyan, all of them group I winners. It was a seemingly ambitious placement for Mutakayyef, but he wound up running a tremendous race. In the final furlong, he was rallying strongly and looking like a possible winner before Postponed drifted outward and took Mutakayyef's path, forcing him to the outside rail and shutting him off in the process. As a result, Mutakayyef lost his momentum, but still managed to finish third, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Postponed and just a length by Highland Reel.

If not for this traffic incident, Mutakayyef might have won the Juddmonte International, and when you consider that Postponed is the favorite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and the winner of six straight races, Mutakayyef's effort becomes even more impressive. Furthermore, he's thoroughly proven on left-handed courses like the one at Woodbine, and has never run a bad race on such a course. He's also run well on a variety of course conditions from "good to firm" to "soft," so no matter what conditions he encounters at Woodbine, he should be ready. For what it's worth, the last two Woodbine Mile winners (Trade Storm and Mondialiste) prepped for the race at York, just like Mutakayyef, and trainer William Haggas has done well with the two horses he has shipped to the U.S. over the last decade.

Again, defeating Tepin will be a challenging task, but I think Mutakayyef is poised for a huge run and might have a chance at pulling off the upset. If you're playing the multi-race wagers on Woodbine Mile day, I think Mutakayyef is definitely worth including, and in the quest for value, I'll make Mutakayyef my top choice to win.

Let's also see if we can hit the trifecta by boxing Mutakayyef and Tepin for the top two spots and using Full Mast to finish third. This son of Mizzen Mast was a top-class runner in France, winning the 2014 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Fr-I) via the disqualification of Gleneagles and finishing second by a neck in the one-mile Prix Paul de Moussac (Fr-III) in his 2015 debut. However, he went to the sidelines following a poor showing in the 2015 Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) and was subsequently shipped to the U.S. and transferred to the barn of Bill Mott. In his U.S. debut, he won a seven-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Belmont in sharp fashion, then was compromised by a bad trip when fourth in the King Edward Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine. Back in the U.S., Full Mast ran a huge race to finish third by a head in the 8.5-furlong Lure Stakes at Saratoga, a race that featured sharp closing fractions and a very competitive field.

The other logical candidate for finishing third is Arod, who came within a half-length of beating the top European miler Solow in the 2015 Sussex Stakes (Eng-I). At the time, Arod was in fantastic form, but disappointed in two group I Australian races at the end of the season, and that trip seemed to take something out of him. His first three races this year were disappointing, although he showed signs of returning to form when finishing third in the Celebration Mile (Eng-II) at Goodwood last month, beaten just a head for second by the capable miler Zonderland. He's adding Lasix for his U.S. debut, but my gut feeling is that he's not quite as good this year as he was last year, making Full Mast my solid choice to finish third.

So to recap, I'm taking Mutakayyef as my choice to win, and I'll box him with Tepin in the top two spots of a trifecta while adding Full Mast for third. Tower of Texas at 20-1 is also worth a look for the trifecta and superfecta; he hasn't won in more than a year, but is very consistent and possesses a strong late run. He was compromised by a slow pace when second in the Play the King Stakes (gr. II) last time out, and although he only finished seventh in last year's Woodbine Mile, that was over a yielding turf course-I think he's better over firm going.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Woodbine Mile?

Other Races to Watch

The Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby gets underway on Saturday with the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, a one-mile race for two-year-olds that has drawn a competitive field of eight horses. One that I'm particularly excited about is Not This Time, a half-brother to the 2015 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner Liam's Map. After finishing a troubled fifth in his debut at Churchill Downs behind future Sanford Stakes (gr. II) winner Bitumen, Not This Time shipped to Ellis Park and absolutely dominated a one-mile maiden special weight, leading the way through slow fractions of :48.30 and 1:12.66 before accelerating the final two furlongs in the impressive times of :11.51 and :11.82 to win by ten lengths. This was a tremendous performance, especially coming from a lightly-raced two-year-old, and trainer Dale Romans thought a lot of this colt before he'd even run in a race. Not This Time looks like a very exciting prospect, and thanks to the presence of the proven graded stakes competitors Recruiting Ready and Thirstforlife, Not This Time might even go off at decent odds. I think he's the horse to beat.

In the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine, I think Danish Dynaformer has a big chance to win at 6-1. Racing for the powerful duo of trainer Roger Attfield and jockey Patrick Husbands, Danish Dynaformer has scored two major wins over this course and distance, including the Singspiel Stakes (gr. III) two starts back, and he was beaten just 1 ½ lengths when fifth in the Arlington Million (gr. I) last time out. With his main rivals having questions to answer-World Approval has never run this far, Wake Forest must rebound from a poor showing in the Arlington Million, and Big Blue Kitten hasn't been as sharp this year as in 2015-Danish Dynaformer is an intriguing alternative at a fair price and should be finishing strongly in the homestretch.

For fans of international racing, the group I Colgate Optic White (George Main) Stakes in Australia will be held on Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on your time zone. The one-mile turf race at Royal Randwick is headlined by the fantastic mare Winx, who couldn't have been more impressive winning the Warwick Stakes (Aus-II) on August 20th over next-out winner Hartnell. With 14 wins from 20 starts and a ten-race win streak dating back to May 2015, Winx has stamped herself as one of the best horses in the world, and a win in the George Main would further enhance her reputation. If you enjoying watch great horses turn in great performances, then you won't want to miss seeing Winx! Post time is 1:15 a.m. EDT on Saturday morning.


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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