Powell willing to oppose Belmont's Super Saturday II horses in Breeders' Cup

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

October 13th, 2016

by Dick Powell

Super Saturday wasn’t so super after all. The folly of lumping a bunch of graded stakes races on the same day, while hurting the rest of the weekends that are not designated as “super,” was in evidence Saturday at Belmont Park where short fields on the main track ruled the day.

Big purses and “Win and You’re In” designations were not enough to attract more than six betting entries in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1), five in the $350,000 Kelso Handicap (G2), six in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) and five in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

The turf stakes races did better but they always do. Going in, to schedule a bunch of high-class dirt stakes races on the same day is a recipe for disaster and even if I am wrong and it worked, it still kills the rest of your stakes schedule for the meet.

I can excuse Keeneland and Santa Anita for front-loading their stakes races since trainers want time between their last race and the Breeders’ Cup so they have no choice. But Belmont Park, which used to promote the “Fall Championship Meet,” is down to having only the “Fall” part correct. Watching the simulcast feed in high definition and seeing how few people attended the races there on Saturday was pathetic.

Of all the Fall races at Belmont Park, none have fallen like the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The five betting interests meant that this year’s renewal was only run for $980,000.

For years, the Woodward Stakes (G1) was the weight-for-age championship race at 1 1/2 miles and the Gold Cup was run at two miles. The Gold Cup was shortened to 1 1/2 miles and the Woodward was reduced to 1 1/8 miles in 1976. After a couple of years at 1 1/4 miles, the Woodward has been at 1 1/8 miles since 1989 when EASY GOER (Alydar) won it.

A nine-furlong prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it was then shifted to Saratoga and run on Labor Day weekend as the Gold Cup has been the New York lone prep race for the Classic.

Run at 1 1/4 miles on a track whose configuration puts the starting gate on the outer rail on the clubhouse turn, it has fallen out of favor for the diminishing number of trainers who even want a prep race for the Classic. Considering the above trends, it makes no sense to keep the Gold Cup at 10 furlongs as a prep race for a 10-furlong race and should be run at nine furlongs.

It’s hard to take something that has become unfashionable and make it fashionable but a change in distance might help. Also, running it five weeks ahead of the Classic instead of four weeks might help as well.

This year’s renewal saw Bob Baffert, loaded with horses for the Classic, ship HOPPERTUNITY (Any Given Saturday) from his Santa Anita base and swoop in and grab the $600,000 first-place pot. Seemingly always in the money or, at least, getting a check, Hoppertunity fit this year’s Gold Cup perfectly with a big purse and modest field.

Despite a slow pace and main track that was kind to front runners, Hoppertunity sat fourth in the field of five early then began to pick it up around the far turn. Johnny Velazquez swung him to the outside and he set sail for EFFINEX (Mineshaft) and PROTONICO (Giant’s Causeway) in the stretch. The pace quickened but Hoppertunity was able to grind them down and win by a convincing half-length in the final time of 2:00.68 seconds.

Last year, Effinex surprised many when he finished second in the Gold Cup and then came back to run second behind AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) in the Classic. Can’t see any of these finishing in the money at Santa Anita.

The running times on the main track on Saturday at Belmont Park were faster than normal and it will create problems when these horses show up in the Breeders’ Cup. In the Champagne Stakes, Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief) was left at the gate and had to rally against the prevailing speed bias. He got up by a nose in the tightest of photos but he also had the race set up for him when the leaders went 1:08.76 seconds for the first six furlongs.

Practical Joke was very impressive but SYNDERGAARD (Majesticperfection) had to battle every step of the way fighting for the lead and was game as could be. Not sure when his next start will be but the race looked grueling for him and can only bet him going shorter. Once again, don’t think I will be using any of these at Santa Anita.