Jeff Siegel: Five Takeaways | Week Ending October 11, 2021

1 – We’ve always been suspicious of absurdly high speed figures earned at Saratoga. We’re not saying some of these numbers were necessarily incorrect or inaccurate, only that they are rarely repeated.  Three times in recent weeks big figure winners flopped at short-prices in their next start after earning monster Beyer numbers at the Spa in their previous outing. New York honks always seem to take the bait, but the successful player must remain suspicious until these figs can be confirmed as a true indicator of a horse’s high-end ability.

On October 2, Beau Liam was the ridiculously over bet favorite at 50 cents on the dollar in the Ack Ack S.-G3 after earning Beyer numbers of 107 and 106 in his previous two starts at Saratoga, both allowance races.  Despite a perfect trip, the Liam’s Map colt couldn’t deliver the goods, winding up second to the hard-knocking stakes-proven journeyman older horse Plainsman.  Beau Liam was assigned a Beyer number of 98.

On Saturday in the Vosburgh S.-G1 at Belmont Park, Baby Yoda, he of the Dr. Fageresque 114 Beyer speed figure earned in a first-level Saratoga allowance sprint win the previous month, apparently “bounced” (do figure guys still use that term?) when winding up third of four behind Flattering Sea, beaten more than seven lengths.  He was assigned a Beyer number of 84.  That’s 20 points less than his out-of-whack Saratoga speed figure.  The ex-$10,000 maiden claimer did have a bit of early trouble.  But not 20 points worth.  

Finally, there is the case of Classic Causeway, a runaway Saratoga maiden sprint winner last month and the earner of a powerful Beyer speed figure of 90.  Yes, he was visually impressive in victory, though after reading some of the praises heaped upon him leading into the Breeders’ Futurity-G1 at Keeneland last Saturday we would have thought he was next coming of American Pharoah.  Once again, a huge figure accomplished at Saratoga – one that earned him the favorite’s role at 9/5 - proved unreliable as the Giant’s Causeway colt quickly got over from his outside draw to make the running without undue pressure, set fairly quick but what shouldn’t have been too-fast-for-the-level early fractions, and then came up empty when pressure was applied.  Classic Causeway wound up a faltering third, beaten just under five lengths.  His Beyer number shrunk to 73, a 17 point drop off from his apparently inflated maiden victory.  

These are just three recent examples, but we could point out so many more.  It’s something to remember next year when evaluating big figure Saratoga winners.  Gotta be careful.  

2 – The winner of the Breeders’ Futurity turned out to be Rattle N Roll (8-1), a middle distance maiden winner at Churchill Downs in his third career start with a very modest 69 Beyer speed figure but with a developing pattern that signaled the likelihood of continued improvement with distance and experience.  From the first crop of Curlin’s Cigar Mile S.-G1 winning son Connect, the $200,000 Saratoga yearling purchase never had a straw in his path when rallying outside from mid-pack to register the four length victory.  Though the assigned Beyer figure of 81 won’t scare anybody, the Ken McPeek-trained colt did it the way we liked, and though he’ll be facing competition with faster figures (mostly earned in sprint races) at Del Mar he has to be considered a legitimate threat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1 based if nothing else on his proven ability around two-turns.  

3 – Golden Pal, winner of the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf and expected to be a major player in this year’s BC Turf Sprint-G1, won his final prep for that race over the weekend at Keeneland at 50 cents on the dollar when capturing the Woodford S.-G2 by more than two lengths.  However, as the race unfolded, it seemed more likely that he wouldn’t even finish in the frame, because after breaking well and quickly establishing the pace, he appeared off the bridle and in deep water after being engaged at the quarter pole.  The same scenario unfolded in his previous start in late August overseas at York as the second choice in the Nunthorpe S.-G1.  In that five furlong straightaway dash, the son of Uncle Mo buckled under pressure and crossed the wire a weak and fading seventh of 14.  It appeared the same result was about to happen.

However, this time the Wesley Ward-trained 3-year-old found extra and drew clear, but his victory, assigned a demoralizing (and eight points less than his career top) 88 Beyer speed figure against weaker competition than he’ll see at Del Mar, makes you wonder if he should be a “bet-against” on Breeders’ Cup Day.  To his advantage will be the abbreviated trip of five furlongs (dictated by the course layout), the extremely firm course, and the short run in from the top of the stretch to the wire, so the conditions certainly will suit. But, as of today, we’re planning to look elsewhere.  

4 – If you were asked to name the top 2021 North American based turf runner heading into the Breeders’ Cup, could you?  Whether you’re restricting the discussion to the middle-distance division, to those that compete at marathon distances, or simply combining the two groups into one big mediocre package, it’s readily apparent that the regular participants in the traditional grass Grade-1 events for older horses on both coasts have been thoroughly uninspiring throughout the year.  

In the final two major Grade-1 races for grass specialists prior to the Breeders’ Cup over the weekend, the first two finishers of the Keeneland Turf Mile, In Love and Tell Your Daddy, were 12-1 and 29-1 respectively in a race in which the 6/5 favorite, last year’s BC Mile-G1 winner Order of Australia, failed to show up with anything close to his best and checked in a no-excuse dead last.  Meanwhile, in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic-G1 at Belmont Park, Rockemperor (15-1) and Serve the King (14-1) wound up first and second, as the 9/5 favorite Gufo, a nice horse on his best day but nothing more, couldn’t sustain his premature move into a crawling pace and, after hitting the front entering the stretch, lost his steam to wind up a well-beaten third.

Having been assigned the Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 as “my race” to handicap for the 2021 Xpressbet Wagering Guide, I will make it easy on myself by circling the pre-entered runners flying in from Europe and restricting my analysis that group.  I don’t know who will be among them, but I don’t care, because that’s where I’m expecting to find the winner, and probably the second and third place finishers, as well.

5 – Letruska was 40 cents on the dollar to win the Spinster S.-G1 at Keeneland on Sunday and did what she’s pretty much done all year, that is, find a field without much early speed, take control early, and then dominate gate to wire.  Her Beyer numbers dating back from her most recent victory are 101, 101, 102, 103, and 102, strong and consistent to be sure but not overwhelming dominant. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from her, especially in races in which the pace flow allows her to obtain her coveted roll as the controlling speed.  

Only twice in her 16 starts since arriving from Mexico has the 5-year-old mare not been able to secure the lead at the first call, and both times she was beaten, in the 2020 Ballerina S.-G2 over seven furlongs (sat second early, faded to fifth) and the 2021 Azeri S.-G2 at Oaklawn Park in March (stalked in third, then missed by a head when second Shedaresthedevil).

The Del Mar main track can be anything management wants it to be.  We’ve seen it speed favoring, anti-rail, and pro-rally-wide closer, and it can change from day to day.  Whether or not Latruska’s preferred style will be compromised on Breeders’ Cup day may not be known until early in the card on the first Saturday in November.  She has been thoroughly genuine and dependable throughout her magnificent career, victorious in 17 of 22 career starts, but we’re nagged by the thought that the daughter of Super Saver could be vulnerable if somebody’s rabbit goes after her early or the track bias, if any exists, plays against her style.

(Photo: Courtesy Keeneland)

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