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Blog - RACING

September went out with a bang this weekend when both Santa Anita and Belmont Park hosted incredible days of racing with cards appropriately named “Super Saturday” serving as their signature fall events.

The biggest race of the weekend when it came to the Breeders’ Cup Classic picture was definitely the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. Not only were the winners of some of the biggest older male race entered in the Gold Cup but Orb and Palace Malice also took a chance at the elders in a race expected to clear up the 3-year-old male championship picture.

Penelope Miller's Super Saturday Diaries

Day 1: Super Saturday at Santa Anita

Day 2: Corner Stop Before Opening Day

Day 3: A Spectacular Day

Unfortunately for those two, Ron the Greek pulled a major upset to win the race by an impressive 6 ¾ lengths after taking the lead on the turn. While this win for Ron the Greek wouldn’t have been surprising last year, that isn’t the case this season. The 6-year-old horse hasn’t won a graded stakes since last June (he was 1-for-9 coming into the Gold Cup after that win) but he has quite the impressive career résumé.

Ron the Greek has managed to pull off wins in the Santa Anita Handicap, Stephen Foster Handicap, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, definitely an impressive trifecta. His overall record is very consistent as well with top-four placings in many of the country’s top dirt races, yet he still went off at odds of 21-to-1, probably a major oversight by many bettors. He definitely won’t go into the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the favorite but he shouldn’t go off at odds near that high either. But trainer Bill Mott also wouldn’t be surprised if Ron the Greek doesn’t have a duplicate race to the Gold Cup in the Classic.

“There wouldn't have been many horses who would have beaten [Ron the Greek] yesterday,” he said on Sunday. “He might have fired his best shot right there. I'm not [going to be] disappointed if he doesn't fire that one back.”

On the 3-year-old front, Palace Malice finished second in the race. In my opinion, that puts him in the driver’s seat for the championship for one reason: Orb finished last in the race (according to Shug McGaughey’s assistant trainer, he came out of the race just fine). It’s doubtful Orb will continue on to the Classic after that performance but after finishing second against many of the Breeders’ Cup Classic-bound horses, the same can’t be said for Palace Malice.

On the other coast, Mucho Macho Man showed that his connections made the right decision sending him to Santa Anita for a prep race before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A very popular horse among racing fans, Mucho Macho Man came from midpack to score his first Grade 1 victory in the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes. He finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the same track last year and seems to really love it, setting him up well for the Classic.

“I just hope we can get ready for the [Breeders’ Cup] races,” said Kathy Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man’s trainer. “He’s doing great. I don’t know what else to say right now. He’s doing real well.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mucho Macho Man go off as one of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He proved last year that he can handle the Classic and this victory shows that it wasn’t a fluke that he finished as well as he did. The big question for him comes in the form of another horse that loves Santa Anita, Game On Dude.

MUCHO MACHO MAN GOT HIS FIRST GRADE 1 VICTORY IN THE AWESOME AGAIN

Awesome Again Hero

Photo courtesy of Benoit & Associates

Game On Dude came up just short in the 2011 Classic before a disappointing seventh in the 2012 edition, but he definitely is better than ever before. Getting past Game On Dude will probably be the toughest challenge Mucho Macho Man will face this year.

Paynter continued his fairytale in the race as well, finishing second. It obviously was one notch below what his connections were hoping for but it was good enough to send him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If he can pull off a win in the Classic, it may be the best comeback in all of sports.

Another interesting note is that Fort Larned snuck under the radar with a win on Saturday as well. Entered in the inaugural $175,000 Homecoming Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs, he basically had a paid workout. Don’t let the race chart fool you, the only danger he was in was of losing focus. Brian Hernandez did have to go to the whip a few times but from his other actions, it was obvious last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner was playing around on the lead. I don’t think he’s the same horse as last year but this isn’t the strongest group of older dirt horses (exempting Game On Dude), so he could sneak in and get a win again in the Classic.

If Fort Larned does win a second Classic, he’ll join Tiznow as the only two horses to win two Breeders’ Cup Classics.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff prep races were probably the two most interesting races of the day with two elite 3-year-old fillies taking on older fillies and mares.

Princess of Sylmar proved how good she really is when she beat champion Royal Delta in the $400,000 Beldame Invitational. Labeled as the “Royal Showdown,” the race wasn’t really a showdown at all. Royal Delta did manage to stick with Princess of Sylmar for a bit but it was obvious that her young rival was just toying with the more experienced mare. Princess of Sylmar won by two lengths while the third-place horse was nowhere to be found.

The win secures Princess of Sylmar’s title of best 3-year-old filly right now but depending on Breeders’ Cup Distaff results, that could theoretically be in danger. Princess of Sylmar isn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and her connections would have to pay to supplement her to the race. If she doesn’t go and Beholder wins the Breeders’ Cup Distaff against Royal Delta, it could raise some questions.

Trainer Todd Pletcher addressed the Breeders’ Cup question the morning after the race, with an indecisive response to the question that everyone wants answered.

“With the way yesterday's races are positioned, five weeks out from the Breeders' Cup, it gives us time to sort out how everyone is doing and how everyone came out of the races,” he said. “Hopefully, we can sit back and let them tell us what the right decision is.”

If they do decide to supplement her into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she has a free trip as the Beldame was a “Win and You’re In” race for the Distaff.

On the other side of the country, Beholder faced a good group of older fillies and mares in the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes and made the challenge appear simple.

Gary Stevens, who also rode Mucho Macho Man in the Awesome Again, and the champion filly went straight to the lead out of the gate and never faced a serious threat. She was pressured by Include Me Out and Joyful Victory on the final turn but showed that did not bother her by speeding off to pull away by three lengths in early stretch. Stevens eased up on the filly and gave her a hand ride to the finish line, leaving something for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

“Gary [Stevens] is a great rider. He always has been … but I don’t want to take away from the filly,” said Richard Mandella, Beholder’s trainer. “The filly’s very special. I’m very proud of her. She’ll go in the [Breeders’ Cup] Distaff [on Nov. 1] after this. … She’s just a filly that really likes the fight. She likes going to battle and it comes out when the race is run.”

Beholder won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year at Santa Anita. If she were to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff this year, she would become the first filly to pull off the double since the Breeders’ Cup was started in 1984. Theoretically, the win could also get her the 3-year-old filly championship but the odds are not in her favor unless she beats Princess of Sylmar in the race.

SUPER WEEKEND BREEDERS' CUP CHART

BC Division

Race

Track

Dist.

Time

Top 3

Classic

Jockey Club Gold Cup*

Belmont

 1 ¼ miles

1:59.70

Ron the Greek
Palace Malice
Flat Out

Classic

Awesome Again Stakes*

Santa Anita

1 1/8 miles

1:48.30

Mucho Macho Man
Paynter
Soi Phet

Classic

Homecoming Stakes

Churchill Downs

1 1/8 miles

1:48.58

Fort Larned
Windswept
Worldly

Classic

Oklahoma Derby

Remington Park

1 1/8 miles

1:49.44

Broadway Empire
Cameo Appearance
Carve

Distaff

*Beldame Invitational

Belmont

1 1/8 miles

1:47.93

Princess of Sylmar
Royal Delta
Centring

Distaff

*Zenyatta Stakes

Santa Anita

1 1/16 miles

1:42.11

Beholder
Authenticity
Joyful Victory

Juvenile

*FrontRunner Stakes

Santa Anita

1 1/16 miles

1:45.02

Bond Holder
Dance With Fate
Tamarando

Juvenile

Futurity Stakes

Belmont

6 furlongs

1:09.64

In Trouble
Corfu
Big Sugar Soda

Juvenile Fillies

*Chandelier Stakes

Santa Anita

1 1/16 miles

1:44.91

Secret Compass
She’s a Tiger
Fascinating

Juvenile Fillies

Matron Stakes

Belmont

 6 furlongs

1:10.57

Miss Behaviour
Sweet Whiskey
Gracer

Turf

*Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

Belmont

 1 ½ miles

2:25

Little Mike
Big Blue Kitten
Real Solution

Turf

*John Henry Turf Championship

Santa Anita

 1 ¼ miles

1:57.47

Indy Point
Vagabond Shoes
Lucayan

Filly & Mare Turf

*Flower Bowl Invitational

Belmont

1 ¼ miles

2:02.34

Laughing
Tannery
Mystical Star

Filly & Mare Turf

*Rodeo Drive Stakes

Santa Anita

 1 ¼ miles

1:58.98

Tiz Flirtatious
Marketing Mix
Vionnet

Sprint

*Vosburgh Invitational

Belmont

6 furlongs

1:08.02

Private Zone
Justin Phillip
Strapping Groom

Dirt Mile

*Kelso Handicap

Belmont

1 mile

1:34.08

Graydar
Brujo de Olleros
Hymn Book

*denotes Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race

Bond Holder showed that a move to dirt was just what the doctor ordered when he broke his maiden in the $250,000 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita.

Bond Holder rolled from the back of the field to get the win by 2 ¼ lengths in his fifth start. The Mineshaft colt hadn’t performed poorly in previous races, with a second and two thirds at Del Mar over the summer (he debuted in an ungraded stakes at Hollywood Park and finished fifth) but he definitely seemed to prefer the dirt.

“We had great expectations for this horse even though he was a maiden,” said Leandro Mora, trainer Doug O’Neill’s assistant. “He ran a huge race at Del Mar [second on Aug. 31] and we knew we had a legitimate horse. [Jockey] Mario [Gutierrez] has ridden the horse every time but we told him just to let the horse alone and let him do his thing the last quarter of a mile. That’s the way this horse likes to run; the last quarter of a mile.”

Doug O’Neill also had another Grade 1 winner on the day when Private Zone won the $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont during their Super Saturday program. Both horses look to be headed toward their respective Breeders’ Cup races as both won “Win and You’re In” races.

For fans of I’ll Have Another, Bond Holder comes from the same connections as the 2012 Kentucky Derby winner.

The day after Bond Holder won on the West Coast, In Trouble had no trouble winning the $200,000 Futurity Stakes at Belmont. By second-crop sire Tiz Wonderful, In Trouble seems like he might be a very nice colt with potential to improve when stretching out to longer races (his two races have come at 5 ½ furlongs and six furlongs).

In Trouble briefly challenged Corfu out of the gate but let Corfu go for the lead, sitting in the second spot a few lengths behind the speedy juvenile. But when he was asked to go by Joe Rocco Jr. in the stretch, he took off and easily passed Corfu for the win.

I think he’ll be an unknown in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile if trainer Tony Dutrow decides to send him, especially since the longest he has raced is six furlongs, but he could be interesting in other races later this year. 

IN TROUBLE ENDED BELMONT'S STAKES WEEKEND WITH A WIN

In -troublenyra

Photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglinese Photos

Unfortunately for In Trouble, he has come along during the year that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint doesn’t exist anymore, as that race probably would have been perfect for him.

Secret Compass was somewhat of a surprise in the $250,000 Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday. She had only won one other race and finished fourth last time out against some of the same fillies in this field, so I questioned if she could really improve on that in this spot. But the added distance seemed to help her as she went from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and the change to dirt probably also helped. She raced midpack for the first half-mile but then moved up to second as She’s a Tiger looked like she would be the winner. Secret Compass gradually caught She’s a Tiger but the filly who impressed me even more was Fascinating, who finished third.

Fascinating has had tough luck and is still trying to break her maiden but she flew into contention at the end and finished third by just three-quarters of a length. If she would have had another few feet, we could be talking about how she broke her maiden in this race. To put her finish into prospective, as they entered the stretch, she was more than 4 ½ lengths back and looked to be even farther back midway down the stretch, but she was fast enough to catch up to the other two in what turned out to be a race record time.

All three fillies will be going to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Secret Compass earning her spot with the win through the “Win and You’re In” program.

In the $200,000 Matron Stakes run on Sunday at Belmont, Miss Behaviour showed that she could be a threat in the 2-year-old filly division in races to come … as long as they are sprints. The 2-year-old blew past Sweet Whiskey in the Matron Stakes as they came around the far turn but by the finish line it looked like she was doing a lot just to stay in front. There are plenty of good sprint races out there, so I would be a fan if they run her in one of those. It definitely looks like the six furlongs of the Matron may be her limit.

FANS ENJOY FOOD TRUCK OFFERINGS AT SANTA ANITA

Graded stakes races on both coasts had consequences for many divisions. Below are some thoughts I had on other races this weekend:

  • The $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational wasn’t too much of a guessing game to begin with. Laughing looked solid going into the race without a loss this year and bettors also noticed that. She was a paired entry with Tannery, which was bad luck betting-wise for fans of that filly, and probably contributed to the pair going off at 3-to-5 compared with the second choice’s 5.70-to-1 odds. I’m still not sure who thought it would be a good idea to let Laughing get away with possibly the slowest turf fractions of the weekend - at least in stakes races - but it definitely helped her out since she had to work a bit to keep the lead at the end.
  • Laughing isn’t nominated for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf so she would have to be supplemented to the race. However, if she does go there, she will probably compete with Beverly D. Stakes winner Dank for favoritism in the race, which would look good for sire Dansili, who is the sire of both females.
  • I felt much more confident in Tiz Flirtatious’ win in the $250,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes than Laughing’s in relation to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf because she looked better while running faster. She has also proved that the California turf suits her, so that’s another bonus going into the race. Before the Beverly D. Stakes, Marketing Mix was considered the best turf route mare to make a start in America (she finished fourth in the Beverly D.) so Tiz Flirtatious beating her by a head is also a positive sign in my mind.
  • I’ll admit I was a Little Mike doubter this weekend. I thought last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner was past his prime and that the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes would be yet another race that he’d fail in this year. But I was massively wrong. The gelding must have heard that he had to perform well in this race to go on to the Breeders’ Cup as he held off two serious turf horses to win the race. Little Mike probably won’t go into the race as the favorite based on his overall performance this year, but he will bring in some money due to his Breeders’ Cup win last year. The challenge will be finding out if this was a one-time performance this year or if trainer Dale Romans has finally got his charge back to running at the level he was at last year.
  • There’s not much to say about the $400,000 Kelso Handicap except that Graydar is pretty awesome at a mile. Coming back off a long layoff to win a graded stakes is a tough task and he pulled it off. But the margins between the top-five finishers in the race (about 4 ½ lengths) show that the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile could be interesting this year. Trainer Todd Pletcher believes that with more conditioning between the Kelso and the Dirt Mile, Graydar could be even better going into the race, a tall order for a horse that is undefeated this year, all in graded stakes company.

GRAYDAR WON THE KELSO TO EARN A BREEDERS' CUP SPOT

Graydar Kelso Eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

  • Private Zone gave Doug O’Neill the first half of a cross-country double when he won the Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old gelding started his career in Panama where he had some major behavioral problems on the track, so O’Neill has done a great job with him to hit the board in all but two stakes races since he got the gelding in July 2012. With a weaker Sprint division, Private Zone could definitely be a threat in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, although it’s doubtful he’ll go off as a favorite.
  • Indy Point made up for disappointing effort as the favorite in the Arlington Million last month when he won the $150,000 John Henry Turf Championship on Sunday at Santa Anita. The colt made a big run from midpack to capture the final graded stakes race of the weekend, his second win out of three starts in the U.S. Indy Point has proven he is one of the top horses on the California turf, so it won’t be a surprise if he is one of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, a race that he just earned a spot in with today’s win. An even bigger story today may be Gary Stevens winning four of seven stakes races at Santa Anita this weekend. If he keeps all the mounts from the stakes wins, he will have a full card during the Breeders’ Cup weekend, not too bad for a man that came out of a seven-year retirement earlier this year.


Image Description

Melissa Bauer-Herzog

Melissa Bauer-Herzog was born and raised in Vancouver, Wash. where she grew up riding horses in all-around events. After graduating from West Texas A&M with a B.S. in Mass Communication she spent the summer of 2012 interning at the United States Equestrian Federation and working at the Paulick Report. Melissa joined America’s Best Racing in December 2012 while interning with Three Chimneys Farm in their marketing communications division.

Image Description

Melissa Bauer-Herzog

Melissa Bauer-Herzog was born and raised in Vancouver, Wash. where she grew up riding horses in all-around events. After graduating from West Texas A&M with a B.S. in Mass Communication she spent the summer of 2012 interning at the United States Equestrian Federation and working at the Paulick Report. Melissa joined America’s Best Racing in December 2012 while interning with Three Chimneys Farm in their marketing communications division.

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