Will American Anthem Rebound in the Sprint Championship?

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

With just four weeks remaining until the Breeders' Cup, the second "Super Saturday" of Breeders' Cup prep races is coming up this weekend. All told, ten Grade 1 races are scheduled to be held from Friday through Sunday at Belmont Park, Santa Anita, and Keeneland. Let's take a look at three of the best races...

Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I) 

Much of the attention in this six-furlong sprint will be focused on Ransom the Moon and Roy H, the top two finishers in the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar on July 29th. Both are accomplished sprinters with multiple triple-digit Beyers on their records, including a massive 111 from Roy H when he won the True North Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont two starts back.

Of the pair, I might narrowly prefer Roy H given the poor trip he endured in the Bing Crosby Stakes (getting carried wide off the far turn by a riderless horse), but neither Ransom the Moon nor Roy H have run since the Bing Crosby and are using this race as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Sprint next month.

With this in mind, I'm tempted to take a shot with American Anthem. Trained by Bob Baffert, the three-year-old son of Bodemeister is 3-for-4 sprinting, including powerful wins in the Lazaro Barrera Stakes (gr. III) and the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II), earning a 102 Beyer for the latter win. Most recently, American Anthem seemed a bit dull when rallying mildly for third in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, but that was a very deep race--runner-up Takaful came back to win the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) against older horses and fifth-place finisher Coal Front returned to win the Gallant Bob Stakes (gr. III) at Parx, both earning 107 Beyers.

Baffert is showing confidence by entering American Anthem against older horses, and with three bullet workouts under his belt since the Allen Jerkens (including a half-mile in :46 3/5 on October 1st), American Anthem should be ready for a big effort. The slight cutback in distance to six furlongs could be beneficial, and he also gets into the race carrying just 119 pounds, seven less than Ransom the Moon. Since he'll likely be a nice price in this field, I think American Anthem is worth a play.

Champagne Stakes (gr. I)

Todd Pletcher has won this race six times, including four of the last seven, and has a strong chance to win another with Hazit. The son of War Front won his debut at Saratoga on August 26th with a sharp performance, setting the pace and finishing strongly to win the 6 ½-furlong event by a length while earning good speed figures (84 Beyer and 94 BRIS).

However, I'm more interested in the runner-up Good Magic. Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic raced wide throughout while tracking Hazit's pace, but might have been at a slight disadvantage since the fractions of :23.18 and :46.91 were modest and allowed Hazit to accelerate through the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a blazing :29.49 seconds. The fact that Good Magic finished just a length behind at the wire (while running about 2 ½ lengths farther on the turn) is impressive, and as a son of Curlin out of the Hard Spun mare Glinda the Good (a stakes winner going a mile), Good Magic should enjoy the added distance of the Champagne Stakes. He's the slight favorite on the morning line at 7-2, but as a maiden in a Grade 1 stakes race, I wouldn't be surprised if he goes off at a somewhat higher price. Even at 7-2 he might offer a bit of value. Let's see if Chad Brown can win the Champagne in back-to-back years, following his win with Practical Joke in 2016.

Honorable Treasure, winner by 6 ¼ lengths of a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga on August 19th, could also be worth a look. That race was rained off the turf, so it's fair to question the quality of the field that Honorable Treasure defeated, but runner-up Ezmosh came back to win a maiden race at Churchill Downs in a fast time, suggesting that the speed figures assigned to Honorable Treasure's maiden win (90 Beyer and 97 BRIS) were legitimate. He's 6-1 on the morning line and is definitely one to consider for the exotics and multi-race wagers.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I)

Call it a hunch, but I'm going to take a shot with Highland Sky. Once in a while, you'll see a turf horse fire off a huge effort in their first start on dirt (think Good Samaritan in the Jim Dandy Stakes earlier this year), and reports indicate that Highland Sky is training well on dirt and might take a step forward with the surface switch. Certainly there are enough dirt influences in his pedigree to suggest that he'll handle the track just fine, and the ten-furlong distance shouldn't be an issue either--he finished a strong second in the ten-furlong Belmont Derby (gr. I) last year, beaten just a neck by Deauville while finishing ahead of Beach Patrol.

Keen Ice is obviously the horse to beat off his win in the Suburban Stakes (gr. II) and runner-up effort in the Whitney Stakes (gr. I), but he doesn't win often (just three victories from 23 starts), and the rest of the field looks pretty wide-open. Since I'm finding it hard to make a really convincing case for any of the favorites, Highland Sky looks quite intriguing as a longshot candidate, especially since I believe he's been compromised by slow paces in his recent turf races and could really enjoy the change of dynamics that a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup should offer.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. 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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