Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breeders' Cup Classic

The past two years of the Breeders’ Cup Classic have been all about Zenyatta. This year, the focus shifts to another brilliant female in Havre de Grace, as well as to the popular Uncle Mo and many others. After nearly a whole year of wondering who the top horse in the nation is, a champion will be crowned in a race full of talented horses. Who will the champion be?
1. Flat Out: This son of Flatter just may get the mile and one-quarter distance better than most of the horses in this race. Many say that Flat Out can only run at Belmont Park, but that’s not true. Trainer Scooter Dickey is confident in the way Flat Out is handling the Churchill surface.

Flat Out
Photo by Terri Cage
As a three-year-old in 2009, Flat Out easily won the one mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He then finished fourth in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) before crossing the wire sixth in the Arkansas Derby (GII at the time). After the Arkansas Derby, he was not seen in a race for over a year and one-half, due to a cracked shoulder and chronic quarter cracks.

He returned late in 2010 as a four-year-old, winning an allowance option-claiming race at Fair Grounds Race Course impressively.  However, he did not race again until Memorial Day 2011. He came back in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII), closing quickly to finish second to Awesome Gem. Standing along the rail during that race, I was blown away by Flat Out’s kick.
Less than three weeks later, he raced in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Though he finished sixth, he was only beaten by about three lengths. Two weeks later, he shocked many by winning the Suburban Handicap (GII) by six and one-half lengths in an impressive time of 1:46.64 for a mile and one-eighth.
In his next start, the Whitney Invitational Handicap (GI), Flat Out finished a good, closing second to Tizway, who was considered one of the top older males in the country prior to his retirement. In his following race, the Woodward Stakes (GI), Flat Out finished yet another respectable, closing second, this time to the imposing filly Havre de Grace.
With his closing finishes, Flat Out looks like he needs more ground. Though his sire, Flatter, has had most of his success with his offspring at sprinting distances or a mile, he has sired graded stakes winners at a mile and one-eighth. Flat Out’s dam, Cresta Lil, was a two-time stakes winner and was capable of winning at a mile. In addition to producing Flat Out, she foaled Our Best Man, who won a stakes race at a mile.
His pedigree may not suggest that he will enjoy the added distance of a mile and one-quarter race, but his running style definitely does. The five-year-old is coming off an impressive win in the mile and one-quarter Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (GI), in which he defeated horses such as Drosselmeyer and Stay Thirsty.
The Scooter Dickey trainee turned in his final work for the Classic on Sunday, flying through a half-mile to record a time of 46.60. It was the fastest work of fifty-eight at the distance. Many worry that the work was too quick, but Flat Out usually works quickly anway. Scooter Dickey is confident and as long as the trainer is confident in the horse, I am as well.
Many will make the argument that Havre de Grace already defeated Flat Out, but that was at a mile and one-eighth. Flat Out was rallying in that race, obviously wanting more ground. He is better than ever and I expect I huge performance from Flat Out on Saturday.

2. Havre de Grace: Havre de Grace has been part of a rivalry with champion Blind Luck for quite some time now, but now that Blind Luck is unfortunately out of the picture, Havre de Grace is taking center stage. If the filly wins the Classic, not only will she become Horse of the Year, but she will be just the second female to win the race, after the great Zenyatta.
After finishing third in the Ladies’ Classic here last year, Havre de Grace kicked off 2011 with an easy win in the Azeri Stakes (GIII) over Blind Luck at Oaklawn Park. About a month later, she earned her first grade one victory in the Apple Blossom Handicap (GI). By then, the Larry Jones trainee had the attention of the racing world.
After an easy win in the Obeah Stakes (GIII) at Delaware Park, Havre de Grace finished a nose behind Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap (GII). Despite the grueling race, the daughter of the late Saint Liam raced next against males in the Woodward Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. The filly impressively won that race, becoming the second female to do so.
In her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup, Havre de Grace dominantly won a muddy Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI). She is scary good and is improving, which makes her very dangerous. She ought to run a big race.
3. Uncle Mo: As much as I’d like to put him on top, Uncle Mo has a lot going against him. He has not won at a distance longer than a mile and one-sixteenth in his career. In 2011, he has not won at a distance longer than one mile. However, this colt is special and has plenty of sheer talent.
Uncle Mo
Photo by Terri Cage
Uncle Mo began 2011 with an easy win in the one mile Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream prior to finishing a very disappointing third in the mile and one-eighth Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). The colt continued to train for the Kentucky Derby despite the fact that he wasn’t quite himself. However, he was scratched from the race and was later diagnosed with cholangiohepatitis, a liver disease that causes inflammation of the bile passages and liver, irregularly causing hepatic failure.
For several months, Uncle Mo recuperated at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. No one knew if he would ever race again, but after some much needed rest and recovery, Uncle Mo returned to the track. His first race back was the tough Foxwoods King's Bishop Stakes (GI), in which he finished a narrow seconded to Caleb’s Posse in the seven furlong race.
Then we saw the Uncle Mo of old. On Super Saturday at Belmont Park, Uncle Mo dominated the Kelso Handicap (GII) at one mile, defeating Jackson Bend. The final time for the race over a muddy track was an impressive 1:33.82. The race reminded Uncle Mo what it felt like to win, which gives a horse more confidence than you would think.
Most people believe he can’t get the mile and one-quarter distance. Many think his pedigree won’t help him get the distance, but I see potential. His grandsire on his dam side is Arch, who of course sired last year’s Classic winner, Blame. Besides, Uncle Mo’s sire Indian Charlie did sire the late Fleet Indian, who won two grade ones at the distance of a mile and one-quarter. Uncle Mo has a much better chance to get the distance than most think. I hope to see Uncle Mo prove those who think he can’t get the distance wrong. In case you haven't guessed yet, he's the one I'll be cheering for.
4. So You Think: This European has won four group races this year, including three group ones. He is one of Europe’s top horses and will be very dangerous. The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) winner, High Chaparral, can definitely get the distance. His last eleven races have been a mile and one-quarter or longer. Though coming off a disappointing loss in the Champion Stakes (GI), So You Think is a very classy horse and will be very dangerous here.
Honorable Mentions:
We all know the 2010 Belmont Stakes (GI) will have no trouble with the distance of the Classic. Coming off a good second to Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Drosselmeyer has been training well. His last three works have been at Churchill and all three have been ranked in the top ten, one of which was a bullet. I had the privilege of seeing him on the track this morning and he looked terrific. Don’t forget about him.
Stay Thirsty: This could be the top three-year-old in the nation. After a slightly disappointing first half of the year, Stay Thirsty has become an “it” horse. He won the Jim Dandy Stakes (GII) and Travers Stakes (GI) impressively at Saratoga this summer before finishing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The colt is training well and has definitely been improving.
Drosselmeyer jogging at Churchill on 11/3/11
Video by Mary Cage

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