Jeff Siegel: Five Takeaways | Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021

From the week concluding September 12, 2021

1 – Best race from last week weekend occurred at Leopardstown in Ireland, where St Mark’s Basilica, after veering right and carrying out Tarnawa about eight lanes in the final quarter of a mile, survived a stewards’ inquiry (there was no contact) to win the Irish Champions S.-G1 by three-quarters of a length while reaffirming his standing as Europe’s top-ranked three-year-old.  Believed to be most effective at a mile and one-quarter but perhaps a bit suspect if tried at 12 furlongs, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt nonetheless would be a lovely addition to the Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 lineup at Del Mar in November, but from what we can gather it’s highly unlikely that such a trip will occur event though his latest victory carried with it an automatic berth through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

In fact, local observers have speculated in the days since the race that we may have seen the last of St Mark’s Basilica, which would be a shame.  Winner of the Dewhurst S.-G1 as a 2-year-old, the son of Siyoun had been successful in the French 2000 Guineas-G1, French Derby-G1, and Eclipse S.-G1 prior to Irish Champions S.-G1 success, thus accomplishing more than enough to fill the void at Coolmore left by the loss of Galileo.  

“He’s just an exceptional horse,” said O’Brien.  “We’re so lucky to have him, and it’s to keep him safe now and have him go off to stud, which is going to be very exciting for us all.”

2 – Tarnawa lost nothing in defeat.  An excellent case can be made that she should have been moved up via disqualification (Ryan Moore, aboard St Mark’s Basilica, received a one-day ban for his ride and reportedly apologized to Tarnawa’s rider, Colin Keane) but there are no plans to appeal and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner will now be pointed for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp Sunday, Oct. 3, according to trainer Dermot Weld.  Tarnawa certainly will be among the major contenders in that race; whether or not she returns to the States to defend her Breeders’ Cup Turf crown remains to be seen.

But even if she doesn’t make the trip, there will be, as usual, several other high-class European-based performers that will be considered, most of whom will have stronger credentials than any of the candidates the home team will be able to offer up.  

3 – Top performance on closing weekend at Kentucky Downs may have come courtesy of the undefeated (in two starts) Koala Princess, a runaway debut maiden winner on the front end at Monmouth Park last month and then even more visually impressive when rallying from eighth of 11 under expert handling by Joel Rosario to capture the $500,000 Ainsworth Stakes over six and one-half furlongs.  A 2-year-old Runnymeade Farm homebred daughter of More Than Ready trained by Arnaud Delacour, Koala Princess has lovely, easy action but can accelerate on a dime, and thus should certainly be as effective if not more so around two turns.
There will be talented Europeans in the field, of course, but as of now her connections have to feel good about their chances in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies turf.  She’s certainly the best among the North American ranks in the division that we’ve seen so far.  

Meanwhile, all-sources handle at a six-day Kentucky Downs meet was $74,088,532, far exceeding the record of $59.8 million set last year. A single-day handle record of $20,849,967 also was established Saturday when there was no major racing in New York (Belmont Park re-opens this Thursday) or Southern California (Santa Anita’s fall meeting begins Friday, Oct. 1).   The significance of this blossoming boutique meeting will continue in years to come as it solidifies its mid-September spot on the national racing calendar.

4 – Last year we strongly suggested – not that we thought anybody in management would listen – that Santa Anita consider restructuring its main track to grass, and its grass course to synthetic, a drastic change to be sure but one that most assuredly would produce a long term positive effect on field size and mutuel handle.  According to our theory, a horse’s career likely would  be extended if allowed to consistently compete over a more forgiving surface that in most cases would produce a slower, softer pace and one that would lend itself to more contentious racing and a much more exciting product.  Additionally, many lower end horses that are incapable of being competitive on dirt at or near the bottom claiming ranks ($8,000 in Southern California) still could earn a living at those same levels on grass, if such races could be carded over a widened course that would allow for several rail settings.

Turns out that Santa Anita management has met me half way.  Though a Woodbine-type transition apparently wasn’t practical structurally or financially, the condition book covering the first 10 days of the fall season lists 89 races (not including extras), of which 48 have been written for grass, a percentage that lands just shy of 54 percent.  And, last week it was revealed that sprint racing will resume over the popular Hillside Turf Course at Santa Anita during the upcoming fall season to compliment one-turn races on the flat that began last year and  have been extremely well-received by the horsemen and horseplayers.

5 - We clicked on to read a summary of the opening day’s key results at the Keeneland Sales.  The headline read:  “Keeneland Summer Sale Opener a Sign of Strength.”  Hey, good news!  But in the second paragraph, the story stated that the median price was $325,000, down from $330,000 in 2020, and that the buy-back rate was 39.1%, up from 36.2% from last year.  Furthermore, combined with the 45 hips that were withdrawn, there were 106 yearlings of the 201 catalogued that were not sold.  That’s 52.7%.

If these figures truly represent, “strength,” okay with me.  
From the week concluding September 6, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, handicapper & analyst

1 – Did we see the winner of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile S.-G1 in the Hopeful S.-G1 or Del Mar Futurity-G1 on Labor day?  Don’t think so.  Let’s do this chronologically and discuss the Saratoga race first.  Heavily-favored (3/5) Wit stumbled badly at the start, was needlessly rushed to make up much of the lost ground into the teeth of a torrid :44 2/5 opening half while advancing to be with range at the quarter pole, was understandably spent, yet bravely still managed to save second money, almost six lengths behind the surprising (11-1) winner Gunite.  As a son of the notorious one-turn specialist Practical Joke, Wit can’t be expected to be better (or at least as good) routing than sprinting and though the poor start certainly cost him his best chance, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt appears destined to be very much like his old man.  We’d have to think his connections will look next at the Champagne S.-G1 Oct. 2 at Belmont Park.  It’s a one-turn mile, and for now that’ll probably be his limit.  

Conversely, Gunite, from the first crop of the champion racehorse and spectacular freshman sire Gun Runner, should run on.  The Steve Asmussen-trained colt took heat and came away when asked, though it helped that the field contained no effective closers, except for High Oak, who had easily handled Gunite in the Saratoga Special last month. But after looking like a serious threat approaching the quarter pole, High Oak flattened out like the proverbial pancake.  To his credit, Gunite has never taken a backward move, showing the following Beyer speed figure progression: 83-81-73-54-43.  That’s the pattern you love to see in a 2-year-old, or any horse, for that matter.  

2 – Pinehurst was supposed to be the “other” Bob Baffert-trained colt in the Del Mar Futurity-G1.  The son of Twirling Candy, a half-length debut maiden winner last month, was handed the front end when nothing else was sent, and after cruising to the lead while always in hand easily shrugged off the stalking contingent that included his 3/5 stable mate Murray (who was awful and tossed in the towel after a half mile) to draw clear in the lane and win without a challenge.  The performance didn’t score highly on the goose-bump scale or with the Beyer boys (79), either.

Don’t get us wrong, we like Pinehurst, he’s genuine.  But the most promising 2-year-olds we saw out of this barn during the summer meeting were two sons of Quality Road, Corniche (see below), and Rhetoric, third (but moved up to second via disqualification) in his debut August 21.  The Futurity came up too quickly for the latter, but we’d expect to see him reappear over a distance of ground either in a maiden race or perhaps even in the American Pharoah S.-G1 at Santa Anita on opening day of the fall season, Friday, Oct. 1.

3 – Trainer John Sadler would rather not discuss the Santa Anita Sprint Championship-G1 or Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 as a possible next start for Flightline, arguably the fastest, most gifted racehorse he’s trained since the filly Melair in the mid-1980’s.  After breaking his maiden in April at Santa Anita by more than 13 lengths with a 105 Beyer speed figure, the son of Tapit was sidelined by a foot abscess, according to a report in Daily Racing Form.  Purchased as a yearling for $1 million, the 3-year-old colt returned in a first-level allowance race Sunday at Del Mar and romped again, this time by 12 and three-quarters lengths (eased up late), getting the six furlongs in 1:08 flat, a clocking that translates into a Beyer mark of 114.  The thing is, this colt is smart, sensible, and tractable, which is why we’re convinced he’ll get at least a mile and perhaps even a bit farther in due time.  

Sadler did mention the seven furlong Malibu S.-G1 for 3-year-olds on opening day in December at Santa Anita as a long range goal, but you’d have to think he’ll run somewhere before then. The veteran trainer knows how to handle a top class horse – he designed a masterful plan with Accelerate to win the 2019 BC Classic-G1 – and he realizes Flightline brings more pressure and responsibility than any other colt he’s ever trained, because with his pedigree, flawless conformation and raw, natural ability, Flightline has the potential to be worth millions at stud.  So, the plan, whatever it turns out to be, has to be perfect.  

4 - The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: There are 62 (not a typo) yearlings by Gun Runner entered in the Keeneland September Sales, which begins next week.  They won’t be cheap, at least the ones that can walk in a straight line.  In addition to Gunite, the freshman Candy Ride stallion also was represented by Saturday’s Spinaway S.-G1 winner Echo Zulu, an authoritative four length winner that garnered a legitimately strong 90 Beyer speed figure.  We’re not convinced Echo Zulu will be quite as effective around two turns, but for now she’s easily the current leader in the juvenile filly division

Flightline wasn’t the only sprinter to earn a stratospheric 114 Beyer over the weekend.  Baby Yoda, as 3-year-old Prospective gelding that debuted in a maiden $10,000 claimer in May at Pimlico, won a first-level allowance sprint for trainer Bill Mott at the Spa on Saturday, pressing the pace to the head of the lane and drawing clear by more than four lengths while running six and one-half furlongs in 1:14 1/5.  This represented a 21 point improvement over the 93 he was assigned in a one and one-quarter length starter’s allowance victory in his previous start in July.  Andy Beyer, himself, penned a story in the DRF three days later defending the accuracy of the ridiculously high number. It’ll be interesting to see if Baby Yoda will be able duplicate the figure next time (doubt it) or come back to earth (likely) in his next start, whenever it might be.

5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: Much more impressive visually and simply faster on the track than Pinehurst was his stable mate Corniche, a colt purchased for $1.5 million at Keeneland last year that debuted on Saturday at 50 cents on the dollar following a series of American Pharoah-type workouts.  In what almost certainly will prove to be a highly productive race, Corniche went about his business without taking a deep breath, winning by more than four lengths in a sizzling 1:03 flat while covering the final sixteenth of a mile on the lead in less than six seconds..  The Beyer speed figure of 98 makes him the fastest 2-year-old in North America, and his dam (Wasted Tears) was a multiple graded stakes winner going long on grass, so  you wouldn’t think extra distance will be any kind of issue.  It won’t be.

On the opposite side of the hype spectrum is Grace Adler.  A win by more than 11 lengths by an unbeaten (in two starts)  $700,000 2-year-old daughter of Curlin filly trained by Baffert in the seven furlong Del Mar Debutante-G1 should produce at least some buzz.  But it hasn’t. The victory, in a somewhat slow 1:23 3/5 with a final three furlong split of :39 2/5 produced a thoroughly uninspiring 74 Beyer speed figure that may even be a bit inflated due to the mild rally-wide track bias that the winner, from her cozy outside draw, took full advantage of.  Much like Baffert’s Debutante winner from last year, Princess Noor, who was far less impressive on the clock than she was through the binoculars, Grace Adler still has much to prove, though she still may turn out to be pretty good.  Remember, Curlin runners get better with both age and distance, and she will have a home field advantage of sorts in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
From the Week Concluding August 29, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, handicapper and analyst

1 – The victory by Essential Quality in the Travers S.-G1 clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division but his connections now have their sights on the Horse of the Year, and rightfully so, though there are still doubts among many form analysts as to how good he really is.  A five-time winner from six starts in 2021 – his only defeat suffered when fourth (beaten a length) in the Kentucky Derby - the son of Tapit always seems to make hard work of it when winning, very much unlike, say, American Pharoah, who would blow his opposition out of the water during his spectacular campaign in 2015.  The margins of victory in his most recent five wins are a cumulative two and one-half lengths, which brings into question whether he’s a colt that just does only what’s required or whether he’s simply beating a less than average lot of 3-year-olds and will get exposed when facing older horses, such as current kingpin (and his Brad Cox-trained stable mate) Knicks Go, whose Beyer numbers in the Cornhusker S.-G3 (113) and the Whitney S.-G1 (111) are clearly faster and more impressive.

Those concerns aside, there is nothing to prevent Essential Quality from stepping up his game during the fall, as many quality 3-year-olds will do.  We know he can handle any distance or surface (wet or dry), and because of his versatility and handiness he almost always works out a clean trip.  He’s also relentless under pressure.  As the Travers unfolded, you suspected it may take Essential Quality a while to get by the easy front-running Midnight Bourbon, but in our mind at least there was never any doubt that he would.  His Byer fig of 107 was two points less than his career top in the Belmont Stakes (109), so if you’re a handicapper enslaved by speed figures you’re probably fairly confident that he’ll get exposed eventually.  We’re not so sure about that.  

2 - Medina Spirit handed Essential Quality his only defeat in the Run for the Roses but two weeks later put up no resistance in the Preakness S.-G1 when challenged by Rombauer, fading to third, beaten more than five lengths.  Given most of the summer off, Medina Spirit returned to winning form in the listed eight furlong Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday, setting good fractions and then holding off the stalking Rock Your World, the colt he had chased home in the Santa Anita Derby-G1.  The length-and-one-quarter score earned a 100 Beyer speed figure, which is very nice number in the spring but is just decent at this time of the year for a 3-year-old.  

The two may hook up again in the Pennsylvania Derby-G1 Sept. 25.  Medina Spirit is a very good colt and, at least for now, he’s still the Kentucky Derby winner.  But he’s not Essential Quality.  As for Rock Your World,  it’s understandable his connections want him to remain on dirt and with his own age group until the big purse money runs out, but we remain convinced he’ll eventually prove better on grass.  

3 - Life Is Good had his unbeaten streak snapped in his fourth career start when missing by a neck to the high class 3-year-old sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkins Memorial S.-G1 on Travers Day but the son of Into Mischief, away since suffering an injury in March that cost him a chance to participate in the Spring Classics, returned as well as he left, and that’s pretty much all trainer Todd Pletcher was hoping to see.  What happens next?  Life Is Good was twice a stakes winner around two turns at Santa Anita last winter so the decision as to which direction to take him – either back him up to a sprint or stretch him out to a mile – will have to be made.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 as the year-end goal makes the most sense.  As for the B. C. Classic, we’re not sure a mile and one-quarter will ever be his best trip, and there just isn’t enough time to lay a proper foundation, anyway.  In due time the son of Into Mischief might stay 10 furlongs, especially next year when he’s stronger and more seasoned, but when a colt is this talented and has so much potential you have to do right by him.  The long range goal should be to keep him sound and healthy, let him properly develop, and then see what kind of fantastic 4-year-old he can become.    

4 - The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Though they may be somewhat disadvantaged for having to travel to the West Coast for Breeders’ Cup, North America’s best sprinters reside in the East this year, specifically in Steve Asmussen’s barn, and it would not be surprising to see them dominate the division throughout the remainder of 2021.  First, there’s the aforementioned Jackie’s Warrior, winner of seven of eight career starts around one turn, though it must be noted that 3-year-olds have won only nine of 37 previous BC Sprints, .  Then there’s unbeaten and brilliant fast sophomore Beau Liam, who though clearly untested, is every bit as fast on pure figures as the much more accomplished stablemate.  His second level six length allowance romp on Saturday received a 107 Beyer figure, identical to Jackie’s Warrior. Asmussen’s third high class sprinter, the 4-year-old Yaupon, overcame a mugging by Firenze Fire to win the Forego S.-G1 , though his Beyer figure (103) didn’t quite match up with his younger stable mates.

Earlier on the Saturday program, Jack Christopher, who had trained well enough to make our “Clocker’s Prime and Ready List” several weeks ago, finally got to the races and did what gamblers expected, blowing out a good field at even money almost nine lengths while earning a spectacular 92 Beyer speed figure.  The son of Munnings from a half-sister to Street Boss is bred strictly to sprint, but he’s such a good mover that he might eventually run a bit far than he’s supposed to.  

5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar – It’s not like Ginobili was never a pretty decent prospect – he finished second (beaten less than a length) to undefeated Nadal in the 2020 San Vicente S.-G2 at Santa Anita – but his last two races have left his previous lifetime form far behind, and his victory on Saturday in the Pat O’Brien S.-G2 over seven furlongs earned him a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-G1 that will be contested over the same track that has showcased his rapid recent rise to stardom.  Prior to earning a pair of triple-digit Beyer figures that also featured a nearly 10 length romp in a first-level allowance main track miler in July, the son of Munnings owned a career top Beyer of 90 (in the San Vicente) from 11 previous starts.  But those races came before trainer Richard Baltas decided to equip the gelding with blinkers.  Whether or not the addition of the hood, a return to Del Mar (where he had defeated Honor A. P. in a maiden race as a 2-year-old), or something else less apparent contributed to his sudden emergence, the fact is he’s now a viable Breeders’ Cup candidate and will have a home court advantage in November that shouldn’t be underestimated.  

Electric Ride, yet another graduate of our “Clocker’s Primed and Ready List,” was somewhat ignored on the tote (9/2) when debuting in the Saturday opener in a race that included a few other hot prospects, but it was the daughter of Daredevil (Swiss Skydiver, Shedaresthedevil, etc.) who aired by nearly nine lengths after being taken in hand and coasting home in the final sixteenth of a mile.  The John Sadler-trained juvenile, a $250,000 OBS April sale purchase, earned a strong 85 Beyer speed figure that perhaps due to the ease of the victory doesn’t quite do her justice.  
From the Week Concluding August 22, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, handicapper and analyst

1 - The career past performance chart of Malathaat makes for a very impressive resume.  Six wins from seven starts including last weekend’s Alabama S.-G1, with her only defeat occurring by a short head in the C.C.A. Oaks-G1.  Earnings of more than $1.5 million. Three Grade-1 wins from her last four starts, an accomplishment that already has clinched an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old filly division with another month of summer and an entire fall of competition still remaining.  Hall of Fame credentials, right?

But there is something about her – perhaps her good but certainly not over-the-moon speed figures, the lack of signature win over a signature rival, her grinding style, the smallish margins of her victories and the hard work required of them – that perplexes racing analysts.  How good, really, is Malathaat?  Yes, the best of her crop, for sure.  But how does she stack up with the older fillies and mares that she will face in what now has been disclosed as her next start, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1 on the first Saturday in November at Del Mar?

My take?  She will be dangerous. Very dangerous.  

In a division that is led most certainly by Letruska – she a winner of five of her last six starts (with three triple-digit Beyer figures) – Malathaat still needs to improve to reach the top, but as a 3-year-old, and by Curlin, whose best runners almost always improve with age, the T. Pletcher-trained filly from A. P. Indy’s Frizette-G1 winning daughter Dreaming of Julia has every right to be better in November than she is in August.  She’ll be fresh.  She won’t be short.  And in a race that in projecting ahead should have plenty of pace challengers, Malathaat will have every chance to do then what she did last Saturday.  

2 – The victory by Tripoli in the Pacific Classic-G1 wasn’t surprising if for no other reason than the Southern California older male division has taken turns beating each other throughout the year, and apparently, last Saturday, it was his turn.  Over a racetrack that was extremely kind to speed and the inside lanes, the 10-furlong main track event presented Tizamagician with a golden opportunity as the controlling speed, and as the field hit the midpoint of the far turn he appeared destined for victory. But when the R. Mandella-trained colt tried to put distance between himself and the stalkers, he couldn’t shrug off the ground-saving Tripoli, who simply overpowered his main foe enroute to his first ever stakes win and career top Beyer speed figure of 104.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 will be staged over this same track and distance, and Tripoli, a son of Kitten’s Joy who by rights shouldn’t even like dirt, now must be considered a legitimate threat, though at this stage he’s nowhere near Knicks Go on resume or speed figures, not to mention the John Gosden’s Mishriff, the Saudi Cup winner who has been described by his trainer as the “ideal mile and one-quarter horse.”  But give Tripoli his due.  He’s gotten better.  Needs to do more, yes, but there’s still time.  

3 – It was the fictional character Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez) who said in White Men Can’t Jump, “sometimes when you win, you lose, and sometimes when you lose you win.” Not sure how high Rhetoric can jump but he would have needed to leap over both Forbidden Kingdom and Kamui to win the Saturday fourth race at Del Mar after being blocked, bumped, and shut off in the final sixteenth of the abbreviated sprint for maiden juveniles. Eventually, he passed the wire behind those two when missing by only half-length, so he lost, technically.  The bettors lost, and, yes, they really lost, even though the Quality Road colt from terrific Grade-1 winner Hard Not to Like eventually was moved up to second.  But you know who also lost but who really, really won?  Trainer Bob Baffert, and the colt’s multi-ownership connections, because in defeat they came away knowing they had the best colt in the race, a colt who in no way shape or form wants to sprint, and a colt which, like most Baffert youngsters, seems certain to get better with every subsequent race and every added furlong.  

Baffert can run him back vs. maidens over a mile, or he might just wait to stretch him out in the American Pharoah S.-G1 during the fall Santa Anita meeting and, assuming he wins (he will) use that race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. We’ve seen some nice 2-year-olds so far this summer, both at Del Mar and Saratoga.  But if you’re talking “down the road,” my future bet goes to Rhetoric.  

4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga – Trainer Wesley Ward had the Skidmore Stakes for 2-year-olds on Friday pretty much covered no matter what surface the race ended up being contested on.  Kaufymaker was turf only, but when the race was switched to dirt, she came out, and her main track-only stable mate Averly Jane came in.  The daughter of Midshipman didn’t waste any breath running alone, annihilating her foes by more than seven lengths in a rapid 1:03.79, earning a powerful 86 Beyer in the process.  Now undefeated in three starts by a combined 19 lengths with wins on good, sloppy, and fast ground, she was a mere $35,000 yearling purchase bred by the University of Kentucky.  Her bankroll has risen to $193,140.  She will be earning more.  

First place runaway maiden winner of the week goes to the debuting Todd Pletcher-trained colt My Prankster, who embarrassed what we thought was a good maiden field by 10 lengths on Saturday in 1:16.27.  The Beyer speed figure was 92.  Fast. A $600,000 Fasig-Tipton Select yearling purchase by Into Mischief, he’s a from My Wandy’s Girl, a champion race mare imported from Puerto Rico who won several good sprint stakes racing mostly on the Maryland circuit seven or eight years ago.  
Second place runaway maiden winner of the week is Makin My Move, a John Kimmel-trained daughter of Carpe Diem who toyed with state bred fillies in the Friday second race, winning by more than 12 lengths in 1:10.92.  The final time translates into 71 Beyer speed figure, which doesn’t make her Ruffian, but still is pretty good for two-year-old New York-bred filly.  Carpe Diem has been on the soft side so far as a sire but Keeneland shoppers looking to spend in the teens could do worse.

5 – The weekly Wash from Del Mar– No trainer was colder than Phil D’Amato during the first two weeks of racing at Del Mar and no trainer has been hotter since at the seaside oval.  D’Amato, best known for turning modest, inexpensive English and Irish imports into stakes performances (hello, Going Global), finally received the opportunity to train a fancy Kentucky-bred two-year-old and guess what, he can do that, too.  Ain’t Easy, a $400,000 Keeneland yearling by Into Mischief from a young group-stakes placed Australian mare, received no wagering action despite the presence of Joel Rosario in the saddle and a 59 4/54 local gate drill.  Fooled me.  She settled in mid-pack early but then accelerated like a good filly to win by more than five lengths in 1:04.65 in the Saturday opener.  Visually, she was better than her assigned 73 Beyer number, and while we know the Into Mischiefs can do anything, this filly’s female family is mostly quality speed, so it’ll be interesting to see how far she wants to go.  We’re saying at least a mile, no problem.  

Because he wears four bandages and has had to be stopped and started on a couple of times in the last  18 months, Mo Forza doesn’t really resonate as one of North America’s most durable (and best) turf milers, but his winning performance in the Del Mar Mile-G2 on Saturday in his first outing in almost 11 months was thoroughly gratifying to his owners, and trainer Peter Miller.  A winner of this same race last year off a long layoff, the son of Uncle Mo now has captured seven of 13 career starts, and if he can get to the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 in November over this same course and distance in peak form, well, let’s just say the Europeans better not bring their second stringers.  
From the Week Concluding August 15, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, handicapper and analyst

1 - After Bolshoi Ballet flopped in the Saratoga Invitational Derby-G1 Aug. 7, winding up a no-excuse fourth at even money behind fellow Irish shipper, the 21-1 long shot State of Rest, the plausible explanation was that he had “Euro-bounced” after being so impressive in his previous cross-Atlantic foray when winning the Belmont Derby-G1 in early June.  Had Bolshoi Ballet done what was expected and win again, there would have been fewer doubters that Santa Barbara, for the same connections, would be able to repeat her thoroughly dominating victory in her U.S. debut, the Belmont Oaks Invitational-G1, when she returned for the Beverly D. S.-G1 at Arlington Park on Saturday.  Didn’t happen.  Inside the furlong pole, Santa Barbara roared past Mean Mary (who had her chances greatly compromised after breaking through the gate prior to the start) to win as impressively as she had done at Belmont Park.  The 3-year-old daughter of Camelot seems highly-likely to return to the States for a third time to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar.

Last week we opined that the late-developing War Like Goddess had become the best long distance North American based turf filly following her visually stunning victory in the Glens Falls S.-G2 at Saratoga.  We’ll stick with that because the younger Santa Barbara technically isn’t North American based – she does her training at Aidan O’Brien’s yard in Ireland – but in a division that is often far less glamorous that some of the others, this impeding collision between these two exceptional fillies is something to really look forward to.

2 - What was Got Stormy doing in the Grade-1 Fourstardave Handicap, anyway? Yeah, she won it two years ago, but wasn’t she far past her prime, having finished off the board in three of her last four starts, with a low-rated Grade-3 victory against moderate fillies and mares sandwiched in between?  Isn’t she better sprinting? That’s what we thought. That’s what many of the serious bettors believed, who let her go at 12-1.  Glad to be wrong (preferred the runner-up Set Piece, who flew home but too late, I’ll live with it).  Her winning 103 Beyer speed figure equaled the number she earned when second to Halladay in this race last year, so we can safely assume that the now 6-year-old mare, a winner of 12 races from 30 career starts while consistently facing the best males and females North America, really hasn’t lost too many steps after all, and that’s a credit to the newly enshrined Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, who’s had her for all but her first two races.

She’ll face the boys again in the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Del Mar (she won the Matriarch S.-G1 there in 2019) but before that probably have a prep, maybe sprinting next month at Kentucky Downs.  We’ll probably wind up trying to beat her again on Championship day in November but a big part of us will rooting for her, nonetheless.

3 -  We don’t second guess the Southern California stewards very often.  Actually, we almost always agree with their decisions.  Not so with their ruling to disqualify Next Revolt from first to fourth in the Thursday fifth race at Del Mar.  Under Flavian Prat, the gelding came over a half lane – okay, perhaps a bit more -  entering the stretch on the already faltering Invictatatus, forcing that one to check and briefly steady.  Invictatatus was never, ever, ever going to win or finish second (he wound up being beaten 10 lengths), but a case could be made that he may have been able to salvage third money, even though the incident happened more than a furlong before the wire.  Next Revolt’s owners (that’s who I identify with) lost a winner’s purse of $16,800 while the handicappers (not me) who correctly tabbed the original first place finisher at 9/2 got nothing, not to mention the bettors who played the race correctly in rolling exotics and got knocked out, too.

Yes, Prat was careless, give him days (they did), but horse players should be part of the equation, too – and we’re not referring to the ones that got kissed in, but those who played the race properly and deserved to be rewarded.  In these situations, you have to have your priorities in order.  In adjudicating an inquiry or a foul claim, and it’s a close call, shouldn’t the judges consider who would be wronged the most?  In this case, would it be the owner of the much-the-best original winner and those that correctly played him?  Or the owner of the badly beaten “fouled” horse who lost $1,680 (the difference in purse money from third to fourth) and the show bettors who got $2.80 after their horse got moved up?

4 – The Weekly Wash from Saratoga: Sunday’s first race winner Silipo, a 2-year-old by Candy Ride making his debut for a $40,000 tag, did what was required in registering a more than three length win in a modest 1:06.13 and was claimed by Bruce Brown.  In watching the gelding’s action, the old L.A. Ram split end Crazy Legs Hirsch suddenly popped into my mind.  Wisconsin Badger fans are aware that Crazy Legs has been rated the 94th best player in NFL history by The Athletic. . .Street Vendor rallied from eighth to second into the teeth of slow splits in the Sunday second when debuting going long on the turf for Todd Pletcher.  The Nyquist colt brought $500,000 as a yearling.  He’s not worth it just yet.  Soon, maybe. . .Really believed hot recent maiden winner Ducale would come right back on the raise in the Saturday eighth but the Twirling Candy colt flipped in the paddock and had to be scratched.  If he’d run, it’s highly unlikely he would have challenged Speaker’s Corner.  In his first start since beating Caddo River in a 2-year-old maiden race last October, the Street Sense colt returned better than he left for trainer Bill Mott, winning by more than five lengths in 1:22.29, which translates to a 101 Beyer Speed figure. He may be the late developing 3-year-old star we’ve been waiting for all summer.

Most of the time it's better to believe what you see, not what you read.  Grade-1 winner Simply Ravishing, beaten more than 19 lengths as the favorite in the Ashland S.-G1 at Keeneland in her sophomore debut, returned in the Thursday third, the Saratoga Dew Handicap.  The assistant trainer was quoted in the DRF about how ready she was, how terrific she had trained.  We went to the website to watch one of her recent works.  She looked awful.  Dead on the board and not even favored, she wound up last of five, beaten 23 lengths, by Dancing Kiki. . .Two-year-old maidens who win at six furlongs on this track and go faster than 1:11 have done something noteworthy.  Key Point, a New York-bred son of Into Mischief, ran 1:10.89 as a debut winner in the Thursday fifth, but didn’t really figure out what was required of him until the final sixteenth, at the which time he apparently realized the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line.  Yeah, we like his chances in state bred stakes, but his connections may have larger goals in mind.  

5 – The Weekly Wash from Del Mar: The Steve Miyadi-trained Saul’s Call looked like he was worth the money when he blew out a juvenile maiden $50,000 field by more than six lengths on Sunday.  At least one trainer thought so, but the claim was voided by the state veterinarian.  Sometimes, it works the other way. Later that same day in the fourth race, Big Well was claimed for $20,000 but finished last.  That claim was voided, too. . .Does anybody in California do better with European imports than trainer Phil D’Amato?  Keep in mind that these aren’t proven stakes winners he’s getting, more like modest handicappers.  His 2-year-old filly Helen’s Well had a prior run earlier this year at some track called Rosscommon in Ireland (she finished fourth), made her U.S. debut in the Saturday fifth, and after walking out of the gate rallied with purpose to score as miles best like a filly who’ll certainly return in stakes company next time out.

While we’re on the subject of juvenile fillies running long on the lawn, you can never be sure what you’ll see in a maiden California-bred event.  Most of the time you won’t see much.  Not so in the Thursday fourth race when Dendera and Eleuthera left the others far behind, with the latter particularly impressive in her second place finish in her debut for trainer Ben Cecil.  The Square Eddie filly was given far too much to do in a poorly timed ride but finished full of run to be a distant second while preserving her maiden status that will provide additional experience next time, assuming, of course, they run her back vs. maidens.  She’s owned by Paul Reddam. . .Claim of the week was made by Ryan Hanson, who took English-bred gelding Barristan The Bold on the big class drop for $32,000 from Friday’s second race.  Finished third, should have galloped.  

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