The Brock Talk

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Process of Elimination Produces Classic Winner

There is money to be made betting on the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year.

The large 13-horse field will create large pools and Uncle Mo, the popular Champion 2-Year-Old Male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner from last year, is the very beatable morning line favorite at 5-2. Uncle Mo is by the respected sire Indian Charlie who commands a $70,000 fee from his home at Airdre Stud in Midway, Kentucky. Since his first crop hit the track in 2002, Indian Charlie has produced more than 1,000 winners and more than 100 stakes wins. Along with Uncle Mo, Indian Charlie’s daughters Fleet Indian and Indian Blessing were also champions. Of the three, however, only Fleet Indian won at the Classic distance of 10 furlongs (1.25 miles). She won both the Personal Ensign Stakes in New York and the Delaware Handicap, both at 1-1/4 miles.

Indian Charlie’s nine furlong stigma is further illustrated by his racing career. After winning the prestigious 1-1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby, he finished third to Real Quiet in the Derby. The comment in the Daily Racing Form official chart for Indian Charlie, “held on well to the final furlong then weakened.” In other words, at nine furlongs Indian Charlie was a world beater. But between that last green and white pole and the finish line of a 1-1/4 race, folks from episode one of Biggest Loser were faster.

Combine his distance challenged genetics with his preparation for the Classic in the one mile Kelso Handic ap Oct. 1 at Belmont, and Uncle Mo gets cut from my list of top contenders. Be mindful that Uncle Mo should be the one to catch turning for home and should keep that lead deep into the stretch. So don’t leave him out of any exotic tickets you are considering.
Havre de Grace, the popular 4-year-old filly that already defeated older males this year in the Woodward Stakes, also gets crossed off my Classic list. Should she prove me wrong and win the Classic, Havre de Grace should become the third consecutive female Horse of the Year.

But questions were raised about her training when she abruptly stopped after a five furlong work in 1:02 flat Monday at Churchill. A week earlier at Keeneland, Havre de Grace put in a quick five furlong work over their polytrack, stopping the clock in :58.3. Everything else on her past performances places her among my top choices, but the quick stop in the work is enough of a red flag in a race as competitive as this Classic.

Ruler On Ice, Ice Box, Rattlesnake Bridge and Headache are all long shots, each listed at 30-1 in the morning line. The handicapping paradox however, is that these four represent the only closers in this year’s Classic. Five of the seven Breeders’ Cup Classic winners at Churchill Downs have come from well off the pace including last year’s winner Blame. Closers are also known to have done well in the Kentucky Derby in recent years, giving additional credence to assumption.

It is always difficult to exclude trainer Nick Zito, but his Ice Box has been defeated by nearly 30 lengths in his last two races. History shows that horses need to come into the Classic off of a much better efforts than that. No horse has won the Classic without finishing first, second or third in their final start before the Classic. Rattlesnake Bridge, while third in the Pennsylvania Derby last out behind To Honor and Serve and Ruler On Ice, has never hit triple digit Beyer numbers which makes it difficult to imagine him hitting that big race Saturday. Headache is also speed figure challenged but he has three career wins at Churchill Downs. Ruler On Ice has the Belmont Stakes on his resume so distance should not be a challenge for him and his performance in the Pennsylvania Derby last race was strong.

Game On Dude, winner of the 10 furlong Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Goodwood at 1-1/8 miles in October, has had a difficult time putting together two consecutive good starts. He did win an Optional Claiming before winning the Santa Anita Handicap, but failed to win in the next four starts until the Goodwood. A close second in the Hollywood Gold Cup and a fourth in the Pacific Classic were among those losses, but he looks to need to take a step up from even his career best to win Saturday.

Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve were both on the road to the Kentucky Derby earlier this year but only Stay Thirsty made it. Unfortunately, he finished 12th. In fact, Stay Thirsty has had two starts at Churchill, neither with much success with a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year under the twin spires. Stay Thirsty skipped the Preakness, returned in the Belmont to finish second to Ruler on Ice and eventually became the star 3-year-old of the summer. After two big wins in the Jim Dandy and Travers, he was a solid third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup behind Classic foes Flat Out and Drosselmeyer.
To Honor and Serve also comes into the Classic on a two-race winning streak, taking the Pennsylvania Derby in his last race winning at optional claiming race against older horses at Saratoga before that.

However, neither Stay Thirsty nor To Honor and Serve look quite exceptional enough to win the Classic as 3-year-olds.

The three older horses that will be getting plenty of support will be European invader So You Think (NZ); and Flat Out and Drosselmeyer, the top two finishers in the Jockey Club Gold Cup respectively. Euros, Asians have had little success in the Classic, save for Raven’s Pass winning over Santa Anita’s artificial surface in 2008.

That leaves Flat Out and Drosselmeyer, two older horses that have been turning heads during morning training hours. Not so much that they have been blazing bullet works back and forth, but reports are that both are training with ease and aggressiveness. Flat Out and trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey provide a good story, but its performance that attracts wagers and Flat Out has shown no indication that the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a peak performance.

Flat Out looks to be sharper than Drosselmeyer coming into the Classic, but Drosselmeyer has the flexibility to lay further off the pace and make that big run that can be so important down the long stretch at Churchill Downs. Somebody is going to have to catch Uncle Mo and these two are set to launch a two-pronged attack.

At the wire in the Classic, Flat Out will have the edge over Drosselmeyer with Uncle Mo in third. The long shot with the best chance after Drosselmey is Ruler On Ice.

That leaves, So You Think (NZ), the second choice in the morning line at 5-1, Flat Out (6-1), Game on Dude (10-1), Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve both at 12-1 and Drosselmeyer at 15-1, still left for Classic consideration.

As I said before, there’s money to be made in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year.

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