Strong California Contingent Breeders' Cup Bound

Profile Picture: John Mucciolo

September 30th, 2015

A slew of graded races with major Breeders’ Cup implications took place at “The Great Race Place” over the weekend. Let’s take a look at some of the standout performers likely headed for the Bluegrass State later this month.

It all starts with the reigning queen of California, the mighty BEHOLDER. The 5yo mare has kept incredible form for four years running and has never looked better than this season. The Richard Mandella-trained sensation is not beating up on a deep group of distaffers on the West Coast, but she proved her class with a daylight romp in the Pacific Classic (G1) against males and continues to add to her legacy as one of the best runners of our generation. The daughter of Henny Hughes strolled home in the Zenyatta S. (G1) on Saturday and is headed for the Classic (G1).

I can’t envision any other runners out of the Zenyatta being a serious threat at Keeneland. MY SWEET ADDICTION ran a nice second to Beholder but appears to be a few notches below the best in her division.

The Awesome Again S. (G1) went to an up-and-coming gelding, the lightly-raced SMOOTH ROLLER, who was much the best in a powerful display for conditioner Victor Garcia. The son of Hard Spun has won three of four starts and did earn a healthy 110 BRIS Speed figure for his initial stakes victory, but this division is very deep and I want to see the 4yo repeat his performance against a better cast before drinking the Kool-Aid.

Runner-up HOPPERTUNITY has not progressed this season the way connections had hoped, though the Bob Baffert trainee remains very honest and could find the 1 ¼-mile Classic distance to his liking. While the son of Any Given Saturday would be a surprise with a serious challenge, he can’t be completely dismissed from exotics consideration with his best.

The FrontRunner S. (G1) shed light on a pair of runners that we think should be major players in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The Doug O’Neill-trained NYQUIST ran his mark to a sterling four-for-four with a good-looking tally and proved stubborn once again when challenged in the lane. The juvenile colt has speed, heart and passed the two-turn test, coming home well in his route debut.

Trainer Keith Desormeaux saddled the winner of the 2014 Juvenile and could have another major player in SWIPE, who was a big second to Nyquist while well clear of his other foes. The dark bay colt has a fine foundation under him with six lifetime starts, all resulting in top-three finishes, and we always thought he would prosper going a route of ground being by Birdstone. It’s worth note that while he has finished second to Nyquist in three straight, the beaten margin has diminished each time as the pair stretched out in trip.

In the Chandelier S. (G1), Jerry Hollendorfer’s SONGBIRD led throughout in another powerful performance to remain unbeaten from a trio of lifetime tries. The juvenile filly has never been challenged in her lifetime and the sky appears to be the limit for the speedy sensation and likely Juvenile Fillies (G1) favorite.

LAND OVER SEA was never getting the winner but did finish more than nine lengths clear of her nearest foe in a fine runner-up outing for conditioner Doug O’Neill. With a good two-turn experience under her best, the Bellamy Road filly might be a late player at a price with further progression at Keeneland.

PHOTO CALL (Ire) was a most impressive heroine of the Rodeo Drive S. (G1) and is coming into her own for conditioner Graham Motion. The daughter of top sire Galileo is already a winner over the Keeneland lawn, but she will face a fantastically deep cast in the Filly and Mare Turf (G1) and must continue to improve to be on par with some of the top ones expected.

Similar to Zenyatta, the Rodeo Drive didn’t appear to produce any other dangers that are Cup-bound.

Sunday played host to the City of Hope Mile S. (G2) and winner ALERT BAY continues to fly under the radar somewhat as a consistent and talented turf performer. The four-year-old son of City Zip overcame the widest post to win in pretty comfortable fashion, and while he beat a solid but not great field, the California-bred posted a whopping 106 BRIS Speed number that puts him in the game with most of the better turf milers in the states. Whether the dark bay can duplicate his effort against better on the road remains to be seen.

A pair of races for sprinters with potential Cup ramifications will take place on Saturday at Santa Anita: the $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) and $100,000 Eddie S. (G3).

Songbird winning the Chandelier courtesy of Benoit Photos