The Breeders’ Cup is over, but it’s not really over.
The breakdown of Mongolian Groom during the stretch run of the $6 million Classic sucked the air out of the vast Santa Anita grandstand on Saturday. Fans slumped toward their cars or buses, as what had been two days of sensational — and safe — racing was instantly overwhelmed by yet another death – the 37th of the year – at the historic racetrack.
The 4-year-old son of Hightail’s sad demise also turned up the heat on Santa Anita management, occurring as it did right in front of the grandstand on one of horse racing’s biggest days.
Expect The Stronach Group, which runs both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, to come under serious political pressure to “fix” the problem once and for all.
Having already played its army-of-veterinarians and raceday-medication-limits cards, management is quickly running out of easy options. There is already talk of tearing out the dirt track and replacing it with a synthetic racing surface, though there is no time to pull that off before the track’s scheduled reopening on Dec. 26.
In the meantime, Southern California racing shifts again Friday to Del Mar for what the beachside track is calling its Bing Crosby meeting, looking to add to what was a remarkably safe summer meet. Racing will be conducted four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, through Dec. 1.
Finally, a couple other Breeders’ Cup-related observations:
— The track at Santa Anita was even deeper during the two days of Breeders’ Cup racing than it has been since a major renovation this summer. But while a deep, tiring track often favors closers, that wasn’t the case this time. It appeared to me the track was so deep that most horses were unable to get hold of it to accelerate, making it hard for the late-runners to make up ground. That’s worth remembering when those horses return to the races with what look like very dull efforts.
— There was a time when California connections slew the completion when Breeders’ Cups were staged in the Golden State, but this year the locals took it on the chin. The Californians only managed two wins, compared to eight for the mid-Atlantic-New York circuit. Midwest-based horses took down three races, and the Euros accounted for one.
— Say goodbye to many Breeders’ Cup winners, who headed to the breeding shed as soon as they collected their trophies. Among them, Classic conquerer Vino Rosso and Sprint winner Mitole, both of whom have been retired to Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Meantime, Blue Prize, who upset Midnight Bisou in the Distaff, and Belvoir Bay, who set a Santa Anita course record winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, both will go on the auction block at the Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky shortly and are likely to be retired as well by their new owners.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are likely exhausted after powering through the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, but they’re not ones to call in sick the day after a big party. So this week they’re sinking their teeth into a pair of intriguing grass stakes races: The $150,000 Artie Schiller Stakes at a mile on Aqueduct’s inner turf course and the $175,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes (Grade 3) at 1 1/16th mile at Churchill Downs.
In the Artie Schiller, the crew is doing what bettors often do in a New York turf race: Back whatever horse Chad Brown is saddling. In this case, that is Frontier Market, who is 3-1 on the morning line. They like Caribou Club (5-2) and Curlin’s Honor (10-1) to fill out the minor placings.
I’m nearly in agreement, but will flip the top two and use Caribou Club, whose connections were confident enough in him to enter the Breeders’ Cup Mile, though he failed to draw in. Frontier Market and Curlin’s Honor underneath for me.
In the Commonwealth, a contentious affair, the crowd ‘cappers are narrowly siding with Marquee Prince (8-1), with Tracksmith (5-1) and Spectacular Gem (6-1) filling out their top three.
I am of a similar mind, as I also have Marquee Prince on top, but I like Proliferate (15-1) if he draws in off the also-eligible list. I’ll use Armistice Day (6-1) in the third slot.
Ellis Starr’s Commonwealth Turf Stakes analysis
Tiz Plus gets top billing as a win contender in my opinion for a number of reasons. His overall six-for-11 record includes five wins in nine tries on grass. Tiz Plus also has won five of his last six races, four of those on turf with the only poor effort coming when trying the longer distance of 1 1/8th mile for the first time in September. His last two wins came against older horses and he is facing 3-year-olds here, which can offer an edge. Best of all, his pattern of improving Equibase Speed Figures, from 91 on Sept. 5 to 98 on Sept. 29 to a career-best 103 figure on Oct. 12, suggest even better is forthcoming. Tiz Plus recently transferred into the barn of Steve Asmussen, who is number two among all trainers in North America, and the number one winning jockey for Asmussen, Ricardo Santana, takes the call. With excellent tactical speed which should enable him to be in the top three positions from the start, Tiz Plus looks very capable of posting the upset to win this year’s Commonwealth Turf Stakes and providing trainer Asmussen with a win in this race for the second year in a row, having saddled Hot Springs to victory in 2018.
Armistice Day is also on a strong pattern of improving figures, suggesting he could be a formidable opponent in this race. Although he finished sixth of 10 the first time he tried grass in May, Armistice Day was a different horse in July when winning the Toronto Cup Stakes on the grass and earning an 85 figure. Although seventh in September in the Dueling Grounds Derby, the field was even stronger than the Toronto Cup and his figure improved to 101. Then, three weeks later on Sept. 28, Armistice Day improved to a 104 figure when second in the Ontario Derby. With a very sharp 5 furlong workout, which was the best of 57 on the day, as his most recent in preparation for the race and picking up the services of Churchill Downs leading jockey Corie Lanerie, there’s little doubt Armistice Day will have a big say in the outcome of the Commonwealth Turf Stakes.
Marquee Prince is yet another horse with a proven record of success. His overall five-for-10 record includes three wins in six races on turf. One of those was in the Lloyd Captain Maestri Memorial Stakes last February, an effort which followed with a win in the Black Gold Stakes in March with a 100 figure. Taking time off between May and his next start on Sept. 24, Marquee Prince returned in an allowance race on grass and earned a career-best 103 figure which could be a stepping stone to much better second off the layoff. As such, Marquee Prince deserves a lot of respect when considering who can win this race.
The rest of the Commonwealth Turf Stakes field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures are Clear Vision (97), Clint Maroon (106), Faraway Kitten (105), Journeyman (105), Knicks Go (103), Louder Than Bombs (107), Mr. Dumas (101), Osage Moon (92), Pirate’s Punch (104), Proliferate (99), Spectacular Gem (105), Tobacco Road (93) and Tracksmith (105).