1 – We have to admit that we’ve never been totally sold on Medina Spirit, even after his still-to-be-confirmed victory in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. We always thought that, sure, he’s a very nice colt, always tries hard, but not close to the same talent level of trainer Bob Baffert’s other six Derby winners, perhaps in the War Emblem ballpark, but nothing more. We even cold-watered his recent dominant five length romp in the Awesome Again S.-G1, his first try against older horses, which we attributed mostly to his unchallenged role as the controlling speed over a biased Santa Anita main track that promoted his style. Truth is, Medina Spirit has yet to win any race in which he wasn’t on the lead virtually gate to wire, and he’ll almost certainly be relegated to a stalker’s role in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, what with Knicks Go ticketed for the same race.
Medina Spirit had issues during the summer that kept him away from competition and curtailed his development for almost four months, and his comeback victory in the listed Shared Belief S. at Del Mar in mid-August, while game, was pretty blah by our standards. We had one other nagging problem with Medina Spirit. Top horses are supposed to train like top horses. Medina Spirit never did, and in fact often got outworked.
He was going to be an absolute “bet against” for us in the Classic.
But we witnessed an entirely different colt last Friday when he breezed in company with the decent multiple black-type winner Ax Man. Medina Spirit, who had made hard work of it to stay even with his usual training mate in most of their previous team drills, this time toyed with the older gelding, never taking a deep breath while galloping out full of run in a drill clocked in a rapid :59 2/5. He looked sharp. Focused. Ready. View Medina Spirit Workout Video
From a visual standpoint, it was the best we’ve ever seen him work. So, we’ve softened our stance and, dare we say, changed our mind. On Breeders’ Cup Day, Medina Spirit will be on our ticket. Prominently.
2 – The 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf comes up too quickly, and there’s always next year anyway, but the way the Irish-bred 3-year-old filly Shantisara obliterated her foes by five easy lengths in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup-G1 at Keeneland last Saturday stamps her as trainer Chad Brown’s next star in a division that he’s dominated for years. After finishing second in her U.S. debut in a listed stakes at Monmouth Park last June, the modestly bred filly has reeled off three successive wins, each with a better speed figure than her previous outing. Her four U.S. Beyer numbers, beginning with the most recent, are 99-93-87-72.
Remarkably, Shantisara could have been claimed for slightly more than $25,000 last November in her second career start when she won a modest all-weather race in Chantilly at 10-1, after which she ran three times over synthetic surfaces in the French provinces, winning once. There was nothing in her European form that would suggest she’d be even remotely this good, but of course all of that was pre-Chad Brown. She’s proven to be equally effective at a middle distance or over a marathon trip, and her tactical speed and instant acceleration make her a push-button ride for regular pilot F. Prat. It’ll be interesting to see how dominant she might become next year.
3 – A good two-year-old can emerge from any circuit on a moment’s notice and we may have seen a couple of under-the-radar types last Saturday at Delaware Park in the listed $50,000 Rocky Run Stakes. Cooke Creek (Uncle Mo) and Affable Monarch (Arrogate), both impressive debut winners last month, were the headliners over a dirt track that was labeled fast but was in actuality wet and sealed. It was Cooke Creek who remained perfect after gamely holding off his chief rival by a diminishing half-length, with the pair well-clear of the rest. The assigned Beyer speed figure of 66 hardly makes them leaders in the division but both colts appear to have enough quality to go on and win a decent race or two down the road.
To our eyes, Affable Monarch may be the one with a bit more upside, especially as his gains additional experience, and maturity. The Colt Neck Stables homebred created a highly-favorable impression sprinting at Monmouth Park last month when displaying sharp acceleration through the lane to win going away by more than six lengths, and although his rally-wide bid fell short over a slick surface he may not have grabbed, the Jorge Duarte, Jr.-trained juvenile lost nothing in defeat. He’s clearly the most promising runner from Arrogate’s first crop that we’ve seen to date and appears to be a strong colt with plenty of scope. If he’s progresses at anywhere near the same rate as his champion sire – who didn’t make it to the races until the spring of his 3-year-old season – this colt might become somebody next winter.
4 – On paper, the second on Saturday at Santa Anita looked like a salty race, a five runner seven furlong allowance sprint that that would eventually be won in a photo by the veteran state-bred former stakes winner Positivity, who bravely fought off the lightly-raced and improving 3-year-old colt Escape Route.
Behind these two were The Great One, fourth beaten just over four lengths to Medina Spirit and Rock Your World in the Shared Belief S. in his last start, and Nolo Contesto, who back in the day defeated Omaha Beach on the square before finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby-G1.
We assumed the race, clocked in a rapid 1:21 4/5, would earn a big number, so we weren’t surprised to learn that the Beyer speed figure came up 97, a career top for both horses. The result also reaffirmed our belief that the fastest horse in America is the unbeaten Tapit colt named Flightline, who, despite being geared down in the final furlong absolutely destroyed both Escape Route (by 12 and three-quarter lengths) and Positivity (14 and one-half lengths) in a similar race last month at Del Mar.
Unbeaten, untested, and never extended in two starts, Flightline won’t be participating in this Year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Instead, he’s scheduled to reappear opening day, Dec. 26, in the Malibu S.-G1, a race restricted to 3-year-olds. We’ll trust the Racing Office to entice enough brave souls to make the race go.
5 – In the Sunday Santa Anita opener, trainer Phil D’Amato (that’s Dah-MATO, not DEE-amato) had two live entrants in the six furlong maiden special weight turf sprint for fillies and mares. Tony Ann, a close third in a similar race at Del Mar in late August, was crushed on the tote (she left at 4/5 but was lower through most of the wagering) while Irish import Annaghlasa was cold on the board, hovering around 7-1 before closing at 5-1, a point above her morning line.
Tote watches assumed that Tony Ann was “supposed” to win. The “other” D’Amato? Not so much.
Indeed, Tony Ann galloped home by almost four lengths, fully justifying her favorite’s role. Annaghlasa was never knocked about in what we assume was a nice, educational introduction to North American racing, winding up nine lengths behind in fourth. But galloping out past clubhouse turn, who was in front? Yes, it was her, the “other” D’Amato.
Might want to try her next time when she stretches out to a mile on grass vs. similar maidens.