J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
just four weeks left until the Breeders' Cup, the racing action is really
heating up! Following the excitement of "Super Saturday" on October 1st,
we're set for another "Super Saturday" on October 8th, with thirteen
graded stakes races to be held at Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Santa Anita.
There's a lot to cover, so let's start handicapping!
Frizette Stakes (gr. I)
Nonna Mela will
likely be favored off a solid six-length score in the Adirondack Stakes (gr.
II) at Saratoga, but I narrowly prefer the chances of Sky Gesture. Trained by Richard Violette, Jr., Sky Gesture broke
her maiden in gate-to-wire fashion at Saratoga on August 28th,
dueling for the lead through solid fractions before triumphing by 1 ¾ lengths
over the late-running Cursor, with the rest of the field 8 ½ lengths behind.
Cursor came right back to break her maiden by three lengths at Belmont on
October 5th, demonstrating the strength of Sky Gesture's
performance, and Sky Gesture has a pedigree that suggests a wet track won't be
an issue if Belmont comes up sloppy on Saturday. Mike Smith picks up the mount,
and Sky Gesture should have little trouble securing the lead wile breaking from
the rail. I think she can steal this race in gate-to-wire fashion.
Flower Bowl Stakes (gr. I)
comeback of Lady Eli from her battle
with laminitis has been an amazing story, and while her first race in more than
a year didn't go exactly as planned--she suffered her first loss when finishing
second in the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. II)--she did nothing wrong in defeat,
making an early move into a hot pace and staying on gamely to miss by less than
a length to the late-running Strike
Charmer. There isn't nearly as much early speed in the Flower Bowl, which
could benefit Lady Eli and allow her to use her powerful acceleration more
effectively, but if the turf comes up wet, Sea
Calisi could provide a stiff challenge. A talented Group 1 competitor in
Europe, Sea Calisi has won two of three starts since being brought to the
United States, including the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. II) over a yielding
turf course at Belmont, in which she unleashed a tremendous burst of speed to
win going away by 2 ½ lengths.
recently, Sea Calisi rallied to a half-length triumph in the Beverly D. Stakes
(gr. I) over firm turf, defeating an absolutely stellar field that included Al's
Gal and Zipessa. If Sea Calisi gets yielding or soft ground on Saturday, I
think she's the horse to beat.
Champagne Stakes (gr. I)
one-mile race has drawn a fairly deep and competitive field, including the Bob
Baffert runner Big Gray Rocket, who
ships in off an impressive 6 ¾-length maiden win at Del Mar. I'm not
underestimating this colt, or the impressive Saratoga maiden winner Favorable Outcome and the unbeaten
Funny Cide Stakes winner Syndergaard,
but I think Lookin At Blessing offers
some potential as a longshot. Trained by Nick Zito, Lookin at Blessing showed
hints of talent in his first two starts, then stepped up to win a one-mile
maiden special weight at Belmont by 2 ¼ lengths. It should be noted that he was
able to secure an easy lead through fractions of :24.05, :48.34, and 1:13.09,
but he also finished powerfully, striding through the final quarter-mile in an
impressive :23.93 seconds. The third-place finisher, Bonus Points, returned to
break his maiden going 8.5 furlongs on October 1st at Belmont Park,
and Lookin At Blessing's pedigree has "mudder" written all over it--sire Lookin
at Lucky won the Indiana Derby (gr. II) over a sloppy track, grandsire Smart
Strike is a strong wet-track influence in pedigrees, and broodmare sire
Birdstone is renowned as the sire of Mine That Bird, who won the 2009 Kentucky
Derby over a sloppy track.
the track comes up wet on Saturday, Lookin At Blessing could be an intriguing
candidate to upset the favorites. Syndergaard
might be the horse to beat--he won the Funny Cide Stakes by 10 ¼ lengths
over a muddy track at Saratoga--but at 12-1, Lookin At Blessing could definitely
spruce up the exotics.
First Lady Stakes (gr. I)
amazing mare Tepin is almost
certainly bound for the Hall of Fame after her sensational campaigns over the
last two years, highlighted by eight straight victories and triumphs in
world-class races like the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I), Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I),
and Woodbine Mile (gr. I). Last year, Tepin won the First Lady Stakes by a stunning
seven lengths, and a repeat performance would come as no surprise.
said, I wouldn't underestimate the European shippers Nemoralia and Now Or Never.
Nemoralia proved herself over U.S. courses last year by finishing second in the
Frizette Stakes (gr. I) on dirt and third by three-quarters of a length in the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I), and since then, she's held her own
against top-class competition in Europe. At Royal Ascot, she was second to the
talented Qemah in the one-mile Coronation Stakes (Eng-I), and following a solid
fourth in the Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) at Chantilly, she reached the winner's
circle with a clear win in the seven-furlong City of York Stakes (Eng-III).
for Now Or Never, her company lines read like a "who's who" of top fillies in
Europe; she was second to Jet Setting in the Leopardstown 1,000 Guineas Trial
(Ire-III), third to Jet Setting and Minding in the Irish 1,000 Guineas (Ire-I),
fourth to Qemah, Nemoralia, and Alice Springs in the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I),
and fourth to Alice Springs, Persuasive, and Qemah in the Matron Stakes
Nemoralia and Now Or Never are talented milers with credentials that stack up
against any of their First Lady rivals aside from Tepin. Somewhat surprisingly,
they are 15-1 and 20-1 on the morning line, and if these odds hold up, they're
absolutely worth including in exotics wagers, and maybe even on top if you think
Tepin could be in for a tricky trying to keep Celestine from getting away with an easy lead.
Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I)
the incredibly deep field that this race has drawn, this could be the perfect
spot to play a longshot and hope for an upset. A very logical candidate is the
Woodbine shipper Tower of Texas, who
has run winning races in his last three starts, only to finish second in each
by the combined margin of one length. Last time out, he put in a big late run
to fall a half-length short of catching Tepin in the Woodbine Mile (gr. I), a
performance that puts him very much in the mix against his well-regarded rivals
like Mondialiste, Ring Weekend, and Tourist.
addition, Tower of Texas will be ridden by the top Keeneland jockey Julien
Leparoux, who should be able to work out a ground-saving trip from post three
and give Tower of Texas every chance to win. In a race where it's difficult to
separate the contenders, the thought of getting 20-1 on Tower of Texas is very appealing.
additional analysis of the great stakes races this Saturday, please visit
America's Best Racing to read my previews of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I)
and Breeders' Futurity (gr. I). Also, don't forget to tune in to NBC and watch both races live during a one-hour broadcast starting at 5:00 p.m. ET!
it's your turn! Who do you like this weekend?
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.