Tag Archives: Churchill Downs

Preview: Breeders’ Cup Classic 2018

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9.44 Churchill Downs: Breeders’ Cup Classic, 1m 2f

It’s always hard to assess US form properly if you watch the Dirt racing only with one eye. So, when I dismiss the home raiders in the blink of an eye I do so knowing full well it may turn out to be a foolish move in a few hours time.

But if it comes to this years Classic I feel pretty strong about two European runners. For different but then also somewhat similar reasons. In either case, the one of Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn, a lot will depend on the start of the race, I believe. It’ll make or break their chances.

Thunder Snow in gate one faces an uphill task. He’s never showed tremendous gate speed, so this is a major risk. However, if experienced Sumillon in the saddle is able to push his mount forward, so he’ll not end up behind a wall of horses entering the first bend, but rather tracking the pace in third, fourth or fifth, then the reigning Dubai World Cup champion is in a position to win the race.

That performance back in March is to be taken with a pinch of salt due to the rail bias that day. However, he beat some excellent dirt horses in tremendous style and ever since the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the goal.

A disappointing effort in the Juddmonte International aside, on his return to the US, for the first time after his disastrous experience in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow ran a tremendous race in defeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He was more sensibly ridden than the two pace setters, but still was pushed forward rather aggressively from the widest gate. That must have cost vital fuel. Contrast that with the eventual winner of the race, who had pretty much the perfect race and ride and simply picked up the pieces in the closing stages, having the most left in the tank.

Thunder Snow tracked the pace from a long way off in third place throughout the race and was gradually closing in until catching the leaders entering the home straight. He led in the final furlong, eventually beaten on the line by the fast finishing Discreet Lover.

That was an excellent run, the second after a break and only a prep for today – you would think there is still a bit to come from him, hoping he’ll peak when it matters most: today.

His form on dirt reads an impressive 11P21212 – so clearly Thunder Snow is a classy individual. Everything hinges on the start. If he can get through that without getting too far behind, then I’m confident Godolphin has a major shout at celebrating a first Classic Success.

A first one in this regard it would also be for team Ballydoyle. I’m sure there are quite a few who’ve already given up on Mendelssohn at this stage, given in three starts over in the US, ever since producing that sheer unbelievable performance in Meydan, he’s yet to come close to winning.

I see it from a different perspective: today was always the goal. Knowing Aiden O’Brien, you can be sure he’ll have Mendelssohn spot for the race they want to win desperately. Also, something that seems overlooked: Mendelssohn, for whom the way races are run in the US must have been a bit of culture shock, has steadily improved from race to race over there.

You can easily draw a line under the Kentucky Derby; since then 3-2-3, the last two in Grade 1 contests over the Classic trip. I’ve been mightily impressed with this most recent performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Mendelssohn was sprinting forward right from the start, racing for the lead with odds-on favourite Diversify – the two set mad fractions and where more than ten lengths clear halfway through the race! They were caught eventually, but it was Mendelssohn who battled on toe finish a two lengths beaten third in the end.

One could argue, only with some sort of soft lead, steeling the race from the front, Mendelssohn will have a chance to win today. He’s not quite up to the standard to be considered a major contender, otherwise. That is probably an assessment not too far of the truth, by all we know up until now.

I see it from this perspective, though: Mendelssohn is improving. His latest run was a new career best. He’s still not got too many miles on the clock. He’s got an ideal draw to move forward today. He had a pretty ideal preparation, stays the trip and is a returning Breeders’ Cup winner, i.e. he has class!

I might be totally wrong. Overestimate these two Europeans, and underestimate the US horses, like favourite Accelerate, Mckinzie and Catholic Boy. I might overvalue the merit of the Jockey Club Gold Cup performances. And if I fancy the second and third of that race, I should fancy the winner, Discreet Lover at massive odds of 50/1 even more so today, right?

Well, I stick to my analysis, that both Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow didn’t have ideal races that day, ran big despite the factors against them, and both offer significant upside coming into the Breeders’ Cup Classic today.

Selections:
10pts win – Thunder Snow  @ 14/1 Coral
10pts win – Mendelssohn @ 10/1 PP

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Preview: Kentucky Derby

How time is flying, ’cause here we are yet again: first Saturday in May – it can only mean the run for the roses, the Kentucky Derby, is upon us! The first leg of The Triple Crown, the time where dreams are still alive and rumours and tales are all the talk. So who’s the next big thing; who can  follow into the massive footsteps of American Pharoah?

The Favourite

Favoured is the unbeaten Nyquist – named after  brilliant Detroit Red Wings star Gustav Nyquist (who himself does pretty well at the current Hockey World Championships – a good omen?). Seven starts, seven wins, including a most recent impressive success in the Florida Derby.

He could been backed throughout the week at prices in and around 7/2 – very fair, and he’s sure to be a good deal shorter come post time. And that puts myself a bit into a dilemma. I really like the price, think it’s slightly bigger than it should be given what we know so far about last seasons leading juvenile.

But what about the future? You got to have doubts about his stamina to last the Derby trip with his speedy pedigree. Start box 13 must not necessarily be the problem as Nyquist possesses gate speed. However over this new trip, with 19 other horses in the race, a rattling pace right from the start, he’ll need to use a lot of energy early on to get across.

That could inevitability cost him when it really matters and he may run out of steam eventually. Therefore I am inclined to take him today.

I want to look for something sure to appreciate the trip. No need to look all that far though as there are plenty of alternatives in the field – however there is an interesting fact attached to more than half of the field: many are closers, so likely to come from off the pace.

It’s highly likely that with three furlongs to go we could see some dramatic traffic congestion which inevitably will result in plenty of hard-luck stories. Interestingly that is one of the factors speaking in favour of Nyquist, given his gate speed and prominent racing style. But only if the bit of stamina, which can be found to some extend on his dam’s line, comes through to help him stretch out over the 10f trip.

The Contenders

Curlin son Exaggerator is thought to be Nyquist’s biggest danger. A runaway winner of the Santa Anita Derby, who has a chance to stay the trip, even though there is a fair bit of speed on his dam side. He shouldn’t be too far off the pace too, which I reckon is a plus. He can be backed at 9/1 – is a fair price in my book.

Mohaymen lost an unbeaten record when readily put into his place by Nyquist in the Florida Derby. A performance too bad to be true, still his overall profile doesn’t scream Kentucky Derby winner to me, though the trip might bring out a bit of improvement.

Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner is one I do like a lot. Potentially somewhere settling in midfield, he’s a pedigree to do well over this trip and crucially won at Churchill in the past. He’s generally available at 12/1.

Blue Grass Stakes hero Brody’s Cause already tasted success at Churchill as well. He’s got to overcome a draw in the car park, though he’s more of a closer anyway, so this might not  be a problem. More so will be to find a clear passage through the field in the latter stages of the race.

Yet to prove himself in Grade 1 company, however an excellent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, when beating in second another interesting Derby contender in Outwork, is Todd Pletcher’s Destin. He has some questions to answer in terms of stamina and class but a fair draw and prominent race tactics do give him every chance to run his race and show he belongs here.

Stable mate Outwork was a good runner-up at Tampa, which was his only defeat in four career starts as he went on to win the Wood Memorial subsequently. A wide draw and question marks over stamina aside, he’s an intriguing contender, given there might be more improvement to come with time.

Some wise men, who surely know more about US racing than I do, tipped Mor Spirit to win the Derby. You got to listen to the people in the know, and the horse can be backed at 25/1. Still, his record isn’t that impressive. Twice a runner-up this year in addition to a Group 3 success. He looks to be a notch below top class, had been dealt a wide draw and has stamina questions to answer. Very little chances in my book.

The Long-shots

The Japanese runner Lani can’t be trusted to run his race given the antics he’s shown in his work leading up to the big race. But if he doesn’t completely bottle the start and if he wants to run and if he has a bit of in-running luck then I can see him running on strongly to have a shot at some decent prize money. It’s some big “if’s” though.

The need for in-running luck applies also to the closers Trojan Nation and Suddenbreakingnews. Both should appreciate the trip and finished with plenty of promise in their last outings. But again, luck will be a determining factor for their chances today, given their extreme racing styles.

The same applies to Creator I’m affraid. The winner of the Arkansas Derby, beating Suddenbreakingnews there, got the run of the race whereas the runner-up had to go wide around the whole field. That makes Suddenbreakingnews a better prospect in the race, yet Creator is a shorter price. Make of that what you want.

Two I like from the bigger prices are two with wider draws, but a bit of gate speed and the not to distinct possibility of improvement coming from stepping up in trip: Shagaf (40/1) and Majesto (33/1) may not make too much appeal at the first glance but it’s worth to give them a second look.

Shagaf went off favourite in the Wood Memorial, unbeaten in three starts up until then. He only managed to finish a disappointing 5th that day, but had multiple excuses. On muddy ground, he got off to a fair start from box one but got hampered right before the first turn and that cost him a fair few lengths at a crucial stage when the pace really took of. He made a big move halfway through the race then, his jockey seemingly panicking, and that cost him dearly in the end. So it might be best to draw a line through this particular performance.

The son of Bernadini is usually ridden closer to the pace, so if he can overcome his wide draw and be in a good position, not too far off the speed, I believe he can be a big player here. He’s still had only four starts and there’s a fair chance Shagaf stays the Derby trip.

Majesto was a good runner-up – albeit fair and square beaten – behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby. But that proved he’s certainly a quality horse. He’s bred to improve with time, by multiple Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, out of a Unaccounted For mare. Good chance he likes the 10f trip and despite already six career starts he’s still open to a bit of improvement I reckon.

So these two are indeed my selection against the favourite Nyquist. They may prove not to have the necessary class required to go close after all, but at this point in time I believe both offer value for money.

What Else? 

The gates crash open somewhere around half past eleven, UK time. At The Races starts their coverage at quarter to six. On Friday for the Kentucky Oaks they showed the original NBC feed throughout the night, which was all class. Here’s hoping the same applies to today, but I fear we get to see all the atmosphere soaked out by a dreary ATR studio panel.

There’ll be roughly 170.000 people in attendance at Churchill Downs today. It’s just so massive! I always wanted to be one of them. But checking the ticket prices I realized those tickets that enable you to enjoy the day without being crushed by the masses are slightly beyond my budget. For the same price you can attend the Melbourne Cup five times – mind you having good seats….

Super mare Tepin – Royal Ascot bound – will race in the Distaff Turf at 6:13pm. Shouldn’t be missed. She is really good and I believe we see here a strong contender for the Queen Anne.

No Lasix for Mubtaahij

Knowing Mike De Kock, it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is still a brave move – the South African handler has opted against the use of Lasix for his Kentucky Derby runner Mubtaahji. De Kock argues:

“He’s never run on it, he doesn’t bleed, and I’m not prepared to take my chances running him on a substance he’s never run on before. … He’s good enough without it. I’m not experienced enough to say whether Thoroughbreds in general will or won’t run well on Lasix … If I gave him Lasix he may run better, he may run worse, but I’m not going to experiment. Lasix is not even a consideration for him.”

Source: BloodHorse.com

Obviously as someone who condemns the use of Lasix as race day medication I applaud this decision. In fact I admire his decision! Because let’s be honest, most foreign trainers do use Lasix once they send over their horses to the US. And one could argue: Rightly so.

My point of view is that Lasix is a performance enhancing drug. Actually, did anyone ever seriously doubted that? I mean this drug seems particularly effective if horses run on it for the first time. Naturally, these are often foreign raiders on their first ever visit to the US. There are many examples of horses improving dramatically. You’ve ever heard of Main Sequence?

But my favourite example is the filly Dank. A good filly, a Group 3 winner in Europe – but once on Lasix, she looked like on a different planet! I’d say she was literally flying in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington. Yes, maybe only a US Turf Grade 1, against weaker opposition than she would probably meet in Europe – still, the sheer acceleration… spectacular! Unbelievable!

Another fact to my point: She beat the very good filly Duntle by more than six lengths that day – she wasn’t even close to do that when these two met before. Not to mention multiple Grade 1 winning mare Marketing Mix, beaten by almost six lengths either! Further to his: If I have it right in mind, Duntle actually didn’t run on Lasix that day at Arlington.

Now, this is only the most dramatic example which comes to my mind when I think about the use of Lasix and the possible improvement it can bring out. There are many more, if you search for it, though. That says, it can’t make poor horses fly and doesn’t work for everyone. Of course not. If you’re not good enough, you’re not enough anyway. But there’s no doubt, that Lasix can bring out some improvement in good horses. It’s a performance enhancer. Simple as that.

That brings me back to the more present moment: De Kock opting against Lasix. As much as I applaud this decision , you have to wonder if it is a wise move from a pure performance point of view. Doesn’t this lower the chances of Mubtaahij to win the Derby? Yes, it absolutely does in my mind. He’s running against a bunch of US horses doped to the maximum (exaggeratedly spoken – but true to an extend). It certainly doesn’t make this mighty task any easier.

On the other hand, you got to trust the wise man – Mike De Kock. He’s a brilliant trainer, and If he believes this horse is good enough to take on a top class US Derby generation, even without Lasix,… well you know, chances arereal that the horse is good enough indeed!

Khozan’s a special colt!

You may remember this: I made recently a case for Dortmund to the win the Kentucky Derby. Nothing has changed in that regard, I still believe Bob Baffert’s colt will be a big runner on Derby day, in fact I do fancy him to be one of the shining stars this season. However, sometimes you come across something that makes you think: “WOW, this is special!”.

It’s likely that I wasn’t the only one who thought this way after the lightly raced Khozan won a Claiming race at Gulfstream Park by a mere 12 lengths last weekend. This low mileage colt is rapidly emerging as one of THE prime Derby contenders for the Kentucky Derby. But Why? Well, there is his outstanding pedigree first of all. He is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Royal Delta, and simply bred to be a champion. Take this: His sire, dam, and damsire were all graded stakes winners, and his damsire was even inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame

Then there is his price tag. He was purchased by Al Shaqab Racing for $1mio at the sales. Right, you may say, money doesn’t make necessarily a good racehorse. Only to point out then, that Khozan looked the real deal when he appeared on the racetrack! He ran extremely well first time out on a very eye-catching debut. But Khozan clearly stepped up to another level over the last weekend. He couldn’t have been more impressive on what was only his second career start then when winning a claimer by a street under a light hands and heels ride. Yes, he didn’t beat much, but as mentioned, this was only his second career start and he got a really nice educational ride, having some difficulties to overcome right after a start and also getting some dirt into his face. This experience will toughen him up and he should have learned plenty. The manner he drew clear in the home straight was nothing less than impressive after all.

So far so good. Okay, here’s a bit of a dilemma, though: History is against him. Horses that haven’t raced as two year olds have failed in their attempt to win the Derby since Apollo managed to do exactly that for the last time – back in 1982. They call it the “Apollo Cause.” But hey, you know what? Sometimes it needs something special to break the duck. Khozan has the talent to do so… if he can qualify for the Derby. Because he hasn’t qualified for the race yet! Obviously he didn’t have any chance to earn points yet.

But, breath easy, he’s due to run in the Florida Derby next. If he wins it, he’s in. The race should suit perfectly as he has won twice at Gulfstream Park now. If he is a legitimate Derby contender, well then he has to perform strongly in this next qualifier anyway. Do I expect him to live up to his rapidly growing reputation? Yes, absolutely. You can still back Khozan at 20/1 with Bet365 & Racebets. I’d recommend to lump on. Back Dortmund and this boy at the big prices which are available now – surly not on Derby day though – and you’ll have two extremely strong runners for your money when it really matters!