Five Takeaways from October 2-4 Weekend
Impressive but slow starts a concern: Last of 11 horses three jumps out of the starting gate, Runhappy recorded a remarkable victory in the Phoenix Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last Friday. Fortunately for him, no rival came over to impede as the talented front-runner shot forward from the rail post, displaying a torrid turn of foot to make the lead in the blink of an eye. Runhappy was two lengths clear entering the far turn of the six-furlong race and rolled home a convincing 1 ¾-length winner beneath Edgar Prado. However, the 3-year-old Super Saver colt was exiting a similar performance in the King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga, missing the start from an outside post before accelerating quickly to the lead, and has failed to break well throughout his career, always appearing flat-footed when the gates open. Runhappy is getting away with it, registering BRIS Speed ratings as high as 111, but the negative trait could eventually catch up to him.
Tonalist/Honor Code: Tonalist bided his time until the far turn and proved much the best in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), scoring by a facile 4 ¾-length margin over the sloppy track at Belmont Park. Despite dropping three straight starts beforehand, Tonalist’s BRIS Speed ratings have been sensational this year (106-105-110-108-109) and the formidable late runner will head to Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) off an encouraging performance, but his 0-for-4 stakes record outside of Belmont Park remains a legitimate concern. Honor Code did not match Tonalist in terms of performance, belatedly rallying to be a non-threatening third in the Kelso Mile (G2), but trainer Shug McGaughey got what he needed out of the prep and I wouldn’t give up on his Classic chances based upon the setback. Appealing Tale is too good to be lone speed at a one-mile distance, equaling a career-best 105 Speed number in the Kelso while notching a second straight G2 triumph, and the Peter Miller-trained gelding will be a top contender in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Honor Code figures to be tighter next time and it’s interesting to note that five of McGaughey’s nine Breeders’ Cup wins came off losses, including Hall of Famer Lure, who finished second in the Kelso Mile (back when it was on turf) before capturing his first Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in 1992.
Two from Breeders’ Futurity: Underwhelmed by recent preps in California and New York, I’m taking serious note of the top two finishers from the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), Brody’s Cause and Exaggerator. The former, a Giant’s Causeway colt trained by Dale Romans, displayed an outstanding late kick, closing dramatically into contention on the far turn and carrying his momentum to a one-length victory, and Brody’s Cause registered a solid 95 BRIS Speed rating in his stakes debut. Exaggerator, who was making his first appearance since a game tally in the August 16 Saratoga Special (G2), rallied from midpack to strike the front in upper stretch and is eligible to move forward from the commendable runner-up effort. A Keith Desormeaux-trained son of Curlin, Exaggerator’s stalking style is a better fit for the short stretch of 1 1/16-mile races at Keeneland.
Dynamic Tepin: Tepin ran faster under wraps in the First Lady (G1) than Grand Arch did in a driving Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) victory and I would classify the filly as a much bigger threat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. After being dogged by maturity issues earlier in her career, Tepin has put it together at age 4 for Mark Casse, recording four wins, a nose second and a head second in six starts this season, and she’s never been better than last Saturday, registering a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating for the seven-length decision. Tepin impressed time-wise (final two eighths of a mile in :11.56 and :11.79) while showing an affinity for Keeneland’s turf and fillies are not at a disadvantage in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, winning eight previous editions. Tepin can be a serious factor if she holds her form.
Arc top 2 appear BC-bound: Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) featured an exciting finish and the first reaction was bittersweet as the legendary Treve came up a little short in her bid for a record third straight win. Kudos to Golden Horn, with Frankie Dettori providing a masterful ride as the 3-year-old colt improved to 7-for-8 in his career, and I got a kick out of seeing Flintshire record a huge second following his scintillating Sword Dancer victory on the Travers undercard. I don’t think ultra-conservative trainer John Gosden was blowing smoke when he said Golden Horn’s owner, Sir Anthony Oppenheimer, was keen to try the Breeders’ Cup Turf in post-race comments: the smart money is on Golden Horn being in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) starting gate if the ground is suitable (colt doesn’t like soft turf). And Flintshire also appears likely to run if he gets the good-to-firm footing he prefers. The presence of these heavy hitters will only add to the allure of what is shaping up to be a memorable 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.