With no Triple Crown on the line and, as a result, no standout, today’s $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes is every handicapper’s dream race. A rock’em , sock’em event full of three-year-old horseflesh and uncertainty.
Some of the runners haven’t competed on the turf yet. Most of the ones that have grass form enter with maiden or allowance credentials and will need to produce winning form against several other sophomores in the same boat, not to mention a couple of stakes class individuals.
Speaking of boats, it is pouring rain in Toronto this morning, part of the reason this Thoroughly Woodbine post is up Sunday rather than Thursday or Friday (way to stay current, eh?). The turf won’t be as firm as it has been most of the last six weeks – which is also cause for some adjustment.
Most importantly, none of the 13 has endured a grueling 1 ½ miles. So, if the turf isn’t an obstacle and the condition of the turf isn’t an obstacle, the distance could very well be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The favorite is likely to be Prince of Wales hero Pender Harbour. But he’s never been the trip and he’s never been on turf. He ran a peak effort last time out. Will he maintain that level of performance? At a price of 3-1, you’re best to hope the answer is no and shop around.
Every year a horse steps up and shows that the Breeders’ Stakes conditions are perfect. To see if we can flesh him out, here’s a quick look at the field that will converge for one full trip around the E.P. Taylor Turf course.
Celtic Conviction (Cup & Saucer, turf), Pender Harbour (Prince of Wales, dirt)
Diego Bay, Stunning Split
Zero turf racing
Hippolytus, Pender Harbour, Runaway Whiz, Seawatch
Placed on turf, but no wins
Stunning Split, Control, Diego Bay
Winners on Turf
Born to Boogie, Crown Path, Celtic Conviction, Blackstone Bay, Delawana, Molinaro Remarks
Undefeated 1-for-1 records on Turf
Born to Boogie, Crown Path
Two-time winner on Turf
Most turf racing experience
Celtic Conviction (2-for-5 with Cup & Saucer win at 43-1)
Experience on Turf that isn’t firm
Stunning Split (two attempts, eighth over SOFT going at Fair Grounds on Jan 8 and then second to Sporting Holiday over GOOD turf at same track on Feb. 19)
Celtic Conviction (seventh, 10 lengths in arrears in Charlie Barley Stakes)
Delawana (eighth, defeated eight lengths, in second career start on October 30, sixth, defeated 6 ¾ lengths on June 5)
Note that the 3-1 morning line favorite Queen’splatekitten was declared from the race Friday and will not compete. It couldn’t have been the forecasted rain that scared him away as he was second over yielding turf in his debut. My theory? Couldn’t get his name changed in time to Breederstakitten!
So the above point-form bullets should expose right away that this year’s Breeders’ is lacking in turf stakes form – which is usually the case, but this year’s is particularly weak. In fairness, we can’t expect seven or eight stakes winners because there aren’t a whole lot of local opportunities to win stakes on the turf up to this point. The possibilities are the juvenile pair of the Summer and Cup & Saucer and the three-year-old events, the Toronto Cup and the Bold Ruckus, which is a sprint.
This year’s 120th edition has only lured the Cup & Saucer winner, Celtic Conviction, who was second to a very good horse last month in the Toronto Cup on July 16. Finishing just a neck behind Clement Rock, who would be even-money in here if he was a Canadian-bred, has to earn this Mike Doyle trainee some respect. The one caveat perhaps is that Clement Rock may not have been at his absolute best on this day and Celtic Conviction was able to capitalize by attending slow fractions on a very firm turf course and racing on the inside, which is the place to be when the rail is somewhat out (15 feet). Clement Rock, meanwhile was much more forwardly-placed than usual and made his serious rally on the turn instead of the stretch. Nonetheless, Celtic Rock stayed on gamely after being passed to make it interesting. The extra half-mile will be the test for the Sam-Son Farms bred. He does have breeding on his side being one of two individuals in here by Strut the Stage, whose offspring are 3-for-13 in turf routes. In fact, both of his route winners to this point (also Born to Boogie) are in the Breeders’. Strut the Stage is by world-class sire Theatrical.
The Clement Rock reference also comes up on another horse’s record. Two starts ago, Stunning Split ran second to this former Mark Casse trainee, caught very late on June 10 and forced to settle for second, but only a half-length from victory. Stunning Split, who is owned by Sam-Son and trained by Malcolm Pierce, led through splits and of 47 2/5 and 1:11 2/5 and then did what a decent horse is supposed to do – open up in the stretch. It wasn’t enough for Clement Rock’s outstanding stretch speed. If he’s not in this race, Stunning Split’s a 3 ¾ length maiden winner.
Most recently, Stunning Split was not unexpectedly bet down to 7-5. He was on the brink of a maiden-breaking result, he looked like lone speed in the 1 ¼-mile race and his event came two races after the aforementioned Clement Rock had won the aforementioned Toronto Cup. Whether he got a bit too relaxed with blinkers off or instructions were to make one run from the backfield, who knows. For whatever reason, Stunning Split wound up finishing a flat fifth to Delawana in this maiden event. He didn’t get a poor start. He just wasn’t asked for any early speed and was taken back nine lengths off pedestrian fractions. Chalk players could’ve torn up their tickets on the far turn as Patrick Husbands guided this son of Awesome Again to the outside for a rally that seemed destined to come up short while the longshot winner got away on the front end, once again riding the inside to victory.
It was a disappointing result, defeated 4 ¾ lengths. But it’s certainly too early to give up on this bay son of Split the Arrow, herself a daughter of Radiant Ring, probably the best Sam-Son filly not yet elected into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. As a prep for the Breeders’ Stakes, the fifth-place finish may be all that was needed to prime him for a big effort this afternoon. As noted above, he’s the only horse in the race that has finished on the board over a turf course that’s not labelled firm. Awesome Again offspring are 18 per cent overall in routes, but in turf routes they are 13 per cent. So throwing turf runners is not his forte, but he still has a record (111-for-863) that’s better than many sires out there. The success rate does dip the further the distance goes (offspring on turf at 1 ¼ miles and further, he’s just 9-for-127).
Prince of Wales winner Pender Harbour and Queen’s Plate runner-up Hippolytus have yet to try turf. Both have in common that they are by Philanthropist, whose first crop has fared much better since turning three. Philanthropist has yet to throw a turf winner, but he is by a top grass sire in Kris. S., whose offspring won 15 per cent of their turf attempts going long. The son of Roberto sired 80 different turf winners going 1 ¼ miles or longer. It’s a safe bet Philanthropist won’t ever produce those kinds of numbers but it may just be a matter of time before he makes an impact on the turf. Philanthropist never won on turf, but he only tried it once. There’s more uncertainty with both of these Breeders’ hopefuls. With uncertainty, you want a bit of a price. With Pender Harbour, piloted by Luis Contreras, there will be zero value. With Hippolytus, who is marooned out in lucky post 13, the price may drift as high as 9-1. He’s sent out by the leading trainer Mark Casse, who is on his way to a record-breaking year, and there is Ascot Knight (by Danzig) on the bottom of his pedigree.
In the untapped potential category, there are two Breeders’ runners boasting perfect 1-for-1 records on the sod. Born to Boogie appears to be a horse that has been intended for the Breeders’ all along by trainer Catherine Day Phillips. He ran once on Polytrack in April and took a 16-length pasting when Bear’s Chill ran a 1:21 1/5 hole in the wind. He returned on June 18 and rallied nicely from ninth to win a first level allowance for Ontario sired runners on turf at 1 1/16 miles. Day Phillips hasn’t raced him since the race, which was a lifetime best on the Beyer scale. He’s only worked twice, which many will argue is a touch on the light side, but it’s a tough reason to toss what will more than likely be a 12-1 shot. He’s the other in here by Strut the Stage and would hardly be a surprise.
Like Born to Boogie, Crown’s Path enters with a four-start resume. This homebred’s features a win and two seconds. He debuted in a seven-furlong race that was moved from turf to Polytrack, a possible indication that a Breeders’ try was in the plan from the start of the meet. He didn’t find the turf until his fourth try of the season, which came on July 17 at about 1 1/8 miles. He rallied from eighth and drew off by 2 ½ lengths. In a way, he’s overcome his pedigree since sons and daughters of Trajectory only connect on turf at a six per cent clip. He returns off a three-week break and certainly appears to have potential. There’s certainly value to be had here if he goes off at 15-1 or more.
A third individual, Blackstone Bay, is perfect on the Woodbine sod, having won a $50,000 maiden claimer emphatically on July 2 in 1:33 and change for one mile. His other start on turf was a five-furlong dash at Gulfstream, which doubled as his first lifetime start. Blackstone Bay is also trained by Casse and is owned by WinStar Farm. His claim to fame is that he’s a full brother to two-year-old star Leonnatus Anteas, who was a runaway winner of the Cup & Saucer Stakes. The two brothers were sired by Stormy Atlantic, whose offspring have generated over 340 turf scores at a rate of 15 per cent. But the overwhelming majority of these individuals did their best running at middle distances. Consider this. Stormy Atlantic has produced 159 different turf winners, but only four have been successful at 1 ¼ miles or further.
The Superfecta is one of the best ways to go in the Breeders’. Go big or go home! Canadian readers of Thoroughly Woodbine have the option of playing for 20-cents a combination, but in the interest of not excluding U.S. readers from taking a follow play on the flyer, I’ll keep it simple and cheap. Here’s how it’ll look. Best of luck!
First: Stunning Split, Born to Boogie
Second: Stunning Split, Born to Boogie, Blackstone Bay
Third: Stunning Split, Born to Boogie, Blackstone Bay, Celtic Conviction, Crown’s Path
Fourth: Stunning Split, Born to Boogie, Blackstone Bay, Celtic Conviction, Crown’s Path, Hippolytus
Total: $36 (or $7.20 for 20 cents)