Five Takeaways from September 26-27 Weekend
Beholder Set for Classic: Beholder made it look as easy as possible, showing no ill effects from a memorable Pacific Classic (G1) romp as she galloped to a 3 ¼-length decision in the Zenyatta (G1) at Santa Anita. And the transformation from speed demon into push-button superstar was on full display as she rated in fifth behind a moderate pace. As the last few starts indicate, the Richard Mandella trainee will continue to employ stalking tactics in the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), biding her time before launching a move on the far turn at Keeneland. Beholder defies conventional standards, a juvenile filly champion who offers her best form at age five, and her maturation provides faith for the next journey – winning outside of California. She’s dropped two previous attempts out of state, but Beholder performed admirably both times and I expect her best on October 31.
Dramatic Flair or Red Flag: A possible favorite in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), Rockfall was expected to make short work of suspect rivals in the Vosburgh (G1) but wound up being pushed to the limit as the 2-5 favorite, scoring by a neck in a tight three-horse photo. The 4yo has not lost since making his career bow in April 2014, reeling off seven straight wins, the last three graded stakes, but naysayers will point to the Vosburgh as a chink in the armor, a sign of a horse that has already peaked this season. But upon further inspection, Rock Fall registered a 104 BRIS Speed on par with his last two performances and it’s easy to admire the colt’s determination – the Todd Pletcher charge was exiting a nose victory in the A.G. Vanderbilt (G1). And given the affinity he displayed for Keeneland’s main track last April, rolling to a nine-length win over a nice field of allowance foes, Rock Fall still has a lot going for him.
Different Take on California 2yo Stars: Nyquist and Songbird made a case for favoritism in the Juvenile (G1) and Juvenile Fillies (G1), remaining unbeaten with victories in the Chandelier (G1) and FrontRunner (G1), but did so in much different fashion. Songbird continued her brilliance, dominating by another wide margin, and has captured all three starts under a hand ride by a combined 16 ¼ lengths. Her BRIS Speed ratings have increased each time, posting an outstanding 102 in the Chandelier, and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro appears poised to give her East Coast and Midwest counterparts all they can handle at Keeneland. Nyquist was able to survive against lesser competition, performing like a colt with future distance limitations as he came home slowly while all-out, and his final time was more than a second slower than Songbird’s. It’s no surprise Nyquist’s Speed numbers peaked in the 6 ½-furlong Best Pal (G2) – I won’t be the only bettor looking to play against in the Juvenile.
Can Toast’s Speed Conquer Keeneland: Wedding Toast made a strong statement in the Beldame (G1), winning convincingly with seemingly plenty left in the tank, and will bring intimidating speed to the Distaff (G1). An important prep is still on tap – Untapable, Stellar Wind and Lovely Maria can enhance their credentials in Sunday's Spinster (G1) at Keeneland – but Wedding Toast will be tough to catch if she takes to the Keeneland track. The front-running mare has really come on in her last three outings for Kiaran McLaughlin, winning the Ruffian (G2) by four lengths, the Ogden Phipps (G1) by five and the Beldame by 2 ¾, a trio of Belmont Park performances that coincided with her stretching back out in distance, but the 5yo mare’s dull performance last April in the 7f Madison (G1) at Keeneland remains at least a slight concern.
Beware Brown turfers: The Joe Hirsch (G1) has produced two of the last three winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), with Main Sequence proving best last year and Little Mike finishing fifth in the 2012 edition before rebounding at Santa Anita, and Big Blue Kitten’s near one-length tally in course record time last Saturday stamps him as the American turf horse to beat at Keeneland. A former claimer, the 7yo has developed into a model of consistency for Chad Brown this season, finishing either first or second in five starts, and his last three efforts – a convincing win in the United Nations (G1), a neck second in the Arlington Million (G1) and the Joe Hirsch – puts him in arguably career-best form presently. And this will be a well-repeated mantra in the weeks to come: respect Brown trainees in Breeders’ Cup turf races. A 37yo native of Mechanicville, New York, the turf maestro boasts a remarkable record with five wins, four seconds and three thirds from 29 Breeders’ Cup grass starts.