An equine Strait flush has resulted in a big bulky field for Sunday’s $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack.
After not bothering to even consider the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, Queen’s Plate winner Strait of Dover was declared from the 1 ½-mile third jewel earlier in the week due to a suspensory injury.
As a result, if anyone was shy about entering the turf event last week, they weren’t on entry day. A total of 13 three-year-olds, foaled in Canada, are slated to contest the contest, which consists of one complete lap of the E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
For those that questioned Strait of Dover’s chances to go that far off such a long gap between starts, his absence will be disappointing since every other horse in the race will now be a few points lower.
However, all that is required to assure a decent Breeders’ payday is the defeat of the Prince of Wales Stakes winner Dixie Strike. At first blush, the John Oxley charge’s resume would be enough to call that a tall order. The Mark Casse trainee is 3-for-7 this season with close to $700,000 in earnings. While she hasn’t competed over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, she certainly showed an affinity for grass racing while at Tampa Bay Downs in the winter.
But as far as star-calibre fillies go, she isn’t exactly the most consistent runner around, having gone through dull patches of the season in late Spring and the after appearing to have bounced back into top form in the Selene, coming back with a disappointing fifth-place result in one of her major goals for the campaign, the Woodbine Oaks.
Dixie Strike’s also been the busiest Breeders’ entrant this season, having raced seven times. The wear and tear of a long season could conceivably materialize at any time. Only Irish Mission and Lateegra, the other two fillies in the event, have raced almost as frequently with six 2012 starts.
It would be sensible to raise the issue of pedigree when it comes to Dixie Strike’s chances at 12 furlongs on turf. Sons and daughter of Dixie Union only strike at a rate of 10 per cent in turf routes, compared to 14 per cent overall (all surfaces) at one mile and over. Even this respectable route percentage drops to 11 per cent when considering just extended route distances (1 1/4- miles and over) on any surface. This stallion’s offspring have generated 80 different turf winners (from 295 different individuals to try turf). Only nine have managed to win on turf at a distance beyond 1 ¼ miles and not one of those occurred at 1 ½ miles, a distance at which is offspring are winless in 15 tries.
So, Dixie Strike is obviously the most talented and most accomplished in the field, but for the aforementioned chinks in her armor, she’s no bargain at 3-1 or lower and worth taking a shot against. The question is on which of her other 12 opponents should one land?
If the distance is beyond what the favorite is genetically programmed to achieve, perhaps the three-year-old that wins the Breeders’ is one in which 1 1/2 miles would seem most appropriate.
The two obvious answers would appear to be Irish Mission and Wilcox, both offspring of Giant’s Causeway, certainly a strong stamina influence. Irish Mission won the Oaks in moderate time and then ran gallantly to finish second in the Queen’s Plate. Most will chalk her abysmal effort in the Prince of Wales up to disliking Fort Erie’s very quick dirt surface. Others may suggest her form reached a sharp peak in the Plate. Either way, she has to show she can atone for the poor performance, otherwise her strong distance breeding is just a moot point.
Having gone unraced as a two-year-old, Wilcox is just 1-for-4 lifetime and was certainly lacking in the seasoning department when Josie Carroll entered him in the Queen’s Plate two tries ago. It wasn’t surprising to see him finish 11th at 35-1. His most recent effort on turf at 1 3/8 miles was much better, considering he was second to five-year-old Miami Deco, the 2010 winner of the Breeders’ Stakes. Turf and distance don’t appear to be a problem. His talent level is hard to determine because he is lightly-raced and his future is in front of him. A recent breeze of 1:04-flat breezing really doesn’t give any hints whether the future is now, though.
On the same lightly-raced note, however, there is a less obvious pedigree play lurking in the Breeders’. The Sean Fitzhenry homebred goes by the name of Sammy Maudlin. Having just broken his maiden on turf at 1 1/8 miles, the bay gelding will be making his stakes debut in the Breeders’. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro, who provides a strong route influence. Unlike most stallions whose offspring start to produce at a lower percentage as distances increase, his stats are very steady. Overall, his offspring produce at the same 14 to 15 per cent rate at 1 ½-mile and further as they do at all distances. The only catch is that the figures aren’t as flattering when narrowing the study down to just turf routes. The bottom of Sammy Maudlin pedigree may help in this matter, though. Not only is his dam, the Irish-bred Cacciadiavoli, a two-time route winner in Italy and a son of the great Danehill, she is also a half-sister to Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks (1 ½ miles) Super Tassa.
What Wilcox, Sammy Maudlin and the Stronach Stables runner Big Kick have going against them is history. In the last 25 years, only Sweetest Thing has been able to win the Breeders’ Stakes having raced less than five times. This classy Roger Attfield filly entered the Breeders’ with just three career starts. So, past experience is certainly of the essence, most of the time. Of the aforementioned three, Sammy Maudlin may be the horse with the preparation and pedigree to duplicate Sweetest Thing's accomplishment.
Big Kick certainly spices up the event, considering he is a maiden that ships in from his training base at Laurel for trainer Jose Corrales. The presence of Kieren Fallon aboard the Stronach Stables homebred Big Kick momentarily gave the event international appeal. Apparently, Tyler Pizarro will instead ride the son of Tiznow. He was a troubled second in his most recent effort at Monmouth Park.
Next question is how to evaluate the chances of the second and third-place finishers in the Prince of Wales Stakes, Ultimate Destiny and Colleen’s Sailor, respectively. Both were forwardly-placed in the surprisingly quick-paced dirt contest and stayed on strongly for major shares of the purse. Did they move up because they are better on dirt or are they the improving horses that will continue to make an impact as the conclusion of the Triple Crown season draws near?
Colleen’s Sailor had run very well in the Queen’s Plate while chasing Strait of Dover through a steady pace and finished fourth. The speedy nature of the Fort Erie racing surface no doubt played to his advantage but his import jockey, Corey Nakatani, made a costly error dueling with longshot Menlo Castle. As a result, he just didn’t have enough left to hold off Dixie Strike in the final furlong. From a tactical point of view, the absence of Strait of Dover and Menlo Castle may give replacement jockey Gerry Olguin a chance at a more comfortable lead. However, Colleen’s Sailor has yet to prove himself on turf. He tried the surface in last year’s Cup & Saucer Stakes, but the turf was soft and the effort probably isn’t indicative of his true ability. A son of Northern Afleet, out of a Scorpion mare, his pedigree doesn’t exactly ooze turf.
Ultimate Destiny is the classic progressive type, having improved his Beyer figure in each of his eight starts dating back to his two-year-old debut. After a wide fifth-place finish in the Queen’s Plate, he stepped up his game at Fort Erie. He has closed from just off the pace in the past, but never from off of very fast fractions like he showed in the Prince of Wales. The Mike Keogh trainee’s strong form is a plus, but like Colleen’s Sailor, he’s yet to prove his ability can transfer to the turf.
If there’s a stallion that is long overdue to produce a winner in the Breeders’ Stakes it is Theatrical. He has an interesting representative in Sam-Son Farm homebred Aldous Snow, who is from the same family that produced Strut the Stage and Breeders’ Stakes and Breeder’s Cup winner Chief Bearhart. Not only that, Aldous Snow is sent out by a trainer that, considering his prowess with turf horses, is also long overdue to win the Breeders’ Stakes. That would be Malcolm Pierce. Aldous Snow enters on the strength of a 2 ½-length victory in a first-level allowance contest at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The score was his first since breaking his maiden at first asking on September 11, at one mile, also on the turf. Eurico Rosa da Silva was in the irons for both scores and will partner the homebred once again. Look for him to try to get the jump on Dixie Strike and begin his rally from somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Strangely, once it became public that Wayward Stable had shelled out a few extra dollars to supplement Quaesitor into the Prince of Wales, he almost became the wise-guy horse, even though he had only raced once in 2012. The son of Friend’s Lake closed on the outside to finish fourth. There’s certainly still room for improvement for the Ian Howard trainee now in his third start of the season. But distance and turf are certainly question marks. The Friend’s Lake offspring only strike at an eight per cent clip on turf, as compared with 15 per cent overall. Despite being a descendant of A.P. Indy, his sons and daughters have only ever connected at a distance of 1 ¼ miles and beyond on three occasions (from just 18 tries). In all likelihood, Quaesitor’s best shot was in the Prince of Wales and the Breeders’ is a half-million dollar roll of the dice.
If there’s a longshot to consider in the Breeders’ it’s Dragon Tail. If for no other reason that he’s trained by duel Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, Dragon Tail is worth a buck or two as a saver. He’ll be a decent price and Attfield has a knack for winning these races with horses exhibiting form that screams “don’t bet me, I don’t belong.” Remember Perfect Shower?
So, the Breeders’ sets up as a race full of contenders and full of pretenders masquerading as contenders. Usually the last thing I’d recommend is boxing four or five horses in an exactor, but if you can narrow the field down to a bunch and there odds are decent, it’s the type of play that might grind out a healthy return for your $12 or $20 investment!