Saturday, October 29, 2011

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

In previous years, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hasn’t been regarded as a race that attracts some of the highest quality horses. However, this year is different. Throughout the latter part of the year, the Dirt Mile has garnered some of the top horses in the nation. In 2011, the Dirt Mile will have one of the toughest fields in the entire Breeders’ Cup.
Here are my top four picks for the Dirt Mile:
1. Jackson Bend: As a three-year-old, Jackson Bend went winless in eight starts, though he won $351, 130. This year, the colt has already won two starts, one of which was a grade one. He seems to have found his niche at one-turn races. Jackson Bend’s first win in twenty-one starts came in the James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga, in which the little chestnut exploded in the stretch to win by a going-away 2 ½ lengths. His next start was the Forego Stakes (GI), in which he won even more impressively than the James Marvin to win by 3 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1:22.08 for seven furlongs. In his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup, Jackson Bend finished a good second to superstar Uncle Mo in the one mile Kelso Handicap (GII).

Many would rather see Jackson Bend in the Sprint, but I believe Nick Zito is making a good decision by placing him in the Dirt Mile. The colt, though he has an amazing turn of foot, needs a little bit of extra ground to get there. He will have no problem with the mile distance, as he was drawing away at seven furlongs, has won at a mile and one-sixteenth, and finished a close third in the mile and three-sixteenths 2010 Preakness Stakes (GI).
Check out the post I wrote about Jackson Bend after he won the Forego at:
2. Wilburn: Every year, there are a few three-year-olds that emerge later in the year, after the Triple Crown is over. This son of Bernardini is one of those colts. Out of graded stakes-winning Moonlight Sonata and a half to graded stakes-winning Beethoven, Wilburn is coming off a dominant win over Shackleford in the Indiana Derby (GII).
This is Wilburn’s first year of racing. He broke his maiden impressively at Santa Anita in March, finishing in a final time that was just .84 seconds off the track record. The colt already has a win over the Churchill surface, having won an allowance optional claiming at a mile and one-sixteenth on May 15. In September, Wilburn recorded his first stakes win in winning the Smarty Jones Stakes by nearly two lengths. Then came his breakthrough victory in the Indiana Derby.
The bay three-year-old is training extremely well for trainer Steve Asmussen. Though Asmussen does not often work his horses quickly, Wilburn’s most recent work was a 1:00.80 five furlong work at Churchill Downs on October 24. This is a quickly improving colt and he will be one to watch on November 5.
3. Trappe Shot: Many people thought this Tapit colt would become the top sprinter in the nation after his dominant win in the True North Handicap (GII) on Belmont Stakes day, but it seems as if it is not to be. After his True North victory, he finished a close second in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) prior to crossing the wire in a disappointing fourth in the Vosburgh Invitational Stakes (GI).
With that record in his last three starts, Trappe Shot is obviously talented in one-turn races. Though his last four starts have been at the distance of three-quarters of a mile, Trappe Shot finished second in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI) last year after winning the mile and one-sixteenth Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park. The powerfully built chestnut is training well under the care of Kiaran McLaughlin, having worked 49.83 for a half-mile in his latest work, which came on Saturday. He will have to find his top form again, but when he’s at his best, he is very tough to beat.
4. Shackleford: Obviously, the stocky chestnut with a wide white blaze is known for being the winner of this year’s Preakness. He has not been victorious since that prestigious triumph, but he has put in good performances. “Shack Attack” is also returning to his home track, Churchill Downs, for the Breeders’ Cup, which could give him an edge.
After finishing fifth in the grueling Belmont Stakes, which was clearly much too long of a race for Shackleford, the son of Forestry returned in the Haskell. He finished a good second to Coil, but completely bombed in the Travers Stakes (GI). After over a month off, the feisty colt finished a decent second to Wilburn in the Indiana Derby.
Shackleford, who I’ve followed since his maiden victory at Churchill Downs last November, will be tough at his home track. He completed a bullet work for five furlongs at the Louisville track on Saturday, appearing relaxed in his new blinkers. He knows this track better than any other horse in this race and we all know how important home field advantage is.
Honorable Mentions:
The Factor: The Factor was also supposed to be one of the top sprinters in the nation, especially after he won the Pat O'Brien Stakes (GI) at Del Mar. However, it was not meant to be. He needs the lead and is more likely to get it here, so he’ll probably end up in the Dirt Mile rather than the Sprint. He’s training very well and is definitely hard to pass in the stretch.

Caleb’s Posse: He’s probably known as the colt that beat Uncle Mo in the popular Mike Repole-owned colt’s return in August. However, there’s more to Caleb’s Posse than that. The colt is very talented and though he is coming off a flat performance in the Indiana Derby, he may be quite underrated.

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