Miles and hours apart, two premier older horses scored victories in high-class races on both coasts this previous Saturday. These two horses furthered proved how deep of a division the handicap division is this year – much more competitive than last year. Combined with talented three-year-olds such as Bodemeister and Paynter, brilliant international horses such as perhaps Camelot and Nathaniel, and spectacular females such as possibly Royal Delta, the United States’ deep older male string could put on quite a show in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita this fall.
Here is a look at thirteen older horses that could possibly make a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall:
Acclamation: Capturing three grade ones last year, Acclamation earned the Eclipse Award for Champion Older Male. Acclamation has only raced once so far this year, taking the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (GI) for the third year in a row.
Though Acclamation is a turf horse, he often trains on dirt and is certainly acclimated to Santa Anita. He is an absolutely brilliant individual, but I would rather see him compete on the turf at the Breeders' Cup.
Alternation: This Donnie K. Von Hemel trainee made headlines last year when he won the Peter Pan Stakes (GII) at Belmont Park. He was then winless for the next ten months, returning to the winner’s circle when he easily took the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park this February to kick off his 2012 campaign. He then reeled off victories in the Razorback Handicap (GIII), Oaklawn Handicap (GII), and Pimlico Special Stakes (GIII). Alternation suffered his first defeat of the year in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), lacking the needed rally and thus finishing fifth amongst a very competitive field.
Alternation is certainly a classy horse and it would not surprise me in the least if he rebounds and continues to be one of the top handicap horses in the nation.
Fort Larned: This four-year-old began 2012 with a fourth-place finish in a handicap at Tampa Bay Downs, which he followed up with a win in the Challenger Stakes at the same track, a race that produced last year’s winner of the BC Classic, Drosselmeyer. Following an easy win in the mile and one-sixteenth Skip Away Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park, Fort Larned ran a game second in the Alysheba Stakes (GII) behind Successful Dan. Fort Larned was bothered in the Stephen Foster Handicap and did not run well, finishing last. However, he rebounded in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII), effortlessly defeating Successful Dan. In his three-length victory in that nine-furlong event, Fort Larned appeared as if he could continue for another furlong.
His sire, E Dubai, was a graded stakes winner at ten furlongs, but primarily sires successful sprinters and middle-distance runners. However, Fort Larned’s damsire, Broad Brush was successful at the classic distance. Not only will Fort Larned need to prove that he can be victorious at longer distances, but he will need to show that he can be more competitive against top rivals than he was in the Foster.
|Game on Dude|
Photo by Mary Cage
Game on Dude: A gelding who came within 1 ½ lengths of winning the Classic last year, Game on Dude capped off 2011 with two grade one victories and ten Horse of the Year votes. He commenced this year with an easy win in the San Antonio Stakes (GII) at his home track, Santa Anita – the track at which the Breeders’ Cup will be held this year. After a disappointing run in the Dubai World Cup (GI) in the United Arab Emirates, Game on Dude returned to the United States and returned to the races approximately two months later, trouncing the field in the Californian Stakes (GII). Game on Dude scored his first grade one victory of the year this past weekend in the Hollywood Gold Cup (GI), easily crossing the wire ahead of stablemate Richard’s Kid.
Game on Dude has proven he is among the top two premier handicap horses in the nation, if not the very best. As if his obvious talent wasn’t enough, Game on Dude has home field advantage. A big year for Game on Dude appears to be in the makings.
Hymn Book: This Shug McGaughey trainee had a fairly successful year last year, winning two stakes and placing in a pair of graded stakes, including the Cigar Mile Handicap (GI). He began 2012 with a win in the Donn Handicap (GI), after which he finished fourth in the Oaklawn Handicap and fifth in the Pimlico Special. He rebounded in the Suburban Handicap (GII), finishing a good second behind the impressive Mucho Macho Man.
Hymn Book is a talented racehorse, but will need to return to his winning ways. Nonetheless, he is a horse that should not be ignored and that could easily find the winner’s circle again.
Mission Impazible: Winless since taking last year’s New Orleans Handicap (GII), Mission Impazible has finished in the money in four graded stakes, including three grade ones. In fact, the dark gray horse came within a neck of winning the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap and within a nose of taking the Donn Handicap. After a second-place result in this year’s renewal of the New Orleans Handicap, Mission Impazible finished a close fourth in the Pimlico Special and a dull seventh in the Foster.
Mission Impazible will need to return to his winning ways, but the potential has always been there for him.
Mucho Macho Man: One of three horses who competed in each Triple Crown race last year, Kentucky Derby (GI) third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man returned to the races in winning style last November, easily taking an allowance optional claiming at Aqueduct. He commenced 2012 with an easy victory over Ron the Greek in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes before effortlessly taking the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII). Mucho Macho Man suffered his first defeat of the season in the Alysheba Stakes, finishing a distant third. However, he rebounded in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park with Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard for the first time, capturing the race by an easy 2 ½ lengths in an impressive final time of 1:46.58 for nine furlongs.
Mucho Macho Man is among the very best of the older male division and is considered the best by many. He is certainly a classy horse and is maturing very well. He is a force to be reckoned with.
Richard’s Kid: Following a rather unsuccessful five-race period in Dubai, this two-time Pacific Classic Stakes (GI) winner returned to the care of Bob Baffert in southern California. Richard’s Kid resumed his United States career with a dominant win in the Prove It Stakes at Hollywood Park, which he followed up with a good second behind stablemate Game on Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Richard’s Kid clearly appears to be second best when it comes to being compared to his stablemate. However, he is an excellent racehorse, especially in California. I believe he has more victories in his future.
Ron the Greek: After winning the LeComte Stakes (GIII) as a three-year-old, Ron the Greek went winless for nearly twenty-two months. He returned to the winner’s circle at Aqueduct, winning two ungraded stakes. Following a second-place finish in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes behind Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek was shipped to California for the Santa Anita Handicap (GI), which he won by an easy 3 ½ lengths to score his first grade one victory. After a second-place finish behind Alternation in the Oaklawn Handicap, Ron the Greek got revenge in the Foster, posting his second grade one triumph.
Ron the Greek has proven to be amid the absolute best of the older male division and clearly has an affinity for the Santa Anita surface. I believe he could continue to have a very productive rest of the year, as well as a strong effort at the Breeders’ Cup this fall.
Rule: A successful two-year-old and early three-year-old, Rule missed nearly ten months of racing before returning with a runner-up effort in the Hal’s Hope Stakes (GIII). Following four more defeats, Rule captured an ungraded stakes at Saratoga. He then finished third in the Woodward Stakes (GI), but then crossed the wire a disappointing seventh in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (GII). His five-year-old debut was a winning one: an easy win in the Monmouth Cup Stakes (GII).
Rule is a talented colt, but he will need to step it up to be competitive with the very best.
Successful Dan: Lightly raced, Successful Dan has three graded stakes victories to his credit. He returned from an injury this year, winning an allowance optional claiming event at Keeneland prior to taking the Alysheba. He then was handily defeated by Fort Larned in the Cornhusker.
Successful Dan is overshadowed by his younger half-brother, Wise Dan, though he is quite talented himself. However, many doubt his ability to win at ten furlongs. He appeared as if he could go another furlong when he won the Cornhusker, but ten furlongs appears to be a stretch for him nonetheless.
To Honor and Serve: A multiple graded stakes-winning two-year-old, To Honor and Serve missed the Triple Crown due to injury but returned to win the Pennsylvania Derby (GII). Following a poor finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, To Honor and Serve impressively captured the Cigar Mile. To commence his 2012 season, To Honor and Serve dominantly won the Westchester Stakes (GIII) at Belmont. He then finished a decent third in the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) prior to crossing the wire a disappointing fourth in the Suburban, beaten 7 ½ lengths.
To Honor and Serve is a classy individual but often appears to be overrated. He will need to start bringing his A-game.
Wise Dan: This Morton Fink homebred put an exclamation mark at the end of 2011 by impressively winning both the Fayette Stakes (GII) and the Clark Handicap (GI). Wise Dan began 2012 with a dominant, record-breaking victory in the Ben Ali Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland. He then finished a head behind Ron the Greek in the Foster.
Wise Dan is a brilliant racehorse and definitely should not be forgotten. More victories from him would not be surprising in the least.
Of course, there are other horses, such as Stay Thirsty and Shackleford, in this division, but Stay Thirsty has not appeared to be at his best lately and I believe Shackleford is more suited to the Dirt Mile (though there is a slight chance he could go in the Classic). Nonetheless, what a division this is in 2012!