Photo: Adam Mooshian, NYRA
Bayern Sizzles in Jersey Heat
When Bayern sprinted away from Social Inclusion in the Woody Stephens Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard, it was a real eye-opener. It was one of the best performances of the year, in my estimation, and it was also not completely expected. Having said that, as powerful as it was, questions remained. That race was at seven furlongs - far from a classic distance. It was a fair assessment to believe that a true sprinting star was born on June 7th. Before he would step into the role as possibly the most talented sprinter in the land, though, the three-year-old son of Offlee Wild would get another shot at running two-turns. Keep in mind, Bayern was not successful in his first two trips going a distance, but in fairness, he was extremely lightly raced, and coming off a foot bruise, when he finished 3rd in the Arkansas Derby, and then he lost all chance in the early stages of the Preakness due to a rough trip. On Sunday, it was third time’s a charm for the Bob Baffert trainee. Forging right out to the early lead on the fast Monmouth Park main track, Bayern set down steady early fractions with only Wildcat Red and Social Inclusion willing to challenge his early leadership. Neither was willing to go all out and force the talented Bayern out of his comfort zone, though. Seemingly getting stronger with each furlong, the 9-2 second choice came out of the far turn in full flight, and within the first few strides of the million dollar Haskell Invitational stretch run, the only suspense left was who would be second. You could say things set up perfectly for the 7+ length winner, but in reality, he forced the issue with the others, and no one was strong enough to rise to that challenge. I am not sure what the future holds for a talent like Bayern, but I’m sure interested to see what he does next.
Wicked Strong and AggressiveThe day before Bayern was scorching the Jersey Shore earth, a pair of classy colts were battling it out at venerable old Saratoga. Before the weekend began, I considered Tonalist and Wicked Strong to be the two most likely winners of this year’s Travers, and after the weekend, I still feel the same. While Bayern earned his first stakes win around two-turns only yesterday, both Tonalist and Wicked Strong were proven commodities at classic distances. In their first two go-rounds, Tonalist was ahead of Wicked Strong virtually every step of the way, including in his important victory in the Belmont Stakes. Another change of scenery, and a big change of equipment would see Wicked Strong ready to turn the tables in the Jim Dandy. The two clear favorites, in a field of six Travers' hopefuls, ran like it on Saturday. While Wicked Strong demonstrated a new found early aggression while donning blinkers, the Belmont winner couldn't seem to get his feet under him the first fifty yards of the Jim Dandy. That early position of both became the telling factor down the stretch. While Wicked Strong pushed along the lead through moderate early fractions of the $600,000 race, Tonalist needed to track, and hope that he could run down the heavy second choice. He made a nice move on the turn to test Wicked Strong, but as the two came into the stretch, it was quickly clear that his early position on the lead hadn't taken anything out of the Wood Memorial winner. Tonalist's rally was turned away, and at the wire, it was Wicked Strong who was a clear winner, while Tonalist was much the rest of the best. It was a solid win for Wicked Strong, but it should set up both colts perfectly for the Mid-Summer Derby. Will Wicked Strong beat Tonalist again next time? I'm about 50-50 on that question, but I feel strongly that one of the two will win the Travers.
Big Macher is a Claimer no more
Goldencents, as an earner of more than $2.2 million and the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile towered over the Grade 1 Bing Crosby field. Meanwhile, included in the field of seven, were a pair of reformed claimers in Big Macher and Seeking the Sherif. Big Macher had already run a pair of solid efforts in graded stakes racing in the spring at Santa Anita, but still it was hard to imagine that the four-year-old gelded son of Beau Genius could handle the likes of the the 7-10 favorite. After all, he was claimed for just $20,000 last summer at Del Mar, and had toiled through three consecutive losing efforts in maiden claiming events when last seen at the surfside oval. What a difference a year makes. Looking even better than the horse who was so game in the San Carlos and Potrero Grande in his last pair of starts, Big Macher contested solid early fractions before striking the lead in the stretch. He once again demonstrated a strong fighting desire as he held off the late advance from Goldencents to the wire. I'm not sure he could have held him off much longer, but one thing is for sure, this former claimer does not give in easily. For Goldencents, it was another solid second place finish. He seems to have a lot of those. Seeking the Sherif, who was claimed for a mere $12,500 seven months ago, continued his steady ascent up the sprint ranks with a solid third place finish, beaten only two lengths by Big Macher.
Big Bizness on Polytrack
In his first race since last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Fed Biz blitzed the San Diego field to the tune of a 5 1/4 length victory and a new track record. This one has always been a bit of an enigma to me. At times he can look Bayern like, simply running his competition off their feet, but at other times, the son of Giant's Causeway looks rather ordinary. While he has done some impressive things on the dirt, it is becoming clear that on the synthetic main track of Del Mar, Fed Biz is at his best. He's now three-for-three in Suburban San Diego and each performance has been extremely strong. Remember last fall he ran right by Goldencents to score in the Pat O'Brien going away. So, now that we know he loves Del Mar, can we dismiss his chances against the best on dirt? Probably, but there is still something scary about Fed Biz outside of Del Mar. I wouldn't put a big performance on the dirt past him, possible in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Unfortunately, the biggest story surrounding the San Diego was the sudden loss of Dance With Fate, who was euthanized after a catostrophic injury while training just days before the Grade 2 handicap. Words cannot express the sadness I felt when I learned of the news. Suffice it to say, the black beauty left a real impression on me at the Kentucky Derby. He was a magnificent, stunning horse, who looked to have a limitless future on the racetrack and beyond. I cannot fathom how hard this is for those that were closest to him. My heartfelt condolences go out to each of them. Dance With Fate will be remembered on these pages in the near future.
Antipathy and Stonetastic ready to Move Forward
Bred to be a champion, the best you could say about Antipathy through her first seven career starts was that she looked promising. She was running well enough, but in no way did she look like a filly ready to be a grade 1 winner. And then came the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Sent off at 30-1 against the power trio of Close Hatches, Princess of Sylmar, and Beholder, Antipathy ran her eyeballs out. Her expected fade on the inside never happened, and at the wire, she was just a neck short of Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar, with Beholder back in fourth. Promising suddenly had more meaning, but she would need to validate that excellent third. On Sunday in the Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap, she did just that with a facile score against a much easier bunch at Saratoga. Now she is a graded stakes winner, and the next time she faces the big girls, Antipathy will no longer be a longshot, but rather a seriously improving filly to consider. The same afternoon down in Jersey, marked the return of Stonetastic. Last time she ran at Monmouth, the daughter of Mizzen Mast won her career debut by more than a dozen lengths. That win immediately pushed her in to graded stakes racing, and as the favorite to boot. She gave it her all in the 8 1/2 furlong Pocahontas, but ultimately fell just short to another well liked filly. That filly was Untapable, and while her next three races were not quite as good, Stonetastic had demonstrated her talent with two such solid races to start her career. After nearly seven months off, she came back in an allowance race on Haskell Day, and looked every bit the part of the filly of those first two career races for trainer Kelly Breen. After watching the 1:09 and change performance on Sunday up close, there's little doubt in my mind that the fleet gray filly will be a stakes winner sooner rather than later.
Deep and Talented Whitney
If Saturday’s 87th running of the Whitney Handicap does indeed include; Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, Departing, Itsmyluckyday, Moreno, Zivo, Romansh, Golden Ticket, and Prayer For Relief, as expected, I would have little trouble in calling it the best all-around field yet to be assembled in 2014. Strong words, I know, but that is how I see this bunch. Palace Malice has been number one on my board since his first race in 2014, and he has not dissapointed. The attractive son of Curlin is tactical, talented, and more mature than last year, when he let bad racing luck stand in his way of an even better season. This year he is undefeated in four starts, with each win being more impressive than the last. His latest win in the Met Mile was his toughest test of the year, but the Whitney is coming up even tougher. There are no cream puffs left in his schedule, as there are no cream puffs in the Whitney field. All nine of the expected starters can run big Saturday at the Spa if they fire their best shot. Last year's 3yo champ, Will Take Charge comes in off a solid second in the Stephen Foster, and showed a real fondness fot the Upstate New York oval last summer. Itsmyluckyday was a bear the first half of last year, and Eddie Plesa has brought him around slowly this year, waiting in the weeds for another shot against the best. I still believe that Departing has what it takes to win a grade 1, and both Moreno and Golden Ticket have run huge at Saratoga before. Who knows how good Zivo has gotten, while Romansh and Prayer For Relief are certainly good enough to throw a wrench in the monkey works if things go their way in the Whitney. You can see why I am so excited for this one ... let's get this on!