Mr Speaker ranks as highweight and morning-line favorite in Red Smith
At times hinting that a step up in trip could be warranted, Mr Speaker tries 1 3/8 miles for the first time in Saturday’s $250,000 Red Smith H. (G3) at Aqueduct. The Shug McGaughey charge will tote the top weight of 122 pounds, conceding four to veterans Kaigun, War Dancer, and Charming Kitten and seven to Chad Brown improver Mr Maybe.
Mr Speaker’s career high came in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) in 2014, where he rallied furiously to upset Aidan O’Brien shipper Adelaide at odds of 23-1. The Phipps Stable blueblood hasn’t duplicated that effort, but he appeared to be rounding into that kind of form with a smart score in the September 19 Commonwealth Cup (G2) at Laurel. Although he didn’t get much pace to close into that day, it was slightly better than the :50-ish and 1:14 splits that didn’t help his cause when fourth in the August 16 Sky Classic (G2) and a fast-finishing third in the October 10 Knickerbocker (G3). A decent tempo over a longer trip is his game; he’ll get the latter, but the former may be another matter. The 5-2 morning-line favorite will reunite with Jose Ortiz.
Also exiting the Knickerbocker is War Dancer (5-1), who wound up seventh for Bill Mott. Chances are that the long-distance type just got outkicked when the nine-furlong test turned into a dash for home. His two efforts at this trip have yielded a near-miss to Twilight Eclipse in the May 9 Man O’ War (G1) and another second in the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. Likely to be up on the pace along with New York-bred Iron Power (15-1), War Dancer seeks to end a losing streak dating back to the 2014 Louisville H. (G3) at Churchill Downs.
The Mark Casse-trained Kaigun (3-1) cuts back a tad after a game fourth in the 1 1/2-mile Canadian International (G1) at Woodbine. A useful fifth in the 2014 United Nations (G1) in his only attempt at the Red Smith distance, the honest gelding has spent much of his career in the vicinity of a mile. Last year, he was second in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) (to Wise Dan) as well as the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) and capped the season triumphant in the 1 1/16-mile Seabiscuit (G2) at Del Mar. Kaigun has gone winless since, but his chugging-on fourth in the Woodbine Mile two back suggests that he might prefer more ground these days. If the Canadian International was too sharp a stretch-out, this could be just right. Kaigun, narrowly best in BRIS Prime Power, gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario.
In contrast, Holiday Star (8-1) has been best at 1 1/2 miles so far, as reinforced by his successful title defense in Keeneland’s Sycamore (G3) over Charming Kitten (10-1) and St. Albans Boy (12-1) (the subsequent winner of the Laurel Turf Cup). The Graham Motion trainee may need to up his game at this slightly shorter distance. He’d benefit, however, if the course retains a bit of moisture in it.
It just wouldn’t be a graded turf race in New York without Chad Brown, who sends out a new shooter in Mr Maybe (5-1). The four-year-old son of Ghostzapper dominated a Belmont allowance in his debut for the barn, and his first try at 1 3/8 miles, notching a field-best 104 BRIS Speed rating. If the gray can turn in a similar effort in a higher grade, he’d be tough to contain.
Rounding out the field are sophomore Great Dancer (20-1), most recently third in the Hill Prince (G3), and the main-track-only Catron (3-1).
Mr Speaker photo courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club/Jim McCue.