THE BREEDERS’ CUP
Kitten’s Joy, Pico Central shine at
by James Scully
Ken Ramsey’s KITTEN’S JOY (El Prado [Ire]) legitimized his
candidacy for champion three-year-old honors with an impressive
win in Saturday’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) at
Belmont Park. Making his first start at the 1 1/2-mile distance
of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), the Dale Romans-trained three-year-old
finished his final quarter-mile in a tremendous :22 2/5, earning
a 128 BRIS Late Pace rating and his second consecutive 110 BRIS
Speed rating for the 2 1/2-length victory.
He made it look easy.
Kitten’s Joy is the best turf horse in North America but will
probably need a dominant win over a strong field at Lone Star
Park to attract votes necessary for the Eclipse Award. The
chestnut remains a longshot to dethrone Smarty Jones regardless
of what he does in his next start and a lot will depend on how
BIRDSTONE (Grindstone) fares in the Classic (G1), but he at least
opened the discussion with his performance in the Joe Hirsch.
The colt showed promise right away when capturing his grass
bow at two and reeled off three straight Grade 3 victories before
suffering his only turf setback by a head in June’s Jefferson Cup
(G3). Since then, the Kentucky-bred has improved tremendously for
Kitten’s Joy blew past ARTIE SCHILLER (El Prado [Ire]) like he
was standing still when recording a 2 3/4-length triumph in the
Virginia Derby (G3) and then proceeded to devastate his rivals in
the Secretariat S. (G1), rolling to a 3 1/4-length score under
wraps while completing 1 1/4 miles in a faster time than older
horses in the Arlington Million (G1) two races earlier.
He took another step forward Saturday, cruising past a strong
MAGISTRETTI (Diesis [GB]) in upper stretch en route to the facile
win. The runner-up was overmatched, and trainer Patrick Biancone
is now considering bypassing the Breeders’ Cup instead of facing
Kitten’s Joy again. A convincing winner of the Man o’ War (G1) in
his previous start, Magistretti provided Kitten’s Joy with a top-class
measuring stick in his first attempt against older horses.
Kitten’s Joy needs Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) winner
BAGO (Nashwan) and other talented Europeans like NORTH LIGHT (Danehill),
POWERSCOURT (GB) (Sadler’s Wells), AZAMOUR (Night Shift), WARRSAN
(Caerleon) and VALIXIR (Trempolino) to ship over for the Turf
because a victory over a star-studded European cast will make his
case much stronger for champion three-year-old and possibly Horse
of the Year.
His main competition will come from Europe, but Kitten’s Joy
can make them all look bad on October 30.
Gary Tanaka’s PICO CENTRAL (Brz) (Spend a Buck) won in similar
fashion one race earlier on the main track when taking the
Vosburgh S. (G1) by four lengths. The six-year-old broke running
under John Velazquez and closely tracked SPEIGHTSTOWN (Gone West)
for about a half-mile before asserting himself at the top of the
stretch. The Paulo Lobo trainee earned a commendable 107 Speed
figure and notched his first U.S. win at six furlongs.
Pico Central could toy with his Sprint (G1) rivals but must be
supplemented to the event. Lobo didn’t seem keen to run
afterward, stating that Pico Central didn’t need the race to be
champion sprinter, but Tanaka is one of the best sportsmen in
Thoroughbred racing. He’s never been hesitant to supplement in
the past and has never won a Breeders’ Cup race. Look for him to
go after the lucrative prize.
Speightstown, who was unbeaten from four 2004 starts entering
the Vosburgh, came up flat but still owns a shot at the Eclipse
Award if he can bounce back for trainer Todd Pletcher in the
Breeders’ Cup. The six-year-old horse recorded impressive Speed
ratings of 111, 113 and 112 for his victories in the A.G.
Vanderbilt H. (G2), True North Breeders’ Cup H. (G2) and
Churchill Downs H. (G2), and Eclipse voters will view the
Vosburgh as a simple off day for the chestnut if Speightstown
runs back to those performances at Lone Star. That scenario is
difficult to imagine if Pico Central shows up in the starting
CAJUN BEAT (Grand Slam) was beaten less than a length for
second in the Vosburgh and will be more dangerous next time. The
four-year-old needed Saturday’s race off a six-month layoff and
followed a similar pattern last fall, returning with a solid prep
race after a freshening before recording an impressive win in the
Sprint. Cajun Beat pressed splits of :21 and :43 1/5 from post 11
before drawing off to a 2 1/4-length score last October at Santa
He was stuck in the rail post on Saturday and probably doesn’t
want an inside gate in the Breeders’ Cup. The Bobby Frankel
trainee looks much more comfortable closely stalking the speed to
his inside and will be an intriguing Sprint candidate with an
Belmont hosted two other Grade 1 events on Saturday, the
Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Flower Bowl Invitational (G1).
FUNNY CIDE (Distorted Humor) returned to the spotlight with a
gutsy win in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club and earned a 113 Speed
figure. He’ll be a sentimental favorite for many in the Breeders’
Cup Classic (G1).
Whether the four-year-old gelding can challenge for the win is
another story. He didn’t face the toughest company on Saturday
and has come up short in every other race against top-class
rivals this year. Funny Cide is a refreshing story for a sport
with an image (especially this year with Smarty Jones) of losing
its top performers too early for the breeding shed, so it’s easy
to root for him in the Classic.
RISKAVERSE (Dynaformer) got up in deep stretch to win the 1 1/4-mile
Flower Bowl by three parts of a length. The classy five-year-old
mare has now earned more than $1.7 million, but the 1 3/8-mile
Breeders’ Cup distance probably doesn’t suit her. The Flower Bowl
probably won’t have much impact upon the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Oak Tree’s Yellow Ribbon (G1) may produce in a major player in
LIGHT JIG (GB) (Danehill). The Juddmonte homebred was multiple
stakes-placed at three in France last year but has really come to
hand for Bobby Frankel this season, winning the Beverly Hill H. (G2)
in her fourth outing and capturing Saturday’s 10-furlong Yellow
Ribbon in a commanding manner.
Reserved near the back of the pack in the early running, Light
Jig displayed an explosive turn of foot leaving the far turn to
quickly inhale her rivals and draw clear to a four-length win.
European distaffers finished 1-2-3 last year’s Filly & Mare
Turf and Arc third-place finisher and multiple classic winner
OUIJA BOARD (Cape Cross [Ire]) is expected to ship over for this
year’s affair. If an American-based runner can make an impact,
Light Jig is the most likely candidate.
SWEET CATOMINE (Storm Cat) also made a favorable Breeders’ Cup
impression at Santa Anita on Saturday when romping to a four-length
win in the Oak Leaf S. (G2). The Julio Canani-trained two-year-old
filly rated comfortably off the pace before sweeping wide past
her opponents leaving the far turn and in an instant opened a
clear advantage. She earned a commendable 101 Speed rating and
represents a serious challenge for SENSE OF STYLE (Thunder Gulch),
who will make her next start in Friday’s Alcibiades (G2), in the
Juvenile Fillies (G1).
ROMAN RULER (Fusaichi Pegasus) received his final prep for the
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in Sunday’s Norfolk S. (G2), but the
two-year-old colt did not come home quickly against three
overmatched foes. After earning century-topping figures in his
first three career starts, the dark bay colt earned only 95 Speed
rating. His final time for the 1 1/16-mile contest (1:44 4/5) was
1.29 seconds slower than Sweet Catomine a day earlier.
After looking like a sure-fire bet to win the Juvenile and a
possible Triple Crown contender in mid-August, Roman Ruler has
lost some luster with a runner-up finish in the Del Mar Futurity
(G2) and a dull victory in the Norfolk. His Futurity performance
was first-rate, it just took an exceptional race from Declan’s
Moon (Malibu Moon) to beat him, and the Norfolk could prove
insignificant. The talented colt was returning off a draining,
hard-fought effort, and trainer Bob Baffert will likely have
Roman Ruler cranked up for much better showing at Lone Star.
ISLAND FASHION (Petionville) is bound for the Distaff (G1)
following her game half-length score in Sunday’s Lady’s Secret
Breeders’ Cup H. (G2). Trained by Marcelo Polanco, Island Fashion
came along one year too early because she would’ve relished the
Distaff being held at Santa Anita. She’s reeled off wins in the
Lady’s Secret, Santa Monica (G1) and La Brea (G1) and a close
runner-up finish against males in the Santa Anita H. (G1) in her
last four starts over the Arcadia, California, track.
Her last three starts outside the Golden State have been much
below that level. Island Fashion shipped to Japan this summer for
a 16th-place finish on grass versus males. She was beaten 10 1/2
lengths when fourth in April’s Apple Blossom H. (G1) and a dull
sixth in her last start in New York. The four-year-old filly is
classy, recording a six-length victory in last year’s Alabama S.
(G1) at the Spa, but she does her best running out west.
Goodwood Breeders’ Cup (G2) hero LUNDY’S LIABILITY (Brz) (Candy
Stripes) isn’t expected to contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and
PERFECT DRIFT (Dynaformer) did not run well and remained winless
this year finishing second in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2).
Saturday’s Cotillion H. (G2) produced a Distaff contestant in
ASHADO (Saint Ballado), who sat nicely off a moderate pace before
moving to the lead with ease at the top of the stretch. She
recorded a 105 Speed rating for the 2 3/4-length score.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has spaced the sophomore filly’s races
in order to get Ashado to the Distaff in top form and the dark
bay will come into this year’s Distaff without much fanfare.
Winner of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Mother Goose (G1) at the
Distaff distance, Ashado should offer good value and is an
enticing option to upset her more highly touted rivals.
Bago turned in a scintillating performance to capture the Arc,
and the Niarchos Family has planned on sending the French
homebred to Texas all year. However, they’ve got the Classic on
the three-year-old’s schedule and remained committed to trying
the three-year-old on dirt after the Arc. That’s a shame for
racing fans looking forward to a showdown with Kitten’s Joy.
CACIQUE (Danehill), who had finished second to Bago in the
Prix Jean Prat (Fr-G1) and Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-G1) in his two
previous starts, returned to the winner’s circle with a solid
victory in a French Group 2 event at Longchamp on Saturday. The
Andre Fabre-trained three-year-old could go for the Breeders’ Cup
The Breeders’ Cup Sprint could attract an overseas contender
in VAR (Forest Wildcat), who sped right to the front and led all
the way in Sunday’s about five-furlong Prix de l’Abbaye (Fr-G1)
on the Arc undercard. A $30,000 maiden claiming winner at
Aqueduct in 2003, the five-year-old sprinter has blossomed for
conditioner Clive Brittain since making his European bow in
English (Eng-G1) and Irish One Thousand (Ire-G1) Guineas
heroine ATTRACTION (Efisio) scored her first win over older
rivals when capturing Saturday’s one-mile Sun Chariot S. (Eng-G1)
at Newmarket, but trainer Mark Johnston said a U.S. trip was out
of the question.
This weekend features Grade 1 events from Keeneland, Belmont
and Santa Anita.