The 2022 Triple Crown series is in the rearview mirror and summertime is here, which means many Thoroughbred racing fans are now looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland on Nov. 4-5. The most lucrative race during the two days of premier competition once again will be the $6 million Classic at 1 1/4 miles on dirt. In fact, the BC Classic has the distinction of being the richest horse race in North America.
The first 2022 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings were announced this week on Tuesday (June 28). The rankings are determined by a panel of voters comprised of members of the Breeders’ Cup Racing/Secretaries Panel, international racing and sports media, plus racing analysts.
The rankings will be updated weekly and conclude on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
This week’s rankings are below :
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 334 Flightline (22)
2. 263 Country Grammer (2)
3. 240 Life Is Good (2)
4. 154 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 126 Mandaloun
6. 121 Mo Donegal (2)
7. 108 Olympiad (2)
8. 107 Epicenter
9. 95 Early Voting
10. 91 Jack Christopher
MY BC CLASSIC RANKINGS AND ODDS
Mike Battaglia is the only person to have made more Breeders’ Cup morning lines than yours truly. He will be doing it again this year.
I made the morning lines for the Breeders’ Cup races last year at Del Mar and at Santa Anita in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019.
I’m a member of the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings panel. The 10 horses I submitted for this week’s rankings are listed below in order, accompanied by my early BC Classic odds for each horse.
1. FLIGHTLINE (6-5)
He, to me, is the obvious No. 1. A special equine talent, Flightline has won his four career starts by a combined 43 1/2 lengths.
On June 11, Flightline won the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park by six lengths despite a sluggish start and encountering some early adversity. After that race, Andy Beyer, who developed the Beyer Speed Figures, said that he believes Flightline is the best American horse since Ghostzapper.
Ghostzapper was voted 2004 Horse of the Year. He won the BC Classic at Lone Star Park that year by three lengths as the 5-2 favorite and was credited with a 124 Beyer Speed Figure. The 124 is tied for the highest Beyer Speed Figure ever posted by a BC Classic winner. Sunday Silence, who won the 1989 renewal, also recorded a 124.
Oddschecker currently lists Flightline as the 6-1 favorite for the BC Classic. Life Is Good is next at 8-1, followed by Country Grammer and Mo Donegal at 12-1 apiece.
My odds reflect what I think they would approximately be if the BC Classic were run today. In my opinion, even though he has yet to win a race longer than one mile, there is no possible way Flightline’s odds would be anywhere close to as high as 6-1 if the race were run today. I have made him a 6-5 favorite in my current BC Classic odds.
Sent away as a 2-5 favorite in the Met Mile, Flightline made that short price look downright generous. He has been odds-on in all four starts (4-5, then 1-5, then 2-5, then again 2-5). I was tempted to make him odds-on for the BC Classic, but settled on 6-5 due to the fact the BC Classic certainly would be the toughest group he’s ever run against.
Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen reported that Flightline currently “is galloping on a daily basis at Santa Anita and will soon begin workouts in preparation for the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 3,” according to trainer John Sadler.
The plan is for Flightline to have his first workout since the Met Mile in early July. After that workout and possibly another one at Santa Anita, the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Tapit colt and a number of Sadler’s other charges will be relocated to Del Mar for its summer meeting from July 22 to Sept. 11.
Sadler does not expect Flightline to have any problem stretching out to 1 1/4 miles in the Pacific Classic. One reason for Sadler’s confidence in this regard is what jockey Flavien Prat said to the trainer after the Met Mile. Prat told Sadler that “more distance is going to be better for him.”
Considering how dominant Flightline has been going one mile or shorter, if Prat is right and more distance does indeed turn out to be better for him, that is a very scary thought.
2. LIFE IS GOOD (4-1)
He’s won six of eight lifetime starts. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt has not started since finishing fourth in the Group I, $12 million Dubai World Cup at about 1 1/4 miles on March 26.
Yes, Life Is Good weakened late in the Dubai World Cup, which makes the 1 1/4 miles of the BC Classic something of a concern. But don’t forget how terrific he looked at 1 1/8 miles when he captured the Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park last Jan. 29. He won emphatically by 3 1/4 lengths. The vanquished on that occasion included no less than 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Life Is Good makes his first start since his trip to Dubai in the Grade II John A. Nerud Stakes this Saturday at Belmont Park. The Nerud has attracted a field of five. Life Is Good drew the inside post.
The Nerud is far from a gimme for Life Is Good. Not with Speaker’s Corner also entered in the seven-furlong affair.
Speaker’s Corner had a three-race winning streak snapped when he finished third at odds of 5-2 in the Met Mile. He ended up 8 3/4 lengths behind Flightline.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott trains Speaker’s Corner, whose target at the upcoming Saratoga meeting is the Grade I Forego Stakes at seven furlongs on Aug. 27. Mott told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening that he prefers to run Speaker’s Corner before the Forego.
“I think it’s the wrong thing to do, the way he is right now, not to run [in the Nerud],” Mott said. “My feeling is you can’t duck and dodge everybody. Every good race that comes up between now till the end of the year, you’re going to have one or two good horses in there. You can’t be afraid.”
According to Mott, Speaker’s Corner emerged from the Met Mile “with a minor foot issue that has resolved and he’s doing great.”
Speaker’s Corner worked five furlongs in a sharp :59.60 last Saturday morning on the Belmont main track.
3. COUNTRY GRAMMER (8-1)
He has not been seen under silks since winning the Dubai World Cup by 1 3/4 lengths in late March. In his only other 2022 start, the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Tonalist ran second in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 25. Country Grammer’s biggest U.S. victory to date came in the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
4. HOT ROD CHARLIE (12-1)
True, he got beat as a 1-5 favorite last Saturday. He lost by a head when finishing second to Mind Control in Monmouth Park’s Grade III Salvator Mile. But it should be remembered that Hot Rod Charlie ran fourth in last year’s BC Classic as a 3-year-old, the best finish by any 2022 BC Classic candidate who competed in the race last year. Hot Rod Charlie is far from a win machine. But while the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt has just four victories to his credit, he typically is in the mix, as evidenced by the fact that he has finished worse than fourth only once in 16 lifetime starts.
5. EXPRESS TRAIN (15-1)
He reeled off three straight graded stakes victories at Santa Anita before finishing second as the 2-5 favorite to Stilleto Boy in the Grade II Californian Stakes at the Great Race Place on April 30. Prior to the Californian, Express Train won the Grade II San Antonio Stakes in late December, Grade II San Pasqual Stakes in February and Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March. Trainer John Shirreffs decided to give the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Union Rags a freshening after the Californian. Express Train is expected to return in Del Mar’s Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 30.
6. JACK CHRISTOPHER (15-1)
He did not win or even run in any of this year’s Triple Crown races, nor has he raced farther than one mile. Nevertheless, I have Jack Christopher ranked highest among 3-year-olds considered at this time as possible BC Classic participants. In my view, Jack Christopher’s 10-length tour de force in Belmont’s Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes at seven furlongs on June 11 was the best performance by a 3-year-old so far in 2022. The Kentucky-bred Munnings colt is scheduled to make his next start in Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Stakes on July 23.
7. HAPPY SAVER (20-1)
Though no match for Flightline in the Met Mile, Happy Saver did finish a respectable second. A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Super Saver, Happy Saver has finished third or better in all 10 career starts. He won the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2020.
8. MO DONEGAL (15-1)
He stepped up and won the Grade I Belmont Stakes in convincing fashion by three lengths for his biggest triumph yet. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt has never finished worse than third in seven career starts. Mo Donegal won the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a neck over Early Voting on April 9.
9. EARLY VOTING (15-1)
After his narrow defeat when the runner-up in the Wood Memorial, Early Voting registered a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt’s lone loss in four lifetime starts came in the Wood. Check out the trajectory of Early Voting’s Beyer Speed Figures. He recorded a 76 at first asking, then an 87, then a 96, then a 105 in the Preakness.
10. EPICENTER (15-1)
After winning the Grade II Risen Star Stakes and Grade II Louisiana Derby, he finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The Kentucky-bred Not This Time colt has finished in the exacta in all eight of his career starts.
BUBBLING UNDER MY TOP 10
Epicenter edged out Olympiad and Mandaloun for the No. 10 spot in my rankings this week. I decided to see what happens when Olympiad and Mandaloun meet five others in this Saturday’s Grade II Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Olympiad, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt trained by Mott, is four for four this year. He’s coming off a win in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 6.
Mandaloun finished ninth in the Dubai World Cup in his second 2022 start after winning Fair Grounds’ Grade III Louisiana Stakes on Jan. 22 for trainer Brad Cox. Mandaloun ran second in last year’s Kentucky Derby, then was moved up to first as a result of Medina Spirit being disqualified for a medication violation. Mandaloun also finished second in last year’s Haskell, then was elevated to first as a result of Hot Rod Charlie being DQ’d for causing interference.
DEBUTS BY SECRETARIAT, LANDALUCE RECALLED
It was 50 years ago that the legendary Secretariat kicked off his racing career on July 4 at Aqueduct. He finished fourth. Secretariat would go on to earn Horse of the Year titles in 1972 and 1973. His 1973 campaign was highlighted, of course, by his stupendous victory in the Belmont Stakes to complete the first Triple Crown sweep in 25 years.
It was 40 years ago that the brilliant filly Landaluce burst on the American racing stage with a sensational career debut on July 3 at Hollywood Park. She would go on to win all five of her races prior to her shocking death from a severe bacterial virus as a 2-year-old in the fall of 1982.
Meanwhile, it was 22 years ago that Daily Racing Form unveiled the first edition of a book titled “Champions” on July 24. This terrific book contains the lifetime past performances for American champion Thoroughbreds going all the way back to 1894. The third and most recent edition has career past performances through 2010.
This book was the brainchild of Paula Welch Prather. It “would not have been possible without the dedication and perseverance of Paula Welch Prather, who not only conceived the idea of collecting past performances of the 20th century’s greatest horses into one volume, but practically assembled many of them with her bare hands,” it says in the third edition’s acknowledgements section. “The existence of this book is due in great part to her tireless efforts.”
Irwin Cohen’s foreword states in part: “The third edition of ‘Champions’ brings fans up to date with the most recent generation of extraordinary racehorses. Some of their stories achieved crossover pop-culture appeal and even earned a spot on the front page or the nightly news. But in Thoroughbred racing, there is no better telling of those tales than the past-performance lines.”
Cohen went on to write that “statistics alone, however, often do not offer a complete picture of a moment, and certainly not of an era. To that end, ‘Champions’ provides decade-by-decade accounts of Thoroughbred history by some of the sport’s esteemed journalists. Glenye Cain Oakford, Steven Crist, David Grening, Joe Hirsch, Jay Hovdey, Dave Litfin, Jay Privman and Paula Welch Prather provide a more elaborate context for the numbers, bringing the horses and fine people who nurtured their talent, to life.”
In the beginning, “Champions” was to have a short profile accompanying each horse’s past performances. I was one of a number of people assigned to write these profiles. I was assigned 24 of them. Secretariat, Ruffian, Landaluce, Count Fleet, Sunday Silence, Precisionist, Ack Ack and Chinook Pass were among the 24 champions that I especially enjoyed writing about for this project.
Each profile was to be no more than about 225 words. For some of these horses, keeping the profile to so few words was a difficult task. Take Secretariat, for instance. Books have been written about him, yet I was required to keep his profile at about 225 words or fewer.
I wrote all 24 profiles assigned to me, but not one of them was used for the book after the decision was made to provide a decade-by-decade account of Thoroughbred history instead of the profiles. While I actually think the decade-by-decade approach was the right way to go, it does not lessen my disappointment of not being included in the first edition of the book. There also was my disappointment to have all the work I put into those 24 profiles go down the drain.
I have saved all 24 of my profiles, though. Below are my profiles for Secretariat and Landaluce.
“Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine!” Chick Anderson said during his magnificent call of the 1973 Belmont Stakes for the CBS television audience.
He came into the world in Virginia, one of 24,953 Thoroughbreds born in America in 1970. As a result of a coin flip, Meadow Stable rather than Ogden Phipps would own the foal, later named Secretariat.
“Secretariat by 12. Secretariat by 14 lengths on the turn.”
Horse of the Year at 2, Secretariat at 3 became the first Triple Crown winner since 1948.
“Secretariat is all alone! He’s out there almost a sixteenth of a mile away from the rest of the horses!”
He won the Kentucky Derby while running each quarter-mile faster than the preceding quarter. He won the Preakness with an electrifying burst of speed on the clubhouse turn. And then -- after appearing on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated -- came the Belmont Stakes.
“Secretariat has opened a 22-length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire, an unbelievable, an amazing performance!”
Unbelievably, amazingly, he won by 31 lengths.
When syndicated at 2, it was determined Secretariat would not race past 3. After the colt’s last start, trainer Lucien Lauren appreciated having been part of something special.
“There’ll never be another like him,” Lauren said.
Many considered Landaluce to be the West’s answer to East Coast immortal Ruffian.
In front by 1 1/2 lengths at the quarter pole in the Hollywood Lassie Stakes, Landaluce won by 21 in 1:08 for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. It was the fastest six furlongs ever run by a 2-year-old filly around a turn. Rival trainers raved.
“That was the greatest race I’ve ever seen by a 2-year-old filly,” said Laz Barrera.
“I don’t recall seeing a 2-year-old win so impressively since I saw Secretariat win the Sanford,” said John Russell.
“She’s the stuff dreams are made of,” said John Gosden.
Mickey Taylor, co-owner of the great Seattle Slew, Landaluce’s sire, also was awed.
“I saw Ruffian run a couple of times,” Taylor said. “And I was there when Secretariat won the Belmont. But when Landaluce won by 21, it was the most impressive race I’ve ever seen anybody run.”
Landaluce was to have started in the Nov. 28 Hollywood Lassie Stakes, but a several bacterial infection took her life that day. She was buried at Hollywood Park.
Voted 2-year-old filly champion, undefeated Landaluce was even chosen Horse of the Year by the Thoroughbed Racing Associaions. Daily Racing Form voted for Lemhi Gold. The turf writers selected Conquistador Cielo. Under the tie-breaking system, the title went to Conquistador Cielo.
LANDALUCE BOOK RELEASE DATE NEARS
Speaking of Landaluce, a book about her by Mary Perdue is scheduled to come out on July 12. Yours truly wrote the foreword.
“There is no more powerful force in racing than the promise of greatness, and no racehorse in history promised more than Landaluce, the filly who won her first five races by a breathtaking 47 lengths and evoked comparisons to the best runners in history,” Tim Layden, currently writer-at-large for NBC Sports and former writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote in a review of the book. “Here, author Mary Perdue takes readers on a riveting journey not just through Landaluce’s two years on earth, but across decades of horse racing history, from the Great Depression to the 1980s, from Kentucky to California, from breeding shed to euthanasia. The great Landaluce was sui generis, but her story is all too familiar: brilliance teased, ending in tragedy. Perdue’s work centers on one horse, but taps racing’s every vein -- it is essential reading for fans of the sport.”
Here is a link to an America’s Best Racing interview about the book with Perdue conducted by Jennifer Kelly.
You can find out more about the book, including how to order it, by visiting the website landalucebook.com.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
Flightline remains No. 1 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, receiving 29 of the 34 first-place votes cast.
The Top 10 on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 300 Flightline (29)
2. 263 Country Grammer (4)
3. 240 Life Is Good (1)
3. 234 Jackie’s Warrior
5. 151 Olympiad
6. 109 Clairiere
7. 85 Regal Glory
8. 79 Hot Rod Charlie
9. 65 Letruska
9. 63 Speaker’s Corner