Lady Eli, Lord Nelson and Miss Southern Miss star in final round of Breeders’ Cup preps

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 11th, 2016

A few races of interest remain but most Breeders’ Cup contenders have turned in their final prep.  Over the last four days of frenzied action (Friday-Monday), several winners made a serious case for Breeders’ Cup favoritism in Lady Eli (Filly & Mare Turf), Lord Nelson (Sprint) and Miss Southern Miss (Filly & Mare Turf).

And while Tepin could not catch loose-on-the-lead Photo Call in Saturday’s First Lady (G1), the champion turf mare is still the likely Mile (G1) favorite following a runner-up finish.

Here are some thoughts on last weekend’s performances:

Saturday’s Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Park turned into a sprint to the wire after slow early splits in the 1 ¼-mile turf affair and Lady Eli proved she’s still got it, covering the final quarter-mile in :22.63 as she flew home to deny Sentiero Italia, who ran the race of her career finishing second. Chad Brown has captured three of the last four runnings of the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), including a 1-2 finish at Santa Anita in 2014, and Lady Eli will be making her third start off the layoff over the same course that she posted an impressive victory in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Given she overcame a 14-month absence following a life-threatening bout with laminitis, the Lady Eli story seems destined for a Hollywood script with a Filly & Mare Turf victory.

This year’s TwinSpires Sprint (G1) is shaping up to be a dandy. A.P. Indian, the top-ranked prospect on the East Coast, tuned up with a hard-fought tally in Friday’s Phoenix (G3) at Keeneland and Lord Nelson followed a day later with a convincing victory in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). It’s easy to envision the latter going favored, with a 4-for-4 mark this year including three wins at Santa Anita, and Lord Nelson has run the 6-furlong distance in less than 1:08 twice this season. Bob Baffert has another talented contender in King’s Bishop (G1) hero Drefong, but Lord Nelson is the horse to beat entering the Breeders’ Cup.

Tepin had an eight-race win skein snapped at Keeneland, finishing nearly three lengths back after Photo Call led unopposed throughout. One can excuse the performance given the race’s dynamics but the setback generated concerns of the top-class mare being over the top after a long season that included a trip to England. I won’t dismiss the possibility but there’s no chance I’ll get burned by leaving Tepin off all my multi-race plays. Wise Dan turned in a similar runner-up performance in 2013, having a long winning streak snapped at Keeneland as he failed to run down a loose pacesetter before defending his Mile title at Santa Anita.

Kudos to Miss Temple City, who rebounded from a pair of unplaced efforts at Saratoga to defeat males in Saturday’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), but I’ll be playing against her next time given the 4-year-old filly is arguably 5+ lengths faster at Keeneland. As my colleague Vance Hanson pointed out on Monday, Ironicus is the horse I want going forward. The 5-year-old left himself too much to do in the latter stages, traveling wide after arriving in upper stretch still ninth, but it was easy to come away impressed after an eye-catching rally that fell only a head short and generated a 103 BRIS Late Pace rating off a five-month layoff.

The move to turf paid dividends for Miss Southern Miss, who delivered a smashing performance to pick up her first stakes triumph in Monday’s Surfer Girl at Santa Anita. Euros are always tough in the Breeders’ Cup juvenile turf events, but it was easy to like how the More Than Ready filly finished with a gusto over the new turf course and the Keith Desormeaux trainee will bring positive momentum into the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Mongolian Saturday shrugged off a disappointing overseas campaign, posting a front-running half-length victory in Saturday’s Woodford (G3) at Keeneland, his first U.S. start since winning the Turf Sprint (G1) last November. The 6-year-old finished up the course in a pair of Hong Kong starts before running poorly at Ascot and Newmarket this summer but he’s one hard-knocking gelding stateside, finishing either first or second in his last eight attempts. Mongolian Saturday possesses quality speed and is a candidate to carry his form forward to the downhill course at Santa Anita, but the about 6 ½-furlong distance will poise a legitimate challenge for the 5 & 5 ½-furlong specialist.

Irish Jasper faces a class check in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) but has established herself as an intriguing late running candidate, rallying to score going away in Saturday’s Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) at Keeneland. The 4-year-old filly likes to win races in bunches and is 2-for-2 on dirt this year for Chad Brown, making a belated 2016 bow in a July 3 turf allowance. Irish Jasper tuned up for the TCA with a convincing Saratoga allowance victory in mid-August, registering outstanding 103 BRIS Speed and 106 Late Pace ratings, and she’ll be running late on November 5 along with defending titlist and stablemate Wavell Avenue.

After dominating New York-bred foes in a pair of starts, Syndergaard gained plenty in defeat at Belmont Park last Saturday. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt shrugged off a serious early challenge from a well-regarded rival, dueling through an opening-half mile in a wicked :44 3/5 before appearing to be toast in midstretch of the Champagne (G1) as Hopeful (G1) winner Practical Joke came charging on the outside. Right when I thought Practical Joke would blow past the pacesetter, Syndergaard dug in gamely and battled determinedly to the finish line, losing by a nose on the bob. Syndergaard may have distance limitations down the road, but the talented colt is a threat to carry his speed 1 1/16 miles in the Juvenile (G1).

Last but not least comes Classic Empire, who stylishly dominated Saturday’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland after wheeling and dumping the jock at the start in the September 5 Hopeful. Breaking from post 11 as the 8-5 favorite, the Pioneerof the Nile colt closely stalked the pace in third before offering an impressive turn of foot to the lead leaving the far turn and Julien Leparoux always appeared to have plenty remaining while scoring by three easy lengths. Mark Casse-trained Classic Empire rates as a serious contender in a deep Juvenile field.

(Teresa Genaro photo)