A few more post-Breeders’ Cup XXXIII impressions
by Dick Powell
Every edition, there is an early winner that I regret not having and this year’s “one that got away” was OSCAR PERFORMANCE (Kitten’s Joy). I watched him break his maiden second time out by 10 1/4 lengths going two turns at Saratoga in a “Big Brown-like” debut and was hugely impressed with the way he ran through the stretch after setting a slow pace.
He came back and romped in the Pilgrim Stakes (G3) six weeks later at Belmont Park when he went to the front and drew off to win by six lengths on a yielding turf course. Left in his wake that day was FROSTMOURNE (Speightstown), who came back to win the grassy $100K Awad Stakes next time out at Belmont.
When Oscar Performance drew post 13 for the Juvenile Turf (G1), I hit the panic button and dropped him completely. I knew how fast WELLABLED (Shackleford) was so it didn’t take a genius to figure out that he would go to the front and Oscar Performance could get over from the outside and work out a decent trip.
When the field went into the clubhouse turn and Oscar Performance was sitting first over, it was obvious that he was going to be a tough cookie. Post 13 sounds impossible but with a horse that has shown high speed in his last two starts, there was no reason to think it was going to be a death sentence.
In two-turn races, I tend to handicap from the inside out. In long, one-turn races, I tend to handicap from the outside in. It’s not like I had to come up with a hypothetical scenario for Oscar Performance to win; he would have to break well and get sent from the outside by his rider. To rub salt in my wound, Jose Ortiz has had a terrific year on the turf and many of them were won by riding hard from the gate. If any rider was going to win from post 13 with the short run into the clubhouse turn, Jose Ortiz would be it.
As off as I was in the Juvenile Turf, I was on in the Dirt Mile (G1). I picked DORTMUND (Big Brown) to win but liked TAMARKUZ (Speightstown) to run second. The presence of RUNHAPPY (Super Saver) in the Dirt Mile certainly took away the ability for Dortmund to run away and hide on the front end and, at almost 12-1 odds, Tamarkuz looked like fair value in the horizontal wagers.
Last year, Tamarkuz dominated the new dirt track at Meydan in Dubai where he won four in a row that culminated with a victory in the Godolphin Mile (G2). He shipped to New York and was beaten seven lengths in the Met Mile (G1) then did little in his next two starts.
Off for over eight months, he returned in this year’s Met Mile and ran into FROSTED (Tapit), who ran a hole in the wind that day. But he bounced back 10 weeks later at Saratoga in the Forego Handicap (G1) going seven furlongs and was a good second behind the red-hot A. P. INDIAN (Indian Charlie). He followed that up with a good second in the one-mile Kelso Handicap (G2) in very fast time a month before the Breeders’ Cup.
Going two turns might have been a question mark but he was four for eight going the one-mile distance, and with Belmont Stakes (G1) winner LEMON DROP KID (Kingmambo) on the dam side, there was plenty of pedigree. Mike Smith gave him a terrific ride and he pulled off the upset over the 7-10 Dortmund, who checked in fourth. For Pick 3 and Pick 4 purposes, Tamarkuz was probably closer to 20-1 with Dortmund being a single on many tickets.
A special word of praise has to go to HIGHLAND REEL (Galileo). I have all the respect in the world for FLINTSHIRE (Dansili) but a quick glance at his record shows he runs second more than he wins. One of the few European imports that thrives on our firm ground, he took to American racing like a duck to water. His win in last year’s Sword Dancer Stakes (G1) was remarkable and his only loss this year in four American starts was on yielding ground, which he clearly was not going to get.
FOUND (Galileo) is another of my favorites and I crushed her in last year’s Turf (G1) when she took advantage of the loose ground and ran down GOLDEN HORN (Cape Cross) at 6-1. This year, she won the Arc de Triomphe (G1) then came back two weeks later with a good second going 10 furlongs in the Champions Stakes (G1) at Ascot. The three weeks’ rest was not the problem for me but the suspicion that her form might be tailing off was.
Highland Reel is a true international superstar for the Ballydoyle team in Ireland. You would expect him to be an international superstar being sired by GALILEO (Sadler’s Wells) out of an Australian dam that was second in the AJC Australian Oaks (G1) and he has been treated as such. He was second in the Prix du Jockey Club (G1) in France at three then came to America to win the Secretariat Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park.
Back in Europe, Highland Reel was beaten only three lengths in the British Champion Stakes (G1) then shipped around the world to Australia and was a terrific third in the Cox Plate (G1) behind superstar mare WINX (Street Cry). Not content with that result, trainer Aidan O’Brien then brought him back six weeks later to win the Hong Kong Vase (G1) over none other than FLINTSHIRE. Not a bad three-year-old season.
This year, Highland Reel did most of his best running on firmer ground. He started out with an even fourth in the $6 million Sheema Classic (G1) in Dubai behind POSTPONED (Dubawi), who was one of the top turf horses for most of the year. Highland Reel came back and ran poorly on yielding turf in Hong Kong a month later. On soft turf, he was a close second in the Hardwicke Stakes (G2), then won the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) on firmer ground at Ascot.
Second in the Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) behind Postponed again, he was seventh on yielding turf against one of the toughest fields assembled this year in Europe in the Irish Champion Stakes (G1).
Having been in constant training for two years, Highland Reel showed no signs of letting up with a terrific second in the Arc de Triomphe behind FOUND and went to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in a trip that would be daunting for most but for Highland Reel, it was just part of the normal routine.
Ryan Moore rides most of the better O’Brien trainees so Seamus Heffernan got the call on Highland Reel. As he has done in the past, he placed him forwardly at the start and when nobody wanted to go with him, Heffernan allowed Highland Reel to roll. Despite a very fast turf course with the first part run downhill, Highland Reel covered his first six furlongs in 1:12.70 seconds and opened up a commanding lead. Around the clubhouse turn, Heffernan kept up Highland Reel’s rhythmic pace and it looked like he might not get caught.
Turning for home, Highland Reel was still six lengths in front and even though the margin was cut into, he was never in danger and cruised home to a most deserving 1 3/4-length win. His final time for the 1 1/2 miles was 2:23 as Flintshire was able to rally for second and Found checked in third.
With Highland Reel’s natural gate speed and ability to handle firm ground, there a ton of big-money races being considered and Aidan O’Brien has not ruled out a start in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park on the dirt.