Five Takeaways from Labor Day Weekend
1) Classic Speed: Liam’s Map impressed romping on the lead in Saturday’s Woodward (G1), registering his first graded win with the 4 ¾-length decision, and the 4yo front-runner has posted BRIS Speed ratings of 104-109-106 (Woodward) in his last three outings. His proclivity for 1 ¼ miles remains to be seen, but the gray Unbridled’s Song colt gets to the lead quick and has developed nicely for Todd Pletcher. Liam’s Map is a year older but reminds me, at least a little, of Bayern from last year, coupling improving form and increasing Speed numbers with dangerous speed.
2) O’Neill Juveniles: Doug O’Neill pulled off a remarkable double Monday, winning the Del Mar Futurity (G1) with Nyquist and the Hopeful (G1) with Ralis, and I’ll highlight the latter first given the superior BRIS Speed rating (98) and better breeding for a route. I’m not sure about the competition but it was easy to like how Ralis drew off smartly after pressing the pace – looking forward to seeing the Californian-bred son of Square Eddie try two turns this fall. Nyquist is bred for speed on both sides of his pedigree and shut it down quickly once Mario Gutierrez let up in deep stretch, earning only a 94 Speed figure. Why not ride him through the wire? The Uncle Mo colt emerged from an easy win with questions.
3) Juvenile Filly Stars: Rachel’s Valentina is bred to relish longer distances and the ability to dominate her first two starts in sprints, including a convincing one-length tally in Saturday’s Spinaway (G1), bodes extremely well for her future. She’s super-exciting and fans of her dam, 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel’s Alexandra, love seeing the bay filly cut from the same cloth. A star emerged as well on the West Coast, with Songbird winning as pleased in the Del Mar Debutante (G1). Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Songbird won at first asking by 6 ½ lengths on July 26 and the daughter of Medaglia d”oro rolled to a 5 ¼-length decision in her stakes debut, earning a 97 BRIS Speed rating (Rachel’s Valentina received a 94). In terms of the Breeders’ Cup juvenile races, Rachel’s Valentina and Songbird look more imposing than their male counterparts, Ralis and Nyquist.
4) Pletcher/Hollendorfer: Todd Pletcher’s stranglehold upon the H. Allen Jerkens trophy appeared in jeopardy as he entered the September 2 program four wins behind Chad Brown. But the upset opportunity slipped away as the Brown stable endured an ill-timed 25-race losing streak over the final week, allowing Pletcher to regain the advantage on the closing weekend and pull clear. With a 34-31 advantage, Pletcher captured his sixth straight and 12th overall Saratoga training title. Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who earned his first training title at Del Mar last year when tying with Peter Miller, made it two straight and his first solo when edging Miller by a 22-20 margin.
5) Tourist/Geroux: The first of five racing dates at Kentucky Downs featured a stellar performance from Tourist, who returned from a 10-month layoff to crush a salty field in the $300,000 More Than Ready Mile. By Tiznow, the 4yo dropped his first four attempts on dirt but turned things around when trying turf, resulting in three straight wins before a runner-up in his graded stakes bow, the Secretariat (G1). The Bill Mott-trained colt was thrown to the wolves in a sense when making his next outing in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), checking in 13th after a rough trip, and the More Than Ready marked his first start since. Tourist looks poised to offer more going forward. Florent Geroux guided Tourist to the 3 ¾-length decision and the talented French rider swept all three stakes winning five races at Kentucky Downs on Saturday. Ed DeRosa made the following point about Kentucky Downs in a blog last Friday: “The other angle I’m keen to play this meeting is that jockey Florent Geroux’s mounts will continue to be overlaid” and none of Geroux’s five wins Saturday came aboard favorites.