Prospects for Breeders' Cup juvenile winners vary
Now that Future Stars Friday has come and gone, the question always arises over how many of its top performers will be … future stars.
Predicting how the successes in all five Breeders’ Cup juvenile contests will translate to three-year-old racing is a fraught business. Chances are that several of next year’s outstanding sophomores have yet to make a big mark, and maybe haven’t even raced yet.
But horse racing is always about trying to predict the future – we wouldn’t bet otherwise. So here’s a few musings about what we might see from this year’s top juvenile performers at the end-of-season championships.
It’s been well documented that only two Juvenile winners, Street Sense and Nyquist, have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. And only four other Juvenile contestants – Spend a Buck, Alysheba, Sea Hero, and Mine That Bird – have triumphed on the first Saturday in May. That means 31 of the 37 Derby winners since the Breeders’ Cup began weren’t even in the Juvenile field.
However, 18 Juvenile winners subsequently won at graded stakes level, with 11 of them successful in Grade 1 races, among them top horses such as Chief’s Crown, Timber Country, and Essential Quality.
This year’s winner, Corniche, isn’t in the Kentucky Derby mix as his trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. But as an unbeaten juvenile who has won twice at Grade 1 level, Corniche looks to have the ability to be competitive at whatever tasks he is set. In addition, his sire Quality Road has produced numerous good three-year-olds, and his dam Wasted Tears was a multiple graded stakes winner as an older horse.
Juvenile runner-up Pappacap is from the outstanding first crop of Gun Runner, who finished third in the Derby before improving significantly at four. He comes from a family of stayers and looks a potential Derby prospect. But the best prospects outside Corniche among the Juvenile entries may be two that didn’t get to the start, Grade 1 winners Jack Christopher and Rattle N Roll.
As with the Juvenile, the number of Juvenile Fillies winners that subsequently won the Kentucky Oaks is just two – Open Mind and Silverbulletday – though one could count 1985 Oaks winner Fran’s Valentine, who was first past the post in the 1984 Juvenile Fillies at 74-1 before being disqualified for interference.
However, an impressive number of Juvenile Fillies winners remained top quality horses after their two-year-old seasons. Twenty of them would win graded stakes races, including 15 Grade 1 winners. They include the outstanding fillies Beholder, Songbird, Go For Wand, and Indian Blessing.
Given her dominance in all her two-year-old races, it seems as though Echo Zulu only needs make normal improvement between two and three to be highly competitive – and given that her sire Gun Runner got better with age, there’s every reason to hope for the same.
Of the others in the race, runner-up Juju’s Map showed good fight against a superior opponent. The Liam’s Map filly has the attitude, ability, and pedigree to make a go of it in the top fillies races as well. But don’t be surprised if Echo Zulu’s toughest sophomore opponents were not at Del Mar last Friday.
The Juvenile Turf is always well-contested. But the record of its winners after this race is, to be blunt, lamentable.
Of its 14 previous winners, just one – Oscar Performance – won at Grade 1 level. He made up for the others a bit by winning three at the top level, but wasn’t able to get in the money at his two subsequent Breeders’ Cup efforts. Just two other winners won any form of graded stakes race – UAE Derby (G2) winner Mendelssohn and the inaugural winner Nownownow, who took the San Fernando S. (G2) as a four-year-old.
It’s a record that doesn’t bode well for this year’s winner, Modern Games. But he may be a horse that bettors do better out of as a three-year-old than they did in the strange situation at Del Mar this year.
The fact that he improved as a juvenile, finding his way in four non-stakes races before taking out the seven-furlong Somerville Tattersall Stakes (G3) prior to his Breeders’ Cup bow, suggests further improvement is possible. Equally, he was one of the more impressive winners of the Juvenile Turf with his outstanding turn of foot.
He will likely be aimed at European classic races around a mile on turf. His stable has two other highly-regarded prospects for those races – Native Trail and Coroebus – but Modern Games looks to have the ability to be competitive wherever Charlie Appelby places him.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
In stark contrast to the Juvenile Turf, the winners of the Juvenile Fillies Turf have often gone on to great things. Of the 13 winners prior to this year, eight have become Grade 1 winners. They include a Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner (Stephanie’s Kitten), three other multiple Grade 1 winners (Rushing Fall, Lady Eli, and Tapitsfly), and a winner of France’s One Thousand Guineas equivalent, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (Flotilla).
Whether this year’s winner Pizza Bianca is good enough to emulate them remains to be seen. But her victory was an outstanding one, coming from last with three furlongs to go. She was aided by an outstanding Jose Ortiz ride but showed great acceleration to take every gap he asked of her.
Owner Bobby Flay said he was dreaming of Ascot, where the most obvious race is the one-mile Coronation Stakes (G1). Flay’s previous Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real finished 11th in the Coronation Stakes in 2011, though the 2019 Juvenile Fillies Turf victor Sharing finished second in last year’s Coronation Stakes.
The form line between Pizza Bianca and Europe’s best filly Inspiral is interesting. Pizza Bianca had three-quarters of a length in the Juvenile Fillies Turf over fourth placegetter Cachet, who was 2 3/4 lengths behind Inspiral when third in the Fillies Mile (G1). However, fifth in the Fillies Mile, another three-quarters of a length behind Cachet, was Wild Beauty, who beat a slightly unlucky Pizza Bianca by 2 1/4 lengths in the Natalma Stakes.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
With only a four-year history, it’s hard to take much from previous runnings of the Juvenile Turf Sprint. The first two winners (Bulletin and Four Wheel Drive) didn’t do much afterwards, but last year’s winner Golden Pal is one of the best three-year-old sprinters in the Northern Hemisphere and won this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint easily.
Like Four Wheel Drive and Golden Pal, this year’s Juvenile Turf Sprint winner is a Wesley Ward trainee, Twilight Gleaming. She displayed her class earlier with a stakes win in France and a runner-up position in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot. She will probably head once again to Royal Ascot, where a race like the Commonwealth Cup (G1) beckons.
Given her previous efforts in Europe, chances are Twilight Gleaming may be more likely to emulate Golden Pal than Four Wheel Drive.