(Photo: Courtesy Keeneland)
The 38th annual Breeders’ Cup, a 14-race extravaganza topped by the $6 million Classic, will be held at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6.
I, like many others, am looking forward to seeing what happens in the $2 million BC Juvenile, a 1 1/16-mile race on the main track for 2-year-olds.
No doubt many are going to be on the Jack Christopher bandwagon. He’s two for two and looked marvelous when victorious in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
Jack Christopher kicked off his racing career with an 8 3/4-length Saratoga win as a 1-2 favorite in a six-furlong maiden race when unveiled on Aug 28. He received a 92 Beyer.
After earning his maiden diploma, Jack Christopher won the one-mile Champagne by 3 1/4 lengths as a 2-5 favorite on Oct. 2.
Jack Christopher’s final time in the Champagne originally was reported to be 1:37.31. He originally was credited with a 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his Champagne performance. But his Beyer Speed Figure subsequently was raised substantially to 102.
“Crucial information about the race may have been wrong,” Andrew Beyer wrote of the Champagne and Jack Christopher’s original 93 figure. “The posted time of the Champagne evidently was in error. After exhaustive efforts to clock the video of the race, the Beyer Speed Figure team credits Jack Christopher with a final time of 1:36.48, which translates into a figure of 102.
“The official charts of Belmont’s races have acknowledged numerous timing errors since the track’s fall meeting opened in mid-September. In the first three days of October, footnotes of the charts cite eight races where the timing was incomplete. (In most cases, certain fractional times were missing. In one, the timer failed entirely and no times were published.)”
Beyer, like so many horseplayers, has been frustrated by horse racing’s ongoing difficulty in timing races accurately. One would think that with advances in technology, this would not be a problem. Unlike horse racing, there never seem to be any timing issues in the Olympics.
“Some people in the sport may not appreciate the significance of a mere 0.83 of a second [between 1:37.31 and 1:36.48],” Beyer added. “But [the final time of a race] is a meaningful number in speed figures that attempt to define a Thoroughbred’s talent. If Jack Christopher ran a mile in 1:36.48 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, this was the best performance by any 2-year-old since 2017. It would be good enough to win any running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile during this period. It suggests that Jack Christopher is an exceptional talent and the outstanding member of his 2-year-old generation.”
2020 BC CLASSIC TIMING SNAFU RECALLED
The Champagne timing controversy brings to mind what occurred in last year’s $6 million BC Classic at Keeneland.
Authentic won the 2020 BC Classic. Many questioned the original official final time of 1:59.19. Even the Trakus system used by Keeneland disagreed with the 1:59.19 clocking. The Trakus system timed the race in 1:59.82.
And then on Nov. 11, four days after the race had been run, the official final time for the 2020 BC Classic was announced to be 1:59.60.
Keeneland and Equibase issued this statement on Nov. 11:
“Prior to the running of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. 1) on November 7, 2020, at Keeneland, a photo eye at the start of the race originally was tripped, which resulted in an error when attempting to operate the timing system manually causing inaccurate timing for all fractions and the final time of the race. A final time of 1:59.19 was initially provided by Equibase using the available video replay. After subsequent and more detailed review and timing of the race from multiple sources and camera angles, Keeneland and Equibase have determined the fractional times for the Classic (:23.20, :46.48, 1:10.32, 1:34.64) and confirmed a final time of 1:59.60. The Classic chart has been updated and the running of Authentic in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic is now the official track record for the 1 1/4-mile distance at Keeneland.”
Acccording to Keeneland and Equibase, Authentic broke American Pharoah’s track record of 2:00.07 that had been established by the Triple Crown winner when he won the 2015 BC Classic by 6 1/2 lengths.
It took Keeneland and Equibase four days to finally come up with fractional times and a final time for last year’s BC Classic (a race ironically sponsored by a company that makes watches). I called that “ridiculous, embarrassing and inexcusable” in the Breeders’ Cup recap that I wrote for Xpressbet.
“Humans can control a rover 48 million miles away on Mars, but seemingly can’t time the 2020 BC Classic without problems,” I wrote. “It would be one thing if the timing problem with the 2020 BC Classic was an isolated case. But it’s not.”
Jack Christopher’s revised 102 Beyer for the Champagne will be the only figure of 100 or higher among this year’s BC Juvenile contestants. This triple-digit figure most certainly is going to be a factor in a lot of wagering dollars going in his direction on Nov. 5.
WILL HE BE ANOTHER JACKIE’S WARRIOR?
Don’t forget what happened in the 2020 BC Juvenile at Keeneland.
Jackie’s Warrior, like Jack Christopher, was undefeated going into the BC Juvenile. Jackie’s Warrior was four for four, winning those races by 3 1/2, three, 2 1/4 and 5 1/2 lengths.
Jackie’s Warrior, like Jack Christopher, went into the BC Juvenile off a victory in the Champagne.
Jackie’s Warrior, like Jack Christopher, recorded a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in the Champagne. Jackie’s Warrior’s Champagne figure was a 100.
In some respects, Jackie’s Warrior’s Champagne was even more impressive than Jack Christopher’s. Jackie’s Warrior won by a bigger margin, 5 1/2 lengths, compared to Jack Christopher’s 2 3/4 lengths. Perhaps more importantly, Jackie’s Warrior drew away from his opponents after being three lengths clear at the eighth pole. Jack Christopher’s lead diminished the rest of the way home after he had a 5 1/2-length advantage a furlong out.
The contrast in the manner in which Jackie’s Warrior and Jack Christopher came home in the Champagne is noteworthy. That’s because the Champagne is a one-mile race around one turn. The BC Juvenile was a 1 1/16-mile race around two turns last year at Keeneland and will be again this year at Del Mar.
After the Champagne, Jackie’s Warrior was being asked to go a sixteenth farther in a two-turn race. That was among the reasons I went against him in my Breeders’ Cup selections for Xpressbet. Essential Quality, my top pick, already had proven that he could win a 1 1/16-mile race around two turns, having captured the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Jackie’s Warrior finished fourth in the BC Juvenile as the 9-10 favorite. Essential Quality won at odds of just under 2-1.
Is Jack Christopher, a la Jackie’s Warrior, vulnerable in the BC Juvenile because he has not yet raced farther than one mile and around two turns? Maybe. Is Jack Christopher’s shrinking margin toward the end of the Champagne cause for concern? Again, maybe.
Or maybe Jack Christopher is such a brilliant 2-year-old colt that he not only is going to win the BC Juvenile, but perhaps succeed by a big margin.
The way I see it, inasmuch as bettors figure to send Jack Christopher away at w short price, especially in light of his revised 102 Beyer Speed Figure, I can’t blame any horseplayer for trying to beat him in the BC Juvenile, just as I did last year when I went with Essential Quality against Jackie’s Warrior.
RATTLE N ROLL INTRIGUING (IF HE RUNS)
One youngster who interests me a lot as a possible alternative to Jack Christopher in the BC Juvenile is Rattle N Roll, a decisive winner of last Saturday’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. But the problem with liking Rattle N Roll in the BC Juvenile at this point is he might not be running in that race. According to trainer Kenny McPeek, Rattle N Roll’s next start is up in the air.
“I am not going to commit yet,” McPeek said Sunday in Keeneland’s barn notes in terms of which race will be next for Rattle N Roll. “My first instinct is to wait for the Kentucky Jockey Club [at Churchill Downs] on Nov. 27. The Breeders’ Cup is an ‘away game’ and I know he likes Churchill a lot.”
I love the way Rattle N Roll seems to be getting better and better. When he won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Churchill on Sept. 23, he rallied from sixth and won by three widening lengths. He recorded a modest 69 Beyer, though, which had a lot to do with his odds not being lower than 8-1 in the Breeders’ Futurity. If he had received, say, a Beyer in the 90s at first asking, his odds last Saturday undoubtedly would have been much lower.
Consider how strongly Classic Causeway was supported in the Breeders’ Futurity off a 90 Beyer in his 6 1/2-length debut win in a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga. Despite having to break from post 13, Classic Causeway was backed down to 9-5 favoritism in his stakes debut. Hustled to the front early, he weakened in the stretch and finished third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Rattle N Roll.
If Rattle N Roll is sent to the Breeders’ Cup, he will go into his race with a couple of similarities to what Essential Quality had done prior to his victory in last year’s BC Juvenile.
Rattle N Roll recorded a 69 Beyer in his maiden win. So did Essential Quality. Rattle N Roll won the Breeders’ Futurity by 4 1/4 lengths. Essential Quality won the Breeders’ Futurity by 3 1/4 lengths.
Granted, Essential Quality’s 88 Beyer for his Breeders’ Cup Futurity was quite a bit higher than Rattle N Roll’s 81 for his win in this year’s renewal.
But keep in mind that Rattle N Roll’s final time in the Breeders’ Futurity (if accurate) was 1:43.78, faster than Essential Quality’s 1:44.37 clocking (if accurate) in last year’s renewal.
In fact, Rattle N Roll’s 1:43.78 clocking is faster than that in the last three editions of the Breeders’ Futurity. Maxfield won the 2019 running in 1:44.21. Knicks Go, the 2018 winner, logged a final time of 1:44.23.
How about this? Breeders’ Futurity winners Knicks Go, Maxfield and Essential Quality all are scheduled to run in the upcoming BC Classic. In my early BC odds for Xpressbet last week, I made Knicks Go the 5-2 favorite, followed by Essential Quality a close second choice at 3-1. I listed Maxfield at 12-1.
Rattle N Roll is a Kentucky-bred son of Connect and the Johannesburg mare Jazz Tune. Talk about a Breeders’ Cup pedigree. Connect is a son of 2007 BC Classic winner Curlin. Johannesburg won the 2001 BC Juvenile.
McPeek’s keen eye for a Thoroughbred’s potential bought Curlin as a yearling at Keeneland in 2005. With McPeek taking time away from training, his former assistant Helen Pitts was the trainer of Curlin when that colt registered a 12-length debut victory as a 3-year-old at Gulfstream Park in 2007.
Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin this week provided more detail on McPeek’s purchase of Curlin.
“Kenny McPeek picked out Curlin as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale for $57,000,” Haskin wrote. “The son of Smart Strike had an OCD lesion removed from his left ankle as a weanling, and it wasn’t a pretty sight at the sale. Although it turned off most buyers, McPeek felt it would be a non-issue. But his clients, Shirley Cunningham and Bill Gallion, became furious with McPeek for spending $57,000 on a horse with physical issues that no one wanted, especially after they were told he would never make it to the races.
“McPeek tried to assure them that the colt would be fine, but got nowhere and offered to take the colt back and find another client. He felt he was a steal at that price and believed he would have gone for $300,000 if his ankle didn’t look so unappealing. Eventually, Cunningham and Gallion began to have second thoughts and decided to keep him.
“McPeek at the time had actually given up training for a while to concentrate on bloodstock work, mainly in the U.S. and South America. Also, his mother was terminally ill. He contacted his owners and convinced them to keep the horses with his longtime assistant Helen Pitts and that he would always be close by.”
McPeek told Haskin that even though he had stepped away from training at the time, he “still was around Curlin a great deal during the winter of his 2-year-old year” in Ocala, Fla.
“He was a man among boys even then,” McPeek recalled. “I’m very proud to have found him and it was great visiting him at the farm several years ago. I have mixed emotions because any normal year I would have trained him, but my mother was terminally ill and the time away and how the events unfolded kept me from [training] him.”
McPeek did say that if he had not stepped away from training and gone into bloodstock work, he probably would not have been able to buy a historic 115-acre farm in Kentucky outside Lexington, renaming it Magdalena Farm.
“Everything happens for a reason,” McPeek said.
According to Haskin, that farm, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, has been home to many top horses, such as Tomy Lee and Devil Diver. Tomy Lee won the 1959 Kentucky Derby. Devil Diver, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, is the only horse to have won three straight Met Miles (1943, 1944 and 1945). Devil Diver ranks No. 57 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.
After Curlin’s scintillating debut victory, he was sold privately to Stonestreet Stable. Future Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen took over as the colt’s trainer. Curlin would win two Horse of the Year titles and $10,501,800.
In a Daily Racing Form story written this week by Nicole Russo, McPeek said he sees mental and physical qualities in Rattle N Roll that remind him of Curlin.
“He’s very easy to be around,” McPeek said of Rattle N Roll. “I went back [Saturday] afternoon to check on him pre-race, and you know how a horse has the look of eagles in him? He was just, like, intense. He was checking everything out and he was interested. He’s smart, for sure.
“It’s the Curlin in him, I think -- that top line. He looks a lot like Curlin, in a sense. I wasn’t around Connect. But [Rattle N Roll] understands how to sit behind horses and finish, and he can do that.”
McPeek also has said Rattle N Roll reminds him of Tejano Run. McPeek trained Tejano Run, who won the 1994 Breeders’ Futurity. After that triumph at Keeneland, Tejano Run finished third to Timber Country and Eltish in the BC Juvenile at Churchill Downs in his final start at 2. At 3, Tejano Run was good enough to finish second behind Thunder Gulch in the Kentucky Derby.
All in all, I have a feeling that Rattle N Roll just might be capable of running big in the BC Juvenile. Unfortunately, I also have a feeling he will not be participating.
By the way, McPeek has yet to win a Breeders’ Cup race. He’s 0 for 36, according to the stats on the Breeders’ Cup website.
Whether or not McPeek starts Rattle N Roll in the BC Juvenile, the trainer said he does plan to run Tiz the Bomb in the Grade I BC Juvenile Turf after the colt won last Sunday’s Grade II Bourbon Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland’s grass course.
What made Tiz the Bomb’s Bourbon victory all the more impressive is he broke through the gate pre-start. Horses rarely win after doing that. But Tiz the Bomb nevertheless proved a punctual 5-2 favorite, coming from off the pace on a wet turf course termed “good” to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:43.69.
Tiz the Bomb is a Kentucky-bred son of Hit It a Bomb and the Tiznow mare Tiz the Key. Once again, talk about a Breeders’ Cup pedigree. Hit It a Bomb won the 2015 BC Juvenile Turf. Tiznow is the only two-time winner of the BC Classic.
OTHER POSSIBLE OPTIONS
Corniche definitely is going to have a great many backers in the BC Juvenile. Like Jack Christopher, Corniche is two for two.
A $1.5 million auction purchase trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Corniche recorded a robust 98 Beyer Speed Figure when he won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race by 4 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Sept. 4. The only higher Beyer by a 2-year-old this year is Jack Christopher’s 102.
Corniche then won Santa Anita’s Grade I American Pharoah Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on Oct. 1. But this time the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt received a much lower 85 Beyer.
Even though Corniche regressed to an 85 Beyer in his second start, who knows how good the undefeated Grade I winner is? Off his two victories to date, it’s not out of the question that Corniche is going to be a superstar.
It’s also probably not a good idea to cavalierly dismiss the Baffert-trained Pinehurst in the BC Juvenile. Like Jack Christopher and Corniche, Pinehurst is two for two.
After winning a five-furlong maiden race by a half-length at Del Mar on Aug. 1, Pinehurst took the Grade I Del Mar Futurity by 4 1/2 lengths at seven furlongs on Sept. 6. He recorded an 86 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut, then dropped to a 79 in the Del Mar Futurity.
One good thing about Pinehurst’s Beyers not being higher is it will help his BC Juvenile price. But while his Beyers will cause some bettors to shy away from him in the BC Juvenile, he has yet to lose a race, which means, like Corniche, we really don’t know how good Pinehurst is at this point.
I’m seriously looking at Commandperformance as a possible top pick in the BC Juvenile. Yes, I know that Commandperformance is a maiden. But as recently as 2016 a maiden, Good Magic, won the BC Juvenile.
Good Magic went into the BC Juvenile off a second in the Grade I Champagne, a race won by future savager Firenze Fire. Commandperformance likewise ran second in the Champagne.
I really liked the energy exhibited by Commandperformance when coming down the lane in the Champagne. It’s not out of the question that the Kentucky-bred son of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags will like competing in a 1 1/16-mile race around two turns more than Jack Christopher. And Commandperformance’s odds in the BC Juvenile most assuredly are going to be more enticing than Jack Christopher’s.
When Jack Christopher’s Beyer in the Champagne was elevated from 93 to 102, the figures for the vanquished also were raised. Comandperformance’s Beyer in the Champagne was increased to 97, which certainly makes him a threat in the BC Juvenile despite being a maiden.
Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher trains Commandperformance.
I believe three others who should not be ignored in the BC Juvenile are Classic Causeway, Pappacap and Oviatt Class.
If Classic Causeway had won the Breeders’ Futurity, he would be viewed as a strong BC Juvenile contender. And I think it is fair to say that it’s possible that he might have won the Breeders’ Futurity if not for drawing the 13 post.
Because of having to start from post 13, Classic Causeway was hustled early by jockey Jose Ortiz. The Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt might have had more gas left in the tank late if not ridden so aggressively in the early going.
Classic Causeway recorded a 90 Beyer in a 6 1/2-length maiden victory when kicking off his racing career Sept. 4 at Saratoga. He regressed to a 73 in the Breeders’ Futurity. Might he rebound big-time in the BC Juvenile? You bet he might.
Pappacap and Oviatt Class finished two-three behind Corniche in the American Pharoah. Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has been sky high on Florida-bred Pappacap even before his first race. Pappacap, winner of the Del Mar’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes, is one of many talented runners this year from the first crop of 2017 BC Classic winner Gun Runner.
Watch out for Oviatt Class, who likely is going to be a juicy price in BC Juvenile wagering. The Virgina-bred Bernardini colt trailed early in the American Pharoah and never threatened, but he did come on in the stretch to finish third on a track that was not kind to come-from-behind types that day.
AN OPINION REGARDING THE BELDAME STAKES
I will never get used to the Beldame Stakes being a Grade II. I just don’t get how the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) could overlook the tremendous history of the Beldame to downgrade it from a Grade I in 2019.
The AGSC wields great power. Whatever the AGSC does can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By downgrading the Beldame to a Grade II, it causes some people to shy away from running in it instead of in a Grade I. And that weakens the Beldame.
A prime example of this syndrome is Santa Anita’s Santa Monica Handicap. Many years ago, the AGSC upgraded Santa Anita’s Santa Monica Handicap to Grade I status when I did not believe it deserved it. But after the AGSC made the Santa Monica a Grade I, it then started attracting better fields. The move by the AGSC to upgrade the Santa Monica to a Grade I essentially turned it into a Grade I race for many years.
I once blasted the AGSC for downgrading Saratoga’s Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds to a Grade II in 2012. That mistake, as I saw it, lasted just one year before the Hopeful was restored to a Grade I.
For years on HRTV and in print, I strongly criticized the AGSC for the Arkansas Derby’s Grade II status. After several years, the Arkansas Derby finally properly received its Grade I ranking in 2010, which it has retained ever since.
I believe the AGSC does a fine job overall in terms of grading stakes races. But from time to time, I think they blow it, such as with the Beldame, Hopeful for one year, Arkansas Derby and the Santa Anita Oaks.
The AGSC for downgraded the Santa Anita Oaks to a Grade II in 2020. Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes is a Grade I race. The Santa Anita Oaks, like the Ashland, is an important prep race for the Kentucky Oaks. Why is the Ashland a Grade I and the Santa Anita Oaks now a Grade II?
In 2020, the first year the Santa Anita Oaks was a Grade II, it was won Swiss Skydiver, who would go on to win the Grade I Preakness Stakes while defeating Grade I Kentucky Derby winner and future Grade I BC Classic winner Authentic. Swiss Skydiver was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
Finishing second to Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks was Speech. Yet another indication that the AGSC made a mistake when downgrading the Santa Anita Oaks to a Grade II is Speech subsequently won the Ashland. In other words, Speech was unable to win the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks, yet she did win the Grade I Ashland.
The Santa Anita Oaks has been won in the last decade by such champions as Beholder (2013), Stellar Wind (2015), Midnight Bisou (2018) and the aforementioned Swiss Skydiver.
Does that look like a Grade II race to you?
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
No newcomers in the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. Letruska retained the No. 2 spot following her victory in the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland. The Spinster extended Letruska’s winning streak to five. She has not been defeated since finishing second in the Grade II Azeri Stakes last March 13 at Oaklawn Park when she lost by a head to Shedaresthedevil.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is listed below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 340 Knicks Go (23)
2. 310 Letruska (6)
3. 300 Essential Quality (7)
4. 156 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 154 Jackie’s Warrior
6. 130 Medina Spirit
7. 127 Gamine
8. 98 Art Collector
9. 85 Max Player
10. 70 Domestic Spending