3-year-olds poised to make serious impact in 2017 Breeders’ Cup

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 23rd, 2017

In the Breeders’ Cup, 3-year-olds are often at a significant numerical disadvantage. Older horses will be represented by more than half the field in eight-of-nine races at Del Mar this year (four-of-13 Breeders’ Cup races for juveniles), with the Distaff being the lone exception.

The sophomore set won three-of-nine races at Santa Anita last year. And 3-year-olds totaled the same number of victories at Keeneland two years ago. Their best recent performance came in 2014 when the quartet of Bayern (Classic), Bobby’s Kitten (Turf Sprint), Karakontie (Mile) and Untapable (Distaff) outshone elders at Santa Anita.

With major contenders in seven races this year, 3-year-olds will be well-represented on November 3-4. And one of the takeaways from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup could be their rousing success.

Let’s preview the leading 3-year-old contenders (listed by expected race order):

Dirt Mile: PRACTICAL JOKE is 5-for-5 around one turn but I have no concerns surrounding his threshold for a two-turn mile. He’s really come on in the last three starts for Chad Brown, registering a pair of century-topping BRIS Speed ratings for the first time, and the Late Pace numbers (107-105-102) are outstanding. A convincing winner of the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) last out, Into Mischief colt was flattered when the runner-up came back to capture the Vosburgh (G1) and Practical Joke could be finishing fastest of all in a speed-laden Dirt Mile field.

Distaff: Trained by five-time Distaff winner Bill Mott, ELATE began to elevate her game when recording a commendable head second in the CCA Oaks (G1) three starts back and enters the Breeders’ Cup on the wave of two monstrous Grade 1 victories, registering 108 BRIS Speed ratings in the Alabama and Beldame. Those are the best Speed ratings in the Distaff field and Elate is peaking at the right time.

Grade 1 winners ABEL TASMAN, IT TIZ WELL and PARADISE WOODS add further depth to the 3-year-old ranks, but Elate is the horse to beat in my estimation.

Filly & Mare Turf: The international participation remains in flux at this point, but RHODODENDRON and ROLY POLY are last-out Group 1 winners for Coolmore/Aidan O’Brien who will be major win contenders if they opt for the Filly & Mare Turf.

Turf Sprint: LADY AURELIA is one of the most likely winners over the two-day program. The 3-year-old filly should be a prohibitive Turf Sprint favorite following a pair of high-class performances overseas, romping in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot and recording a nose second in the Nunthorpe (G1) at York. She’s been training forwardly at Keeneland for Wesley Ward and should appreciate the 5-furlong layout at Del Mar.

Filly & Mare Sprint: With UNIQUE BELLA in the mix, a 3-year-old can win the Filly & Mare Sprint for the first time. The talented miss opened the year with a trio of smashing victories but was forced to the sidelines by an injury in late March. She returned with a sharp win in the October 8 L.A. Woman (G3) and even though Jerry Hollendorfer plans to run her long next year, 7-furlongs is a perfect fit for the speedy Unique Bella, who broke her maiden at Del Mar by a 10-length margin. She’s going to be a solid favorite against a less-than-inspiring group of rivals.

Mile: LANCASTER BOMBER recorded an excellent runner-up in the St. James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot this summer and finished a troubled second in the Woodbine Mile (G1) two back. He didn't fire over soft ground in England last Saturday but is eligible to flourish under expected firm conditions for O'Brien, who has no problem with a short turnaround in the fall and captured the 2015 Turf off a two-week rest. An 11-time Breeders' Cup race winner, the Irish conditioner is also considering multiple Group 1 scorer ROLY POLY and last-out Group 3 winner WAR DECREE for a Mile bid.

Classic: WEST COAST will try to become the fourth straight 3-year-old to win the Classic and I like his chances. Unraced at 2, he missed the Triple Crown and has improved significantly since finishing a head second in his stakes debut, the Lexington (G3) in April. After earning a 112 BRIS Speed rating for a smashing Travers (G1) score, the son of Flatter stretched his win streak to five recording a sublime 7 ¼-length decision in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and netted a 108 figure. Built to relish the 1 ¼-mile distance, the up-and-coming colt shows back-to-back 6-furlong bullet works in preparation and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of West Coast. The peaking 3-year-old can receive the proper set-up behind an expected hot and contested pace.