If loss by Tepin a warning sign, Ironicus one to fear in BC Mile
Reigning champion Tepin suffered her first defeat of the season, and her first since August 2015, when a non-threatening second in the First Lady (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday. Though everyone was aware that her connections were not looking for a tough race one month prior to the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), which explains her presence in the First Lady rather than the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) against males later in the card, her defeat at odds of 2-5 was nonetheless highly unexpected.
More so was the manner of her defeat by, of all horses, Photo Call, who opened up a huge lead of 10 lengths at one point and maintained a comfortable 2 3/4-length cushion at the finish.
Photo Call had won her U.S. debut over the same course and distance in a first-level allowance nearly two years ago, so the future multiple graded stakes winner had that going for her in addition to a needed cut back in distance after consistently tiring at longer trips. It took a career-best from Photo Call and some regression from Tepin to spring the upset, and that's what happened.
If Tepin's defeat was more a function of her connections not wanting her to peak a month ahead of time, then she figures to be more formidable in her title defense of the Mile. But what if her performance was, in fact, an early warning sign that she might not be going into this year's Mile in quite the form as she did 12 months ago? After all, I would have thought an A-/B+ effort from her would still have been enough to beat the likes of Photo Call.
I fully expect to use Tepin in my Mile multi-race exotics, but off that performance I'm much more inclined to spread a little more than I had planned just 48 hours ago.
One horse I definitely plan to use in the Mile, and perhaps the horse that will be my top selection, is Ironicus. As I noted on Saturday, I greatly anticipated his appearance in last year's Mile, only to see him taken off the Breeders' Cup trail earlier in the autumn. He might not have caught Tepin on that overcast day at Keeneland, but I think he would have made it a closer race than it ultimately was.
On Saturday, Ironicus was caught behind a ridiculously slow pace in the Shadwell Turf Mile. With only two horses behind him and with a little more than three lengths to make up in the final furlong, he finally got rolling. Unfortunately for backers like me, he fell a neck short of catching Miss Temple City, who has taken down two lucrative open stakes at Keeneland this year while deftly avoiding Tepin.
The way Santa Anita's refurbished turf course has been playing in the opening weeks of its fall meet, I expect a tempo more suitable for Ironicus' needs. He'll need to work out a trip, of course, but at a higher price than Tepin I'll likely bank on him proving, belatedly, he's the country's best turf miler.
At Belmont Park on Saturday, Lady Eli returned to top form with a popular victory in the Flower Bowl (G1), thus stamping herself as the probable favorite for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Earlier in the summer, I'm sure I publicly expressed the sentiment that it was too bad Sea Calisi came along in a year when Tepin was so dominant and transcended her division multiple times, otherwise she would have stood a strong chance of winning divisional honors. As the landscape appears now after the Flower Bowl, in which Sea Calisi was a non-threatening third, it would have been better to wait on proclaiming any such thing until Lady Eli was back to full strength.
If Lady Eli happens to win her race and Tepin loses hers, I'd probably still give the slight edge to Tepin for division honors given her open-company wins in the Queen Anne (G1) and Woodbine Mile (G1). That might prove to be one heated debate among voters and fans if such a scenario plays out.
*Pardon my divergence away from Thoroughbred racing for a moment and note what a privilege it was to be at The Red Mile in Lexington on Sunday for the final day of its eight-day Grand Circuit meeting.
The harness racing Mecca has seen its share of great days, and Sunday now has to be close to the top in the track's 141-year history. Not only did attendees witness the first trotting Triple Crown sweep in a decade (and only the third since 1972), but also saw the fastest Standardbred race ever run.
If you thought Affirmed's sweep of the Thoroughbred Triple Crown in 1978 was rather tight, Marion Marauder completed his Triple Crown sweep in Sunday's Kentucky Futurity by a head over juvenile champion Southwind Frank with a furious stretch kick, overcoming post 11 from the second tier and being parked out the entire way. He had beaten Southwind Frank by a nose in the first leg, the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands, and then captured the series' second leg, the Yonkers Trot, by a diminishing head.
The biggest applause, as far as I could tell, came a few races earlier when Always B Miki won the Allerage Farm open pace in a final time of 1:46, thus becoming the fastest Standardbred in history. He shattered the in-race world record by four-fifths of a second and cleared the previous mark of 1:46 1/5 set in a time trial.
Despite the absence of reigning Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit from the race won by Always B Miki, Little Brown Jug winner Betting Line, and some other top older horses from Sunday's program, fans still got their time's and money's worth, not to mention something to tell the grandkids, on Futurity Day at The Red Mile.
(Tepin, Ironicus photos: Adam Coglianese Photography)
(Always B Miki photo: Vance Hanson)