Handicapping Insights


It didn't shock me that HAYNESFIELD (Speightstown) was able to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). After all, he looked like the lone speed and his record at Belmont Park was terrific. And as Allen Jerkens once allegedly said: "Speed is like a shotgun; dangerous in anyone's hands."

When Rail Trip (Jump Start) did not break quick enough, Ramon Dominguez put Haynesfield on the lead through moderate fractions. With a half mile to run, the field looked like it was going to tighten but instead Haynesfield was pulling away and putting distance between himself and his rivals.

Garrett Gomez was doing everything he could to motivate Blame (Arch) to shorten the gap, but you could see that it was fruitless. Haynesfield had a seven-length lead in the deep stretch and coasted home to a four-length victory in 2:02.48. Blame grinded his way to second and at least it looked like Gomez might have saved something for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in five weeks.

What made Haynesfield's upset all the more amazing is that a son of sprint champion Speightstown captured a Grade 1 stakes going 1 1/4 miles. According to the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances, the average winning distance of his offspring is only 6.3 furlongs; hardly the expected genetic profile for classic distances. But with two nine-furlong wins against Grade 2 and 3 company, all Haynesfield needed was an extra furlong and, amazingly, he got it.

During his four-race winning streak this year, before losing the Whitney H. (G1) when he broke awkwardly after breaking through the starting gate, Haynesfield showed a new dimension in the way he finished his races. Even though he was running on or near the lead, his BRIS Pace figures showed that he was getting faster as the races went on. Clearly, he learned his lessons well from trainer Steve Asmussen and at the end of his four-year-old season he was a different horse from the one that he was bred to be.

Which illustrates an important handicapping lesson regarding pedigree: I'm not saying that any horse can get a distance of ground with the right amount of education and maturity, but pedigree is at its most importance when horses are doing things for the first time. As they continue to attempt to do things -- turf, wet track, distance, etc. -- the pedigree becomes less important.

One factor that Speightstown has going for him as a sire is that he is in-bred to Secretariat 3X4. Speightstown's sire, Gone West, is out of a daughter of Secretariat and his dam's sire, Storm Cat, is out of a daughter of Secretariat. There has been much written about the incredible stamina influence Secretariat is through his daughters and Speightstown is the latest example.

Elsewhere at Belmont Park on Saturday, GIROLAMO (A.P. Indy) won the Vosburgh (G1) going six furlongs in a brilliant performance where he had to extricate himself out of a potential traffic jam and go on to a handy win. Considering it was only his second start of the year, he should be ready to run another big race in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1).

In the Flower Bowl Invitational (G1), Javier Castellano threaded his way between horses inside the final furlong and got up by a head to win aboard AVE (Danehill Dancer). Contested over a yielding turf course, Red Desire (Jpn) (Manhattan Café) was stuck down on the rail for most of the trip and Changing Skies (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) made a nice, wide rally. Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in November could come up wet, but Ave is reportedly out of consideration for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1).

The Beldame (G1) looked like a three-horse race on paper and on the tote board. The public sent off Unrivaled Belle (Unbridled's Song) as the 125-100 favorite followed by LIFE AT TEN (Malibu Moon) at 145-100 and Persistently (Smoke Glacken) at 285-100. The public was somewhat against Life at Ten off her loss to Persistently and Rachel Alexandra last out in the Personal Ensign (G1) as it was viewed that she was going downhill at the end of a long year. Wrong!

Over a track that she looked sensational earlier this year when winning the Ogden Phipps (G1), Life at Ten stalked the early pace in third, made her move around the far turn and drew away to a convincing two-length win. As good as she looked, I think that the Beldame will be the race that puts her over the top and she's a bet against for me in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (G1).

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) was run at 1 1/2 miles over a yielding Widener turf course and WINCHESTER (Theatrical [Ire]) took advantage of the ground and configuration better than anyone. Last after a mile in 1:46.38, he began to pick up horses while racing widest of all. Paddy O' Prado (El Prado [Ire]) was three wide throughout and took a short lead in the stretch, but Winchester's momentum carried him home to a length victory. His final quarter of :24.86 seconds was excellent under the testing conditions.

Considering he never saved an inch of ground, it was a big race for Paddy O' Prado but it will take a lot of work to have him ready for the strong Euro contingent expected to compete in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). He's been racing hard since February and could be over the top. Winchester has now won Grade 1 turf stakes on yielding and firm ground. He'll run all day and will be a stretch factor in any race that he enters.

Out at Hollywood Park, which is now hosting the Oak Tree meet, ZENYATTA (Street Cry [Ire]) maintained her undefeated streak at 19 when running down Switch (Quiet American) in the shadow of the wire in her latest edition of "Perils of Pauline" to win the Lady's Secret S. (G1). Winner of the Hollywood Oaks (G2) over probable 3YO filly champion Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision) back in June, Switch kicked clear at the eighth pole and braced herself for Zenyatta. And like all the other horses in the same predicament, even though it looked like she wasn't going to get there, Zenyatta's huge strides gobbled up the deficit and she won by a half-length.

What has always amazed me about Zenyatta's undefeated career is that with the exception of the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), all her races were at distances below her optimum. With her pedigree and running style, 10 furlongs is perfect for her. Yet, 18 of her 19 wins came at distances that she is at a severe disadvantage. Still, she has been able to overcome pace and trip to remain undefeated.

I don't know who had a worse trip in the Norfolk S. (G1) at Hollywood Park. The winner, JAYCITO (Victory Gallop), was four-wide every step of his two-turn journey. Or, J P's Gusto (Successful Appeal), who was slammed at the start and raced between horses for the entire trip before weakening late. Both were very impressive and have to be taken seriously in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).

Elsewhere in America, LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) won the Indiana Derby (G2) over a very sloppy track to set up his run at the Classic and Blind Luck was nipped by HAVRE DE GRACE (Saint Liam), who was in receipt of 10 pounds, in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion S. (G2).

Over in Paris, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) was run at Longchamp and it was as rough a race as you will ever see. Nineteen horses slogging it out on a soft turf course saw any number of contender's chances compromised. Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) winner WORKFORCE (King's Best) showed his poor effort in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (Eng-G1) last out was a fluke when he burst between horses to take the lead and grimly hold off Japanese import Nakayama Festa (Stay Gold) to win by a head. It was another trophy on the mantle of Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, who not only has been winning everything this year but winning them with homebreds.

The horse that suffered the most from the scrum was Sarafina (Refuse to Bend [Ire]) who almost unsaddled her rider and went down with less than a half-mile to go. Somehow, she dropped back, went to the outside and rallied down the middle of the track to get third. I don't think I have ever seen a horse get into the trouble Sarafina got into and still get back into the race.

Once the dust settles from the Arc, we'll have to see which horses show up for the Breeders' Cup. As I write this, Workforce is a strong possibility to come here for the Turf, and the International Racing Bureau is reporting that Sarafina is coming but it hasn't been determined what race she would compete in.

In the race before the Arc, the incredible GOLDIKOVA (Ire) (Anabaa) won the Prix de La Foret (Fr-G1) going seven furlongs. It was a record 11th Group 1 stakes win for her and only because the track dried out some on Sunday did she even compete. Still, I think it was an effort that will set her back as she had to tap into reserves in the run to the wire and she'll be very vulnerable in her attempt at a third straight Breeders' Cup Mile (G1).

by Dick Powell
from brisnet.com


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