The number of days leading to the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita are fewer and fewer, following another big weekend of racing around the country (and the world). Last weekend's stakes action wrapped up with a pair of races for juvenile horses on the Belmont turf course, with the winner of each earning a spot at the Breeders' Cup. Noble Tune won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes and is guaranteed a spot in the Juvenile Turf on November 3rd, while Watsdachances (IRE) won the Grade 3 Miss Grillo to secure a spot in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Fifteen horses qualified for the Breeders' Cup through "Win and You're In" races at Keeneland, Belmont and Longchamp on the first weekend of October, leaving just five races remaining in this year's Breeders' Cup Challenge series. Any horse that hasn't qualified for a Breeders' Cup race through the Challenge Series will rely on the selection committee for entrance into one of the 15 championship races on November 2nd and 3rd. Of the five remaining "Win and You're In" races, one will take place on Oct. 10 at Keeneland (Jessamine Stakes), one at Newmarket in England on Oct. 12 (Middle Park Stakes) and three are Sunday, Oct. 14th at Woodbine in Canada (E.P. Taylor, Nearctic and Canadian International).
The link below (via Google Drive) provides a summary of the current contenders for each Breeders' Cup division, along with the results from all of this year's Breeders' Cup Challenge races.
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from this past weekend of Breeders' Cup prep races.
The Good -- Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes
Truthfully, there were a lot of performances over the weekend that warrant inclusion in the "Good" category but I'm going to put Shanghai Bobby extending his perfect record with an easy win in the Champagne at the top of the list. Following the race the connections announced they had reservations with sending Shanghai Bobby to the Breeders' Cup to run in the Juvenile due to the poor record of horses coming out of that race in the spring. However, on Monday afternoon the Daily Racing Form reported that Shangahi Bobby will still ship to Southern California with the intention of running at Santa Anita.
If we take a "big picture" look at the current state of the Juvenile Division, Shanghai Bobby is pretty clearly the top two-year-old colt in the country. He's won multiple graded stakes races and he's stretched out to a mile with little to no difficultly. Furthermore, he's posted some of the better speed figures in the division, as opposed to several mediocre efforts from his rivals elsewhere in the country.
If the race were held today, Shanghai Bobby would likely be the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The Bad -- Amazombie in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship
Yikes! Four weeks out from the Breeders' Cup and the defending Sprint champion tosses in a major clunker at Santa Anita.
It's tough to find excuses for Amazombie in this race, no matter how hard we might try. He broke well from the gate and sat a couple lengths back of the early speed through the first half mile. At the top of the lane he moved along side the tiring leaders and looked to be in prime position to put the field away over the next furlong. Unfortunately for Amazombie, he just didn't have enough left in the tank and flattened out in the stretch, finishing fourth at the wire.
For many horses, finishing fourth in a Grade 1 sprint like the Santa Anita Sprint Championship would be a good race. But if you're the defending Breeders' Cup Sprint champion and you're making your final pre-Breeders' Cup start over the same surface on which you'll defend your title - fourth isn't good enough.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Amazombie's performance at Santa Anita was the quality of the horses that finished ahead of him. Coil, the winner of the race, is a nice colt but most handicappers wouldn't consider him a top class sprinter. The second- and third-place finishers - Capital Account and Jimmy Creed - are good but probably not great and will be long shots if they enter the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Considering the way the race set up for Amazombie, a fourth place finish in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship qualifies as a "bad" performance.
The Ugly -- Dullahan in the Jamaica Handicap
The race isn't part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, and the horse itself already has a spot secured in the Classic (should his connections decide to go that direction), but the performance of Dullahan in the Jamaica on Saturday was simply all-around ugly.
Here's the dilemma for the connections of Dullahan: the horse is clearly a top quality colt when running on synthetic surfaces, but he's not as effective on dirt or (as it would seem) on turf. His performance in the Jamaica was troubling when you consider his prior races on the grass were strong both visually and on paper. It's possible that his flop in the Jamaica was the result of the condition of the ground (the turf was rated as "Good" on Saturday), or it's possible that he's just not the same horse on anything other than synthetics. Unfortunately for Dullahan's connections, the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita will be run on dirt and turf, not synthetics.
Dullahan has already qualified for the Classic by way of his win in the Pacific Classic (over Polytrack) at Del Mar this summer. Question is: will his connections go that route or decide a new direction for Dullahan?