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OCTOBER 28, 2009

by Vance Hanson

In this edition, we'll touch on the final preps for the two Breeders' Cup juvenile races for males and our initial observations on the participants exiting those races that are headed to California.

Lookin good: The undefeated LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) ran to expectations in the October 4 Norfolk S. (G1) at 1 1/16 miles over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride and will be a deserving favorite in the November 7 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) over the same course and distance. Getting his preferred tracking trip several lengths off the leaders, the Bob Baffert trainee made a bold three-wide move to seize control with just over a furlong remaining and had little trouble fending off late-comer PULSION (Include) by 1 3/4 lengths.

It was by far the easiest looking victory in the four-race career of Lookin at Lucky, who appears to be going from strength-to-strength and goes for the same jockey/trainer combo that was successful in the same race a year ago with Midshipman (Unbridled's Song). As good as some of the Eastern invaders might be, Lookin at Lucky holds many advantages, not the least of which is experience over the track and a winning attitude.

Pulsion, meanwhile, is a colt whose stock is clearly on the rise, but the bottom line is that he's lost twice to Lookin at Lucky already this season, including their respective debut outing at Hollywood Park in July. Pulsion has progressed very quickly since that 10-length drubbing, but right now the edge remains with Lookin at Lucky.

Norfolk third-placer GALLANT GENT (Yankee Gentleman) has never been worse than third in five starts, and his performance against the top pair was solid as the former claimer was only 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner at the end. Those looking for faults will note the second quarter breather of approximately :24 this pace-presser was allowed to get away with. The situation could be vastly different on Breeders' Cup day. At any rate, we suspect the class simply isn't there to turn the tables on Lookin at Lucky.

DAVE IN DIXIE (Dixie Union), who we pulled for to upset Lookin at Lucky in the Norfolk, was last in the early stages before finishing in midpack, 2 1/4 lengths behind the chalk. That was a huge jump in class for the second-time starter, and he could move forward on Breeders' Cup day.

Keeneland Capers: The other significant synthetic prep for the Juvenile was the October 10 Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, where 12-1 chance NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee) sat the garden-trip in fifth early on, advanced to third down the backside, then seized control around the final turn before holding on by a desperate half-length through the short stretch run.

From a BRIS Speed rating perspective, it was an effort right on par with what Lookin at Lucky earned in the Norfolk (94), so there might not be much separating the leading Midwest prospects from those in California. Still, it's hard not to think Lookin at Lucky's home-course advantage will be a major factor in his favor and, from a pedigree perspective, 1 1/16 miles might be the outer limits for Noble's Promise, a son of Cuvee who himself failed to last the trip when beaten a pole in the 2003 Juvenile at Santa Anita.

Perhaps the most intriguing Breeders' Futurity participant is runner-up AIKENITE (Yes It's True), who had to weave his way through a large field that day and in the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga to nab minor shares in both. His pedigree is a bit speed-orientated as well, but that might be offset to some extent by his late-closing tendencies. So far, he's been able to run on anything at any distance -- a useful animal indeed.

Fifth-placer PISCITELLI (Victory Gallop) lost virtually all chance after breaking slow and trailing the 14-horse stampede most of the way, though he did make a notable three-wide move to improve his position late. Third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) in his penultimate start, he figures to develop into a nice three-year-old and has the bloodlines to be an attractive nine-to-10 furlong colt. He seems a cut below going any shorter.

He's no joke: Arguably the most exciting of the Eastern invaders for the Juvenile is D' FUNNYBONE (D'wildcat), who has looked sensational winning the Futurity S. (G2) and Saratoga Special S. (G2) by wide margins in his last two. He and Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil), his conqueror in the July 11 Frank Gomez Memorial, appear to be the two best colts going on dirt, which in the long run is what matters most come classic season next spring. For now, aptitude on Pro-Ride is essential, and like most ship-ins he'll be at a disadvantage compared with the California-based colts.

In addition to being an unknown quantity on synthetic, D' Funnybone also possesses a speed-heavy pedigree, and the Juvenile will mark his first start beyond seven furlongs and around two-turns. Regardless of how he fares in the Breeders' Cup, this is a colt to keep an eye on for next year.

The October 10 Champagne S. (G1), traditionally the strongest of the New York preps, did not appear to be as good as the Futurity this year. Indeed, trainer Rick Dutrow is by-passing the Breeders' Cup with Champagne winner Homeboykris (Roman Ruler), presumably thinking D' Funnybone is the better of the two colts in his barn. Champagne third-placer ASPIRE (Tale of the Cat) appears as if he will be the only one from that race going to California. He's run virtually the same race in winning a maiden and placing second in the Hopeful prior to the Champagne, so progression will be needed on his part to play a role over the Pro-Ride.

Continental flavor: While some are likely to have also been pre-entered to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2), the European contingent for this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile has to be one of the numerically deepest ever. Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien could be represented by both BEETHOVEN (Oratorio [Ire]), who pulled off a stunning upset of the October 17 Dewhurst S. (Eng-G1) in his first race with blinkers, and Phoenix S. (Ire-G1) victor ALFRED NOBEL (Danehill Dancer), whose form is in a bit of a tailspin following a last-place finish in the National S. (Ire-G1) and a fifth in the 22-horse Tattersalls Million.

Most European observers have judged this year's Dewhurst as subpar, and not just because of who won. The continent's leading juvenile is St Nicholas Abbey (Montjeu [Ire]), who skipped the Dewhurst in favor of last weekend's Racing Post Trophy (Eng-G1), which he won impressively for O'Brien. That one was never under Breeders' Cup consideration, and the Coolmore folks are clearly focused on getting that one ready for next year's European classics more than those making up their Breeders' Cup contingent.

Godolphin could be represented by French Group 3 winner BUZZWORD (Pivotal), only fifth in the Dewhurst, and listed winner VALE OF YORK (Invincible Spirit), a narrowly beaten second in the Gran Criterium (Ity-G1) in Milan last time.

The more interesting of the Euro invaders are Norfolk S. (Eng-G2) winner RADIOHEAD (Johannesburg), runner-up in the Middle Park S. (Eng-G1) last time and now running under the IEAH banner, and Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Fr-G1) runner-up POUNCED (Rahy), whose pedigree ideally has many non-turf influences. The latter might very well take to Pro-Ride better than some of his overseas peers.

Juvenile Turf: As noted earlier, many of the Europeans mentioned above could wind up choosing the newly upgraded Juvenile Turf instead. Now in its third year of existence, the Juvenile Turf's presence has enticed racetracks throughout North America to schedule more high quality two-year-old races on grass. This more concerted focus is beginning to pay dividends as the American contingent for this year's renewal of the Juvenile Turf is arguably the best yet.

Perhaps the most exciting juvenile in the United States, regardless of surface, is INTERACTIF (Broken Vow), whose push-button acceleration has made him the dominant player in the division with scores in the With Anticipation S. (G3) at Saratoga and Bourbon S. (G3) at Keeneland, the latter over softish ground. He'll probably be the favorite at Santa Anita while cutting back slightly to one mile and, unless he gets hampered with a bad post position, should be the one to fear.

Bourbon runner-up CODOY (Bernstein) was underestimated by the Keeneland public at 57-1 despite some positive turf form at Ellis Park over the summer. He still might not be in the same league as Interactif despite finishing only a length behind that rival, but he's an improving colt nonetheless.

BRIDGETOWN (Speightstown) successfully raided Canada to plunder the riches in the Summer S. (Can-G3) back in September for trainer Ken McPeek, nicely following up on his convincing maiden win in a turf dash at Saratoga. We're not sure his front-running style will be conducive to victory at the Breeders' Cup, however, since the late kick of various Europeans are often hard to fend off in the final quarter-mile.

Owner/breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey have a plethora of offspring by their champion grass horse Kitten's Joy, and as many as three could join the fray in the Juvenile Turf. Summer runner-up BECKY'S KITTEN (Kitten's Joy) has been working spectacularly since arriving at Santa Anita in late September, while KERA'S KITTEN (Kitten's Joy) will enter off two wins in as many starts, both on soft ground. The latest was the October 24 El Joven S. at Retama Park, so he will be under the gun returning on short rest.

In addition to Interactif, trainer Todd Pletcher might also be represented by ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), who took the downgraded Pilgrim S. that was transferred from turf to dirt due to rain. He was a good second in his turf debut at Saratoga and still might be better on that surface.

We'll close this section by mentioning another Coolmore colorbearer, VISCOUNT NELSON (Giant's Causeway), a beautifully-bred colt who is just starting to hit his best stride. A close second last out in the Champagne S. (Eng-G2) at Doncaster, he is a son of Epsom Oaks (Eng-G1) winner Imagine (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), who has also produced French Group 1-winning juvenile Horatio Nelson (Danehill), Group 2-winning juvenile Kitty Matcham (Rock of Gibraltar [Ire]) and her multiple Group 1-placed full brother Red Rock Canyon (Ire).

Considering how the Europeans shipped all the way to California last year and ran one-two in this race, it would be a costly mistake not to take them seriously again regardless of how good some of our domestic stars might appear.

Next week: We'll provide our top three selections and a longshot for each of the Breeders' Cup juvenile races for males in our final installment.


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