Fast Times at Belmont Park begins its Breeders’ Cup preview today with a little help from our friend Scott Dick – who writes HRN’s “Hoosier State of Mind” blog.
The format is as follows: We will preview a prominent Breeders’ Cup horse that raced at least once in New York in 2011. We will examine these horses New York performances. Then, Scott will offer some background into their pedigrees. Then we will decide whether to “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em.”
We begin with Havre De Grace, who made two appearances on the NYRA circuit this year. She was victorious in both, capturing the Woodward Stakes (G1) on September 3rd, followed by the Beldame Invitational (G1) on October 1st.
Joe DePaolo: Let’s break down the Woodward, which was, clearly, the more impressive of Havre De Grace’s two New York performances. That day, she beat a field of older males, most notably Flat Out – who would go on to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Was Flat Out the only horse in that race that merited respect? And, on that basis, do you considered Havre De Grace’s accomplishment to be somewhat watered down? Or do you consider this a legitimate, big-time score that can arguably considered – with the exception of Tizway’s Met Mile (G1) and Whitney (G1) victories – the most impressive win in the sport in 2011?
Scott Dick: Besides Flat Out, I thought the field was mediocre. Flat Out came back to win, and he looked great doing it. But Rule came back to run terribly in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Same for Giant Oak. Ice Box really hasn’t done anything since the Kentucky Derby last year. Mission Impazible isn’t that great. So beating Flat Out was a big deal. But there really wasn’t much else in that race.
JD: Given your love of Rachel Alexandra, I’m sure you were more than a little perturbed when Tom Durkin invoked the name of Rachel Alexandra in the stretch. As good as Havre De Grace was in winning this year’s Woodward, it can’t possibly be considered remotely as impressive of a feat as Rachel Alexandra’s incredible victory in that race two years ago.
SD: Oh, definitely not. The race set up perfectly for Havre De Grace. There were a couple of speed horses in there that looked like they were going to quit, and she sat a perfect stalking trip behind them.
JD: It’s funny that you say that. Yes, clearly, Havre De Grace got a perfect trip in the Woodward. But it seems like she ALWAYS gets a perfect trip. And I don’t think that’s an accident. Can you remember a race where she got a really bad trip? I mean, she was floated a little wide going into the first turn of this year’s Del Cap (G2), but I think that was as much a case of her being rank as anything. With her tactical speed, she seems to make her own racing luck. And that makes her dangerous, no?
SD: I agree. But field size might have a little something to do with that. She’s been running against some smaller fields this year. She’ll be in against a full field in the Classic. But that tactical speed will definitely help her find a good spot to settle in.
JD: Let’s look at Havre De Grace’s other New York conquest this year, the Beldame. Going in, did you think Royal Delta was going to provide a serious challenge to her?
SD: Eh, not really. I looked at the race and thought, “If she doesn’t win this, it’s going to be a major setback.” Royal Delta’s a nice filly, but the race just didn’t set up for her. There just wasn’t enough speed. You had Life At Ten, but that was about it. And it ended up being a very strangely run race.
JD: A strangely run race with a strange ride from Jose Lezcano. His move appeared to be WAY premature. And Life At Ten Stop cold, before briefly kicking on again. Considering how weird the race turned out to be, is it a complete throwout when examining Havre De Grace’s Classic prospects?
SD: Pretty much. There isn’t much to be learned from that race. Take out Royal Delta, and you basically have a Thursday allowance race at Belmont. It was just a prep race. A good one, but a prep race just the same.
JD: We’re going to be talking about these Super Saturday races here during these previews. And they all have the interesting variable of having been run in the slop. How will you factor that into your handicapping as you look at these horses?
SD: Well, the thing about the winners on Super Saturday is that they’ve all run well on fast tracks too. So none of them were really dressed by the sloppy track. And if it rains, Super Saturday proved that they’ll be able to deal with it.
JD: Havre De Grace’s pedigree?
SD: Excellent. She’s out of Saint Liam, who won the Classic in 2005. And Carson City, who has put out some distance horses. 10 furlongs will not be a problem, as she proved in Delaware, even though she lost.
JD: So what’s the verdict? Use her or lose her?
SD: I will use her defensively, but she won’t be my top selection. If I were playing a pick 4, and I hit the first three legs, I would hate to lose it because Havre De Grace won the Classic, and I didn’t use her. But, especially with the defection of Tizway, I think she might be unplayable in the win pool. She stands to be a solid second choice behind Uncle Mo.
JD: Well, I’m using her offensively. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the beginning of the season. And other than floating a bit wide going into the first turn in Delaware, she really hasn’t made a mistake all year. I just feel like whether it’s the distance, or dynamics, or overall talent level, every other horse in the Classic field has at least one significant question. She has none. She can get ten furlongs, she’s got the tactical speed to sit a good trip, and she definitely belongs in this company, talent-wise. Tizway’s defection does hurt her win odds, true. But I still play her with gusto, leaning heavily with her, if not outright singling her, in the multi-races.