Tag Archives: World Cup

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: Pegasus World Cup

Can newly crowned 2017 American Horse Of The year, Gun Runner, finish his career in the most lucrative fashion? He certainly is the red-hot favourite for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Whether even money is a good or a bad price depends on individual perspective. Undisputed is, however, that the reigning Breeders’ Cup champ has all the credentials to win a fifth consecutive Grade 1.

He drops down a furlong from his impressive Del Mar success, which isn’t a problem given his excellent record over 9 furlongs. SO, can he beaten?

Absolutely! Drawn wide, he’s got to be at his very best to prevail in a deep field. He’s had a tough campaign last season, including a trip to Dubai. That can take a toll on horses, as we have seen in this very same race only twelve months ago, when California Chrome flopped spectacularly.

Is he going to be at his very best coming off a near three months lay-off? Possibly – Steve Asmussen knows the horse best and will ensure his star is ready for one final big performance.

Nonetheless, at even money I have to oppose him, simply from a betting perspective, with other exciting options available to back against the favourite.

Pacific Classic winner – inflicting a painful defeat to Arrogate – and BCC runner-up Collected rates a big danger on that form. He has no problems with the trip, usually travells well and is gutsy.

He flopped in a Grade 2 at the back-end of the 2017 season; some recent reports from the US suggest he did not impress in his workouts. That’s not to say he can’t be back to his best when it matters most – but maybe those big runs have left a mark?

West Coast looks more likely to cause the ‘upset’. Impressive Travers Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby successes, followed by a third placed- and far from disgraced effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

A drop to 1m 1f should suit this horse down to the grounds. From a perfect draw he should be in a perfect position when it really matters. Castellano gets the leg up. He is still only four, so could potentially improve. He’s a big player here and one I like allot. 7/1 looks a good price.

That says, 10/1 for Sharp Azteca looks even better in my book. The speedball has a perfect draw to suit his running style, though could face competition for the lead. He proved versatile, on the other hand, and seems to have no problem tracking the pace either.

He landed a first Grade 1 success at Aqueduct in the Cigar Mile in most impressive style despite carrying top weight. If the Pegasus would be run over a mile, Sharp Azteca would be hard to beat. It isn’t, though. Hence the additional furlong is the key question.

Plenty are of the opinion he won’t stay the trip. Once taken on by the big guns in the home straight he will falter. You can point to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile where exactly that happened. Though there were some slight excuses, possibly, that day.

On the plus side: even though only on Grade 3 level, he won the Monmouth Cup over 1m 1/2f by more than seven lengths back in July last year. He didn’t appear to be stopping – and albeit better opposition awaits here – I do not see how Sharp Azteca is down as not staying 9f in the book of so many.

On pedigree there is certainly every chance he could even stretch out to 10 furlongs. Furthermore, Gulfstream Park is a track he already won twice at; it is a course to favour his running style in general. So I think there is every chance that Sharp Azteca is in the right place when it matters.

At 10’s I feel he is overpriced. Yes, he is not the most likely winner in the race. But he is the biggest value being fully unexposed over the trip, coming here in the form of his life, with a perfect draw and conditions to suit.

Selection:
10pts win – Sharp Azteca @ 10/1 PP/BF

Chrome vs. Arrogate 2.0

On a day like this where our beloved sport produced its finest moments just to be followed by  incredible tragedy, it’s comforting that we racing fans can drown our sorrow – at least for a moment – in excitement about the next big race.

It might be fickle, it might feel wrong but this is simply the circle of life in our game of horse racing. Greats come, Greats go, the next star’s just been borne… but that is racing also: legends are never forgotten.

And a legend we’ll never forget is the great Many Clouds, who sadly left us today, after a heroic win at Cheltenham. I had the privilege to see this almighty horse winning the Grand National in 2015 – a historic performance is was. What a warrior, what a star, a true Great of our game. RIP big fella….

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But there it is, the next big race – its protagonists deserve our full attention. This big race is the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. World class prize money on offer, with a purse of $12 million it’s the richest race on earth! although it’s debatable whether the tag “World Cup” is justified, given it’s a race on dirt with no foreign raider in the 12-runner line-up and only two of them truly deserve to be called world class.

Nonetheless this is an intriguing contest like few others, purely because those two world class horses are no less than the recently crowned number one and two of the world rankings: Arrogate and California Chrome!

A single pound between the two in the ratings indicates what a close contest we might witness tonight – effectively a match-race, much like when these two met the first- and last time. That was in November, in the Breeders Cup Classic, a day when the three year old Arrogate prevailed by half a lengths after a thrilling finish down the home straight.


Arrogate won fair and square that day in my humble opinion. In fact he looks special, which became evident to me after his sensational performance in the Travers Stakes. It looked almost unreal the way he demolished his rivals in what was a top notch Grade 1!

However is he really better than California Chrome? The jury is still out, I feel. Let’s not forget Arrogate received a handy little weight for age allowance in the Breeders Cup Classic, and no doubt he endured a much less gruelling season leading up to the big race at Santa Anita than the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner certainly did.

Chrome in contrast travelled the world, ripped the Dubai World Cup field apart and went on to win two more Grade ones, making super mare Beholder look ordinary in the Pacific Classic. Whether he was still at 100% in November, when on go for so long, where one big race followed the next is hard to say.

What is easy to say: Chrome is not slowing down. He’s as good as ever, judged on  an easy prep run at Los Alamitos in the middle of December. Arrogate in contrast didn’t have another race since the Breeders Cup. A disadvantage? I reckon it’s not. For all he’s still the younger horse, with fresher legs and upside.

Tactics will be interesting today. Arrogate is drawn on the inside, Chrome widest on the outside. Two tricky gates to start from. Chrome may need to work to get up with the pace where he usually wants to sit whereas Arrogate has to be careful not to get boxed in.

Nonetheless when it really comes down to it, these two will fight it out. Who’s going to win? Impossible to say. My gut feeling is that Chrome might have a little bit more going for himself here. The run under his belt last month, he meets Arrogate at level weights today and the not insignificant drop to nine furlongs could be more in his favour too.

After all, it’s probably fair to say that this is a coin flip. With that in mind I got to go with California Chrome. He’s a the value price. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets outstayed in thrilling finish by the extra special Arrogate. In less than two hours we’ll find out.

Selection: California Chrome @ 6/4 Skybet

Dubai World Cup Night – Preview

Flat racing’s really got into my mind by now – and reason for that is the Dubai World Cup is just around the corner! On Saturday it’s raining money and whether you like the meeting or not, it certainly has its place in the international racing calendar, attracts good horses every year and provides excellent racing.

So let’s have a look at some of the big races on the night. I’ve put some thoughts and selections together, however I leave most of the dirt races out since I don’t really get a handle on them. With one exception…

Dubai World Cup: The richest race on earth is also one of the strangest Group 1 races on earth. Touted as the “World Cup”, the prize money is clearly worthy of a world champion, yet the winner usually isn’t anywhere close to be a superstar.

That little fact aside, this years renewal looks compelling on paper. There is California Chrome of course, who – you could argue – wasn’t 100% when he finished runner-up behind Prince Bishop in this very same race twelve month ago.

He had a light campaign since then, with success coming easy in a Grade 2 at Santa Anita back in January after a good break; followed up with an impressive victory on his return to Meydan, however only in a Handicap.

Nonetheless California Chrome appears to be a different horse this time around, “five lengths better” so the words of his trainer. He’ll be big runner on Saturday despite having to deal with a desperately unkind draw I suspect.

Yes, he’s got to start in the car park and that isn’t easy given horses simply don’t win a World Cup from there, but this is no ordinary horse, this is. California Chrome. If there’s a horse able to overcome this hurdle then it could be him.

Most likely the biggest danger is his US mate Frosted. He chased after the almighty American Pharoah last year, but seems to have improved big time from three to four. He looked a monster on his Meydan debut in Round 2 of Al Maktoum Challenge when slaughtering a decent field.

Frosted has been allocated a poor draw too, though slightly better than California Chrome. He showed good early speed in the past, so did Chrome, which means I can see both being able to overcome this disadvantage, however at the expense of burning quite some fuel right at the start.

Given the very short price for California Chrome, and the fact that in essence we know what he is, I’d be rather against him, and would favour Frosted to do better, who in contrast may actually improve again – or let’s say is more likely to have significant improvement left in him.

I believe that despite the draw Frosted is the classiest horse and most likely winner of the Dubai World Cup – but at 5/2 is certainly a price where any possible improvement is already factored in times two. That begs the question – what else is in the race?

Mubtaahij! He’s been disappointing on two occasions this Carnival. Though valid excused can be made. In fact trainer Mike De Kock is unusually bullish. So you have to listen and think about it. De Kock’s bullishness is often warranted and not just a blow in the wind.

He’s adamant that with a more aggressive ride Mubtaahij will be a huge runner. And I think so too. But: he’s not going to stay the trip in a truly run race where he’s aggressive early on in an attempt to grab the lead. No way. I’m bullish about it myself! He’ll be a big runner until 250m out and than start to fade away.

What else? You have to take Special Fighter serious. Yes, there was a dramatic track bias when he romped home in the Maktoum Challange R3, but his finishing speed was still mightily impressive and faster than of sprinters on the same card.

If people want to ignore this particular form – fine. But it’s hard to ignore the facts. This lad, since switched to the dirt, has shown nothing but big time improvement. He’s thrived throughout the carnival on this Meydan dirt track. He’s an improving horse, with only six starts on this surface and a 50% strike rate to date.

Sure, he was well and truly beaten by Frosted in the Maktoum Challenge R2, but he had a bad draw that day, in contrast to Frosted, and travelled wide the whole time. You can make, if you want, excuses for that. This time Special Fighter has a better draw. He goes from box five, which gives him every chance to be up with the early speed, which is so vital.

The Hong Kong runner Gun Pit, who finished second behind Special Fighter the last time, is one with a lively chance too, if he gets home. He’s got an excellent draw and can’t be easily discounted.

The two other US runners, Hopertunity and Keen Ice are strange horses. Are they good enough? Maybe. Hoppertunity once finished a close runner-up in the Santa Anita Gold Cup. So the trip might not be beyond him. But he’s got to overcome a bad draw.

Keen Ice had excuses here on his Meydan debut and should come on for the run. But is he quick enough to be up with the pace? He doesn’t strike me as a particularly quick horse and let’s not forget he beat American Pharoah with a big challenge from off the pace, in what is to date his only graded success.

Recent Grade 1 scorer Mshawish makes more appeal. He’s taken well to the dirt but his stand out performance is a third place behind Sollow in last years Dubai Turf. He has a serious chance if he can get home over the 10f trip.

Verdict: Despite the draw Frosted appears to be the most likely winner. But nine of the eleven runners are rated within six pounds of each other, so there shouldn’t be an awful lot between the individuals. Nonetheless Special Fighter remains underappreciated. He may not be good enough in the end and flattered by his recent win, but his progressive profile is very likeable and from a decent draw he’s got every chance. He still can be backed at 14/1 which is tremendous value in my book.

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Al Quoz Sprint: Can old boy Sole Power do it again? His recent return to action here at Meydan was certainly encouraging and he’s in with a good chance in this field. Though you wonder if some younger legs may eventually get the better of him.

If it comes to the winner of this particular race don’t look further than Ertijaal. The former All-Weather-Championship winner-now-turned-sprinter has thrived at Meydan since dropped to the minimum distance. Sure enough, racing against lower opposition in handicaps, but the way he did it is jaw dropping.

Off top weight, off marks 105 and 113 respectively the last two times, yet oh so easily – this lad looks the part, physically nicely developed into a real sprinter, with a lovely turn of foot who’s perfectly suited to the flat heavenly cushioned five furlong track at Meydan. He’s not only the most likely winner of the race, but also looks a big price at 10/3.

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Dubai Turf: Can anything beat Tryster? Probably not. It’s going to be very hard. He’s produced twice at Meydan’s turf which seems to suit him perfectly well. His trademark turn of foot has seen him jump right at the head of the betting and it’s clear to see why.

Only one thing could beat him: having too much to do from off the pace turning for home. That’s always a worry with this type of horse, particularly at Meydan where in my mind you’re better of being not travelling too far off the pace.

The one horse I really like here is Mike De Kock’s Forries Waltz. He’s a bit the sexy contender, generally lightly raced, improving all the time, with further progress likely to come. He was really impressive in winning the Group 2 Al Rashidiya when last seen.

He has a good draw for the Dubai Turf which should enable him to get into a nice early position. I also feel he might be racing over his optimum trip at nine furlongs. Mike De Kock also really likes this fella, is full of praise and that in itself is a bonus.

Others to mention are obviously Intilaaq. Lightly raced and progressive last season, culminating in a Group 3 success, there is most likely more to come from him. Though the worry is not only a lack of recent run, but a lack of run at Meydan. Horses can overcome this, but you’ve better be a superstar to do that.

Euro Charline was 4th in this here last year. She could run a race for a price. Hard to know what to expect from the Japanese runner Real Steel. On paper certainly classy, but does he have the speed for this trip?

Another one I like and would consider as overpriced is Ertijaal, the South African Ertijaal, not the sprinter. He won the Cape Derby last year beating a really good horse in Act of War that day and was also placed in a huge 3yo Grade 1 the Daily News 2000. He’s done well over the winter here in Meydan, was placed behind stable mate Forries Waltz as well as a fine third behind Tryster the last time. He’s a bit to find but could finish in the money. At 33/1 he’s worth a chance.

But as the main selection I’ve got to go with the other De Kock’s horse Forries Waltz who is overpriced at 14/1. There is plenty to like about him and he’s got to go very close.

Preview: Dubai World Cup

The richest race on the planet is just around the corner – the $10 million Dubai World Cup! We could debate all day long if this race deserves its status and the incredible amount of prize money that is on offer – but let’s concentrate on the sport for the moment.

We have a field of eight runners going to post this Saturday. The controversial switch to a Dirt surface at the Meydan racetrack has certainly helped to attract at least two top class runners from the US – but not only that – it is a good international line-up this year, with two classy horses from Japan, as well as last years World Cup champion African Story. But let’s take a closer look:

California Chrome:

Last years Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes hero California Chrome made the trip over to Dubai and has been installed as the red hot favourite. Chrome proved himself a versatile horse, with Group 1 successes on Dirt and Turf alike. He came close to win the Triple Crown last season and it would have been easy to retire him to stud after such a great year, so one has to applaud connections for their brave decision to keep him in training for another season. Can he add to his impressive tally of victories?

Possibly. Chrome started the new year with a very good effort in the San Antonio Stakes. Only beaten by Shared Belief that day, this prep run should bring him along nicely for the big day. One of the few concerns is the Meydan Dirt. Seemingly different to what he knows from the US, we will have to find out on the day itself how he handles it. There are positive vibes, though, following good workouts since his arrival in Dubai.

The 2.000m trip won’t be a problem at all. He won the Derby over this distance and finished a gallant third in the Breeders Cup Classic. Usually aggressively ridden, he should be helped by the way the new Meydan Dirt track has worked out so far over the course of the season.

Lea:

A multiple Stakes winner in the US, he broke the track record at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap over 1 1/8 mile last year. He had a long lay-off afterwards but was probably near his best when reappearing in January, winning a Grade 3 over a mile. He followed up with a nice runner-up effort in the 2015 Donn Handicap. That all sets him up nicely for a crack at the Dubai World Cup and he rates a big chance.

The main question is the trip. He never tried 10f before, albeit there aren’t that many opportunities in the US to do so. He’s got a chance on pedigree, but the way the Meydan Dirt rides and the possibility of a very quick race, this is a potent concern in my mind.

African Story: 

Last years impressive World Cup winner, although back then on Tapeta, has put concerns to bed about his ability to translate his class to Dirt. A fair effort on his seasonal reappearance, followed by a very gutsy success in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3, proved that he is capable of running well on the Dirt. He hated the kick-back on his first run, but was much closer ridden to the pace the last time and that proved the deal breaker.

African Story isn’t getting any younger but his most recent run was clearly promising and over the years he has excelled under the Dubai sun. Naturally he has to be one of the main contenders, given the fact that he is proven over the course, surface and trip. He also showed guts and the right mental attitude to compete with the best on Dirt.

Prince Bishop:

A versatile and talented horse, albeit also a quirky character, Prince Bishop has been a close runner-up in two starts on the Meydan Dirt this season. He has developed a habit of starting poorly as well as racing lazily in the early parts of a race and that caught him out the last two times. He stayed on very impressively on both occasions, but the risk is there that he loses the race at the start and any ground he’d give away early on would be difficult if not probably impossible to make up in the World Cup this time.

Epiphaneia:

The 2014 Japan Cup winner is a top class horse and exciting addition to this race. If he can translate his class to the Dirt, he must be a big runner. But there is the big question mark: He’s never tried this surface On pedigree there is a possibility that he can adapt to it. But first time out here in a big race like the World Cup may prove quite a difficult task. He is a former St. Leger winner, so one has to be slightly concerned about the sharp 10f trip, particularly as early speed is so important on Dirt. It could be all happening a bit too quickly for Epiphaneia.

Hokko Tarumae

Another high class individual from Japan is trying his luck in the World Cup. Hokko Tarumae was a long way beaten in the very same race last year, but the change of surface should make a big difference to his chances. He is the reigning Japan Dirt Cup winner, in addition to a long list of other big Grade 1’s on Dirt in his home country.

Hokko Tarumae likes to be ridden close to the pace and he showed himself in good nick lately. If he travelled well over and can adapt to the Meydan Dirt surface, he should be a big chance to go really close in the Dubai World Cup this time.

Candy Boy: 

The four year old was thought to be one of the more fancied Kentucky Derby contenders last year but disappointed in the race itself and was a long way beaten by California Chrome that day. He ran out some creditable placed efforts in some big Stakes races, however was more than five lengths beaten in the Breeders Cup Classic. He looks up against it here, particularly with the trip not sure to suit.

Side Glance: 

He has been running really well in Group 1’s all over the world last season and was only half a lengths beaten in the Cox Plate when seen the last time. He was fourth in the 2013 Dubai World but has never raced on Dirt and that is an obvious concern. Worth a try with him here, but hard to fancy him against top class opposition.

Verdict: The 2015 Dubai World Cup looks an open enough renewal. The Meydan Dirt surface is a question mark for many runners, but it can be assumed that the US horses have enough class to take to it. If that is the case, then Lea but probably even more so California Chrome have to be strong contenders to land the richest race on the planet. However it would be a mistake to underestimate the local runners.

I feel that African Story in particular doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He is a proven top class performer, defending his crown, and has seemingly adapted to the new surface as his most recent success proved. He showed good gate speed that day, and if he can get a good break this time again, he’ll have a big chance to go really close. At 8/1 he looks a huge price.

The other international horses have to be respected as well. Japan’s top Dirt performer Hokko Tarumae should play a big role this time I feel. He wasn’t suited to Tapeta at all last year, but should be really suited by the test on Saturday. It is sometimes hard to know how this Japanese form translates to the international stage, though my perception is that Hokko Tarumae would be a classy Dirt performer anywhere in the world. Widely available at 12/1, he is overpriced and together with African Story I select him as a value bet against the two market leaders California Chrome and Lea.

African Story @ 8/1 Betfred – 5pts win
Hokko Tarumae @ 12/1 Paddy Power – 5pts win